About December 2009

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

November 2009 is the previous archive.

January 2010 is the next archive.

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

December 2009 Archives

December 5, 2009

Resounding Truth: Music, liturgical renewal, parish life with the Episopalians

Beth and I continue to be glad for the opportunities to take our book displays on the road, serving in various quarters of God's Kingdom.  We are treated well everywhere we go, and most recently spent a few days at a Franciscan retreat center selling books to good clergy friends in the Episcopal Church.  These priests---rectors, canons, associates, chaplains, pastors, from small parishes and large cathedrals---invite us back each year for their educational retreat.  This year the theme was music.  We sold books on all sorts of topics (contemplative spirituality, parish life, church conflict, worship planning, liturgical aids, lectionary preaching, Bible study) and some resources on mission, social justice, racial diversity and such.  We thought BookNotes readers (some who mostly pray for us and like to hear about our work, others who buy books) might like a brief report of what we were selling there.  Maybe some of these treasures might be of use in your work.  If not, maybe you know a church musician you could forward this to.

There were several excellent church musicians helping with the program, and it was a good reminder of how in traditional churches the organist and/or choir director plays a significant role in planning the worship and consequently, the spiritual and theological formation of the congregation.  Good relations between all involved are a must.   Kudos to the Episcopal gang for showing collegial approaches, making a case for pastors and musicians and staff to be working together.  And to JB for his remarkable keyboard work!

Marilyn Haskel was a presenter, a staff person for Church Publishing, an Episcopal publishing enterprise in New York city.  I was happy to meet her (and delighted for her passion and good teaching) as she has helped bring to publication some very interesting music products.  I don't write much about this sort of stuff on our blog, but we have these items in stock and occasionally consult with traditional church musicians.  (Wanna order your next cantata music through us? Bulletins? Candles?  Call us!)

music of the heart.jpgMusic By Heart: Paperless Songs for Evening Worship (Church Publishing) $27.00 is a great spiral bound songbook that is loaded with the musical arrangements and lyrics for a great number of songs that can be sung in various places in a typical Protestant liturgy.  (Actually, these are appropriate for Roman worship as well.)  These are songs that are easily learned, chants, choruses, Psalms and spiritual refrains (some in rounds, some in call and response style, all that do not need paper or screens.)  Several of these are written for this songbook, but others have been around a while---stuff from Taize, Iona, Wild Goose and the like.  I've participated in Eucharistic services at conferences or retreats and these gentle refrains are used while walking up to receive the elements, and it is has been very moving.  Highly recommended for those that like easy-to-learn, contemplative, Taize-type tunes.

Marilyn also walked us through the use of several of the songs from a remarkable hymnal supplement, a small song-book called Voices Found: Women in the Church's Song (Church Publishing; $16.00.)  This is a collection of mostly contemporary hymns written by women, often about the faith experience of women, highlighting themes of the nurture and care of God, or songs about women in the Bible. There is a useful index listing songs by different saints and mystics, and selections suitable for different occasions, including through-out the typical church year.  There is an accompaniment edition, too, ($45.00) which is spiral bound (so it will stay open for the keyboardist) and includes some teaching stuff for leaders about the hymns, the song-writers, the theology of the texts.  I think churches that care about lifting up the views and voices of all of the community of faith would find this helpful and would do well to have it around. 

We also got to meet the estimable Dr. James (Jimmy) Abbington who teaches music at Candler (the Divinity school at Emory.)  Abbington knows black gospel choir material as well as anybody, and has written resources about the role of music in the historic black churches.  I like both his newest, Let the Church Sing On! Reflections on Black Sacred Music let the church sing.jpg(GIA;$17.95) and an older classic, Let Mt. Zion Rejoice! Music in the African American Church (Judson; $15.00.)  For years we have also stocked the fabulous African American Heritage Hymnal (GIA; $16.00) and we've discovered that there are three sets of double CDs that go with them, which Abbington directed. This is a full sized, major hardback hymnal and is known for the great care (through notations, even) to show how these traditional sacred songs have actually been sung in the African American churches.  Jimmy Abbington was the senior editor of this labor of love and it was a privilege to hear him lecture and teach us about this amazing body of music. 

Abbington also worked us through some of his New Wine in Old Wineskins (GIA; $9.95), a collection of newer lyrics (from Brian Wren, Carl Daw, Sylvia Dunstan, Ruth Duck, Jane Parker Huber, John Bell and others known in the progressive wing of mainline churches) crafted to the "old wineskins" of standard tunes (Hyfrydol, Duke Street, Abbot's Leigh, etc.)  This is a lot of fun to do, offers new visions of faith for these times, with lyrics that are often, in my view, exceptionally profound, Biblically-wise and theologically helpful.

Most readers of our blog know we love old hymns, and the recent folk-rock projects recordingiga-cover.jpg them in new alt-country tunes, like those of Red Mountain Church and of course Idelible Grace (whose new, very acoustic CD, By Thy Mercy, we now have.) These in this New Wine.. songbook are the opposite---traditional hymn meledies but all new lyrics.  Hats off to Jimmy A. for making this kind of resource available.

I had the opportunity to promote a lot of books at this retreat; I love standing up and doing little blurbs, announcements and plugs for authors I like and new books that I thought they'd like.  Thanks to all who listened.

Here are a few that we celebrated that fit the theme quite well:

begbie.jpgResounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music Jeremy Begbie (Baker Academic) $22.99  This is, bar none, the best book on a serious theology of music.  It discusses music of various sorts, and isn't about church music only, but it is a major contribution to our thinking about culture, the arts, music and faith.   John Witvliet of the Calvin Institute of Worship says it is "charged with energy and insight" and "the best musical thinking about theology and the best theological thinking about music."  Amazingly profound, highly recommended.

To Serve as Jesus Did: A Ministerial Model for Worship Teams and Leaders  Marty Haugen (GIA) $9.95  A thin book, thick with insight and practical pastoral theology.  Haugen is a liturgical composer  (think St. Louis Jesuits) who was raised Lutheran and now is working in the UCC.  He is a contemporary hymn writer who in this lovely book gives mature spiritual inspiration for how those leading the liturgy call the assembly to prayer and prayerfulness.  This is a good and creative bit of Biblical study based on the life of Jesus as servant and how to help the faithful community remember and re-member.  Regardless of our particular callings, Jesus is the ne plus ultra, the final model, for ministry.

images.jpgThe Liturgical Year Joan Chittister (Nelson) $17.95  One of the latest in the acclaimed "Ancient Practices" series, this not only explains the church calendar, it invites us to indwell it, to be shaped by it, to be a part of this way of seeing time.  A Benedictine sister with great passions for social justice, this is one of the best books of its kind.  We stock most of Sr Joan's books and think this may be one of her best ever.  We are glad for this whole series, that we have written about before, with authors like Dan Allander, Robert Benson, Brian McLaren.  Lovely, important, rich prose for the people of God.

images-1.jpgThe Sacred Meal  Nora Gallagher (Nelson) $17.95  Another brand new one in this "Ancient Practices" series, and it is truly excellent. I read these two quotes from the back jacket, which struck me as so powerful, and which spoke volumes about the grace and calibre of these titles:

This is the book I have been waiting for---to give to seekers who are wary of pious language, to believer who have dozed off in their pews, to pastors who want to know how to speak in fresh ways of old truths, to anyone who asks why I am still a Christian.  This is the book I've been waiting to give, but it is also the book I've been waiting to read.  (Barbara Brown Taylor)

Nora Gallagher is a writer I would follow anywhere, but it is a particular thrill to follow her to the Lord's Table; I know of no contemporary writer whose insights about the Eucharist match hers.  (Lauren Winner)

accomapny them.jpgAccompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral  Thomas Long (Westminster/John Knox) $24.95  Surprisingly, there are not that many good books on the theology of funerals, and I know from experience---don't you?---that a good funeral, or a bad one, can make a world of difference in ones processing of grief.  I've been to some lately that have been, uh, less than well thought through and less than well served, and it made me sad.  Here is pastoral wisdom, good thinking, helpful theory, doxological care.

Listen to this, by a writerly hero, the renowned author of two breath-taking books on being an undertaker, Tom Lynch:
 
"To a culture accustomed to 'obsequies-lite' Dr. Long prescribes a full-bodied liturgical and community theater---funerals equipped for the heavy lifting of Christianity---acting out our faith and humanity, bearing our dead to the brink of real and eternal life.  Accompany Them With Singing is an indispensable and luminous guide for clergy, families, funeral directors---all home-going pilgrims---on how we ought to cope with death by dealing with our dead.  I think it will be the text of record for the next fifty years."

I don't know about you, but as a fellow home-going pilgrim, I want to read a book with a blurb like that on the back!  Read other Thomas Lynch books if you like--and you should!--- but certainly, get this one by Long.  Give it to your pastor.  Give it to your funeral director.  It has interfaith application, even, to share it widely.  It is a book we're happy to recommend from one of our best main-line preachers.

There was more, so much more.  Resources for church musicians, books for pastors, books about worship and congregational revitalization.  Stay in touch.  More to come.

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December 7, 2009

Advent devotionals---no it's not too late

On Sunday, one of our pastors noted that this was the second week of the new year;  yes, Christians should live in the rhythm of a Christian sense of time, meaning that the church calender is more formative than the one of our culture.   So we are only a few weeks into this, and it isn't too late to be faithful and fruitful in explore the deeper meaning of this season.  (And, as my practical wife says, it is wise to have one ready for next year, since this season does sneak up on us rather quickly each year, eh?)  Good advice!  Here are a few we thought you'd like to read about.  Feel free to post other suggestions in the comments sections for other readers to consider. 

There are so many great resources on the internet, and I hesitate to single one out.  Our friend Christine Sine, whose book Godspace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life [Barclay Books; $14.00] is a wonderfully useful ally in thinking about the rhythms of life, sabbath lifestyles, daily spirituality, missional living and rest (etc. etc.) has a collabartive blog that offers short meditations and is a lovely place for Advent reflection.  Visit the GodSpace blog here.  Make sure you search out her Advent videos that she does each year. 

Receiving The Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time
Dorothy C. Bass0787956473.jpg (Jossey-Bass) This book was a great grace to me, a beautiful reading experience, coming as it did, years ago, now, around the time of the unexpected death of my father.  The solace it brings thinking about having read it, even now, is extraordinary. I am not alone in observing what a wonderfully-written and profound work this is.  It is about sabbath and rest, of course, but more, a deeply religious view of time, of the passing of the seasons, of indwelling God's time.  Very, very nice.

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life  Joan Chittister (Nelson) images.jpg$17.99  I wrote about this in our last post, but thought it bore repeating.  Skip back a post if you didn't read our little annotation there about Sister Chittister's new one. Lovely and informative.

517IEd9vqdL._SL160_.jpgLiving the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God  Bobby Gross (IVP) $17.00  I described this in the blog, and our small connection to it, when it came out in August.  You will be hearing me talk about it more this Spring as we are hosting the author for an autographing party in May.  It will be on Ascension Day (a very important day, theologically speaking)  so it won't be just an author reception: we will worship and pray and learn and celebrate.  This solid book is an introduction to the church calender for those who are seasoned (nice pun, eh?) or those just considering this sort of way of thinking about time and discipleship.  It really is a devotional, so anyone looking for a year-long daily devotional would be wise to pick this up.  Endorsements range from Phyllis Tickle to Luci Shaw to Mark Labberton.  Lauren Winner wrote a fabulous forward.  Highly recommended.  Here is a nice interview with the author to get a flavor of story.

Signs & Seasons: A Guide for Your Christian Journey  Graham Kings (Canterbury Press) 22.99  this may seem a tad pricey---it is a British import---but as N.T. Wright says in the forward , it will "open the imagination to glimpses of glory."  A very nice overview written by a vibrant Anglican pastor.  There is some full color art included, and some interesting graphics and illustrations.  Check out www.signandseasons.co.uk to join a conversation. The intriguing cover art, by the way, is an Indonesian batik by Aryo Kuswadji.

1322.jpgThe Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations  Brian Walsh, Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen, Sylvia Keesmaat (Dordt College Press) $6.95  I cannot tell you how many times I've read this and I do not tire of these rich, radical, insightful, politically-charged, Biblically faithful studies of the famous Advent texts, to be read one a day.  We have said this is the most important Advent book we've seen and I still think that is true. The authors are all amonst the best Bible scholars we know and---interestingly, this isnt always the case---we can vouch that they live what they write about, that their insights into the Scriptures, a Christian worldview, and the invitation to subversive loyality to the restoring reign of Christ, have come from years of working this stuff out.  Has some very evocative illustrations, a bit of art, making it a great little book for a great price.

Songs in Waiting: Spiritual Reflections on Christ's Birth---A Celebration of Middleimages-4.jpg Eastern Canticles  Paul-Gordon Chandler (Morehouse) $20.00  This small hardback, with some allusive contemporary artwork, is doubtlessly my favorite Advent devotional released this year. I've read two other books by this young writer and minister who grew up in Senegal and has a great heart for global faith, and working with Muslims, especially. Here, he brings his Northern African eye to four famous Biblical songs---the Song of Mary, the Song of Zechariah, the Song of the Angels, and the Song of Simeon.  That is, the Annunciation, the Benedictus, the Gloria, and the Nunc Dimittis.  With the paintings by Daniel Bonnell, this is a splendid, rich, and helpful guide into the songs of the Story. 

