About November 2009

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

October 2009 is the previous archive.

December 2009 is the next archive.

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

November 2009 Archives

November 1, 2009

Church, Young Adults, and Faith 4 Thought


Souls in Transition.jpgMany church folk fret over the lack of involvement of 20-somethings in their congregations.  It is a difficult thing, and there are a handful of books written in the last year or so about young adults and their frustration with their churches.  Some have had less than meaningful experiences in evangelical churches; others write from the perspective of mainline denominational parishes.  It is something that older church leaders should be talking and praying and thinking and listening about; younger friends, I hope, will refuse to grow jaded or cynical or disengaged.

Congregations that are near college campuses have a unique opportunity to think through ways to welcome college students into their family of faith, and today I was with a church in State College PA that has a history of involvement with the academic community, students, faculty, staff and friends.  It is vibrant and youthful, and it was a delight to see older women helping to organize an event for younger students.  From the excellent food to the art and ambiance, it was obvious that they were thoughtful about what they were doing (in a fairly standard-issue Protestant building.)  Kudos to them for their hospitality and desire to be an outpost of God's reign among the academic community, and their eager welcome of rowdy young folk.

The event was called Faith4Thought, and I view it as a real privilege to speak and sell books atByron speaking.jpg their conference.  I've written before about their themes--and the much larger, February Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh to which it points.  Relating faith and academic studies, helping professionals learn that God cares about their callings, cares and careers, equipping people live out their faith in the marketplace is a theological obligation, and we are thrilled anytime a local churches raises up this vision of cultural engagement and intellectual growth.  When, like Calvary in State College, they do with and for young adults, it is spectacular and illustrates a key to building bridges with many young adults: speaking to these areas that are so important to this generation.  I just had a blast---I talked to many about good books and preached my little heart out.

(I believe the audio of my keynote address, by the way, will be posted at their website, soon.  I'll try to announce it, at least to the Friends of Hearts & Minds Facebook group.)

Being located in a college town, or near a community college, art school or technical institute, does not guarantee that a church will attract young adults.  It is odd to be, though, that many don't even try.  Many grumble about the "missing" youth and younger adults, yet don't seem to have much energy or funds for doing anything about, even when there are hundreds (or, more likely, thousands, near them at these campuses.)  Let us tell you about one organization that can help, an organization that co-sponsored the Faith4Thought gathering today.

The CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) partners with local churches near colleges with trained staff to help those churches design plans for reaching, serving, ministering to and perhaps attracting student.  We think that they are on to three big things.

1.  Unlike other para-church groups, they don't just show up on a campus to build relationships with young adults, starting Bible studies and social justice projects and such; they get stationed at a local congregation which has some kind of heart for student outreach, wants to attract and serve young adults, and wants to be involved in the academic institutions that are their neighbors.  CCO is robustly ecumenical in a sturdy inter-denominational way, and they have staff at Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian (USA) and other mainline churches, as well as at CMA, Evangelical Free, PCA, independent and other evangelical churches throughout the Mid-Atlantic.  We applaud their inter-denominational approach because it is rooted in a solid ecclesiology.  That is, they love the church, they think that ministry should be connected to local congregations, and they think that if we are going to help young adults relate faith and life, one part of that is getting them involved in the ordinary life or real congregations.  Church camp, Cursillo, or Passion conferences only go so far, and young adults, like everybody else, need to be committed to the community of faith expressed in a multi-generational congregation.  CCO gets this.  Hosting an event for students on "academic discipleship" and the vocation of being students in a local church is extraordinary and right.  God cares about college students, but so should the local church.  To do that, the local church has to show intentional interest in the things that collegiates are about. 

2.  CCO also understands that if we are to make a difference for God's Kingdom, we must commit to the long-term work of being Christ's people in a particular place.  Standing in and with a local church roots us, often, in a style and context of ministry that goes back hundreds of years in the same building!  That is, by partnering with the local church, CCO is contextualized into a place, and wants to work within traditional institutions.  Partnering with the local church near the local college is a way to make a longer-term commitment to a neighborhood or town or region.  It is what some of us call a theology of place.  The CCO holds out a vision of not just touching the lives of young adults who are college students, through the local church, but realizes that doing ministry like this allows for the nurturing of networks of influence that may lead to social initiatives, cultural reforms, institutional change.  It seems that the theological perspective of the CCO that includes notions of the Lordship of Christ over all of life, themes of vocation and calling, an emphasis on the imagination and a Christianly shaped worldview, and the importance of both evangelism and social action leads naturally to caring about institutions.  Locating a ministry out of a church for the sake of the local college shows a seriousness about culture-making and social change that is important.  It isn't really surprising that some CCO staff have also started or partnered with other local institutions as a platform for doing college ministry; they have become employed at colleges themselves, at local coffeeshops, or have been hired by Habitat for Humanity.  Very cool.

3.  It may be counter-intuitive to think that young adults care about these things, but I think they do.  Maybe there is a stream of Jack Kerouac in some free-wheelin' hipster youth, but I think many postmodern young adults desire a greater sense of stability, wanted to be connected to strong families, are interested in local economies (hence the attraction of local coffeeshops and such.)  If a local church can show why we should care about our communities, students will be enthusiastic volunteers in local missions, cultural renewal, and working as God's servants in creative ways in the local area.  At Calvary/F4T I heard of some college students at one CCO related church who are helping out in local high school ministry through Young Life.  Another few students were doing some local environmental stuff near their college town.  It was exciting to see young adults and older folk together tearing down tables and scarfing pizza as they moved out my book display and prepared for an ancient-future type meal and communion service they hold every Saturday night, for young and old alike.  It isn't easy to do the kind of work that will make a church interesting and helpful to serious young adults, but it can be done.

(By the way, on this matter of whether young adults care about institutions and place andbeyond homelessness.jpg permanence, one student at F4T was thrilled to see the extraordinarily profound book called Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Brian Walsh and Stephen Bouma Prediger (Eerdmans; $24.00.)  She read the rave reviews on the back cover and surmised that this book was not mostly about literal homelessness, but explored displacement as a metaphor for those who are postmodern nomads, who don't want to settle down, like the character in the novel (soon to be a major movie) Up In The Air.  She understood that this book, which is also about poverty and environmental degradation, makes the audacious claim that God is a home-making God and Christ promises a sort of homecoming.  We must care about our places, land, culture, and institutions, if we are to move forward on these 21st century problems.  Not too shabby to be having these kind of meaty conversations with a younger adult in a local church, eh?  I LOVE selling books to young adults as they are often most idealistic, interested, excited about learning and growing in their faith.  What church wouldn't benefit from these kinds of conversations?  What church has older folks who are also on the cutting edge of growing faith, who can stimulate, engage, learn from and with twenty-somethings?  Would your church put together a conference entitled "Imagination, Invention and the Imago Dei"?)

So, CCO partners with churches, which illustrates their ecumenical, orthodox ecclesiology.  They have a perspective on faith that believes that institutions are part of God's created order and part of Christ's redemptive work, so it is natural they care about local congregations, local people, networks of influence within the local academic community and beyond.  And they intuit that young adults want this kind of stuff: robust, evangelical faith applied in innovative and missional ways, committed to big dreams of Kingdom outreach, including discerning vocation and callings.  My speaking and bookselling at Faith4Thought reminded me not only of the stuff the event was about--the big themes of calling and career and relating faith and learning for the sake of God's Kingdom--but the broader backstory of local churches and the faith development of young adults.

Doing a one day event like Faith4Thought is not the only way to reach out to young adults, but talking about the relationship of faith and life, work and career, calling and creativity, including  "tactile" experiential workshops, rooted in Biblical spirituality and exuberant praise and worship, is vital.  I highly recommend you study their event webpage to see the workshop topics, observing how this event was designed.  It might be interesting to ponder if your ministry to young adults is this serious.  One young lady, in a breakout session I was leading about reading, noted that many young adults don't really know much about the Bible, doctrine, or radical discipleship, letting alone do reading on relating faith to learning and work, because, as she put it, in youth group "we just went bowling."

I suppose not everyone needs to read the serious research on the spirituality of American young adults, but the very prestigious sociological work of Christian Smith & Patricia Snell has finally come out, entitled Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press; $24.95.)  This is the long awaited result of the five-year study following up the work done in his much-discussed Soul-Searching.  Still, if anyone wonders why the young adults and college age are not so present in their congregations, and wants to really know the data or their religious views, this is will be known as the classic go-to volume.  I commend it to those who care about young adults, who work with young adults, or with those who want a fabulous example of solid sociological work done by deeply Christian scholars who are at the top of their craft. 

Here are just a few more, perhaps less demanding:

tribal church.jpgTribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation Carol Howard Merritt (Alban Institute) $17.00  This is the best book on this topic written by a mainline denominational pastor.  It is loaded with astute observations, personal stories, and the latest research.  She opens with a story about a Persian rug, connecting places she's lived, itself an anecdote that speaks volumes...  Very impressive, even if I may disagree with bits and pieces of her approach, and wish she would have addresses some things that were left out.


Thank You For Asking: Conversing With Young Adults About the
Thank you for asking.jpg Future Church Sara Wenger Shenk (Herald Press) $14.99  Sara Shenk is a fine writer, a Mennonite with her hear and heart open to twenty-something, voices that are themselves well worth reading and hearing.  As Brian McLaren says in the forward "Presbyterians, Catholics, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, and others will feel that these Mennonite stores, with a few small adjustments, could be their own..."  For what it is worth, one can tell that the researchers in this huge project were inspired by the work of Sharon Parks (whose book Big Questions Worthy Dreams is one of the best on this age group.)  It also cites Steve Garber's Fabric of Faithfulness on the first page.  Yay.

Quitting Church.jpgQuitting Church: Why the Faithful and Fleeing and What to Do About It  Julia Duin (Baker) $12.99  Duin is a religion editor at a major newspaper and has her journalistic chops down pat.  This is well researched, well told, interesting and yet very, very thought provoking.  She admits she is in many ways a part of this story, and it makes a clear point that many folks (including the younger generations) find church boring not because of dry doctrine or dogma, but because of the lack of it.  That is, she has uncovered this massive movement of those who have become bored by congregations that don't challenge them, don't teach much, aren't particularly serious about faith, creeds or culture.  I think it is a must-read for anyone wondering about how to engage younger adults. 