The Christ of Christmas  James Montgomery Boice  (P&R) $11.99  This was published in the early '80s and was a staple in our Advent displays of Christmas past.  And why not? Dr.  Boice was one of the all time great American preachers, an exegete and Reformed, expository teacher.  Here, he offers solid sermons that move beyond sentiment, stick to the standard proclaimation of the of the gospel of grace, offering deep and solid insights in ways that one recent reviewer says will "dazzle the reader."  Thank God for such sermons---16 included here--- to ponder and enjoy and share.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas  (Orbis) $16.00  Many, many images-5.jpgbuyers tell us this is their favorite advent collection.  It was initially compiled by the innovative and ecumenical minds of the Pennsylvania Bruderhof community (then running a small publishing ministry called Plough Press.)  Here you have profound and at times luminous excerpts from the likes of John Donne and Annie Dillard, Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas, Philip Yancey and Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, T.S. Eliot and Dorothy Day, and so many more....  I am confident there is no richer volume of this kind in print.  Later, you'll want to purchase the Lenten companion volume, Bread and Wine.

god with us.jpgGod With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas  edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe  (Paraclete) $29.95  If the previous one had as a great strength the diversity of authors, theological and literary, enough to talk you to Epiphany in early January, this one has as its great strength two wonderful features: the stunning, wonderfully reproduced serious artwork through-out and the quality of the four authors who offer five great chapters. (Five, of course, because they wisely include the week between Christmas and Epiphany.)  This is printed on high-quality glossy paper making it a glorious gift, a fabulous book to behold.  Thanks to all involved as selling this is one of our staff's great joys of the season.  The authors include Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, the late Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, and Luci Shaw. There is a nice forward by Eugene Peterson and an interesting appendix about Epiphany dates.  My oh my, this is a great treasure.

The Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Change the World?  Rick McKinley, Chris Sea,images-7.jpg Greg Holder (Zondervan; $29.99 for book + DVD package.)  We eagerly promoted this loudly a month ago, celebrating this audacious claim that we can overcome some of the commercialization of Christmas by doing learning about and committing to these four practices: worship fully, spend less, give more, love all. The book is easy to read and full of great stories, the DVD very contemporary and well made.  You can buy them seperately if you want.  This is rowdy, serious, daring, and truly right on. Check out their fabulous website, here---please!    Come on, it isn't too late...

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December 10, 2009

Rouault Fujimura Soliloquies

Occasionally we get to announce to the world (or at least anybody following this feeble little blog) something truly historic.  And in this case, dear readers, it not only is historic---that is, of great historic significance--but it is uniquely an offering of Hearts & Minds.  We are currently the only bookstore stocking a brand new book, and this brand new book commemorates and participates in something rare and good and beautiful.  This really is big news, and something very, very special.

solilo 2.jpgCome on man, you're thinking, get on with it.  What is worthy of this sort of acclaim and suspense? Just tell us about the thing. Well, surely your eye has already seen the headline announcement, and you can't miss the book-cover, so you can see it is called Rouault Fujimura Soliloquies (Square Halo Press; $19.99.)  Let me try to explain its heady significance. 

Do you know the famous French painter Georges Rouault (1871-1958)?  Do you know the contemporary New York artist Makato Fujimura?  The prestigious Dillon Gallery in Manhattan has opened a thrilling--yes! historic!---exhibit of paintings by Georges Rouault and recent ones done in the neo-abstract style of Mr. Fujimura who has been influenced by the seventh century Japanese Rimpa tradition and the techniques of Nihonga (of which he is a current master.)  These brand new works by Fujimura (completed in the late fall of 2009 in time for the show) were largely, in ways conscious and subconscious (I gather) influenced by and in response to the body of Rouault's work. It is homage and more.  Displaying them together in this innovative exhibition, one critic writes, "has added an important dimension to the current reappraisal of Rouault, precisely by the juxtaposition of Rouault's work with that of a contemporary artist who claims him as an influence."

mako exhibition.jpg
dillon logo.jpg
Not only is this a major showing of the world famous Frenchman (and an impressive body of very new work by Fujimura) it seems that some of the Rouault paintings are being shown publicly for the first time. Although the story may be more interesting than this short telling, Mr. Fujimura has become friends with the family of the Rouault estate.  He has visited the esteemed painter's Gare de Lyon studio, has become familiar with the environment and family of the man who was a contemporary of, and influence upon, Picasso, Matisse, even Cezanne.  That this youngish, evangelical, Japanese-American New Yorker would gain trusted access from the grandchildren of this French intellectual Catholic--who often sought out the poor, the marginalized, the odd and sad---is remarkable, and a fabulous backstory to this emerging work.  In other words, Mako seems to have gotten them not only to allow him access, but to send paintings over to be displayed in New York, and the electronic files of the photos of them to the Square Halo office in Pennsylvania to be made into a new art book.  Hence, Rouault Fujimura.  

square halo.jpgKudos to Square Halo Press's main man Ned Bustard for his speedy and ingenious design and arrangement of this small book, doing the lay-out with files sent from Paris, handling pictures of Rouault works that few have seen.  As he worked overtime to size up the color and tone and and allusive calibre of each work---early 20th century and early 21st century---Bustard prayerfully reflected on each painting, and how they could be featured alongside the two lengthy chapters of solid prose.  The small handbook, printed well on glossy paper, a trim size, with very vivid coloration, is itself a work of art.  Rouault Fujimura Soliloquies is a book worth owning even if one cannot get to New York to see this important contribution to contemporary art.  In fact, it is worth owning if you don't know anything about any of this.  What a beautiful and moving way to get a small bit of art education.  What a great gift for any art lover or student.

Although one must affirm that the paintings themselves (as I have said, some rather rare fromrouault.jpg the Rouault family estate and some brand new from Mr. Fujimura) appear as the heart of Soliloquies, the accompanying text is sublime, informed, insightful, dense.  Thomas S. Hibbs has a long essay explaining who these two artists are, the nature of their projects, why it is so very interesting to juxtaposition them, and how the older Catholic, doing modern art rooted in the tradition of medieval stained glass work, so influenced the younger Presbyterian, doing modern art rooted in the tradition of ancient Japanese stylings.  Both, Hibbs explains, are working in contemporary ways with certain pre-modern manners, both intentionally spiritual; each, in their own way, deconstructing the very notions of "abstract" art.  Both are, he suggests, working "from the margins." Both are concerned about materials--that is they are not ethereal or Gnostic.  Both have seen horrible things.  (Mr. Rouault lived through Nazism and Mr. Fujimaro witnessed the bombing of his beloved Manhattan in September 2001.) 

Hibbs quite appropriately draws into the conversations several European Catholic thinkers (such as Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, Leon Bloy and Jean-Luc Marion.) He cites Augustine, Simon Weil and T.S. Eliot.  His essay is learned and a true joy to read.  (I am not well schooled in art history and only an amateur in social and cultural theory; I relished the chance to read this finely argued and mature study, learning much, without wading through a 500 page treatise.) Thomas Hibbs, who teaches at Baylor University, may be known to some of our readers as he has appeared on the popular Mars Hill Audio interviews with Ken Myers.  We stock his book called Shows About Nothing which is a trenchant analysis of pop culture and nihilism.  Hibbs is a serious man, it seems, and well suited to offer a dignified study of these two serious painters.

mako.jpgFinally, there is a very lovely piece at the end of the book by Mako himself, about his own journey, his work as a painter, and a bit about why Georges has so appealed to him. It is intriguingly entitled "Georges Rouault: the First Twenty-First Century Artist."  He tells some tender stories about his work, his life, his own growth into what Rouault called a "terrible beauty."  (There are a few very nice photos of Mako looking at a Rouault work, and a close up of both of their desks and tools giving the book an intimate feel. A little secret: even the type font for certain headings and chapter titles is a typography designed from Mako's own handwriting.)
 
This lovely and thoughtful chapter is somewhat like his other essays called "Refractions" found in his wonderful collection Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture (NavPress; $24.95.) Fujimura isrefactions.jpg an excellent writer, a great teacher, a moving memoirist. We loved the book Refractions for his wonderful essays about culture, life, his work as an artist and how all of us might engage the world more thoughtfully and faithfully. I wrote a lot about it last March, for instance, here.

In Soliloquies, it is wonderful to have the painter offering an eloquant glimpse of his inner life and how he sees the world, inspired so by this painter who (unlike other impressionists) was drawn to use the color black.

Indeed, after citing a secular art critic who notes Rouault's use of heavy black (along with very bright vivids) Mako writes,

One should not be surprised, in following Rouault, to find a philosopher like Yanagi, who does not identify himself as a Christian, write so eloquently of biblical realities.  That, in essence, is the power of Rouault's universe.  He is not merely a "religious" painter: he was the painter of a greater generative Reality, of multiple colors behind our dark, foreboding and destructive world.

Soliloquies are not, Hibbs points out, the same as monologues.  There is dialogue here, interaction.  Certainly Fujimura is doing a homage.  But, also, we see Rouault afresh in this setting.  Both Hibbs and Fujimura explain how this is so.  The reader of Rouault Fujimura Soliloquies has the privilege of being a conversation partner with text and art, reading and looking, studying and pondering, learning and enjoying.  These discussions are on-going.  We are very pleased to offer this Square Halo book in celebration of historic art from a previous generation, and historic art made this year. Congratulations to Mako, his IAM organization, the Dillon Gallery, and Square Halo Books.  We are thrilled to be making this book available to the wider public.  Spread the word.  This has been--truly--historic.  What a joy to be able to announce it here.

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December 16, 2009

Samuelson, Copenhagen, George Clooney and a free copy of Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren

There are some really, really exciting gift giving suggestions I will mention in the next few days, so keep your eyes peeled.  I'm rather pleased with what we've come up with and will make some great suggestions, very nice books, thoughtful gifts, Bibles, children's books, good stuff.  But, first...

Yes, first.  I just have to offer some bookish suggestions about this historic and complicated week. Dr. Paul Samuelson died, the man who wrote one of the best selling textbooks of all time, an iconic scholar, writer, teacher and public intellectual who shaped how most people and certainly most scholars think about economics.  He won the second Noble prize in economics in the early 70s and later trained a generation of important economists, including the now very influential Paul Krugman.  For better or for worse---some think for worse---the legendary Mr. Samuelson and his legacy reminds us that ideas matter, that the narratives out of which we live, the myths that are guiding us like (evil?) spirits, have great, great consequence.  When we opened our bookstore 28 years ago with a section called "worldview studies" and gave out copies of John Stott's little paperback (still in print) Your Mind Matters, and brought in Brian Walsh to do a presentation on critiquing the idols and ideologies of our time, drawn from his A Transforming Vision: Developing a Christian Worldview, we were not kidding; morally serious people must grapple with ideas and imaginations and what Francis Schaeffer called "the flow of history."  It seems that few religious bookstores do this much.  Whoever laughs about ivory tower intellectuals being obscure and irrelevant simply doesn't have much spiritual discernment (and should ponder Mr. Samuelson's knowing quote to the effect that he didn't care who wrote the nations monetary policies or economic regulations as long as he wrote the textbooks; the one who writes the texts and teaches the rising generation of leaders obviously has the influence.)  President Obama's meeting with bailed out Wall Street leaders who seem to still be fighting regulations with high powered lobbyists doing their bidding yesterday, and Krugman's scathing piece about it remind us that ideas and worldviews and the stories we tell, how we construe what matters, matter.  Walsh's most recent co-authored book, with Stephen Bouma-Predigar, last year's heavy Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Eerdmans; $24.00) may be the most important book of recent years, reminding us so passionately of how the gods of economism cause cultural displacement, real poverty and environmental devastation.
up in the air.jpg(Did you know they cite Up in the Air, the fabulous Walter Kirn novel from which the brand new movie was made?  It is about a jet-setting corporate guy who literal spends his days in what he calls Air World.  Whew; talk about not having a sense of place!) Is there really a connection between the new flick by Clooney and the foibles of Copenhagen? You betcha!

Beyond Homelessness shows just how post-modernity's "home-less" "up in the air" culture leads to, or is a contributing factor of, economic and environmental devastation.  And these relationships couldn't be more urgent to explore.  It is a truism that the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen and if we ponder this vast truth, even for a moment, it can be seen as an ethical crisis to which our best theological and spiritual resources must be directed.  The issues raised by the African and poorer nations delegation at the Summit are symbolic for me, another reminder that to be a decent contemporary person, we have to care what our neighbors in other parts of the world go through, and how they see things, and what they ask of us.

 I am glad that people from my denomination are at Copenhagen, as are representatives of most Christian traditions and denominations, from Anglican to evangelical to Roman Catholic and Orthodox, Presbyterian and Methodist.  It is a stunning matter that so many of the third world nations walked out yesterday, and a sad, sad commentary on the hard complexities of these things.  That some of the research about climate change has been doctored and certain influential labs now discredited hasn't made the task of being responsible stewards or informed global citizens any easier, either. Surely there is a crisis on our hands, a crisis of science, of economics, of confidence and worldview, perhaps of truth itself.  We live in complicated, serious times, and I hope BookNotes readers want to be wise and informed and well read on these things.  Surely it will come up in your church or family or even at holiday parties these next weeks. I hope we offer prayers about this this week in church and at our family tables. 

EMC.jpgAnd so, we would like to encourage you to read a bit in this whole matter of the relationship of environmental problems and global poverty and encourage others to do so, too. Brian McLaren has written a very important and readable book, Everything Must Change: When the World's Biggest Problems and the Good News of Jesus Collide (Nelson; $14.95) that tries to show how reforming the engines driving the development of the most scary global concerns is our most pressing task. (By engines he means the values, the stories, the framing narratives, the faiths and assumptions, etc.) On one hand, his book is a call to public and personal evangelism, a call to announce a new way, the possibility of repentance, conversion, new values and new ways of living.  Yes, Brian insists, the upside-down Kingdom of King Jesus has come, and we can be agents of His hope as we show how Biblical wisdom can be applied to the stories that mis-shape our world, deforming and driving unsustainable behavior.  It is a book about turning from idols and raises questions that are all over the news this very week.  I thank God that he wrote it, grateful to get to sell it on occasion, and offer appreciation for the publisher doing this kind of work.

One need not agree with everything Mr. McLaren says in his many speeches, books and articles, nor here in this new paperback.  One need not be interested in the "emergent" conversation that he has helped generate, either.  Please (since I know not everyone admires McLaren's leadership towards a "new kind of Christian") give this fair consideration. This book, on how the Kingdom of God, brought into history in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, can help us re-frame our understandings of the world's most pressing matters.  Supremely, these days, this includes global poverty, environmental problems, and the specter of  terrorism which seems to call forth violent solutions and excessive nationalism.  Given the news this week--the death of Mr. Sameuelson, the Wall Street confab, the recent surge in Afghanistan, the Nobel Peace Prize speech about the just war theory, and, now,  the crisis of Copenhagen (including the fudged documents and the prophetic denunciation of the Western approach by African leadership) this book couldn't be more timely.  Brian has long been involved in local environmentalism---his pleasant love for turtles, for instance, is legendary, although this is a watershed book, applying his global thinking (he has spent time in Africa in recent years) to this maze of inter-connected issues.  His past critique of the ideologies of modernist rationalism and his explication of the centrality of the Kingdom of God in the Bible all comes together in a splendid, provocative, educated way.

Here is our hope: that Everything Must Change become a conversation starter, a resource, a springboard to thinking and discussion, praying and organizing.  So, here is our deal: buy one, and we'll send you another absolutely free.  We don't make any money on this offer, but we have a lot of them in stock and are eager to get them into your hands.  Buy one, get one.  How's that?  Call it our little "Copenhagen special."  We hope many take us up on this (while supplies last.)  Please don't hesitate.

I'd be remiss not to mention just a few others of the many we stock that might be relevant.

Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting Global Crises  Bob Goudzewaard
hope in troubled times.gif Mark Vander Vennen, David Van Heemst (Baker) $19.99  This is a very, very astute book, one that we believe is extraordinary and very important. I've mentioned it often, but it hasn't blasted onto the best sellers list.  A tad complex at times, but a must, on the very themes that Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change addresses: the interconnectedness of the issues, and the need for a new vision of culture and faithfulness. Dr. Goudzewaard is a Dutch economist, philosopher, and former member of Parliament, a solid Christian thinker and a man I easily call a prophet. (Please offer prayers for him, too as he recently lost his beloved wife.) The other two authors--A Reformed peace activist and an esteemed political scientist at a Christian college, offer a North American view, making it truly interdisciplinary and cross cultural. Wow.  A great forward by Desmond Tutu. (Did you hear him at Copenhagen, by the way?)

Inheriting the Earth: Poor Communities and Environmental Renewal  Don Brandt, editor (World Vision $14.99  This is an amazingly rich collection of piece by missionaries, NGOs, folks who work directly with the world's poorest, Christian humanitarians who have direct insight about the relationship between these two huge issues. There are a few book likes this and this is one of the best.  A moving forward by Ron Sider says that it "dares us to see beyond the political and to align with God's intentions for creation."  Well done.

our fathers world.jpgOur Father's World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation  Edward R. Brown (IVP) $15.00  A clear, evangelical, persuasive overview, beautiful and inspiring, altogether readable.  Very highly recommended--one of the best batch of recent books that offer a clearly Biblical, church-oriented introduction. Yay.

For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care  Steve Bouma-Predigar (Baker Academic) $24.99  I have said numerous times that this is the very best book on a serious theology of creation care.  Spectacularly insightful, powerfully written, very thoughtful, urgent and doxological. Steve is the co-author of Beyond Homelessness and has edited a volume of Joseph Sittler, the renowned Lutheran theologian of creation. The best!

A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Baseda climate 4 change.jpg Decisions  Katherine Hayhoe & Andrew Farley (FaithWords) 22.99  This easy to read book is ideal for skeptics or beginners, calm, balanced and solid.  One evangelical leader (himself in Copenhagen at the Summit even now) has said it is without a doubt his favorite book to recommend on this topic.  A Nobel prize-winning geosciences scholar and a Baptist pastor. Well written and convincing and helpful. There is good attention paid to those who doubt the mainstream consensus, and this is important, valuable stuff.  They are both obviously very well read making this a great resource.

A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming  Michael Northcott (Orbis) $20.00  As you may guess from the publisher, this is academic and demanding and radical.  Bill McKibben notes that it is a "thorough look at the ethical and moral issues raised by the biggest thing human beings have ever done: rearrange the workings of the earth's climate system."  The foreward is by Sir John Houghton.  The author is Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh and a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

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The Illustrated Screwtape Letters and the new Screwtape Letters audio

The Illustrated Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $29.99

Written 60-some years ago (1943) and dedicated to Lewis'  good friend J.R.R. Tolkien, (who first heard these read out loud) The Screwtape Letters (asscrewtape.jpg most BookNotes readers will know) is a fictional set of diabolical letters from a demon, writing back to his elder devil, about his work with his charge.   Of course they strategize how to keep this gentleman from faith, and then from being effective in discipleship.  The book takes a bit to follow, at first, since "the enemy" is God and everything they recommend to each other is, naturally, the opposite of what true Christians would want.  Screwtape's vantage point as a highly place assistant to "Our Father Below" has entertained and enlightened readers (as it says on the back) for "it's sly and ironic portrayal."  Sly and ironic?  That's putting it discreetly.  This is one hell of a book.  Thanks be to God, as it has brought great joy and insight and courage to many over the years; besides Narnia, and perhaps Mere Christianity, it is surely Lewis' most beloved book. (Interestingly, Lewis said it brought him no joy to write and was understandably a spiritual drain to invent this imaginative world.  Lewis said "it was all dust, grit, thirst and itch.") I suspect that many modern Christians don't pay adequate attention to the world of the demonic, and this really has proven to be helpful for anyone who want to grow in their faith.

A few years back, in honor of the 40th anniversary of this wise satire, an edition was commissioned which would have illustrations. Some have asked about these before, but a U.S. edition was never released.  I've never seen these before, so it is exciting stuff.  These are amazingly interesting, a little corny, not utterly gross, but yet a tad disturbing, in an understated British kind of manner.  There is at least one drawing---by the world-famous cartoonist William Papas---for each letter, and often other illuminations or graphics (little drops of blood, for instance.)  Text includes titles in red ink, again, making this a great edition to hold. Mr. Papas (who was a cartoonist for Punch and worked on an earlier edition of this book) has played it well, with enough gore to keep it interesting, but a bit of fiendish good humor, too.  The edges of this new hardback are gold gilded and there is a ribbon marker making it a fully excellent gift.  Anyone who loves Lewis will treasure this, and anyone who is unfamiliar with the story will be drawn in with the classy presentation.  I wish I could find more artwork to show you, but it is pretty interesting.

Screwtape audio drama.gifC.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters Radio Theatre  (Tyndale) $39.99
Ahh, this is easy to explain.  Focus on the Family has produced some very, very top-notch radio dramas, excellently produced, wonderfully scripted, highly regarded.  Now, they've set their big budget audio efforts on Screwtape, and it is spectacular.  This package includes not only 4 CDs but a bonus DVD (showing behind the scenes vignettes of the making of the radio show and  including 10 original songs inspired by the book.)  The whole thing is done in 5.1 surround sound mix--that may not mean much to some of you, but it is an indication that this is a high quality production.

Andy Serkis plays the role of Screwtape; Mr. Serkis, you may know, was Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. Other world class actors are involved (such as Laura Michelle Kelley from Sweeney Todd.)  Again, this isn't a shoddy or silly production and it sounds great.

The packaging reads like this:

You hold in your hand an evocative series of recordings that chronicle the cunning advice of a world-wise senior demon to his novice nephew, Wormwood---who's been tasked with securing the eternal damnation and everyday demise of his human "patient." Guard them with your life!
  
This is not a precise reading of the book (and sadly, the only edition of that--expertly rendered by John Cleese--is out of print) although none of the 31 letters are missed. It is like listening in on a TV soundtrack, or an old fashioned radio drama.  It's great for car rides, I'd think.  Here, the actors dramatize the readings, take some liberties, and do stuff that, I suppose I should note, might infuriate any Lewisy purists out there.  Still, for most of us, this is a great, great contribution to the field, a wonderful re-telling of the Screwtape story, a respectful and pretty accurate and very lively drama that will bring great listening pleasure.  I think it could be billed as a "dramatic twist on a diabolical comedy."  Ha

(By the way, I think the only commercially available audio books of Lewis that feature his actual voice is the CD version of The Four Loves.  These were originally radio talks, so they've been able to remaster and maintain old Clives real voice.  Pretty cool. We've got 'em!)

If you are giving the radio drama CDs as a gift, perhaps you'd want to add in the standard paperback edition. The Screwtape Letters (HarperOne; $13.99) have been re-issued with ascrewtape paperbac.jpg textured paper stock cover, deckled edges, those french flaps that turn a paperback into a classier book. Each of their "Signature Classics" have been given these spiffy new covers, each with a handsome woodcut on the front.  I have to admit that at first I wasn't sure how they looked, but I'm quite charmed by them now.  Other re-jacketed designs include Mere Christianity, A Grief Observed, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, and Miracles.  Nice. For what it is worth, we do have some of the old editions of Screwtape Letters, the one with the photo of a gargoyle, rather dark.  Let us know if you'd prefer that cover.

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PS:  It has been a good year for Lewis fans.  We have had the release this summer of the spectacularly important, hefty collection of letters of Joy Davidman Out of My Bone, collected and edited by Don King (Eerdmans; $28.00)  And soon we will have the long-awaited new book by Mary Stewart Van Leuween on gender in Lewis, entitled, A Sword Between the Sexes: C.S. Lewis and the Gender Debates. (IVP; $19.99.) You will be hearing more about that in the new year!

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

December 18, 2009

Study Bibles, The Mosaic Bible, Oswald Chambers Devotional Bible, The Transformation Study Bible, The NIV Stewardship Bible, The NRSV Life With God (and, yes, the very cool Waterproof Bible)

You may have heard it said--and if you shop for Bibles here at the bookstore, you have heard it saidlife app.jpg here--that a good study edition of the Bible is an incredible asset, a fabulous tool, and a great gift (to get or give.)  We think that the Life Application Study Bible is really, really useful. We are glad that it comes in a variety of bindings and sizes and translations such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), The New Living Translation (NLT), The New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard (NAS), the KJV and the NKJV.  Most days I say it is my favorite study edition.  The notes are helpful, the introductions to each book of the Bible excellent and truly interesting, the time-lines the clearest of any study Bible.  Character studies and explanations of the ordinary daily application of Biblical themes are user-friendly and inspiring, almost always keeping a fabulous balanced between factual information and inspiring suggestions on what it all means and what to do about it. It always reminds you why it matters--hence, the "life application" title.  (I jokingly call it the "So What?" study Bible. Great stuff, especially for those not used to digging in, looking things up, or who for those who may wonder what in the world that could possibly mean.

Somewhat more academic and even more thorough is the nearly classic NIV Study Bible
NIV Study.jpg published by Zondervan; evangelical, interesting, often showing arguments for several interpretations and explaining various options of meaning, it has often been called the best study Bible available and it seems to be the best selling of any serious study edition. I know some of our mainline friends are skeptical of its conservative bias, but we really do recommend it. You may not love the NIV, but the notes are very, very helpful, the concordance and maps superb, the various notes outstanding.  It comes in small, medium, large, and really large, and an array of colors, duo-tones, with all kinds of fashionable designs and clever features.  Gone are the days of white vinyl and silly little zippers.  The array of options is mind-boggling; I am so grateful that such a serious, thoughtful, solid bit of Bible scholarship has been made commercially viable and popularly interesting.  You can give one to nearly anybody and it feels right.

ESV.jpgFor those that like the very conservative rendering of the recent and quite elegant English Standard Version (which rather reminds me of the old RSV) their new study bible, done by Crossway, of course, is called The ESV Study Bible, is second to none.  As we described it when it first came out, t is loaded with tons of very excellent notes, solid information, and is the most finely-made, sturdy and enduring hand-crafted Bible for ordinary use on the market. Even those that don't like the mildly Reformed bias will be impressed with the diligence, care, and insight with which it has been produced. Magisterial, thick, and truly an amazing study Bible.