They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights From Emerging Generations
Dan Kimballthey like jesus but.jpg (Zondervan) $18.99  Kimball is an easy to read and one of the more traditional authors in the emerging conversation, and this is a standard study of the attitudes of those who may be "spiritual but not religious."  Pretty fun stuff.  There is a DVD, too, for those who want to be more welcoming, inviting younger jaded ones into conversations about faith.  It isn't rocket science, really, but this is a provocative way to enter the conversation and get others thinking about reaching this population.


why we love the church.jpgWhy We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck (Moody) $14.99  This is a hoot of a book, a bit snarky, pretty hip, and yet is a conservative, theologically rich account of these young dudes and their passion for Bible-centered, God-centered congregational life.  Woot.  Here is the book's website where there is a video clip, a sample chapter and free study guide.  Check it out and swing back here to place an order at our special price for blog readers.

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November 6, 2009

What do you think of these kinds of books, anyway...a mock quiz

In my last post I celebrated last weekend's Faith4Thought conference at Calvary Baptist in State College, home of the most partying school in America, Penn State University. You can download my keynote talk at their website, by the way if you'd like to hear me yapping about all this worldview stuff, sharing about defining moments for me that lead me to this work I do.)   I suggested that the CCO is an organization from which we can learn about churches reaching college age young adults.  I noted that they are committed to the institutional church and that they help students gain a sense of vocation and calling, integrating faith into every area of life, including their future careers. (One of their slogans is "Transforming College Students to Transform the World."  Yay!)

Equipping laypeople---as mainline churches call those of us who are not clergy---for the work of ministry is something that nearly all denominations and faith traditions affirm.  Whether this means lay folks are invited to, say, take up the offering on Sunday or are called to heroic short term mission service or to think deeply about how faith relates to their thinking and practice in their callings and careers, all depends. Some churches nurture discernment about God's call in every aspect of life and others aren't quite that missional or visionary. Some get people working for the parish, others encourage them to be culture-makers in the world.  How seriously do we take the call of ordinary folks to find God in the ordinary things they do--work, voting, shopping?  Do we really believe Romans 12:1-2 that says that life is worship?  And that we need transformed minds and cultural non-conformity?  It seems to me that CCO and the Faith4Thought event was interesting to young adults because these are some of the issues facing those in these crucible years.  And many students did seem to want to look at books, resources for their journey...
 

So, join me in a little thought experiment. I'll show some of the bookcovers of some of the titles we sold at this CCO sponsored college age gathering. If you can see them, you'll see stuff on math, nursing, business, advertising, science, food, art, technology, etc.   Then take the following little quiz.

When BookNotes writes about a Christian view of engineering or a faith-based approach to psychology or suggests books about a Biblical perspective on art or science or education or business, I think:

a)   A Christian view of professions like medicine and math and biology?  You've got to be kidding!  Get me outta here!  As a strategy for Christian outreach to young adults?  That's downright looney! 

b)   Reading books about the interface of theology and social life, Christianity and college classes?  Economics and education and ecology in light of Jesus' reign?  Do you really think anybody wants to do that?  Maybe at F4T they did, but most of us aren't that geeky.

C)   Hmmm.  I claim to believe that Jesus is Lord, so I kinda guess there is some connection between my faith and thinking about this kind of stuff.  Never thought of it quite like that before, really...I wonder if my friends at church would think this is weird?  We don't really talk about this that much and I'm not sure if they read books like this.  Interesting...

d)  You know, I know some artists and lawyers and social workers and have friends in business, and, well, yeah, I think they should know about some of these titles.  They just might think that is helpful and pretty neat.  I think I'll suggest these titles to  them.  Who could I have good conversations with about these kinds of resources?

e)   I'd love to start some kind of outreach with young professionals or students and let them know that God--and our church--care about their world, their work, their passions and ideals. Wow, maybe we could connect students and mentors, older folks with younger ones around career areas and marketplace discipleship.  We're gonna rock this town!  Where's my credit card, I gotta buy me some books!


Well, if it these seems a bit out of your comfort zone, or you are not passionate about sharing resources likes these with those who might care, why not listen to that talk I gave?  You can download it here.  I get pretty excited when I get to share our big dreams of making a difference by helping folks find a more wholistic vision of their discipleship so hold on to your hat!  Thanks to Calvary for posting it.  Thanks to BookNotes readers for spreading the word...


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Conversations With American Writers.jpgfabric of faithfulness.jpgheaven is not my home.jpgcalled to care.jpgculturally savvy christian.jpgyour work matters to god.jpggod's economy.jpgbringing it to the table.jpg

November 14, 2009

Pennsylvania State Pastors' Conference: Books about Church, Congregational life, and more

Thanks once again to the good work of the Pennsylvania State Council of Churches, the annual gathering for pastors was meaningful, interesting, fun, and, for us, a bit profitable.  (Yay.)  That is, we sold a bunch of books.  We worked late into the night (getting to bed at 5:00 a.m.) to ready the book room with tons of stuff for mainline clergy, books on lectionary preaching, worship aids, congregational revitalization, spirituality, leadership, Advent resources, pastoral care-giving and such.  Nobody buys much theology, but we had it there; social justice, racial reconciliation, creation-care, too... What a fun, fun gig.  Thanks to friends as diverse as Moravians and Episcopalians, Church of the Brethren and United Methodists, UCCers and Lutherans.  Praise God for a few indie evangelicals, AME, and Roman Catholics, too, who show up. 

Gil Rendle, whose books on the Alban Institute are old standards, did an excellent job of offering insights about systems, leadership, vision, and congregational health, guided by leaders who, themselves, are well-grounded in their own spiritual practices, and who "keep one foot out of the system" for perspective and support.  It seems to us that sometimes our bookshop helps be that place "outside of the congregational or denominational system" where clergy friends can unload a bit.  Books and authors certainly can be a life-line for those who don't have a lot of support, who feel like they are--as Rendle put it---walking through and working in their own particular (messy) wilderness.  We love hearing how books have offered friendship, solidarity and encouragement to folks, and we hear such things at these kinds of event. Thanks to each of the pastors who visited with us and those who said so many nice things.  

As I've said, we had thousands of books on display.  Here are just a few that we featured, talked about, and sold.  I will soon offer a more substantial annotated bibliography of recent books about church life over at the monthly review column.  I'll led off with a few of the very best books for BookNotes readers about congregational life (such as the extraordinary Deep Church by Jim Belcher, one of my favorite books of the year in this category) and list a batch of recent releases that those who care about churches should know about.  For now, here are a few that our friends in Harrisburg seemed to enjoy.

leading change.jpgLeading Change in the Congregation: Spiritual and Organizational Tools for Leaders  Gilbert Rendle (Alban Institute) $17.00  It is rare when we sell out of an author's book at such an event, and we were delighted that this 1998 classic sold well.  With chapter titles like "Spinning Wheels Gather No Traction" this is a fun read.  He is a master at explaining systems theory, leadership dynamics and the contemporary sense of being in the wilderness. 

Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for
Holy Conversations.jpg Congregations  Gil Rendle & Alice Mann (Alban Institute) $25.00  Alice Mann is very well known as a consultant for mainline parishes and she teamed up with Gil to give us and this very practical resource volume, the very best resource of it's kind.  Just the title helps you reframe planning away from a business model towards a spiritual process of discerning God's will amongst the people of God. 

pathways.jpgPathway to Renewal: Practical Steps for Congregations Daniel Smith & Mary Sellon (Alban Institute) $17.00  This is a remarkably clear book guiding pastors and leaders through three phases of the wilderness journey.  (As Alice Mann summarizes in her forward): "...building the readiness of leaders to lead, developing a vision, and aligning the congregation's life with the vision it has discerned."  Another reviewer says it is "like a GPS guidance system for congregations...It keeps our eyes on the destination of congregational renewal, shows us ways around very real obstacles, shares the experiences of others who have traveled this way, and reminds us that the journey is always worth it."  This book seems to capture much of the insight, vision and vibe of Rendle and his talks this year.

this odd and wonrous calling.pngThis Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver (Eerdmans) $16.00  I cannot tell you how moving some of this was to me.  I know a number of clergy, and I know them well enough to know about their lives, their dreams, their marriages, their kids, their job insecurities, their joys and sorrows at work and at home.  This book about ministry captures some of that, and more. As Lauren Winner puts it, "My dictionary doesn't have enough enthusiastic adjectives for this book, which I adore..."  This is one of the best books I've read about life in the church, and the pastors who serve.  I hope the pastors who bought it enjoy it, are affirmed in their work, and share it widely with others who want to know what they do day by day.

prepare for exile.jpgPrepare for Exile: A New Spirituality and Mission for the Church  Patrick Whitworth (SPCK) $19.95  A broad and sweeping study, set in the church in England, with a solid foundation in reflecting on church history and then thinking through a deeper spirituality (Benedict, Teresa, Luther, Pascal, Wesley, etc.)  to ground new missional ways of being church in a culture that has sent us into exile.  Although perhaps less evangelical, there are shades of Frost & Hirsh here.


Introducing the Missional Church: What it Is Why It Matters, How to Become One  Alan J.introducing the missional church.jpg Roxburgh & M.Scott Boren (Baker) $17.99  Okay, I didn't display that at the State Pastors conference, but it came in the day it was over!  I sure would have plugged it from on stage if had arrived in time!  Part of the Allelon Missional Series of the "Mission in Western Culture Project" this looks to be perhaps the clearest explication of missional thinking yet done. Imaginative thinking about being a Kingdom presence in a post-Christian culture, this helps local leaders think like missionaries right here at home.  Accessible, basic, useful.  Highly recommended.

churchmorph.jpgChurchMorph: How Megatrends Are Reshaping Christian Communities  Eddie Gibbs (Baker) $17.99  Another book in the Allelon Missional Series, this came out a few months back and has been described as a "master guidebook to the territory we all must travel in order to be church in the new post-Christendom cultures of our day."  Alan Hirsch says it is "the most thorough interpretive map of church trends to come out in years."  Fun stuff!

Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry  Debra Rienstra & Ron Rienstra (Baker) $19.99  Ron teaches preaching and worship at Western Theological Seminary and Debra is a wondrous writer and English prof at Calvin College.  (Her great memoir of her pregnancy Great With Child was just re-issued in a stunning new paperback edition!)  Here, they carefully examine the role and use of language for praying, singing, and preaching in the worship practices of the church.  With endorsements from Tom Long (Candler School of Theology) and Marva Dawn (Regent College, BC), and Nancy Beach (Willow Creek) this is a genuinely blessed book hopefully to become a classic. This is beautiful reading, important matters, and we recommend it heartily.

Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology, and Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology, and Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology  Gordon Lathrop (Fortress) $20.00 each  All three are now available in paperback, with handsome matching covers.  I love these, the first two on the ordo, on worship and assembly.  This third one, though, is broader, thicker, and may have been called (Lathrop says in the forward) Only One Is Holy.  Holy God, holy ground?  Read it and see life in new ways.  Heavy, rich, important.

The Arts in Your Church: A Practical Guide  Fiona Bond (with forward by Jeremy Begbie)
the arts in your church.jpg Piquant  This is packed with real-life case studies and photopgraphs and guides to thinking faithlly about the arts in congregational life.  There is nothing like this in print: we import it from overseas because such useful and visionary books are rare.  Published in England, this is a must for any congregation thinking about such things.  Or if you're not!

Inclusive Yet Discerning: Navigating Worship Artfully  Frank Burch Brown (Eerdmans) $20.00  You may know Brown as the very thoughtful writer of Oxford University Press' much-discussed Good Taste, Bad Taste, Christian Taste.  Here he gives us several writings on the complex interweaving of theology, art and worship.   Who else brings together Bach and Marcus Borg, Pope Benedict XVI and Rick Warren?  This is another contribution in the vital Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies Series edited by John Witvliet.  Kudos.

feasting on the word.jpgFeasting on the Word  Year C volume 1 and volume 2  edited by David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor (Westminister/John Knox) $39.95 each   The editors of this ambitious series begun last year have offered the first two volumes for preaching The Revised Common Lectionary for Year C.  These are written by a vast array of mainline scholars and preachers and pastors, offering for angles on each of the weekly texts: an exegetical, theological, homiletical, and pastoral.  Four often eloquent and insightful takes on every passage.  Wow.

sacred meal.jpgThe Sacred Meal Nora Gallagher (Nelson) $17.99  I read a lovely and compelling quote from the back from Barbara Brown Taylor and another from Lauren Winner and this became the immediate best-seller at the gathering.  We truly love this "Ancient Practices Series" edited by Phyllis Tickle, and think you will, too.  The other brand new one in this series is by Sister Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year, sold quite well, too.  I'm so happy.  We featured the whole Thomas Nelson series---Bob Benson on prayer, Dan Allander on sabbath, Scot McKnight on fasting... Brian McLaren's introduction to the series, Finding Our Way Again, is very, very nice.  Highly recommended.

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God  Bobby Gross (IVP) $17.00  The forward by Lauren Winner is very, very good, and Bobby does a remarkable job offering an introduction for those who need a primer on this liturgical year stuff.   It is a devotional guide inviting us to indwell the church calender by setting our sights by theological time.  We will be hosting Bobby on Ascension Day, by the way, to worship, have him teach a bit, and sign books as we celebrate the good graces that allowed him to write this wonderful devotional.  Poet Luci Shaw calls it a "bountiful resource" and Emilie Griffin calls it "a jewel of a book.

Byron speaking.jpgIn my own workshop, I highlighted some favorite memoirs. I read briefly from really interesting and well-written Woman Overboard: How Passion Saved My Life by Jo Kadlecek, the incredibly moving, and very funny, Girl in the Orange Dress by Margo Starbuck,  and the delightful but vulgar Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, and of course Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years which I think everyone should read.

 I read a long excerpt from Frederick Buechner's Telling the Truth, told of some good books on how to read (and even argue about) the Bible----I wish I would have had time to read from the flamboyant and bohemian Debbi Blue and her stunning set of Bible reflections called From Stone to Living Word: Letting the Bible Live Again---showed some new editions of NRSV Bibles, talked about the ESV, too, and celebrated books that invite us to see God's glory in the mundane such as the altogether lovely book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. 

Although it is a bit too philosophical for the taste of some busy pastors, I suggested that they work through the extraordinary book about rituals, secularization, worship and worldview formation called Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith.   Really, I can hardly think of a more fruitful scholarly book to read and carefully ponder, raising great questions, and offering profound insights about the point of all this stuff about church, God, and mission. I'll say it here, now: it is one of the most important books of the year! 

CD.jpgIf you would be interested in hearing me do this hour and a half luncheon book ramble, you can purchase the CD or audio tape, I believe, from the good folks who tape the State Pastors' Conference, Un'I Tape Duplications. Call 'em at 717-761-5392.

Here's a deal:
If you get that tape, or either of the ones from previous years when I did similar book talks, we will give you a $10.00 credit for any book you buy that I recommend or mention in the workshop.  That covers more than the price of the audio recording for you.  We are eager to have you hear this (shall we say) animated presentation.  Just let us know if you got it when you place an order.


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


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November 17, 2009

Spectacular new DVDs: Start & Convergence.

We trust you know that we here at Hearts & Minds are bookish.  Some of you subscribe,leavings.jpg even, to this BookNotes blog because you know we won't assail you with advertisements for cheesy gifts and a thousand new "praise" albums.  Folks that walk in our shop--despite the fact that we do carry a goodly share of gift items and music and random weird stuff---comment on how many books we have packed in to this space.  Just today I pondered a note I got from an author, thanking us for caring about and selling books in "these hard times."  Indeed.  And, also just today, I spent some time treasuring the brand new collection of poems by Wendell Berry, a handsome, slim volume called Leavings (Counterpoint; $23), a collection described as "elegies, lyrics and letters and the occasional love poem." And some of his famed Sabbath poems. We love books as they carry words, which carry ideas, often with great charm or beauty and power.

Yet, we do get fired up about non-book items, sometimes, and I have been twitching to tell you about a few great, great, great new DVDs. They are designed for small group use, but I'd suggest them even if you've got no one to watch with.  They are that good.

start_logo.gifFirst, I could hardly be more impressed by a new six-week series on the "Good Samaritan" passage, expertly produced by World Vision and published by Zondervan.  It is called Start: Becoming a Good Samaritan and is hosted by John Ortberg, who is a very good communicator.  His "thoughts from the bench" set the overview for each week, as he meditates for a few minutes in precise prose, even as he casually sits on an outside park bench.  (His little piece on why we ought to read the prophets, on week 3, is worth the price itself, and could be shown in many settings!)  Other great speakers, authors and activists show up here, each articulate, balanced, thoughtful, and very compelling.  Speakers such as Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Gary Haugen, Joni Eareckson Tada, Desmond Tutu, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne.  Rob Bell does a "nooma-esque" thing with a batch of chairs in each one, and that, too, is very, very compelling.  Brenda Salter-McNeil gives one of the best, brief invitations to work on racial and ethnic diversity I've seen; Shane Claiborne is in there, AIDS activists show up, speakers as diverse as Chuck Colson (who is very good on prison reform) and Matthew Sleeth (one aspect of being a good Samaritan in this day and age, they insist, is "Tending to God's Creation.")  My, my, these are wise and challenging voices for living out compassionate faith among our often hurting, global neighbors.

I like the way this DVD keeps moving---the days of old "talking heads" or 45 minute sermonsbecoming a good sam.jpg being shown are long gone. There are well-paced interviews, live footage, a bit of music.  Yet, this isn't like The Trouble With Paris or Everything Must Change (both which I've shown in various settings, and regularly rave about, for solid content and cool production) which are hip, edgy, and so fast-paced that they might annoy some traditional viewers. Start is well shot, crafted with a very rich, contemporary cinematography, without the dizzying stylings of some of the more recent postmodern curriculum. It really is artfully done---it is strikingly beautiful in some places!---and I couldn't recommend it more.  There is a study guide you can buy to go with it.  For more info, please visit www.juststart.org.  We could be thrilled to sell this to you or your church and I am sure it will be fruitfully used and greatly appreciated.  Kudos to Zondervan for releasing this timely and excellent program.  May it be widely used.  DVD $24.95  participants book $9.95. 
converge logo.jpgToday is the official release date of the three Convergence: Where Faith and Life Meet DVDs that Donald Miller has been promoting on his recent tour.  We've had 'em for a week now and are so excited about these, I could wax on and on about them, too.  Briefly, they are simply made with a casual aesthetic: Donald Miller interviewing some sharp, provocative, insightful folks. They are promoted as "a new generation of small group resources" and could easily be used to spark your own conversations.  Again, they are well made, insightful, with top-shelf contributors offering authentic input about real faith.  Highly, highly recommended. Visit www.allthingsconverge.com for study guides and more info.

Here's the skinny on the three of 'em:

convergence learning to share.jpgConvergence: Breaking the Ice: Learning to Share Our Stories  Phyllis Tickle is truly one of the most well-read, and well-rounded people I've ever met.  She is energetic, ecumenical, deep and yet down to Earth.  In this free-ranging and delightful set of three conversations, Donald Miller---quite a storyteller himself---chats with Tickle about the role of stories in our lives, how to reflect on our lives, even how to realize how certain places have shaped us.  Although Phyllis is known as a cultural critic and reporter of the emergent trends, she is also a memoirist and has lovely memories of her rural, southern girlhood, and how her husband and she bought at Tennessee farmstead.  Asking how our lives have unfolded, what stories and values have shaped us, and what we can learn from listening well to another's story creates a fabulous and enjoyable learning experience.  This is great for any class or group, but ideal for small groups wanting to dig a bit deeper in forming authentic community with one another. DVD $14.99 

convergence spiritual practices.jpgConvergence: Spiritual Practices: How to meet God in the Everyday  Here, Donald Miller has three 20 minute conversations with Dr. Lauren Winner, author of Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath and Real Sex, now teaching at Duke Divinity School.  She explains what we mean by spiritual practices, shows how Jesus did, and Christians should, engage in such practices.  She explains how to start doing spiritual practices and how they bring us closer to God, and what else to expect.  This is wise, fun, interesting, and sharp reflections by a good friend and important voice.  Kudos to Miller for getting Lauren in on this.  Listen up!  DVD $14.99

convergence FRUSTRATION-.jpgConvergence: Frustrations and False Gods: Living in a Fallen World  In this one, Donald Miller interviews two of my favorite writers, each with their own unique specialty.  Dr. Tremper Longman is no doubt one of the most significant Old Testament scholars around; his credentials and publishing are extraordinary.  Tremper's old college roomate, Dan Allender, is now a professor of counseling (and Professor of Counseling at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle.  When these two guys team up---as they have in several really, really great books--you have the best of contemporary cultural analysis and deep inner insights informed by fabulously rich Biblical scholarship.  Here, these two reflect with Miller on basic questions: are we to be happy?  Why is life often so unsatisfying? How are we to live in a world filled with God's goodness yet plagued by sin and brokenness?  Three conversations of about 20 minutes each.  DVD $14.99

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

November 21, 2009

Books on Marriage (in honor of our 33rd wedding anniversary)

Yesterday was our 33rd wedding anniversary and we didn't do anything to celebrate it. It may be that we are tired or too busy, or maybe it is that we are just content in the midst of the middle ages.  Either way, I know I can't imagine myself without my usually sane business partner, beloved wife and mother of our three kids, dear Beth. My brother nicely wrote recently about not even remembering when he didn't have such a soul mate as his wife (he's been married longer than me) and I understood exactly.  We are blessed.