In the NRSV there is the slightly left-of-center, but well done HarperCollins Study Bible published under some affiliation the Society of Biblical Literature. It may be the best for study from a critical perspective, scholarly and studious, although the maps aren't the best, and the type is rather smallish. Still, it is important.

 For our United Methodist friends, at least, there is a really handsome duo tone study edition called The Wesley Study wesley study bible duo tone.jpgBible published naturally by Abingdon. Wonderful scholars who truly love the church served as senior editors---Joel Green (now of Fuller) and Bishop William Willimon, so it has a widely accepted, centrist,and very useful approach. You can imagine the sweet blend of rigorous scholarship and piety and the routine call to action and service.

 I am especially appreciative of The New Interpreter's Study Bible that is done
New Interpreter's.jpg somewhat in relationship to the remarkable multi-volumed, hefty Interpreters Commentary set. (That is the one that has the entire NIV and NRSV text.  N.T. Wright, for instance, does Romans.)  I wish there were more editions and bindings and spiffy covers and better marketing (like the evangelical publishing houses like Zondervan and Crossway.)  It deserves to be better known.  Of course it is very scholarly and spends much time in what some might find to be a bit arcane detail.

Westminister/John Knox did the Discipleship Study Bible (with Apocrypha) which is also very, very well done for those in mainline or ecumenical settings, thoughtfully done with not too much emphasis on literary and historical background, from a moderately critical framework. Yet,. despite the rigor and detail, it hopes to be practical for daily discipleship and seems to appeal to serious Christians in mainline circles, wanting a mainline approach without the arcane, abstract critical detail. This is one of the most recent, critical study editions in the NRSV and the team who worked on it is impressive, mainline denominational folks.  Bruce Birch, Gail O'Day, Brian Blount, Thomas Long.  Thin paper makes this one not too heavy to carry...

Given these new, liberally-oriented, mainline NRSV study editions, why anyone would want to use the meager and eccentric New Oxford Annotated is beyond me.  For years it was the only study edition in the NRSV but it is now so surpassed by these others that it's puny and biased scholastic notes can happily be ignored.  I hate to pick a fight with my ecumenical pals, but I've seen it erode Biblical authority in some who have used it and I am annoyed by how few serious notes it has on urgent questions or complicated passages.  And when it says "scholars agree" hold your nose because you know your about to get what should rather be said "some scholars believe..."  Oh yeah, don't get me started.

Life With God Bible.jpgFor a more devotional approach in the NRSV what used to be called the Renovare Spiritual Formation Study Bible has been re-issued by HarperOne in a handsome typeface and good, solid cover, slightly more compact than it was previously, re-named The Life With God Bible. It comes also in a Catholic edition, in paperback or leather. Its notes were done mostly by Richard Foster,  Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, and Walter Brueggemann.  I know there are websites out there that say that these fellows are unfaithful and weird.  Let me just say that is hogwash.  This is a very useful resource, a fine devotional guide, powerful and spiritually attentive.  If you don't have a NRSV and don't need a detailed study Bible, this is a very nice option.

Here are a few we wanted to highlight as great, but lesser known, new editions.  They'd make a great gift for the Bible lover who "has everything."  Bet they don't have the Water Proof Bible, now do they?  Read on!

mosaic-bible poster.jpgThe Mosaic Bible  New Living Translation  (Tyndale) $29.99 (hardcover) $49.99 (antique brown imitation leather)  I am drawn to the look and feel of a book, and holding this Bible with it's rich orange hints over dark brown, I'm immediately drawn to it. Both the hardback and the smooth faux leather feel great. It has pages and pages of lovely celtic cross graphics, in fine ink, highlighted with red (like a prayer book would, but even nicer than most.) This is classy to see, and the first third is a daily devotional, with prayers, poems, short readings, quotes from folks as diverse as medieval mystics to Wendell Berry to Martin Luther.  Perhaps the best feature is the full color contemporary art that accompanies this--nicely produced on glossy paper.  The artists are from all over the world and while it is usually quite evident how the art piece illumines the devotional reading and Bible portion, they usually are fairly modern.  There are a few classics, and a couple of standard icons. 

Let me be honest: the New Living Translation is a great modern language, dynamic-equivalent
mosaic two covers.jpg rendering (a few very reliable scholars whom I know worked on it, like Al Wolters who worked on Job, just for instance) and it uses inclusive language where it should.  The modern art is hip, global, and allusive while the iconography and Celtic prayer book design is classic--- perfect for more mainline parishes or liturgical churches.  Yet this odd admixture of evangelical publisher, NLT, and liturgical appeal makes The Mosaic Bible a hard sell. It really hasn't gotten the acclaim it deserves.  I think there are BookNotes readers who are going to love it.  (Go to www.HolyBibleMosaic.com and click on "try mosaic online" and you will have a jaw-dropping experience of literally turning the pages and seeing the art, devotions and expert page design. Browse around and what others have said about it. If you want one, do let us know.)

The Oswald Chambers Devotional Bible
  English Standard Version (Crossway) $34.99 (hardcover) $54.99 (Navy/Tan imitation leather)  This ESV edition has 365 readings from the extraordinary young Christian writer whose books were all done posthumously by his beloved wife.  This is in double-column paragraph format, has a 12,000 entry concordance, and is (like all the Crossway ESV Bibles) is smyth-sewn and very durable.  Visit the ESV website at www.esn.org/freesoftware to check out the translation and some free o-linestuff.  This is a fabulous way to become familiar with this serious, very accurate, and highly literate rendering of sacred Scripture and a usable way to dip into the best of this great early 20th century preacher.

transformation study bible.jpgThe Transformation Study Bible  New Living Translation (Tyndale) $39.99 (hardcover) $69.99 (dark brown Milano) I generally dissuade customers from getting study editions done by one guy.  I don't care who it is, nobody can tell you everything about everything, so we generally don't promote Dakes or Scofield or any other Bible with a single person's name on it.  Yet, we will make an exception (with the reminder that the notes are just one person's interpretation, and an inter-denominational, team-based approach like the ones listed above are better for deeper study.)  I make an exception here because I have found many folks, especially those that are not really well-schooled, have come alive to reading commentaries by using the 50-volume, paperback Be series of evangelical Bible preacher and pastor, the solid and delightful Dr. Warren Wiersbe. Here, we have Dr. Ws reflections on every page of the Bible, drawn from his beloved, clear-headed commentaries.  He has here notes to motivate you to experience real-life transformation by highlighting key character issues in Scripture. There are overviews and introductions in conversational style.  Wiersbe's study notes clarify key passages by explaining what they mean in down to earth plain-spoken language. He is a teacher's teacher and I'm happy to commend this genius idea of putting his stuff alongside the Biblical text as a study edition of the Bible.  Nice, especially for beginners.

stewardship study bible.jpgThe Stewardship Study Bible  New International Version (Zondervan) $39.99 (hardback) $69.99 (black/caramel imitation leather)  I'll tell a true little story.  My sales rep for this fine company was surprised when I turned up by nose at this as he presented to us for our consideration. (Well, he's usually thrown a curve ball or two when he visits here, with us taking what nobody else approves of we complain about some of their cheesy big projects.) I told him I was tired of these niche marketed themed devotional Bibles, with Bibles for mothers and leaders and business people and environmentalists (okay, I liked that), ones about prayer and for seekers and maybe left-handed mechanics...boy, was I ever wrong.

This truly holds up the very Biblical notion of whole-life stewardship and has sidebars and extra notes and some lovely colored pages and explanatory features listing anything that might be helpful as readers discern their calling, struggle to think about economics, honor their duties to manage their time and resources.  There is a helpful customized stewardship concordance, helping readers study this vital theme. The Stewardship Study Bible has contributors that I admire greatly, and it is thrilling to think of pondering their advise alongside the Word of God----writers such as Ron Sider, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Os Guinness, Marva Dawn,  Lee Camp, Calvin DeWitt, Denis Haack, John Douglas Hall, Gloria Kinsler, Abraham Kuyper, Karen Mains, Bill McKibben, Esther Meek,  Miroslav Volf, Jorgen Moltmann, Richard Middleton, John Paul II, Robert Fara Capon, Walter Brueggemann and so many more.  How many study editions have Hildegard of Bingen next to Larry Burkett, next to C.S. Lewis, next to Henri Nouwen?  What book to you ever find Michael Novak and Jim Wallis, John Calvin and William Penn?  Truly, this is an amazing resource, designed  together by the Stewardship Council and the Acton Institute.  (There is even a very classy, five part DVD [$19.95 book; $7.99 study guide] that has been made, teaching whole-life stewardship principles, produced by Acton, explaining our duties to manage well our resources and live into the great adventure of serving God by taking care of the creation, neighbor, and using our talents, time and treasures for others.)  In these hard economic times, folks not only need the solace and vision of God's grace as found in Holy Scripture, but we need assistance and guides for living it out, working out the implications of doctrines like stewardship.  I think reading the Bible with these helpers offering tid-bits along the way could be life-changing.  Sorry, sales rep Mike, that I doubted you.  This is a great, great product.  (By the way, like many faithful publishers these days, this is manufactored  as "Certified Carbon Neutral" and printed on FSC Certified paper with 10% post consumer waste.  How's that for trying to get it right.  Kudos and thanks!

waterproof blue.jpgwaterproof camo.jpgNIV Waterproof Bible  (Bardin & Marcee) $39.95 (blue, pink or sportsman's camo)  Here is another backstory.  A few years ago we met up with some cool guys that did outdoorsy stuff, worked in Christian camping, did wilderness trips, were involved in experiential education kind of adventure trips.  They got the rights to a Bible translation that wasn't particularly popular and printed up several individual books of the Bible on honest-to-goodness waterproof pink.jpgtopographic map paper. (They had the world's leading topo map company do it, actually.)  The plan was to fold up these indestructible map-like gospels and head to the woods.  They really wouldn't tear and they were thoroughly waterproof. We thought we were pretty cool to stock 'em. Thing is, who really wanted a rather pricey topo-map Mark in the NAS?

These enterprising wilderness dudes apparently learned something in the outback and with grit and teamwork, just wouldn't give up.  I imagine them dangling in the rain from some rappel somewhere, or toasting around an ice-field campfire and getting the idea.  They got the rights to the whole NIV, put it out in a more traditional-looking thick paperback, and yet--yep--it is still indestructible, waterproof as all get out, and perfect for water sports, mission trips, camps, beach or pool, and--I'm not kidding, really, I'm not--reading in the bathtub.  (Gotta love that pink one!) Or hot-tub, if you've got one.  You can literally slip these into the water and let 'em soak. If you are a swimmer or boater or bubble-bather, these long-lasting, environmental, fully waterproof Bibles are just the ticket. Tired of the waves splashing up on your pages (if you do your devotions at the shore?) Do you pray "when the dew is still on the roses" as the old song goes?  As a reviewer in National Geographic wrote (after sliding the mud off and seeing that it dried out completely) "I give it a big hosanna!"

glo.jpgLastly--from one unusual extreme to another---I hope you recall how we raved about the new, high-powered electonic Bible, Glo. (Zondervan; $79.99)  It's the full NIV Study Bible with thousands of photos, holy land video footage, top-of-the-line computer generated graphics, amazing Bible handbook stuff---pictures of ancient artifacts, lots of excellent maps, movable journal spaces, lots of historic art pieces, tons of commentary, literal lectures and such.  It's truly amazing, but (as we said in our initial announcement) it takes some serious computer power, and it is only for PC (not Mac, yet.)  Digital cheers to Zondervan for producing this state-of-the-art computer software, softward more exciting than any Bible stuff you've seen before.

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Gift of Creation: Images From Scripture and Earth by Norman Wirzba & Thomas Barnes

It is late Friday night here in South Central Pennsylvania and the weather people are predicting a serious storm with deep snowfall. It is coming down brisk but soft even now.  As a struggling businessman, I am frustrated that this will surely kill holiday shopping on what, for us, needed to be the busiest day of the year.  As a Christian, I stand in awe at God's power and the power of creation, wanting to praise Him in all things, and trust His providence.  And as a human being, as a busy and stressed person this crazy time of year, I'm actually looking forward to the reprieve that a heavy snowfall brings.  Ahh, yes, my bad back will hurt as we shovel out, but the stillness and beauty will be spectacular.  As I grow older I dislike the cold and hassle, but I still relish the sheer beauty of God's changing seasons.  Snow really is an amazing thing, isn't it?  A servant of God, Psalm 119:91 assures us.

So, a quiet night, tense with anticipation of the coming storm, and a time for reflecting on the importance of (again) a robust and serious doctrine of creation.  Obviously, this is why I wrote about Copenhagen earlier in the week, and reminded BookNotes readers of the call to stewardship of creation, and the duty to do justice to all creatures (not the least of which are the people in developing countries that feel the anguish of environmental disregard.)  The whole creation (as Romans 8 puts it) is really groaning.  Can we "read the signs of the times" and see judgment and mercy, and the need for response in this groaning?  Let us pray, in Jesus name, for eyes to see and ears to hear.  Despite controversies of fudged climate data and debates about proper policy and carbon offsets and such, we know God wants us to care for His beloved planet. 