I am going to suggest that some of the health of our relatively happy marriage comes from reading good books on all sorts of topics.  Early on in our young adulthood, fired up about social change and God's Kingdom and relevant ministry and intimate community with like-minded friends, we read about all sorts of things, curious and veracious about God's care for all of life, how our deepest convictions about the reign of the Triune God might be lived out in our broken world.  That we chose early on not to fixate on our marriage, but to ponder the meaning of Matthew 6:33---seeking first and only God's Kingdom---seems to have be a helpful approach.  In the heyday of the "relationship" emphasis of the 80s, with everybody talking about co-dependency and recovery and hurts and issues (some of which was genuine and healthy) we sometimes feared that we were missing something.  Were their deep dark secrets we were suppressing?

Do you know that scene in the old Woody Allen movie where he stops a cheery, obviously in love couple on the street?  He asks them the secret to their joyful unity and one replies something like "Well, I'm just shallow and don't have very much deep stuff to think about" and the other says something like, "Yeah, me too."  We kinda felt like that sometimes.  Maybe we were happy because we just weren't working at our marriage all that much.

Still, thinking and reading widely has been helpful.  We are sometimes asked for our favorite books for couples, and of course our answer varies depending on the faith, lifestyle, age of the couples, and how deep or academic they want things to be.  (And maybe something like Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution is the jolt they need to take up the cares of others for a season, losing themselves to find themselves, you know.)  Yet, there are a few we come back to over and over, writing to friends and customers who inquire about the best books for either pre-marital reading or for ordinary marriage renewal.  These aren't for those in deep trouble, and aren't scholarly.  We have books on the tough stuff,  recovery from infidelity, books about domestic violence, authors who help those with sexual problems or resources for counselors. Call us or hit the inquiry tab up above if you want to talk about other related issues.

Here then, are a few we find ourselves recommending. 

As for Me larger.jpgAs For Me and My House:Crafting Your Marriage To Last Walter Wangerin (Nelson) $14.99  This is written almost as memoir, Wangerin telling stories, by one of our great living authors. Stuff about forgiveness and communication, mostly.  Many have said it is their all time favorite book on marriage and has had such enduring appeal I think I want to call it a classic.  Good discussion guide in the back.  A wonderful, wonderful book. (Look for his new one soon, by the way; Letters From the Land of Cancer.)


Intimate Mystery
: Creating Strength and Beauty in Your Marriage  Dan
intimate marriage.jpg Allander & Tremper Longman (IVP) $13.00  I really loved their bigger book based on Genesis (Intimate Allies) which uses a "case study" approach of marriage problems, and then referring back to the "original plan" in Genesis, but it maybe was a bit much for most folks. This newer one is fabulous, and useful since it is more slim.  It uses the framework of "leaving and cleaving" and it is wonderful to see an amazing counselor and a top Bible scholar working together like this.  It is well written and yet very clear.  There are a set of separate Bible study guides for each chapter, which now, in the paperback, are included in the back of the book making it really useful to have. (You can still get the study guides separately, though.)  There is a 6-session DVD, too ($30.00) which is very well done--short clips to generate conversation in groups, bits of Dan Allander teaching, interviews with couples.  Excellent, solid, beautiful stuff.  (By the way, these are the guys that are interview in the recent Donald Miller Convergence DVD project I wrote about the other day.) Highly recommended.
 
saving your marriage before.jpgSaving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before (Or After) You Marry  Les & Leslie Parrot (Zondervan) $14.99  Well, this may not seem to be for old-timers, but it is still surprisingly insightful, as a great refresher.  These two are very sharp (and yes, those are their names so stop snickering!) I'd recommend anything they do---and they do a lot!  Love Lists [$14.99] is simple: it offers a list of things couples should do every day, stuff they should do once a week or so, a monthly list, and some recommendations for a "yearly check-up."  Very nice idea, eh?  There is a man's Bible study guide and a woman's, too, for Saving Your Marriage which is helpful.  It is a bit more psychological, self-helpy and practical so I'd recommend it be coupled with some sort of substantial theology of marriage for a sound foundational framework. Still, they pick the key topics of handlng money, sexuality, communication and such and give great advice. There is a newer one entitled Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts that, it seems to me, would make essential reading for those considering re-marriage. Another good one from them is called I Love You More: How Everyday Problems Can Strengthen Your Marriage (Zondervan; $12.99) and covers a range of family issues, personal problems, particular struggles, with testimonials and case studies of those who made their way through matters as painful as infertility, handicapped kids, sexual infidelity, money problems, spiritual differences, and so forth. Les and Leslie.  Read 'em and learn.  
 
mystery of marriage.gifThe Mystery of Marriage: Meditations on the Miracle  Mike Mason (Multnomah) $13.99  Contemplative, rich, thoughtful, deeply spiritual, quite lovely and one of our personal favorites.  Eloquent and elegant, a bit mystical and moving, so therefore not for everyone who isn't used to books about the inner life.  A true favorite of many, though;  there is nothing like it!  Beth and I both have thought it to be our favorite (at one point or another, I think) and we've given it as a wedding gift.  I suspect that many of our best customers will find it extraordinary and a real find, for its insight, theology, and well-crafted prose.  You might as well just buy an extra copy or two now as you will want to share it.

Many sorts of folks have said this is the best thing they've read on marriage, so we really do commend it. A forward by J.I. Packer is very nicely done. Mason has several other well-written books, too, which are really worth reading, including the recently re-issued set of short fiction stories, The Furniture of Heaven.  Nice.


sacred marriage.jpgSacred Marriage Gary Thomas (Zondervan) $14.99 This, too, attempts to offer more than a self-help approach, pondering instead the "reason for" and "meaning of" our unions, somewhat like Mike Mason, but not quite as deep or richly mystical.  Still, this is a wonderful look at the deeper theological and spiritual nature of marriage.  His tag line is "what if marriage wasn't to make us happy, but make us holy."  Whew.  Still, he's not a heavy writer, he tells nice stories, even writes with delightful joy and good humor.  There is also a companion called  Devotions for the Sacred Marriage ($14.99 hardcover) which is a nice addition, or a nice gift.  By the way, Gary, who we have met, and who Publisher's Weekly once called "the evangelical Henri Nouwen",  has earned his way on to my list of authors that I will read anything he writes.  His last, Holy Available, on being shaped into the image of Christ, was excellent.  His newest is called Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good, which looks fabulous and I am eager to get to it.)  He has also written the excellent Sacred Parenting and Devotions for Sacred Parenting which, like the marriage ones, bring a nice blend of philosophic/spiritual insight and practical, inspiring, and very helpful stories.    
 
Gender and Grace: Love, Work & Parenting in a Changing World  Mary Stewart Vangender and grace.jpg Leeuwen  (IVP) $23.00. Beth and I heard Mary lecture a time or two in the early 80s, and devoured her book when it first came out. (We ended up being mentioned in her serious sequel to G&G on masculinity, My Brothers Keeper? [$17.99] which is vastly under-read, in my view.  It is amazing!)  If couples don't get the gender roles stuff  fundamentally right, there will be troubles...as an evangelical feminist who works in the social sciences, and sees/ thinks through the broad lenses of a Christian worldview (shaped by the very shape of the Biblical narrative itself---good creation, turned ugly from, but being restored in Christ) she is to be trusted.  We think it is wise and thoughtful, but, admittedly, a bit serious and broad-rnaging for some folks. I do think it is one of the most important books we've ever read!   Skip those handy evangelical books saying simplistic things like "she wants love, he wants respect" or the wildly confused and confusing Wild at Heart. Start here.  By the way, her much-anticipated book about gender in C.S. Lewis, and how the old chap changed after he married, will be out in the new year.  It is called A Sword Between the Sexes: C.S. Lewis and the Gender Debates.  I've read some of it and it is truly a major, significant work.)
 
marriage made in eden.JPGMarriage Made in Eden: Pre-Modern Perspctive for a Post-Christian World Alice Mathews & M. Gay Hubbard (Baker) $18.99  One of the best overviews, theological, rich, foundational from an egalitarian perspective.  I like the way the title echoes the view that God had something in mind in the beginning, and that we moderns may have need to ancient wisdom applied in fresh ways.  Again, this is not a self-help book, really, so some couples might balk. Most BookNotes readers long for the more foundational work, though, and this offers a wonderful framework for further, more practical stuff.  Still, what is more practical than getting the foundation right? This is sadly out of print, but we have a few left. 
 

Have you had certain books on marriage that have proven to be especially helpful?  That you find to be richly written, to be recommended for thoughtful readers?  Do you and your faith community talk about this stuff much?  If you are unmarried, do you ever read books about gender and relationships?  (We have lists for singles, too, by the way, and a book list on dating sorts of things...give a shout if we can send any suggestions.)  I haven't listed a lot of important, useful ones that we carry....what are your top few?  Let us know!  Thanks.


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











November 23, 2009

More Media: Donald Miller audio, Brueggemann lectures, GLO Bible and more

Last week we did a post about the new Convergence DVDs, describing them as very, very thoughtful and interesting: three DVDs of Donald Miller interviewing Phyllis Tickle, Lauren Winner and the always impressive Dan Allander/Tremper Longman tag-team.  Of course for our exceptional literary types, I sort of apologized, and mentioned that those who care about the printed page might want to also be excited about the new Wendell Berry volume of poetry, Leavings.  So it goes; Hearts & Minds, trying to reach various sorts of customers, different, yet united by their hope of finding faith-based stuff that is a bit better than much of what one finds out there.  We love old-school, rural, literary types like Wendell Berry (and have a brand new book about him, too, which we'll review soon) and we have the most contemporary releases of DVDs and audios and such.

And so, a few other non-book items for our media mavens:

million miles audio.jpgCD A Million Miles in a Thousand Days: What I Learned While Editing My Life  Donald Miller $24.99 You may have read my review of this great new book in an earlier column. We love it and think it deserves to be read, given out, discussed widely.  It is an excellent book for anybody trying to figure out their life, yearning for some story to live in and out of, some way to see a trajectory that is going in some purposeful direction.  It is a bit self-deprecating, honest, only a little snarky, and very, very funny.  And yes, the CD audio book is being read by Mr. Miller, making it great for one on the go.

FREE BOOK OFFER: Buy this audio (or the regular hardback book) and we will give you a gift bookjazz notes.jpg version of Blue Like Jazz  absolutely free.  Called Jazz Notes this small full color hardback has not only handsome moody color photos but a CD tipped in the back that has Miller reading excerpts of the book in his best bohemian voice, spoken over and around some fairly average soft jazz.  It's a pretty cool way to introduce a friend to Donald Miller -- to hear him reading.  And we are sending it free with any Million Miles... book or audio purchase.Yay.
 

passionate intellect.jpgCD The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education  Norman Klassen & Jens Zimmerman (Mars Hill Audio) $24.99  Anything narrated by Ken Myers is worth listening to.  It is a given that if he selects it to put into an audiobook, it is well worth hearing.  We loved this book about the meaning of education and true humanness, so when we heard Mars Hill Audio was producing an unabridged reading, we were jazzed. Rich, classy, provocative, and solid...we are happy to stock this Mars Hill audio book.  If you don't know the Mars Hill audio journal subscription, we highly recommend it.  Visit their very thoughtful website home at www.marshillaudio.org.



are christians human.gifCD  Are Christians Human? An Exploration of True Spirituality  Nigel Cameron (Mars Hill Audio) $20.00  Although we have a few in stock, the paperback book version of this excellent study is out of print.  When the perceptive Mr. Myers realized this was no longer around, he thought it should be made available again, and selected it to record.  It is a book that can be listened to profitably over and over.  Dr. Cameron is a theologian and medical ethicist, rooting his thoughtful and prophetic insight about the nature of spirituality in a proper understanding of the human person.  He rejects Platonic dualism, and affirms the nature of humans as embodied in a good creation.  It is an exceptionally rich account of mature spirituality which at once provides a Biblical alternative to sloppy gnostic nonsense of the liberal sort, and hyper-pietism of the fundamentalist sort.  Read by Ken Myers.

CD The Church in Joyous Obedience Walter Brueggemann (Regent College ) $30.00  The graceful package artwork by Sandra Bowden is the first gentle hint that this is truly an extraordinary product.  Dr. Brueggemann spent several days in British Columbia at the 2008 Laing Lectures hosted at the renowned evangelical grad school where he gave some of thewalt speaking.jpg most stunning presentations I have heard from him.  He lectured on Torah, on Isaiah, and on Jeremiah--standard fare stuff for those who know his body of work. Yet, the poetic passion and imaginative connections he makes in these three lectures are exceptionally brilliant and stimulating.  After each lecture, two Regent profs (one a Biblical scholar and the other an economist) give responses, raising some questions they had for the good preacher, and he briefly responds.  What a great example of gracious and serious conversation.  We think it is the kind of thing H&M fans would appreciate and we eagerly recommend it.

glo.jpgGlo (Zondervan) $79.99  sale price $59.99  We have more Bible translations and editions than most bookstores, but we've never found any Bible software that we were really excited about, that we felt took the possibilities to a new level, that we understood would be really special.  This Glo, though, is spectacular.  It taps the newest technologies and includes all kinds of very cool stuff: more than 2,300 high-resolution photos (zoomable), 7,500 encyclopedia-type articles, 150 maps, more than 650 works of art, integration with the best web content, 450+ virtual tours (360-degree, modern-day and re-created ancient biblical locations.)  There are hours and hours of HD videos, all at a click of the finger, right where you need them, not to mention more traditional features like time-lines, atlas, searchable topical indexes, and all the NIV Study Bible notes (which are, in our opinion, perhaps the best notes available in any study Bible.)  These navigational lenses reveal the world of the Bible in ways that are truly innovative and exciting and helpful.  What a great gift for anybody who spends time online, who uses their computer well, or who just wants a new way to experience the Scriptures in fresh, electronic, ways.  Learn more about it here

Glo Bible and screen.jpg
This does demand a lot of RAM and at least 18GB of free hard disk space, and obviously a good video card, a DVD-ROM drive, etc.  If you are interested in ordering this amazing item from us, check here first for PC System Requirements. 

We have this new Glo Bible at a very special price: $59.99
  (The publisher has announced that the price will go up to $89.99 in a month or so, so this may be the best price around.)


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

 

November 25, 2009

Three things about which I am thankful: tribal technology, skeptical friends, surprising books

I hope you don't think it disrespectful to say that of course I am thankful for the usual (American) stuff.  Of course I am thankful beyond words for God's grace shown in Christ, and for the relative safety and stability of our land, even in these hard times.  I am glad that some of our personal health issues are slowly improving and I'm very happy (as I wrote last week) for my dear wife and kids.  Who wouldn't be grateful after all of this abundance!
 
Yet, I am surprised, even today, that I am also thankful for a few particular things that might be of interest to the BookNotes fans.  Let me tell you a story to explain.

Late yesterday I got an inquiry from a good friend and regular customer who is writing a paper for a seminary class having to do with the interface of worldviews, tribal cultures in Africa, international development.  We have a number of books on worldviews, including some classic stuff done by savvy missiologists.  I spent a good number of hours today drawing up a list for him of other titles that might be useful (email me if you want to see it) and then I sent off a note to just a few good friends, including Gideon Strauss, now Director of the Center for Public Justice, asking for their input.

Those that know Gideon know he is an impeccable scholar who came to faith amidst his work in the hard years of resisting apartheid in his native South Africa. And you know he is a remarkable net-worker, and knows people all over the world.  Anyway, not only did my friend Gideon come through with a few brilliant paragraphs, within hours my customer and I were hearing back from acquaintances from several continents!  There is an Ethiopian philosopher studying in Amsterdam, a new kind of Calvinist thinking about culture and colonialism and such; there are folks who read African novels (yes, Things Fall Apart, a book Beth read over 30 years ago, is still a must); we got a thrilling report from an African who has worked in agricultural development with a good Christian eye; a number of folks pointed us to some of the definitive African theologians. From Udo Middleman to Kwame Bediako to Michael Battle, to Lamin Sanneh;  from Jeffrey Sachs' The End of Poverty to Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion to Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom;  there is so much to consider.

My point is simple: Seth Godin (whose Tribes I am re-reading this week) is mostly right: the new technologies are enabling us to form networks of friends who care about similar things and these organic tribes---if they have good leadership and the ability to talk back and forth---can change the world.  Godin hasn't quoted that famous Margaret Mead quote yet, but it seems to be more true now than ever: a small group of dedicated people really can make history, and have fun doing it.  I don't know if my friend's scholarship will "change the world"networks.jpg but the way e-mail and Facebook and even Twitter helped some of the tribe that I am a part of mobilize with insight for me (the bookseller) and my customer (the student) was just thrilling.  And it unfolded in a matter of hours.  I am thankful not just for friends, but for untold numbers who are in this tribe, this gang that somehow has some connection to Hearts & Minds, good books, seriously Christian thinking, and a longing to make a difference in the world.  On good days it feels like a movement, and we seem to think that we, here,  play some role, resourcing people who care, and are supported by others who also care.  To say "we are all in this together" may be a bit of a Westernized simplification, but it feels like that South African theology that Desmond Tutu speaks of (and that Michael Battles writes about in his new book) Ubuntu.

And, also, I am very thankful that a couple of friends expressed surprise--or was it dismay?--that I am going to try out Twitter.  Okay, that I am on Twitter.  Like I said on Facebook, I was kinda half-embarrassed about the whole darn thing (and it is modest: it is just a way to get these BookNotes columns more widely available.)  But after today's speedy mobilization about books on African worldviews and development, well, maybe I can be thankful even for this crazy new technology, even as I admit that there are no doubt large and dangerous unintended consequences.  And I'm glad I've got pals who won't allow it to consume us.

And, lastly, we received two new books in the shop today from the Likewise imprint of InterVarsity Press.  Still our favorite publisher, with excellent titles coming out every month, they have taken a serious turn in recent years (with Likewise, for instance) doing books about social justice, for and from the new generation who are serving the poor, and resources for those who are taking up this struggle to seek God's reign in ways that bring hope to the hurting and hungry.  Solid evangelicals doing amazingly rich writing on social change!

For instance, we just got Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fullyfollowing jesus through eye.jpg, Loving Dangerously by Kent Annan (IVP; $16.00.)  Kent directs Haiti Partners and has worked in Haiti since 2003.  He is a very gifted writer, a passionate wholistic mission worker, and is deeply aware of both the issues of the world, and the issues of the soul.  With a rave endorsement by the famous Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat (Brother, I'm Dying), and another by urban activist Greg Paul (The Twenty-Piece Shuffle), this looks to be more, much more, than a report about poverty or a collection thrilling mission stories.  This is raw and real, a story about questioning and doubt and faith and pain and joy. It is about, as the title puts it, living fully and loving dangerously.

I can't wait to read it more carefully and am thankful for evangelical publishers who break the mold of what religious publishing means. It is very exciting these days, isn't it?   Kudos to IVP, kudos to Kent.

how to inherit earth.jpgAlso today we got the long-awaited second book by Scott A. Bessenecker (who not long ago wrote a really great survey of young bucks who are out serving the poor and oppressed, The New Friars.)  This new one is called How To Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior (IVP; $15.00.)  Bessenecker's friend and soulmate Shane Claiborne says it is "a simple and scandalous invitation into the upside-down kingdom of God."  Christopher Heurtz (director of Word Made Flesh and author of Simple Spirituality) wisely puts his finger on part of this book's insight: "In an age of narcissistic entitlement, Scott's humble but straightforward reflections challenge a leadership-enamored church to discover the grace in service and submission."  If our culture too often prizes leadership uncritically, how do we really hear the radical call to lay down our lives, submitting ourselves to something other than our own desires?  This seems like nearly subversive stuff.  Bart Campolo says that "this is the kind of book that can make someone dangerous to the status quo."

I'm thankful for books about which such things can be said.  There are more books like that these days, and I am grateful. When I was much younger, I discovered radical authors like William Stringfellow and Phil Berrigan; I heard Dorothy Day and read Martin Luther King. I heard John Perkins and Bill Pannell and had Jim Wallis here to the store when we first opened.  I also read beefy theology, solid evangelical and Reformed stuff, mostly.  I longed for folks who brought together mature doctrinal perspectives, evangelical piety, ecumenical flavor, and who embraced and lived a serious desire to work for peace and justice, renouncing the nonsense of the tele-evangelists and the prosperity (false) gospel.  Although it isn't happening quite like I imagined---everybody in this work should be citing Ron Sider, N.T. Wright, Nicholas Woltersdorff and Sylvia Keesmaat in my view---but it is happening.  There are more great books in religious publishing, especially the more evangelical presses, than any time in the last 30 years.  It is harder to survive as a bookseller these days (oh irony of ironies) but the renewal in publishing we've worked and prayed for is happening. 