Besides the dozens of great, theologically-sound and quite compelling Christian studies of the environment, creation-care and proper response to the environmental crisis that we stock (and that we hope your church library or fellowship group or parish reading group has a few of), we can---and I believe, we must---read books to remind us to enjoy the beauty of the Earth. Of course some of us may be able to do this without reading about it, but I am sure that some of us need a little help (or, at least, can use books as resources in this habit of heart.)  Of course we must protect her from the ideologies, systems and practices that assault her.  (We would not sit and gaze at the beauty of our lovely spouse or sister or mother if she were being mugged or raped, would we?)  Yes, we need analysis and action, theology and politics, research and guidebooks.  Yet, I am confident that sustained care for these things (from daily acts of recycling or buying more organic food to lobbying for wise public policy options) will not just come from a stewardship theology or duty.  It will come, also, from delight. (Maybe you know the Bruce Cockburn song from the CD You've Never Seen Everything reminding us "don't forget about delight."  Lovely, lovely quiet rock, with cool, jazzy fiddle and soothing harmonica, from a profound poet and prophet on these very matters!)

Here's are three books to help us regain our focus, see the sensuous real-ness of things, train our hearts and eyes to enjoy and care.

remember creation.jpgRemember Creation: God's World of Wonder and Delight Scott Hozee (Eerdmans) $15.00  Thank goodness that this previously out of print collection of essays and sermons is now back in print! It is one of my personal favorites for insight and sheer beautiful writing.  It is less about the science or economics of protecting the Earth or fighting for ecological sustainability but worshiping God by appreciating creation.  It is truly about the spirituality of seeing, of understanding the complexities of the Earth, of being doxological in our walking around on the Earth.  A lovely collection, wonderfully written, enjoyable and entertaining and, very profound. It, I think, would be pretty convicting for most of us.  Very highly recommended.


gift of creation 2.jpgThe Gift of Creation: Images From Scripture and Earth  edited by Norman Wirzba, photography by Thomas Barnes (Acclaim Press) $39.95  There are many books of nature photography, collections of stunning calendars and coffee table collections.  Some are by serious photographers, some are a bit cheesy. You can probably get 'em cheap at the bargin bin at the local big box store.  A few are breath-taking, but have stupid new age quotes over the pages (or Bible verses in ugly fonts, which, aesthetically speaking, isn't much better.)

  It is hard to find a book that has top-notch photography, caringly produced by local folk with real integrity, and that isn't marred by goofy or sappy/inspirational text.  We trust Norman Wirzba, who has written widely on a Christian philosophy of creation, directs a remarkable program at Duke U. researching a sense of place, and (for what it indicates) has written about, and is friends with, the poet-farmer-essayist Saint Wendell Berry Wirzba's book on sabbath is radical and wise and grand; he is one to listen to.  When I heard that Wirzba had helped pull together this Kentucky photographers pictures, I knew we had to have it.  It is from a small regional indie press: of course.  We had to order it.

Little did I know that this heavy, well-produced hardback--big, but not too big-- has over ten essays alongside this amazing, amazing photography. The photographer is well respected and teaches forestry at the University of Kentucky.  He's worked in extension services as a wildlife expert and his photography skills have been widely used all over the country.  And, little did I know (ha!) that a few of the contributors to the text of this book are acquaintances, writers I deeply respect and appreciate.  Within this handsome full-color gift book you will also find
flower.jpg really important and wonderfully serious essays by the likes of Calvin DeWitt, Matthew Sleeth, and an essential, creative and exceptional piece by Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat (a New Testament scholar best known as co-author of Colossians Remixed.)  If this book just had the essays, it would be worth shelling out for.  That it is also a coffee table gift book full of rare and wondrous shots, meditation pieces about the gift of God's wonderful world, the value far exceeds the cost. This book is a treasure, a delight, and I intend to spend time looking carefully at it tomorrow during the snowstorm.

Here are some of the authors and their topics found in The Gift of Creation: Ellen Davis from Duke (who has a brilliant book on agrarianism and the Bible, by the way) on Genesis 1; Norman Wirzba reflecting on "being a creature" in light of the Noah story; John Rausch (who directs the very important Catholic Committee on Appalachia) explains the relationship between "sabbath creation" and "sabbath economics."  There is a piece on the Psalms, one by a Jewish scholar and activist on "natural
landscapes.jpg intelligence in the Song of Songs" and there is a very important one called "Nature's Travail and Renewal in the Prophets" (written by Presbyterian Bible scholar and activist, William Brown.) I think the chapter on Jesus and the Earth (in Luke) looks very good and I have thoroughly enjoyed, and learned much, again, from the remarkable piece by Sylvia Keesmaat on Paul and the hope for creation.  It is so beautifully written (even as it is in formed by serious scholarship and profound Bible knowledge) that it nearly cries out to be read out loud.  Lastly, Barbara Rossing from the Lutheran School of Theology reflects passionately on themes of creation found in apocalyptic literature.  There is a helpful appendix offering various internet sites for creation care and a good and serious bibliography. Who knew a gift book could carry so much intellectual learnings and Biblical scholarship?

But, yet, again, it is the artwork here, the gloriously well-done photo shots that make the book.  It is a nicely made, handsomely arranged and nicely shown story of a man and his camera, the work that he does, and the fruit of his amazingly wise eye for the details of this world of wonder.  There are fairly standard pictures of winter churches and National Park vistas and delightful waterfalls and sunset lakes and grazing fawns--which could be cliched, I suppose, but are not in this arrangement.  And then there are the close up looks at the bright color of a spotted salamander or the dull grayness of a cliff or the brown, brown fur of a hare.  Yes, some of these look like Audubon calendars or Sierra Club appointment books (and, I hope you know, that is a great compliment, indicating the quality of the composition and the beauty of the work.) I admit that a few shots perhaps seem a tad plain, but perhaps this is good.  Not all of God's good world is stunning.  There are rather ordinary looking animals, rather mundane fields, barns that are, well, just barns, and not striking in their cool paint-peeling hipness.  I sense that this Tom Barnes guy is (how do I say this nicely) not an elitist or at all pretentious.  He sees stuff that most of us see, and some of his shots are fairly ordinary--even the ones of moose or flowers.  They are accessible.  Yes, yes, there is stunning light and odd shadow and blasts of colors in autumn leaves and sheer mist over giant river.jpgwaterfalls.  Still, I think some of these shots are somehow more approachable than some in the calendars, showing us the subject--the ordinary life of the creation itself---and not drawing attention to the artfulness of the photographer.  That is, these are less about Barnes talent and more about the flora and fauna, the landscapes and locations. Even the graphics are under-whelming, nice little fonts that aren't powerful; again, some designers these days are so absolutely fabulous that you end up looking at the sidebars and pull quotes and color and shades. This is not like that.  I think it works well.  It is, after all, produced by Norman Wirzba, a friend of Wendell Berry's, and the photographer works in forestry.  This is a book for homes and outdoors-lovers and Sunday school classes, not the bohemian galleries.  

The subtitle is "images from Scripture and Earth" and indeed the Biblical study is serious, but often imagistic.  And they open up our minds to have hearts to see.  Conversely, these nice pictures open us up to hear the Word of God.  Excellent photography, wonderful creation, serious Bible study.  I don't know of any book like it, I really don't.  Thanks to Wirzba for pulling it off, and many, many thanks to Mr. Barnes for focusing our attention on the handiwork of a generous, involved Creator.  The Gift of Creation is a fine, fine book, a gift itself, in more ways than one.  Enjoy!

winter.jpgWinter: A Spiritual Geography Gary Schmidt and Susan Felch (Skylight Paths) $18.95  We have often promoted these four books (I've noted the Winter one, here, but there are three others, naturally entitled Spring, Summer and Autumn.)  These are a dream-come-true for literary-type nature lovers.  Edited by two fine writers from the English department of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, with a very broad spiritual eye, these include short pieces, poems, essays, excerpts of novels, and great literature from across the ages and faith perspectives.  From Annie Dillard to Henry David Thoreau, from Sanskrit to Hebrew Bible, from E.B. White to John Updike, these essayists and writers help us see the season as a metaphor, to enter into, to appreciate, to experience.  What a genius idea.  I know a few folks who have given all four as a handsome gift pack, wrapped together with rugged twine or seasonal yarn.

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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313     717.246.333
       

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December 20, 2009

Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry by Debra & Ron Rienstra. A great gift for your pastor or worship leader

I hope you saw my little meditation about snow, enjoying the beauty of creation, and the wonderful gift book (with excellent Biblical essays within) edited by Norman Wirzba, The GIft of Creation: Images from Scripture and Earth.  Scroll back a day if you missed it.  I enjoyed telling folks about it as it really is beautiful.  (And, yep, I was right---the snow was deep and if one took the time to look, it was breathtaking.  And, yep, my bad back (and Beth's bad knees) took a beating as we shoveled Saturday and Sunday.)

And so, many churches were closed.  Our nearest city banned cars the day before, making it hard for staff to get in to shovel at the church or even clear the parking lots, such as they were. Our church canceled Sunday school and although I was stoked to show another week of our Ken Bailey DVD about the Christmas texts, it was, frankly, good not to have to get up early.  A sheepish hoo-ray.

Which made me think of pastors, their loyalty to get up and show up, week after week after week, usually preaching week in and week out, officiating at worship, up front, like it or not.  It isn't easy work, and while there may be some jobs that are more demanding, I am positive that most folks really don't understand the stress that their clergy friends endure.  And this time of year isn't easy.

Why not give a thank you gift to your pastor here at year's end?  It could be a Christmas gift, an end-of-the-year thank you or a true Christmas gift, given on Epiphany (the 12th Day.)

I'm sure BookNotes readers have their lists of good books they'd love to share, and I'd encourage you to do it.  We'd be pleased if you ordered from us, of course. Call or email me if you want more custom-made recommendations for your favorite preacher. (Just tell us a bit about him or her, of course, so we can suggest things that would work well for such an honoring occasion.)

worship words 2.jpgOr, consider giving this, our vote for one of the very best books for worship leaders to come out this year:  Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry by Debra Rienstra and Ron Rienstra (Baker Academic; $19.99; 285 pages.)  We're sure you'd be pleased giving it and they'd be pleased getting it.

It is an eloquent and lovely book, very nicely written. (Debra is also an English prof and has written an excellent book on spirituality and a memoir on being pregnant which we loved.) Ron teaches preaching and worship at Western Theological Seminary.  It seems that the book has been inspired somewhat (and given a practical tone despite its erudition) from being involved as lay folk for years in a parish that is renown for its creative, interesting, Biblically faithful, thoughtful, artful, contemporary/classic Reformed-ish liturgical experiences. (Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, if you want to know; I only say this because we have visited there with dear friends and know of the congregations intentions in this area.)

 The authors have also been involved in the fabulous workshops at the Calvin Center for Christian Worship where they have listened and learned and thought long and hard about worship and the sorts of words we need for engaging, reverent, spiritually-mature worship.  It is really insightful and quite interesting how they honor various sort of human experiences we need from worship, and various tones and styles that are appropriate in different settings.  And, of course, different cadences, rhetoric, verve and mood to accomplish the appropriate feel for each context.  It is wise like this or this stuff, and theologically informed.  A truly great book!   

Marva Dawn says it is "an extraordinarily rich treasure chest of new insights, the best of research, and time-tested wisdom" which offers "phenomenal contributions." Sally Morgenthaler calls is "classic."  Tom Long says that it moves us towards language that is "lively, crisp, inviting, profound, and full of wonder." I cannot think of a pastor or worship director or church leader of any denomination who wouldn't appreciate this balanced and thoughtful guide.

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



December 23, 2009

A Very Last Minute Gift Idea: Make Your Own Hearts & Minds Gift Card

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You are not alone, brothers and sisters, you who are trolling the shops and sighing deeply, with no sugarplums dancing anywhere near your befuddled head. We feel your pain.

And, yes---somebody say Hallelujah!---we've got good news: a great, easy gift idea!  This is it, a great gift idea you can get, right here, right now, at home, easily. It would be good for almost anybody, young or old.  And it is way cool. 

You can make your own Hearts & Minds gift certificate.

All you have to do is give us your credit card info, tell us how much you want to spend, and tell us who it is for.  We'll make a record of it here (and will promptly confirm it with you by sending a number, so they know it isn't you just pretending to give them a gift, what with your crayony scrawl on your kid's construction paper and all.)  (Okay, I take that back: maybe you are a gifted scrap-booker and can make a truly stunning and very textured little thing or an art major and you've already got the vision for some dashing water-color wash, with the dollar amount in pen and ink.  Have at it.) No matter how you make it, we'll send a little number, just to make it official, which you can put on the card real tiny on the back.

Give 'em a gift that they might love.  Or should, at least.  And here is what we'd suggest, to help spread the word about our passionate little business to serve you with (usually) no-nonsense, culturally-relevant, thoughtfully enjoyable, Christian books and music: 

You can DOWNLOAD this interview with me talking about our bookstore and put it on a disc to listen to.

gift cert.jpgLet your friend or loved one hear how we see our calling to help folks make sense of their lives by doing this bookstore thing, why we promote reading widely, how we are eager to help customers connect the dots of their lives, providing books and music that are sometimes a bit hard to find or off the beaten path.  This fast-paced, hour-long interview was professionally broadcast and recorded on VoiceAmerica talk radio, with me being interviewed by a dear friend, life coach Jory Fischer, for her show "Heart & Soul with Jory Fischer."  Let them listen to the interview and understand our take on the joys of reading and discerning a sense of purpose and calling, and why perhaps Hearts & Minds might be an interesting place from which to order some books.  With the gift card you made yourself. 

Invite them to skip the faceless big box chains, and (as Donald Miller puts it it in the new A Million Miles in a Thousand Years) to "tell a better story." 

You can actually do what he recommends in A Million Miles... in that great story about his lawyer friend Bob Goff, who is described as starting (with his kids) a New Year's Day parade in their neighborhood.  Only thing is, nobody on the street was allowed to watch the parade.  Everybody had to be in it!
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Miller explains that Bob thought that it isn't good enough to tell a better story.  We then should invite people into that story.

We would like to think that you believe that shopping here has been part of a purposeful story you are telling with your life.  Supporting independent businesses, ordering books from somebody you trust, talking about the most important stuff happening within the religious community, learning to make a difference, being comforted and delighted, instructed and challenged, by the authors we suggest or recommend.  Why not invite somebody else into this story?  Yeah, why not bring them into the Hearts & Minds family of friends?

Download the audio interview with me, burn it on a CD, and wrap it up and give it with the gift
certificate as a way of explaining why you support Hearts & Minds, how we might serve them, and why your made that scrawlly little (or very lovely, or large, for that matter) home-made gift card.  And why we are crazy enough to honor it.

Thanks for your support this year, thanks for caring about sharing good books.  Or hand-made gift cards, as the case may be.  Merry Christmas, one and all.

SEND US YOUR CREDIT CARD NUMBER & THE AMOUNT AND NAME OF RECIPIENT. HERE
We'll email you the confirmation number for you to put somewhere on the gift certificate.You do the rest.

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA 17313     717-246-3333
 

December 29, 2009

The 12th Day of Christmas gifts: Some great Children's Books and Bibles (Be sure to go to the end for two great adult books about kids' books---and a 50% off savings on a wonderful children's Bible.)

Very early on in our parenthood we came up with the idea to explain gift-giving at Christmastime (we didn't pretend to believe in Santa) by teaching how the wise men gave gifts to Jesus, which, naturally, led us to the liturgical calendar's celebration of Epiphany. Ha---what a deal! We got to shop for our kids after the grandparents and aunts and uncles gave our little ones gifts, during after-Christmas sales, and had 12 whole days to figure out how to put together our own family gift-giving ritual. And, more than 25 years later, we do much of our family gift exchanging on the 12th day of Christmas.

We think it is a fine tradition, moving from the slow and sad season of Advent into Epiphany, and we invite you to think about how you can celebrate the whole season of Christmastide. It not just to buys you some breathing room in the stress-inducing week, or allows you to listen to the great theology of Christmas carols a bit longer, but to help young ones understand the importance and flow of the season. It isn't just over after a big blowout day on the 25th!

So, here are some suggestions for children's books. I hope it doesn't sound pushy to suggest you order something now and find a child who needs a gift on Epiphany. (Most Protestant kids don't even know what that is, so you can introduce them to this celebration of Light in a creative way.) We have tons of other great children's books (and, of course, books for older readers, middle schoolers, or teenagers) so call if you'd like some recommendations for other ages.

Here is a great choice for just this occasion:

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Come Worship With Me: A Journey through the Church Year Ruth Boling, illustrated by Tracey Dahle Carrier (Geneva Press) $19.95 We love to promote this lush book of church mice learning bout the major holidays of the liturgical calendar. It has a bit of whimsy, lots of great, rich color, and tons educational aspects as traditional Christian symbols are explored. Great for pre-schoolers up to inquisitive early elementary children. The same author/artist team have done a companion volume, with the same church mice, by the way, which is a brightly rendered study (by way of story) of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany called Mouse Tales: Things Hoped For (Westminster/John Knox; $16.95) which is also a real treat

How about children's picture Bibles?

There are so many, and most are fun and lively and cartoony; I appreciate whimsy and of course understand that the vocabulary and language need to be age appropriate and understandable. Yet, too many dumb it down, or market the stories as if they are mere stories; disconnected and silly. That it is a serious matter to break open God's Word and that it is to be read coherently seems almost to escape some well-intended creators of children's Bibles.

Yet there are plenty of really good ones out there, and the variety of illustration and tone is a delight. We have oodles of different ones and many have something unique to commend them. It is fun to look at them all and recall reading them out loud. Actually, I think the paraphrase story approach can be helpful for adults, too, so we think families should have several, if they can afford them, and read them together.

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Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name Sally Lloyd-Jones/illustrated by Jago (Zondervan) $16.99 This is our hand-down favorite for ages 4-8. That she sees the coming of Christ as the center of the unfolding drama is so helpful; it removes the stories from being mere morality tales or sentiment, and moves towards this sturdy sense that Jesus is the key to God's redemptive work among His people and in His world. Kudos to Sally and to Zondervan for doing it! (By the way, we have the new deluxe edition of it which comes slip-cased with an audio CD, a male British voice doing the reading of many of the stories, which is pretty cool for $24.99.) She has other books, too, including some specific Bible stories, and some more general-market books. She's outstanding!

Tomie dePaola's Book of Bible Stories Tomie dePaola (Puffin) $10.95 This large sized

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paperback includes many Bible stories straight from the NIV, without paraphrase or comment. The artwork is classic dePaulo, with his quasi-medieval, signature style. Mr. DePaola, a devout Catholic and one of the great children's illustrators of the late 20th century, has given us a book to be treasured and enjoyed. There are bright colors on every page, with illuminations and symbols and small drawings even on the pages that are mostly text. There are over 30 stories told (and a Bible index in the back, which is helpful especially for Sunday school teachers.) Other pages are nothing but pictures. Very nice and a special gift for anyone that loves his other good work like Strega Nona or St. Francis, or Nana Upstairs.

The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm, illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker (Crossway) $22.99 Its organizing philosophy--the historical redemptive approach which emphasizes the unfolding drama of the whole of Scripture---is somewhat like The Jesus Storybook Bible. The book is large-sized, thick and heavy, but has fewer words on the page, and a more classic sort of pastel art. It is ideal for very young children, younger kindergartners, and pre-schoolers. A great way to show the big picture.

365 Bible Stories for Young Hearts Lion Hudson (Crossway) $17.99 They say this is for ages 5 and up and, again, has that sort of coherent feel.... I like the colorful, but standard, artwork on almost every page. The size is nearly 9 x 9 and the explication of each passage is more than adequate. It has a ribbon marker, too.

Children's Bible in 365 Stories Mary Batchelor, illustrated by John Haysom (Lion Press) $16.99 I am not exactly sure why, but this is the one we most often sell, the one we have recommended the most over the years; we trust the tone and reading and vocabulary and realistic, traditional art. Perhaps not the most artful or provocative, but it gets the job done with age appropriate language and solid explanations of the Bible story. This Bible storybook contains many of the "bridging" stories that connect the better-known stories (especially in the O.T.) making it very useful for more thorough Bible knowledge. Can be read aloud to younger ones, but is best suited for middle to older elementary readers or hearers. It is indexed, too; notes the book and chapter reference for each story.

The Lion Day-by-Day Bible Mary Joslin, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Lion Press) $19.95 A

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younger version of the Mary Batchelor collection but with a tremendously rich aesthetic look. The text is simpler than Batchelor's, but is not at all babyish. (And each day's reading includes a prayer handsomely designed into the margin.) Clear sentences, but some stretching vocabulary make it suitable for older 4's to about age 10 or so. Reads aloud well. Each double page spread has appealing and colorful visuals, though not always a "scene" from the story. There are 365 stories, one to a page, with each one accompanied by book and chapter reference and a sentence prayer. A "Story Finder" index helps to locate specific stories by topic, theme or event in the liturgical year. This is really very, very artful and wonderfully attractive.

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The Bible for Children Murray Watts, illustrated by Helen Cann (Good Books) $23.99 Beautifully illustrated in an evocative, dynamic style with an art piece for almost every story. The appealing page layouts are enhanced with illustrated borders on the two outside edges making it one of the nicest children's Bibles's in our collection. It is hard to pick just one, but this may be our true favorite; wish we could show you samples of the page spreads. The language is descriptive and artful, yet very clear. (We appreciate the attention to the age appropriateness of it all, too, with some sensitivities shown about the violence and such, unlike many kid's Bible story books.) The stories do flow one to the next, and often assume that the readers/listeners remember the events or characters of the preceding story. Contains an index of people and places in the back. Great!  A joy to behold. SEE BELOW FOR A FANTASTIC 50% OFF SPECIAL OFFER.

NIrV Discoverer's Bible for Young Readers (Zondervan) $22.95  The NIrV is the "reader's edition" which means it is not a new or different translation (like, say, the TNIV) but just a young-readers version, adapted from the NIV by a group of language specialists who were very aware of vocabulary and syntax and such. They did change the NIV text a bit, but not so much that it isn't considered a real NIV Bible. It brings it down nearer a 3rd grade reading level instead of the typical 8th or 9th grade level of the standard NIV of the revised TNIV. This particular edition (although there are others) has a nice, fairly large 12-point type, making it good for early readers (or for reading aloud.) There are about 30 pictures scattered throughout, but it is not a picture Bible, just a nice edition of the real Bible for younger children. This Young Discoverer's edition, with some pictures, nice type face is also available in the NIV.

NIV Adventure Study Bible (Zondervan) This is a real "study Bible" for elementary

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aged-kids that comes in either the younger NIrV or the standard NIV, which has maps and jungle-themed (VBS-looking) art throughout, with side bars and "did you know" factoids and all kinds of clever and creative aids for middle elementary students... What a fun, fun way to help students learn to study, read-up on extra background stuff, and learn to think about ways to apply the insights of the passages to daily living.  They've got a variety of covers, some devotional books, too, even audio stuff in their "adventure" line.  Go here for the full listing.

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In The Beginning Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by James Kandt (TommyNelson) $17.99 There are just oodles of creation stories, and some are stunning, but a bit mature; others are stunning but a bit weird. This is fabulously done, great, colorful, creative and big, big art, with very lovely text. This author is a favorite of ours, and this simple telling of the days of creation is fun and thoughtful, in a very simple manner. It has a full page spread at the end of Colossians 1:16. Bright silver end papers (with some rich blue stars) make this really nice.

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Creation  Gennady Spirin (Zondervan) $14.99  This is one of the most visually stunning and truly interesting picture books of the creation narrative of which we know. This "Master Illustrator" series is extraordinary, and the artwork in this one evokes a sense of the spectacular art of the high Middle Ages. The renowned Russian illustrator is known especially for his work in fairy tales, mixing contemporary Russian styles with those of the Renaissance.


Creative ways to teach values, character, creative and hope


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Big Thoughts for Little People: ABCs to Help You Grow Ken Taylor (Tyndale) $14.99 This is a classic Christian alphabet book, now re-designed with a whole new fabulous look which is playful and nice. The pastel art of the children is more multi-cultural and kind of upbeat, a little silly, and yet very, very sweet. It is an ABC book and some might think the faith lessons are a little moralistic, but it is for really young children, so we think it is great. There are discussion questions after a small lesson, and one Bible verse per two-page spread. It is made for interactive use, of course, and there is lots to look at, pictures jam-packed with motion and stuff and lots of color. The artist now lives in Croatia!

I Am A Promise: I Can Be Anything God Wants Me To Be Gloria Gaither, illustrated by Kristiana Stephenson (Zonderkidz) $14.99 Here it is, the re-issued, newly designed kids book that goes with the famous kids song. Yep, this is about vocation and calling, very few words on the page, but a lovely rhyme and tons of colorfully drawn kids doing various careers and jobs. It is rooted in God's call, His promise, and His love for each of us. This is fantastic, and the art is colorful and fun, although fairly standard fare (which isn't bad, just nothing unusual.) Shows kids learning and reading and loving the world....the art draws forth the "career" aspect very nicely, while the simple words remind us that we are God's promise, living under His purpose. Includes a CD of the song. Love it.

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Fool Moon Rising Kristi Fluharty, illustrated by T. Fluharty (Crossway) $14.99 This new book is nearly genius, I'd say, although the metaphor may be a tiny bit mature for a three-year-old. (They say 3-7 on the back, though.) The fabulous art has the look of a recent Disney or Pixar movie, maybe...a close up of a large planted and a cartoony kid. Great looking picture book! The story is basically about a "crime of cosmic proportions" where the moon is stealing the sun's glory! This rhyming tale teaches children about the importance of humility and the dangers of pride (I guess) but more, to honor GOD in all things. That is, we get our glory from His greater glory. I have told customers this is John Piper for pre-schoolers. It really is about the greatness of God which transforms us from prideful to proper humility. Wow, what fun!