So: I am thankful for the tribe of which we are a part, and how new technologies help us interact.  I am glad that some friends don't want me to over-do that stuff, and try to keep me sane.  And I'm glad for this publishing world of which we are a part.  Thank God with us that we have been able to stay afloat another year, that our staff continues to be energetic and caring (working for far less than they deserve) and that folks are willing to shell out for good books, bread for the journey, resources for a world-changing faith, bought from a place like ours, such as it is. 

And, of course thank YOU (you know who you are.)  You who say nice things, write encouraging words, read and discuss and write books and book reviews.  And for those who buy.  Ubuntu.

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

November 28, 2009

Books About Community

I've been reading a very creatively written and passionate new book called My Generation: Amy generation.jpg Real Journey of Change and Hope by Josh James Riebock (Baker; $14.99.)  This young writer, full of verve and interesting stories, and some very raw and honest language (it's not for the faint of heart) is telling us about how God wants us to come alongside the hurting, to befriend the friendless, hang out with the outcasts, including those who, for whatever reason, feel distant from God and the church.  Mostly, it is a book about the edgy side of the 20-something Gen Y and although the stereotypes are in full bloom---goth kids, digital kids, neo-hippy fair-trade coffee sippers, party types---he does do some helpful explanations of the demographics of the millennial gang.  A few particular insights will stay with me, I'm sure.  I love this kid's passion and his really clever style. He'd be a fun guy to hang out with.   And I appreciate his sure conviction that hope must come "with skin on" as he shows how to reach the gritty youth of today, and that that may take some new attitudes for all of us, older and younger. 

Not surprisingly, one reviewer called this "compelling authenticity" and, despite the humor, My Generation speaks with great seriousness of the healing power of community. It seems to me that, these days, certainly among the younger generations, nearly everyone knows that the quest for more authentic relationships and true community is one of the sure heart-cries of our time.

Ha. Just this evening as I was pondering this I got a note from a (20-something) friend lamenting that everybody in his social circle (I almost said "community") talks about community, but few really define it. Yep.

When we speak of our community, we may mean our neighborhood, our friends, our congregation.  Some of us even "do life together" with a small group of most trusted friends; some even move near one another, becoming an intentional community, almost like monks or nuns do.

Within the last few months several customers asked about books on how to move towards this kind of intentional community.  Most of us aren't involved in that kind of house-holding, but anyone who attends a church hears about their own "faith community" and should be working towards what some call "body life."  That is, functioning as "the body" (to use New Testament language.)  That is, churches ought to be more like a community.

Here are a few titles I described for one of our customers. Do you think that your "faith community" might benefit from reading a few of these?  


intimacy and mission.jpgIntimacy and Mission: Intentional Community as Crucible for Radical Discipleship Luther Smith (Herald Press) $13.99  This is a bit dated, but still really relevant for you and your project. In the '80s the author visited intentional Christian communities all over the country asking about their relationships (life together) and outreach.  He wondered if those living in these house-holds were in these community settings because they felt the faith demanded it, that is, that intimacy and relationships were central to real church?  Or were they more "pragmatic",  living to pool resources and be supportive as means to the ends of great mission, strengthening each other in order to be more active in service?  Of course, for most, it was a bit of both---intimacy and mission.  His narrative accounts of visiting these classic radical Christian house-holding experiments, from Sojourners to Reba Place to JPUSA, to Voice of Calvary, etc, is fascinating and the only book of its kind.  The author is an African American leader in the AME denomination.
 
Life Together.jpgLife Together  Deitrich Bonhoeffer (Harper) $13.95 As you noted, this just cannot be beat. It is a tad dated in the language (written, as it was, under Hitler, by a famous German, Lutheran pastor.)  Still, skip the page or two that seems odd (one about singing together, which, actually, is pretty fascinating) and go with whatever strikes you; most of it, I assure you, is a goldmine of solid insight about the nature of the church.  This is one of the all time great books, and the best on the community of Christ.  Bar none, I'd say.  A must-read.  For what it is worth, we have it in audio CD format, too, and we stock all of the newer Bonhoeffer editions that are re-translated from the original German.  They are larger volumes, critically acclaimed and important for scholars.  The Life Together volume has with it the small book Bonhoeffer did on the Psalms called The Prayerbook of the Bible.  (This bigger edition, published by Fortress, sells for $21.00 in paperback.)  
 
Community and Growth Jean Vanier   ($21.95) Well, this is thick and maybe a bit slow going but, really, is the very best book on contemporary community. It is pretty amazing, in many ways, not the least of which is how it shows that our own emotional growth is rooted into the good of the community.  Intimacy and action, inward and outward, individualism and the group, it's all there--a must, must read, but you'd better read it slowly and work through it with others.  For anyone serious about deepening community, forming intentional living spaces, or talking about the deeper meaning of our gatherings.  Vanier (who started the L'Arche
intimacy.jpg communities with the disabled) has another great but very little book From Brokenness to Community which is pretty sweet  ($5.95)  His latest book, by the way, is about the witness of gentleness in a violent world, co-authored with Stanley Hauerwas.  It took my breath way!  (I am not sure of this, but I suspect that Henri Nouwan's little book Intimacy [which itself is a lovely little read] grew out of his experience with these ideas.  Nice new cover, too.
 
The Search to Belong  Joseph Myers ($16.99)   Man, what an interesting book.  On the face of it it is about small groups, emergent conversations, new forms for church.  But it really is about space, how even the shape and arrangements of rooms helps people feel at home....it is literally about that (which is fascinating.) It is more than that, though, as he is using that sort of as a metaphor for how the "space" or shape of our community shapes the sorts of relationships that will or won't develop.  I think it is excellent for resident halls or those living together in a house, anybody wanting to enhance richer relationships with a bit of theology/sociology by looking at space(s). 
 
Organic Community: Creating a Place Where People Naturally Connect  Joseph Myers  ($13.99) Well, this is the same guy, and this is more for churches, I'd say, but it still is his interesting take on community.  He has a chapter called Patterns (spatial observation) another called Participating (responsible anarchy) and other such creative stuff.  I think you'd really like it.
 
good neighbor.gifA Good Neighbor: Benedict's Guide to Community  Robert Benson (Paraclete) $14.99  Benson is on that list of authors that I would read anything he writes.  (And he writes widely, on vacations, baseball, gardening, prayer.) This book is simple but graceful, nearly elegant, and, finally, pretty radical in he insists that we must be present to those to whom God has given us, and who have been given to us by God.  This includes direct relationships at church, of course, but also family, associations, work, neighborhood. He explores different aspects of our connections and community, using the wisdom of St Benedict's rule for his monks, applied to those who are not living in a monastic community.  Really wise, very nice, brief.
 
Cultivating Christian Community  Thomas Hawkins (Discipleship Resources) $15.98  This was published for small groups, actually, asking how small home groups, Bible studies,  support groups, or Sunday school classes could be more intentional and effective at being small Christian communities.  He looks at six qualities of Christan community and show how to incorporate them into small group experiences. Short and helpful.
 
Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Do Church  Marva Dawn (Eerdmans) $18.00  One of my favorite books, this studies the hilarity of Romans 12, inviting us to use our imaginations, tease out the fuller meaning of the Biblical text, and thereby see the Scriptures as they call us to be Christian community.  She instructs us seriously, but with winsome and clever invitations to take our faith more seriously, including the call to agape and harmony. A great Bible study on an obviously great portion of Scripture. Very valuable.

Paul's Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Settings  Robert Banks (Hendrickson) $16.95  Okay, this may be a bit academic for most, but it really is a classic. This is a revised and expanded version and helps us understand much of the cultural setting for the earliest Christian practices.
 
Community of the King Howard Snyder (IVP) $18.00  This is one of my favorite books on thecommunity of the king.jpg church, and it is all about how the church is the hub of the Kingdom. This was before the "missional" movement, but he see's the Kingdom as the "creation-restored" vision of all creation being healed, and we are in worshiping, fellowshiping, equipping, communities that become the crucible for shaping us into Kingdom servants. A must-read for those interested in a Kingdom vision of the local congregation, and that congregation being more focused on real "body life" and community.  A classic.

introverts.jpgIntroverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture  Adam McHugh (IVP) $17.00  Just when I thought that there really couldn't be much else written about the local congregation and doing church, along comes--rather quietly, and belatedly, since he's an introvert---this spectacular new book by an ordained Presbyterian minister who is a spiritual director and introvert.  This isn't a gag or a light-hearted spoof, but a very serious study of community, graciousness, hospitality, and how some among us find it very challanging to be active in a noisy, outgoing, active congregation.  Who knew?  Marva Dawn insists on the back that "this is a book that every church leader should read!"  McHugh explains how we overlook or misunderstand the contributions of many introverted church members.  This is a book for all congregational folks who want to be more hospitable to the Meyers Bringgs T-types, and for all introverts who find human interactions each Sunday to be tense and taxing.  A great resource for anyone interested in relationships, parish life, or Christian community.
 
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as Christian Practice Christine Pohl ($20.00)   There is so much out on this these days, but this is the best, really a great resource, an overview of the practices of reaching out and being graciously hospitable.  I mention it for a number of reasons (she spent some time at L'Abi with the Schaeffers, an intentional commune, almost) but one reason is because talk of community, authentic relationships, and inward-directed growth always needs to be balanced by a sense of being inclusive, caring, offering outreach; otherwise community becomes a clique.  So the practices of hospitality, she argues, are what keep communities vibrant.  It is a bit counter-intuitive, that in reaching out we form closer community, but without hospitality, all we have are ingrown cults.  Pretty rich stuff. serious writing. Often cited, very important.
 
No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come as You Are Culture in Your Church  John Burke ($14.99) Okay, this is about creating a culture in church were guests are valued, strangers received, diversity accepted, grace rules.  I know you aren't a church, but I think this overall theme of creating an ethos where folks are accepted, where even on stuff like homosexuality we can receive folks who are unlike us (he is traditional on this chapter, but it is a good one, making a case study nearly out of this...if we can't handle those with whom we disagree, then how are we different from the folks Jesus reprimanded for only loving those who love us back in the same way.)  Anyway, it is a cool book, very practical, and come with a great DVD which is good for teaching.  Pretty hip stuff. (We have the hardback edition, with the DVD, being sold for the paperback price.)
 
The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community  Hugh Halter & Matt Smay  (Jossey Bass) $23.95  This is kind of an emergent church kind of approach, looking at new forms of making disciples in creative church communities.  It is very much about real stuff that works to be faithful in a missional congregation.  The bottom line of much of this is about forming community, small faith-sharing communities and bands that reach out.  Pretty exciting stuff, but, to be honest, a bit more about church-planting than community as such..
 
Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens  Neil Cole (Jossey Bass) $23.95  This, too, is a call to offer leadership in fresh ways by forming real communities that care for one another and model the Kingdom to others. I am not so sure that starting a gathering at a coffee shop or another third place and deepening relationships there is a community, let alone a church, but he is sure this is what we need, faith communities  planted outside of typical churches; birthing teams who form small groups sharing life together.  Pretty important book at least in church planting circles....
 
True Faced: Trust God and Others With Whom You Really Are Bill Thrall (NavPress) I can't say enough about this, a solid study of relationships, honesty, acceptance, masks, etc etc.  There is a fabulous DVD, too, and this is really rich, deep stuff, presented in a lively, captivating manner by some pretty good guys.  Love it.
 
Love One Another: Becoming the Church Jesus Longs For  Gerald Sittser ($15.00)  This is an older book reworked, expanded and re-titled (it used to be called Loving Across Our Differences.)  Yep, it is about being a community that accepts conflict and works for reconciliation.  It looks thoughtfully at the "one another" passages in the New Testament and explores what they might mean for deepening community.  Wow.  Very apropos, since community certainly includes "one anothering" and conflict resolution and unity within our differences. Very solid and sound.
 
Connecting: Healing Ourselves and Our Relationships Larry Crabb (Nelson) $15.99 
connecting.jpg Although not exactly about community, I really like the way he opens up relationships and such...he was on a journey at this point and his next books were on authentic community in church, and how churches should be more relational, places of healing and hope based on community. See, for instance, Becoming a True Spiritual Community or his more recent, Real Church.  Connecting, I think, was a pivotal work for him, it seems...
 
The Call to Conversion Jim Wallis (Harper)  Jim is the founder of Sojourners and an old hero of mine. One of his first books, from the late 70s, is truly one of my all time favs, in part because of it's vision of the Kingdom, the Lordship of Christ, and social engagement around issues of peace and justice... I think it is his best ever.  Anyway, he has a chapter in there on community that is a succinct and useful as anything for those seeking a radical house church, Christian community living experience where we are the "community of the Kingdom."  Pretty moving and groundbreaking stuff for many of us. That chapter is very useful.

School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism  edited by The Rutba House (Wipf & Stock) $22.00  A number of folks from intentional communities gathered to discuss the development of counter-cultural "new monastic" experiments "at the edge of Empire."  This, obviously, is something different than your typical First Church on Main Street.  They came up with these 12 marks, and each chapter is really worth reading.  A couple of the writer's are well known and others have not bee published before.  They are all living out this vision, and have great depth of insights.  Several of the chapters are directly about shared life, living in intentional proximity, and others are about economics, handling family, marriage and singleness, stuff about submission, a common rule of life, etc.  It may be unusual for many church folks to hear this kind of talk, but it really, really is exciting stuff. 
 
The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community Jesse Rice (Cook) $12.99  Wow, this is clear, practical, and a bit perplexing: is this virtual world of facebook and wii and IM "really" community?  Does this 24/7 connectedness increase our longings for "high-touch" face-to-face relationships or inhibite and erode them?  There is little doubt that your generation (especially) has had it's views of identity, boundaries, and relationships altered by social networking sites.  So, this is about that, with the great implications for church, Christian community and authentic Christian living. (We have Doug Estes' Sim Church Being the Church in a Virtual World, too, which travels similar territory, but I think the Rice one is more about community, with Sim Church more about using the internet to expand outreach, do virtual church [even avatars!] which is less about real community, so I don't recommend it for your purposes as much. It is pretty interesting, though!)
 
thy kingdom connected.jpgThy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn From Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks Dwight Friesen (Baker) $14.99  I list this last because it is brand new and I haven't read it yet (although much of it has been on line and presented at emergent conferences and commented on in blogs for years, now, it seems.) I'm confident to say how insightful this is, profound and deep.  Friesen is simply a genius, an "outside the box" thinker who has studied systems theory, quantum stuff, how networks work--clusters, nodes, links--- and the connectivity built into the creation (in cells and such) and is lived out in social networking.  The subtitle is "What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks" only scratches the surface of this postmodern, hot-wired, complex systems work.  The forward is by Len Sweet, the afterword by Dan Allender, so I'm impressed by that, too.  One hip reviewer said it is "the first contextual ecclesiology for a networked world."  This is pretty edgy theology, serious social analysis, leading to a wholistic view of the Kingdom, and the need for faith communities to be, well, connected.  Ultimately, a book about authentic, networked community.  This is one of the most important books of the year, and we will be hearing about it a lot, I'm sure.

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November 20, 2009

Book of the Decade

The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief & Behavior
Steven Garber (IVP, 2007) $16.00

fabric larger.jpg

In the mid 1990s I had this long, wonderful, interesting conversation--late, late into the night---with my friend Steve Garber. He was working on his Ph.D. in education, trying to learn through research, vast reading, great conversations with leading mentors and educators, and tons of first hand interviews with not-so-young-adults---what caused Christian faith to take hold in meaningful, long-lasting, and integrated ways. I was happy to regale him with stories of my own college years, and into my journey with the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) doing campus ministry. Steve and I had many mutual friends, some common interests, and shared an affinity for professor of philosophical aesthetics, Calvin Seerveld, and all-of-life-redeemed philosopher /preacher Dr. Peter J. Steen, and the agrarian essayist and poet, Wendell Berry. Each gave feisty and academic legs to the vision of God's Kingdom coming in every area of life and invited us to live life with an earthy, Christian lifestyle. Steve told me about his early days as a college student living in community and running a thoughtful, Christian activist newspaper and his days learning from Francis and Edith Schaeffer in their Swiss study center, L'Abri. I told him about my feeble activism on behalf of the United Farm Workers, advocating for nonviolent social justice in ways inspired by Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez. Mostly, we pondered how in God's great grace He has drawn us to good authors---I think I was re-reading J.I. Packer's Knowing God at the time---and the good people in our lives who kept us going as we attempted to live faithfully for Christ's reign in our callings, careers, and vocations.

I didn't know, or don't recall thinking, that this interview would end up being in a book, let alone a book that great leaders (from Stanley Hauerwas to James Sire) would insist was one of the best books about the journey of young adult faith into serious, integrated whole-life discipleship. After having read Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief & Behavior in the University Years,(first released in late 1996) and enjoying the many, many stories of fellow pilgrims who told their stories to Steve, I realize that my little late night interview wasn't all that vital. Some of the stories, however, are truly amazing, and some of the folks he tells of in the book are stunning in their insight and eloquence. Still, all of us who were interviewed, nearly every one, had some testimony of the same three things, three things that Steve has identified through research, reading, and his excellent knack of listening so very well, to be the things that most characterize what Eugene Peterson's book on the Psalms calls "a long obedience in the same direction." Three things that help us keep on keeping on, long after the heady and idealistic years of campus fellowship groups and young adult commitments.

Sure, Peterson swiped the line from Neitzsche. And Garber swipes lines from everybody from abolitionist William Wilberforce to novelist Walker Percy, from Bono to Beavis, from third century Augustine to twentieth century Newbigin, from Calvin (and Hobbes) to Calvin (of Geneva.) It makes for a fun and engaging read, a contemporary and urgent book, at once learned and urgent. I mention it often in my own book reviewing and public speaking; it has become a touchstone of sorts, a classic.

When pondering the best non-fiction Christian books of this decade, in fact, a few continue to impress me, haunt me, challenge me, and reassure me. Among others I could name, I think Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat's remarkably faithful, postmodern Bible study, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (IVP) and the delightful and insightful Culture-Making: Recovering our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch (IVP) or all three of the books by Lauren Winner stand out for me as perhaps the truly most significant of the 2000s.

Yet, in the later half of that first decade of the new century, Steve Garber's Fabric of Faithfulness was re-issued by InterVarsity Press, allowing me to declare here that it is "the book of the decade." Of course the great new cover really helps and the shortened subtitle (showing that its audience is most often those who have graduated from college and, perhaps approaching mid-life like many of those interviewed in the book, were longing to more fully understand the relationship of the Biblical themes of vocation and the Kingdom of God.) Yes, that subtitle makes it clear that this is a book about integrity, about living with coherence and clarity about "connecting the dots" between our deepest worship on Sunday and our deepest struggles on Monday. Such integration is the foundation upon which long-term, hopeful discipleship emerges.

But, most importantly, there is, quiet significantly, a fabulously interesting and very important new introduction and afterward.

These two new chapters, which include moving stories about William Wilberforce, about valiant Chinese dissidents, about Steve's' meetings with the likes of seeking rock star Billy Corgan or Peter Gabriel, are among Garber's most eloquent writings, and they set the stage for the re-launch of Fabric as a truly adult book. It is to some extent about learning, about young people in their yearnings for a life of coherence, and it was written when Steve was mostly working with collegiates. Deans and administrators and educators have used it. He does talk about rock stars and youth trends and pop culture. So, yes, yes--- it is a book even for college students. But more, especially with the significant new book-ends of powerful forward and afterward---you have to read them for yourselves to see what I mean---this is now more than ever for anyone who longs for the deepest joys of discovering a sense of vocation, of relating faith to their tasks in this sorrowful, broken world, for those who long to make a difference, in the arts, culture, business, civic life or other areas where a Christian worldview might most profoundly shape our thinking and practices, allowing us to engage the societal pressures and resist the cultural forces so well described and analyzed within these pages.

So. Book of the Decade it is, thanks to the expanded edition that appeared in 2005. I thought to celebrate it here at decade's end I would reprint a review I did when the book first appeared in the late '90s. I've changed very little, and trust this long review will convince you that this is a book worth having, a book worth reading and re-reading, a book worth working on, discussing, and sharing. See more of Steve's writing at the Washington Institute on Vocation, Vocation, Culture.

In the middle of the remarkable new book The Fabric of Faithfulness, Steve Garber tells the

Steve Garber.JPG

story of a meeting with one of his students, a student who "asked wonderful questions about important ideas." As one experienced in mentoring college students, Garber saw that the student seemed not to take his intellectual search all that seriously. Our author found himself doubting that the fellow "really understood the difference of truth and the difference it makes." In a move which seems uncharacteristic for the gentle teacher, Garber issued an ultimatum: he would talk no further with this student until he watched all of the films of Woody Allen, from Annie Hall on. It should be a clue as to who might enjoy this book, as well as who ought to.