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The Tallest of Smalls Max Lucado, illustrated by Maria Monescillo (TommyNelson) $16.99 Lucado has a way with words, and his children's parables--many about self-esteem, God's acceptance, of trusting the love of our creator, have been real winners. This one seems to be drawn from his most recent adult work, Fearless, and is just a wonderful, wonderful story about being chosen, despite not fitting in. Learning about God's unconditional love is what matters most and this parable---done with pretty edgy, modern illustration, is one of his best. The illustrator is from Madrid, Spain. Great!

We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World Stuart Stotts, illustrated by

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Terrance Cummings (Clarion Books) $18.00 I hope you know the history of this song, the courage of the students at the Highlander School who sang a new version of it in 1959 when the police had cut off their electricity during one of their raids. I get choked up every time I hear of it, or in those rare times I've heard Pete Seeger tell of it before a protest crowd. This book traces how a variety of songs gave courage and strength to anti-slavery movements, the underground railroad, the civil rights efforts, and, later, how women's and worker's rights movements used the song. It has bright art, lots of archival b/w photography, and tons of inspiring stories. And, yep, there is a CD of none other than Pete Seeger doing the song. Stuart Stotts is the son of a Presbyterian seminary professor who himself was very active in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and learned much of this first hand through his father's courageous and faithful work. The illustrator is a graduate of Parson's School of Design.

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Praying With Our Feet Lisa Weaver, illustrated by Ingrid Hess (Herald Press) $12.99 Thank goodness that the Mennonite Publishing House continues to bring overtly Christian books about peace and justice to our families and children. Here is how they describe this fun story: "A big group of friends get together to go on a special walk. They want to remind their neighbors that war doesn't bring peace to our world. They know that Jesus wants us to love everyone. Jesus even wants us to love our enemies...The walkers wear shoes of all sizes, colors, and shapes. They're praying with their feet, walking with the God of peace." Given the current administration's commitments to war-fighting, it may be helpful to get our children aware of what peace marches are, and why some Christians join them. Sadly, this book will be only more valuable in the months to come. Happily, there are delightfully upbeat pictures, lots of text, making this a great book to teach about these themes. Nice!

The Flower John Light, illustrated by Lisa Evans (Child's Play) $16.99 This is an enigmatic

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story about a boy in a drab, gray city, who finds a book in the library that says "Do Not Read." Of course, when he sneaks it home and opens it, he sees pictures of something called flowers. He can't imagine such things in his dark futuristic city of concrete. He finally finds some seeds and continues his optimistic struggle to grow plants. A deceptively simple and haunting story, mysteriously illustrated. Books really can work magic, can't they?

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The House Roberto Innocenti, illustrated by J. Patrick Lewis (Creative Editions) $19.95 If this mature and stunningly illustrated picture book--there is no text on most pages, except a few poetic lines over dates (from the point of view of the house itself)--doesn't get nominated for a Caldecott Award, I will be surprised and disappointed. With intricate detail (think Brugel the Elder, but not as scary or weird) this traces the history of a stone house and its plot of land, starting on a rural hill in 1900, as the house is built, becomes a home, is expanded with

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outbuildings and stonewall fences, is abandoned, left in disrepair in the woods, is re-purchased, fixed up, ands the environment changes, into a...well, you'll have to see the last fun frame for yourself. I can't help but think of the powerfully moving song "If These Walls Could Speak" (popularized by Amy Grant.) Do places matter? Can walls speak? Are there stories here? What a thoughtful and suggestive book this would make.


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14 Cows for America Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree) $17.95 This may be one of the most stunning picture books in years---both the breath-taking art and the sheer power of the story that is both sentimental and weighty. After the horrible bombings of 9-11, word got back to some Maasai tribesman in rural Kenya about this tragedy in the United State. They could hardly imagine (literally) and wanted to help. In their culture, a cow is a sign of life, literally and mythically, and an elder tribesman was dispatched to find the American ambassador. The tribe wanted to give the United States people a cow. A few more were donated by other poor Maasai warriors---these are their most prized possessions, offered as profound act of friendship to a grieving people. When the story became known, Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah (a younger man in the tribe) was promoted by Oprah, obtaining a science degree from Stanford, and was awarded a Rotary Club Peace Fellowship; he is soon to take up a degree in international peace studies. This art and text in this book is wonderful and we highly, highly recommend it.

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The Sudan Project: Rebuilding With the People of Darfur: A Young Person's Guide Melissa Leembruggen (Abingdon) $10.00 This book is colorful and bright with tons of full-color pictures of Africa and close-ups of African folks. It is arranged as an alphabet book, but (like many of our favorite alphabet books, it has content that will attract children up to middle elementary age or older.) Although the book does not back away from the horror of war and injustice and poverty, its theme is of hope, and about ordinary people around the world, who have reached out to provide help. The profits of the book go to the Sudan Project at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church and UMCOR. Excellent.


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A Year in Art: The Activity Book (Prestel) 24.95 This is a truly spectacular book published by one of the world's leading art presses, a book that could sell for nearly twice the price! It allows children to explore and respond to the world's great masterpieces every day of the year through games, puzzles, coloring and other activities. From African masks to European paintings to modern American art, this beautifully produced hardback activity book will inspire children and adults alike. By the way, the sweet (fuzzy) cat on the front? It's an Andy Warhol.

Long out of print and now--hip, hip, hooray!---are now again available:


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Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration David & Karen Mains (Lamplighter Publishing) $25.00 each These books are each a collection of shorter pieces in the classic fantasy style--ancient promises are recalled as the faithful work against the Enchanter and his power over the once beautiful city. As you might guess, the Mains have a full-orbed Kingdom vision, helping children or teens see the overall theme of creation-fall-redemption, with the redeemers graceful rescue plan setting off massive implications for one and all. These are some of the most beloved books among parents we have served over the years who now can't wait for grandchildren to someday read them to. It is interesting, too, how these have caught the appeal of college-age students, who like the allegory, the lovely illustrations, and the way the theological vision of God's redemptive work in His Kingdom can be seen in these fantastical tales.

(Note: for a few years in the late 90s these were available as cheap paperbacks with truly awful artwork that made the stories look terribly cheap. These re-issues are of the original '80s hardcovers, with the original art.)

And two just for the adults:

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up General editor Julia 

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Eccleshare , (Universe) $36.95 Selected and reviewed by leading international critics, this thick book is colorful and nearly 1000 pages! It is a must-have resource for any parent or teacher---or anyone who loves great books. (I hope you know this, but some of the best literature ever has been juvenile fiction.) This is arranged by age group, and looks at everything from the world of Spot with Eric Hill to Vera Williams urban landscapes, to Hogswart's School to Narnia and Middle Earth. Yes, there are 1001 entries, so I can't even begin to describe this wonderful collection. A perfect book to dip in to when you have a few spare moments, or to wade through, making lists of what you have or haven't yet read.

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Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children's Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life edited by Anita Silvey (Roaring Brook Press) $29.99 Okay, this isn't really for children, but some of our customers here and of course our staff got a real kick out of it. Famous (and some not famous) people weigh in on how certain kids books effected them, lessons that were learned, ideals and hopes and dreams gathered from their favorite children's books. I opened it up when it first came, and read Edon Lipson describe her sense of the meaning and dignity of work gleaned from Little House on the Prairie and I was hooked. The next entry was entitled "the wonder of the ordinary" written by the editor of Slate, Emily Bazelon, from Little House in the Big Woods. Wow. Another was by Jay Leno was on Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel and I was nearly brought to tears reading Louis Lowry tell how she learned the power of words when her mother cried while reading to her The Yearling. From Steve Forbes to Julia Alvarez, from Julianne Moore to Roger Ebert, some of the contributors are not children's writers. But many are and, oh, to hear what book most influenced Maurice Sendak or David Macaulay, Jack Prelutsky or Chris Van Allsburg, Betsy Byars or Jon Scieszka---what an education! The book thankfully has a nice excerpt of the book being discussed, making this a truly great reading experience and a very useful resource for educators.

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December 30, 2009

BEST BOOKS OF 2009 PART ONE


BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2009  PART ONE

THE GOLD MEDAL VERY BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR AWARD

Justice Project Brian McLaren, Elisa Padilla, Ashley Bunting Seeber (Baker) $21.99 We are grateful that, for reasons too complicated to go into now, but largely (we presume) because of the graciousness of God who gives revival of this sort, there is a widespread and vibrant move among younger evangelicals to live out a gregarious involvement with the world, showing raw love for the hurting and despised, expressing God's own care for the hurting. Their ministries and readings have evoked a realization that simple charity ("can't we all just get along?") is Biblically naïve and an inadequate response to the deep evils and sorrows of our time. A passion for justice has been brewing, from Sojourners to International Justice Mission; within charismatic circles (the Vineyard churches, for instance) to neo-Calvinists in the reformational movement; from urban Young Life to the new monastics. This book is an example of this new evangelical concern, and is an exceptionally thoughtful, varied, and useful resource, the kind of thing that simply wouldn't have been published a few years ago. Although activist Shane Claiborne has a beautiful quote on the back, what he points out is equally important: "These authors are not just the "usual suspects" of the religious left, but signs of a movement that is coloring outside the lines of partisan politics and stale debates...they insist that our faith must be as daring and sassy, as gentle and fascinating, as our lover, Jesus."

When I reviewed this earlier in the year, I noted how thorough it was, and how readable, how interesting. The Justice Project includes dozens of chapters, showing how justice effects everything from environmental care to urban poverty, from domestic violence to rural life issues. Importantly, there are many great Biblical essays, showing how social justice concerns are found in nearly every aspect of the Bible. A shout out to Sylvia Keesmaat for her piece on Paul. There is still an old stereotype afoot that social justice, while maybe found in the Hebrew Torah, or in the screeds of those rowdy prophets, is not found in the Newer Testament - let alone in Paul. She (and others) deftly show the truth of the what the Bible really says. Read this and rejoice. Read it and put it to use. Share it, study it, dance with it. This is a book I've been waiting for my whole life. Praise be to God.

Deep Church: A Third Way Between Emergent and Traditional Jim Belcher (IVP) $17.00 My deepest roots come from mainline Protestantism, a small town, an ordinary EUB church, the pietistic denomination that merged with the Methodists in the mid-60s where I attended regularly from as far back as I have memory. From my wife's similarly regular Lutheran years, and our mutual admiration of Anabaptist relatives, I think we can say we have a strong ecclesiology. That is, we think church is important; not just the regal Biblical idea of church, but the real, often rather boring, infuriating, slow-to-change, institution made up of oddball folks, the real thing down your street and mine. It is a work, a work of grace, but you can learn stuff there, and become a person shaped by the good news. As much as we've majored in reviewing books about faith-based cultural reform, social outreach, thinking faithfully about vocations outside the walls of the institutional church, drawing on the gospel of the Kingdom (not just personal salvation or parish life) we have always said--and I've highlighted books here--that involvement in a real congregation is vital for earnest Christian growth. Much of the action of God is outside the walls of the church, but that is no excuse for apathy towards the health of the congregation. Still, we know that there is much to talk about, especially as many younger disciples of Jesus seem to be branching up and off into fellowships or gatherings not connected to a real, local parish.

And so, I've been very interested in what many now call the "emergent conversation" of the last decade - this tribe of often disillusioned evangelical church folk who have entered the blogosphere, the conference and retreat world - and developed a publishing program raising big questions about the nature of faith, the meaning of church, the relationship of Christ, church, and Christendom, and what it means to be followers of Jesus in this 21st Century liquid, consumerist, culture. The emergent folk are good at questioning the narrow piety of many of our most religious leaders, the oddly insular practices of congregational life and the subsequent cultural irrelevancy, the harsh legalism, the corporate sort of trendiness that ends up with big programs and big screens and big commitments to the idols of efficiency and marketing and growth. (Yes, some of the tatooed leaders of the emergent movement used to be youth pastors at the evangelical mega-churches and just burned out on all that cookie-cutter quasi success.) That quintessentially postmodern conversation--controversial and wrong-headed as it may sometimes be--is a conversation worth having. I explained our interests in it here, but it has generated a cottage industry of loud writers writing off anyone visiting the emergent village. Some critics have been wiser than others, and some have been kinder than others, and some have merely caricatured the emergent positions, such as they are. I can count on very few fingers the number of authors in the "critical" camp who have gotten their concerns about the emergent movement right. Jim Belcher, in Deep Church, has.

Deep Church is at once a call to a serious ecclesiology - that is, it reflects wisely about the church and her importance - and it is a very serious and altogether pleasant debate with some of the leaders of the emergent camp (Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, etc.) I am not sure Belcher fully develops everything that needs to be developed - as a working pastor he'd say he has not, as in many ways this is a study in process which he's been working on in the trenches of church planting and ministry. But Jim here does something no less audacious than promoting a new alternative way of thinking about and being church, a third way "beyond" the new voices of the emergent village, and the critics of those voices. He's a "third way" between standard, conservative, and historically orthodox evangelical faith and its usual forms, and the rather edgy, pomo wild guys at the margins of new kinds of Christianity. For those who have followed this, he is neither D.A. Carson and Mark Driscoll, nor Tony Jones and Phyllis Tickle. And he's not a happy medium, either.

I will review Belcher's amazing book in a bit better detail soon because it really deserves to be described in greater fullness, but I want to hold it up as one of the most important books to be published in recent years. It is a must for anyone interested in this emergent movement, and although he isn't particularly addressing mainline folks, it is excellent for anyone interested in congregational life, evangelical or otherwise.