Laden with quotes from popular cartoons, film and rock music, The Fabric of Faithfulness is a book which takes young people--specifically people in their university years (what developmentalist Sharon Parks calls "the critical years") and their culture seriously. In fact, it is a book that takes everything seriously, including the quest for meaning in Woody Allen movies. (Indeed, at least one critical reader has suggested that this is a hindrance of the book: it perhaps takes itself too seriously.) For those who want a light read, or rather formulaic principles for spiritual success, this is not the book for you.

At times lyrical, nearly always eloquent, occasionally written with such wisdom it can only be called profound, The Fabric of Faithfulness is a passionate plea for those who work in higher education to help young people develop a coherent and meaningful worldview which issues forth in a life-long commitment to relevant, radical discipleship. In the face of the obstacles that latter-day modernity and the dawning postmodern milieu place before us, which Garber helpfully explores to considerable benefit, his desire to help students weave together beliefs and behavior is no small thing. That he apparently has motivated some of his young friends and students to struggle towards a thoughtful, evangelical faith which is able to stand, even amidst broken lives and perverse culture, earns him the right to tell his story.

As the author points out in the opening pages, however, the story of this book is significantly intertwined with the stories--successes and failures, brave attempts and false starts, foibles and faithfulness--of the scores of people he interviewed for the book. It is their animating presence throughout The Fabric of Faithfulness that gives it such a real-life feel and keeps the philosophical reflections (with visits from Richard Bernstein, Alastair MacIntyre, George Steiner and Lesslie Newbigin) from becoming ivory-tower speculation. Its ultimate practical application is seen in rave advance reviews from the likes of InterVarsity Press's resident intellectual guru James Sire (who called it "the best book on moral education I've ever encountered") and Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University's resident alien, who wrote, "If there is any book I would want to give to a son or daughter going off to college, it would be this one."

If the playful yet deadly serious question "Why do I get up in the morning?" is asked by Professor Garber to his college students, he asked similarly pregnant queries of the 40- and-50-somethings he interviewed for Fabric. His guiding passion was to determine what happened to folks who got serious about their faith in their college years that enabled them to endure and thrive in their desire for a life-long commitment to godly service in their careers, loves and lifestyles. Were there discernible traits of those whose faith journey led them through the "valley of the diapers" and across the threshold into the beginnings of middle age with their Kingdom cares and commitments intact? Were there certain scenarios of discipleship that provided the context for such idealistic faith to endure and mature? How and what sorts of habits of heart (as Garber often puts it) were formed which served to develop character in the lives of those interviewed? Quite specifically,

Each person responded to a series of questions that asked them to reflect on their "cares and commitments" at this point in their lives, and what had happened during their university experience that gave "shape and substance" to them. In a variety of ways, this question was asked again and again: What is the relation between how you are living today--particularly your sense of what is most important, what you most care about--and the tapestry of influences on you during your university years? (p. 35)

Over and again, Garber discovered three traits which emerged from the interviews. And in teacherly fashion, he reminds us of them in numerous ways throughout the book:

As the stories were told, during the critical years between adolescence and adulthood they [those that thrived and continued to live out their vision of a coherent life] were people who (1) formed a worldview that could account for truth amidst the challenge of relativism in a culture increasingly marked by secularization and pluralization; (2) found a mentor whose life "pictured" the possibility of living with and in that worldview; and (3) forged friendships with folk whose common life offered a context for those convictions to be embodied. (p. 160)

A faith understood as comprehensive and true, a mentor and a community. If these are the essentials for building a story of healthy fidelity over the long haul of one's life, how might ministry plans, Christian ed programs and discipleship strategies nurture such traits? Garber is only suggestive (since this is not the book's focus). But if his own ministry style is any indication, the typical youth pastor, campus minister or college teacher could learn volumes: read good books with students, eat lots of meals together, view films and discuss novels, analyze the lyrics of pop songs and struggle to understand the cultural visions being promoted through pop culture, listen to the pains and fears of post-adolescents, talk, write letters, speak honestly, encourage deep friendships, help folks make connections, model a concern for current events, always and everywhere ask questions of "knowing and doing" and how to live a whole, integrated life. (If this sounds like the rigorous whole-life approach modeled by Francis and Edith Schaeffer and others in the L'Abri movement, it should come as no surprise. Garber himself dropped out of college in the early '70s and made his way to the Swiss study center for a season.)

Life-long learning and commitments to long-haul discipleship best happens, then, in community with other like-minded folk reflecting together on real life, and Garber's stories offer adequate proof that there are plenty of spirituality-hungry young adults seeking lives of moral consistency and integrity. True to the "Generation X" and "Millennial" research, they long for genuine and deep relationships and one wonders, at times, if these profoundly struggling young adults are being patronized or trivialized in many church and parachurch ministries. Even at our finest Christian colleges, some observers wonder if students are truly challenged to unite life and learning, telos and praxis; in a phrase, have we created authentic communities of Christian learning or just religious shadows of secular institutions of higher education? Those who lay awake worrying about such things--and some, I'm sure, do, including some of those who appear in this book--would do well to reflect on Garber's work, digging through the footnotes and citations, as soon as possible.

Despite the media blitz about the cynicism of Gen X, Garber and his colleagues from organizations with which he works, such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Pittsburgh's Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), and the American Studies Program of the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities, can offer vibrant testimony that there are those who want more than a cheap faith or a cheap thrill. There are those who want to deeply connect what they believe about the world and how they live in that world. There are young men and women who are thoughtful about their culture and long to make a difference in their callings, vocations, life and times. Throughout this book, Garber seems to imply that working with this strategic group is extremely important (these are, after all, in many ways, tomorrow's leaders and cultural gatekeepers) and uniquely rewarding. The stories which are told here certainly lead readers to agree.

young adults in suits.jpg

If the invitation to engage in this sort of thoughtful mentoring of those in the "critical years" doesn't make many potential readers (who may not have any connection to campus ministry) rush out and buy The Fabric of Faithfulness, traditional church leaders ought to know this, too: this book is an exceptionally useful guide to some of the most important moral philosophers and social critics writing today. As such, it can serve as a helpful introductory crash course, a way to get a taste of authors you've heard of but with whom you may not be adequately familiar. Would that church leaders knew these scholars, understood these issues, cared for ideas and people---I can attest that Steve's sensitivities, shaped as they are by engagement with these deep thinkers, has allowed him to mature into a man of great impact on others. For those that want to mentor leaders, his approach, as shown here, is simply essential.

In a fairly brief and quite readable way, Garber interprets for us three primary "lenses" through which contemporary cultural critics tend to view the influence of the world on people's worldviews and lives. With biblically-based insight, happily, Garber looks at and through all three lenses, showing the compelling insight of each perspective. He explains, firstly, the "history of ideas" approach which emphasizes how intellectual presuppositions guide our worldview formation. (As a representative of this approach, think, for instance, of Francis Schaeffer, or, as Garber suggests, the work of Thomas Oden.) In this view, what people believe is influenced most by the philosophies of the books they've read, the movies they've seen, the doctrine or ideologies they've been taught. As the old saying goes, "ideas have legs."

Inevitably, however, this gives way to a deeper question, the matter of the "ethic of character" and the complexities of the dichotomy between personal and public lives. Think here of Stanley Hauerwas, whose work such as Vision and Virtue and The Community of Character have influenced significantly the discussion about moral development and character formation. Simplistically put (and Garber does him much better), this approach asks not so much what we claim to believe but who we are. This is profound stuff and his discussion here on the difference between idealistic optimism and becoming people of hope are pages which are alone worth the price of the book.

Thirdly, Garber walks us through the role of the "sociology of knowledge" approach, that is, the thesis that "What I believe is deeply affected by my social experience: my family, community city, society and century" (p. 34). Peter Berger's book The Social Construction of Reality is a standard here--or consider his writings about the impact of "privatization" on the possibility of developing meaning-systems. Somewhat similarly, consider, too, the influential work of evangelical scholar Os Guinness and how he reminds us of the pressures of modernity on the Christian mind. There is no doubt that we all, as Garber phrases it, "bear the bruises of modern consciousness." In a stroke of understated genius--almost too good to be true--Garber suggests a linkage of these three ways of understanding (and their respective emphases upon the role of convictions, character and culture) with the three traits uncovered in his interviews: worldview, mentor, community. A sense of truth undergirding a worldview seems to be a trait best understood by the history of ideas perspective. The role of the mentor is helpfully highlighted by Garber's ruminations on the ethic of character and the role of culture is mediated and nuanced by the role of one's own subculture or supportive community. Three different lenses help us see the three traits which enable young disciples to thrive and endure.

The Fabric of Faithfulness is a splendid resource even if one doesn't work with young adults or new Christians. It is well worth reading for the sheer joy of walking through a near barrage of contemporary Christian authors (from the prophetic social critique of Jacques Ellul to the Christian educational theory of Craig Dykstra), wise novelists and writers (from Dostoevsky to Milan Kundera and Walker Percy) and classic theologians (Augustine, Lewis). But the sources are wider still; one is often surprised with an excerpt from a Mike Royko column or a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon...

***

Early on in The Fabric of Faithfulness, Garber shares a letter from one of his anguished young friends who has become disillusioned with the painful difficulties of remaining Christianly steadfast and redemptively active in current affairs while pursuing her new career and lifestyle. Her last line to him was, "Your secrets for dealing with the brokenness are coveted by one who has been blind-sided by the reality of the world." Interestingly, though, it seems that one of the convictions most dearly held by those enduring 40-somethings Garber interviewed was a sense that their faith and Christian obedience was, in fact, in keeping with the reality of the world. Firmly rooted in a biblical doctrine of creation (as well as fall and redemption), mentored by leaders who embodied a principled and realistic Christian lifestyle and surrounded by a community of caring fellow-travelers, they were convinced--contrary to the fact/value dichotomy of modernism or the radical relativism of postmodernism--that Jesus Christ is Lord, Lord of politics, of history, the economy, careers, romance, culture...this is the fundamental reality. It is this awareness (along with the community of fellow-believers) which creates "plausibility structure."

It is my prayer that this excellent book, rooted in Garber's own diligent and creative work with students and careful listening to former students, will inspire many of us to find for ourselves such a plausibility structure, the sense that we together can live out the implications of an integrated Christian life. Perhaps reflecting on this book and its stories will help us not be "blind-sided by reality" when the going gets tough but, like Sophie Scholl and the other anti-Nazi students with which Fabric ends, "face the consequences of their convictions, addressing not only the indifference of the university but of Germany itself." These youngsters stood up and paid up, sadly, with their very lives. That is the sort of faithful Christian this book hopes to help produce. May we in the established churches be worthy to receive the gifts, insights, courage and questions of such young disciples. And may we hear them as they call us who may already be beyond the "university years" to weave together our own belief and behavior.

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Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief & Behavior

Steve Garber

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