It is a book that models religious debate in healthy and kind and fair ways (that alone makes it exemplary) and a book that talks about congregational renewal (worship, preaching, community, education, outreach, and such) in ways that strike many as fresh, yet solid, creative, yet enduring, risky and adventurous, but not the least bit gimmicky. If anything, it may be said that this isn't all that new: he wants serious liturgy and historic orthodoxy, caring outreach and real-life community, a rejection of standard dualisms, nothing thin or easy or hip. I suppose I'll put my cards on the table with this one: a hero and favorite author of mine, Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, raves about Belcher's unique approach in an appreciative foreward and Jim himself has been a FaceBook friend and customer of ours for quite some time. His vision is largely shaped by a mentor of his, Reverend Tim Keller, whose fairly conservative theology, and fairly traditional worship, construed and embodied in fairly creative ways in mid-town Manhattan, has become one of the shining examples of evangelical cultural renewal in the hard Gotham city. Thick? Missional? Engaged with the emergent, but critical of it? Deep? Provacative? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

This is a must-read for those wanting to get up to speed on the state of the art of down-to-earth but excellent theological discourse, or those who want to dream new dreams about a faithful and relevant church, a mature worshipping community that equips folks to nurture the Christian mind, a Godly care for culture, and an involvement in the coming Kingdom of God. We are happy to name it one of our "books of the year."

Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of Image Greg Wolfe, editor (Eerdmans) $30.00 This is a well made, heavy hardback, a book worth owning, using often, dipping into for comfort and enjoyment, stimulation and (in the best sense) inspiration. Wolfe has been at the helm of one of the most important quiet voices of Christian renewal in recent decades, the ecumenical, exceedingly classy, arts/literary journal, Image. Image has published some of the finest writers, poets, essayists and wordsmiths of our time, from Annie Dillard to Kathleen Norris to Denise Levertov to Wendell Berry. Further, they've nurtured a friendly community of artists and patrons, publishing (and sometimes gathering together) those in the matrix of this recent interest in faith, art, literature and cultural renewal. Filmmakers and painters, poets and memoirists and the occasional theologian or rock star have found their way into the columns, interviews and articles of this fine, fine quarterly journal.

Bearing...is a published celebration - I only mean to quip cleverly when I say it is like a greatest hits - and it is an honor to realize it was God's doing, this uprising of a faithful few, carried forward by sheer determination, small donations, and the passions that have always propelled artists to do their creative thing. I do not just rave about this book because it honors the anniversary of Image; it really, really is a treasure trove of great insight and deep enjoyment. Here you'll find Patricia Hampl, Scott Cairns, Clyde Edgerton, Mako Fujimura, Ron Hansen, Luci Shaw, Ann Patchett and so many others. For a few of us, the Mark Heard journal entry is nearly worth the price of the book. Others will cherish a piece by Larry Woiwode. A few, I'm sure, will be touched by Julia Kasdorf's piece, "Across from Jay's Book Stall in Pittsburgh." And many of us should have at least one full color example of the large art of Ed Knippers, a watercolor portrait by Catherine Prescott, a woodcut by Barry Moser. We here at Hearts & Minds, I suppose I should confess, are not terribly high-brow and we live and work in a pretty common-place small town so we are not gushing about this because we live in some urbane culture of grand literature. I do not say this lightly, but I do want to say it loudly: for anybody who cares about good writing, this is one of the best books we've seen in years, as it is laden with such deep joy and meaning, and it stands for so much more. Congratulations to the stout crew that keeps this labor of love alive.

GOTTA LOVE IT: OUR OWN FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR

These may or may not deserve to be in the very "best" category, but we sure did love them. These are our favorites, those that brought us the most solid pleasure. Maybe that really does make 'em the best. Thanks to these writers for a job well done, for a labor that has blessed us personally.

Coop: A Year in Pigs, Poultry and Parenting Michael Perry (HarperOne) It seems to me that these should just fly off the shelves. Maybe I don't know how to explain this guy, whom I've described as a "blue collar Garrison Keillor." I mean no disrespect to the rural Lutheran, but Perry has real dirt under his fingernails (and who knows what else; he's been working with pigs and changing diapers if you get my drift.) Beth and I both will read anything Perry writes, and have loved Population 485, Truck, Off Main Street and now this: a crowning achievement of fun, foibles, small town, hard-workin' life, told with exquisite prose that just doesn't quit. He is clever and deep and wise and good. I've read a lot of good books these past years, and this really is an all-time favorite. You will be touched, I'm sure, and duly impressed by his truly amazing wordsmithing, his carpentry skills (or at least his darn-good effort), his realization that he is often a dolt (ask his wife) and his solid alt-country musical tastes. Put on some Steve Earle and spread the word.

Million Miles in a Thousand Years Donald Miller (Nelson) $19.99 Okay, I'm a tad nervous saying this, as Donald Miller has a huge following, mostly among younger evangelicals who (sorry for the hunch here) haven't read tons of memoir, and wouldn't know Patrica Hample from Mary Karr from Seven Story Mountain. Maybe that book with the cardboard box on the guy's head and maybe the on-line rants of Jon Stewart. Okay, enough of that. I'm sorry. I just sometimes wonder when a 19 year old fundamentalist swears by a book that changed her life--think Blue Like Jazz or Crazy Love--that they just may not get out into the literary world much. Still, this is a good thing: that fun and interesting writers capture the attention of those not used to serious prose. I'm happy that folks really rave about writers they like.

I say all that to sound a little snarky and keep you high-brow folks with me---yes, yes, we can mock the popular and hip quite easily, can't we? But listen here: Miller is a really good writer, he is a good thinker and it seems to me that he's worked really hard to find his voice (as they say) and although he's plenty pissed off at ordinary conservative evangelicalism, he is theologically altogether reliable. This is just one heck of a fun and funny book, well written, entertaining, interesting, and--yep--right. We do have to make meaning of our lives and our lives do unfold very much like a movie plot. This narrative about narrative - they were making a movie about his life, which got him thinking he ought to improve his life a bit, which he does by studying film-making, and trying to get the real Don as interesting as the movie Don - is really clever. You have to grant me that. Maybe this is the best new idea for a book in 25 years! (Name a better idea, can ya?) And he mostly pulls it off. Yep, this long-awaited Donald Miller was one of our favorite books of the year. And not just us, but it has a sweet ol blurb right on the front from Anne Lamotte. Told ya. This is really good stuff. Maybe he'll be nominated someday for the best book inspired by a movie, or the movie by the book, or whatever. In the meantime, he gets this little shout out from Hearts & Minds. Best of '09.

Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet Alisa Smith & J. B. Mackinnon (Three Rivers Press) $13.95 I know that it is rather trendy to be writing about sustainable agriculture, being a foodie and localism and such. We love Barbara Kingsolver (can't wait to read her brand new novel) but (I hate to admit) the popular zietgist-weathervane Animal Vegetable Miracle grew a bit old on me. We're glad everybody read The Omnivore's Dilemma last year, and we gloried in it as well, but it, too, didn't make me laugh or cry. This, though - the feisty story of two young lovers (with nothin' better to do, as Steve Miller put it) who decide to only eat food that was grown within a 100 mile radius of their British Columbia home - really was a hoot. What a memoir! They shop, they grow stuff, they forage, they fight, they learn to cook. You know the worst scenes in Julie and Julia? This is worse than that. And, more important. This is a haunting study of an ecological footprint and a pointer towards what it may mean to be more responsible stewards of God's good earth. Couldn't put it down, a signal not only of how important it was, but how much I truly enjoyed it, how well it was written, and how I grew to care about this difficult journey and this difficult relationship. The hardback edition was entitled Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally.

The Devil Reads Derrida: And Other Essays on the University, the Church, Politics and the Arts James K.A. Smith (Eerdmans) $18.00 I love non-fiction books, and will name plenty, thinking up goofy awards just to be able to honor so many I truly appreciated. This really was one of my favorites, in part because of a few key essays (Teaching Calvinists to Dance, for instance, or the brilliant Architecture of Altruism: On Loving Our Neighborhoods.) These are short pieces by one of the most important--and increasingly known--young scholars of recent years, a Calvin College philosophy prof who is as fluent in Flaubert, Foucault, Little Miss Sunshine and Harry Potter. He is as passionate about liturgical renewal as he is about uniquely Christian political activism, and seriously informed about both. (His piece on why Jim Wallis isn't particularly helpful, is very much worth reading, overstated as it may be.) This is a clever, smart, insightful, Biblically-laden, collection of interesting essays, and is to be especially commended for being a fine example of how serious scholarship can serve the church, how Christian critical thinking can be done in such a manner as to help ordinary people. Short, thoughtful, pieces, personal testimony, sermons, movie and book reviews: philosopher as public intellectual, serving the rest of us. A great collection. I only wish there were more. Maybe this award will inspire another such collection.

A Good Neighbor: Benedict's Guide to Community Robert Benson (Paraclete) $14.99 This slim volume, like other Benson books, illustrates his humble style, his somewhat wry humor, his economy of words. I don't quite know why I am so enamored by his spare style, his (almost) no-nonsense story telling, but time in Benson's pages always creates a truly sweet reading experience. Here, he gives sound advice on forming community, on being present to those whom God has given you, and those God gives you to. That is, neighbors, church friends, associates, colleagues, friends and family, here and far. This is a sane way to be aware of the deeper relational connections that are possible, and their pains and sorrows, graces and responsibilities. This book provides a lovely way to learn a bit about Saint Benedict's advice for monks, too, - applied to contemporary life in the not so fast lane. Lovely. His wonderful handsized hardback book The Echo Within on vocation isn't a 2009 book, but I read it in 2009. It, too, is a lovely, delightful, wise and great read. I cherished holding that little hardback, and it reminded me of how good a writer he is, without being overly zealous for the fancy touch. Highly recommended. I award him bounteous Benedictine blessing.

TELL THE STORY, TELL THE TRUTH: BEST MEMOIR

Well, I've awarded Coop (Perry) Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Miller) and Plenty (Smith & Macinnon)... excellent choices, all, favorite books in this favorite genre. Three others get special mention, though.

Lit Mary Karr (Harper) Some say that her 1990s hard-scrabble West Texas dysfunctional girlhood memoirs, Liars Club and Cherry, catapulted us into the era of memoir. Her wit and amazing craft of cadence and word choice make her truly one of the most celebrated writers in decades. And her weird, hard, white trash, alcoholic little shop of horrors of a family sure gave her grist for the story. This third installment has been long, long awaited, and nearly every page provides stunning examples of her excellent, transparent writing. This self-effacing story is vulgar and tender, real and amazing, beautiful and smart. Her marriage to an exceptionally wealthy New England old money, Harvard gent, now a scrambling poet himself, sets up contrasts that just had to be written about; her journey to (as she indelicately calls it) "the looney bin" is power-house stuff, as is her poetry writing amidst her recovery. Somewhat like Anne Lamott or Anne Rice - other boehmian and celebrated authors who have come to be found by the Christian faith - Karr has converted to Catholicism. This is not a major part of the book, but no matter. This is a deeply religious cry of the heart, a wild and witty telling of tragedy and redemption, poetry in fast forward motion. Wow.

Girl in an Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail Margot Starbuck (IVP) $16.00 I so enjoyed this story of a college-age evangelical off to change the world who comes slowly up against her longing to meet her birth-father (even while her adopted family starts falling apart at the seams.) Starbuck, who is one great character - a woman my wife and I would love to meet someday, ends up at Princeton Seminary and becomes an ordained Presbyterian minister with a serious case of depression, some painful physical disabilities, a jones for stalking the dad who rejected her, and a hole in her heart that would make Augustine's restlessness seem tidy. We so, so appreciated the good writing, and so respect the author for telling her story that it just had to be listed as a year's best. This is classic memoir, interesting, funny, riveting, at times heart-breaking; a story that is particular (of course) and yet in some ways, somehow, universal. Who isn't trying to find a God who loves us? Who doesn't need to work through insecurities and foibles? Who doesn't have, or know someone who has, serious medical and psychological issues? Who doesn't like a good laugh in the face of severe setbacks? (Or, a punked out fashion sense in the face of middle-class sobriety, another fun part of the book!) I think this is not only an enjoyable read, not only a well-written story, but it is a life-saver for some. Just the right touch: not too heavy, not too dark, but truthful. Girl in an Orange Dress deserves special accolades. One of the year's best books, to be sure.

OUR MOST AUDACIOUS CLAIM: THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK OF THE YEAR

I want to honor a book that is truly a major new contribution, breaking ground that perhaps has yet to be explored, offering genuine insight in a new manner, insight that is vital and important. Drum roll, please...and it is a tie.  Ohhh, the suspense.  This is huge.

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation James K.A. Smith (BakerAcademic) $21.99 I will be the first to admit that this book may not be for everyone. It is slow going at times, although for those who wade through gruelingly written, exceptionally tedious, academic texts, this will be a happy breath of fresh air. Who knew a scholarly work of serious theology, philosophy, and cultural criticism could be so interesting and well-polished? Who knew you could expound on Dooyeweerd, Derrida, U2 or the Coen brothers all in one book on spiritual formation, worship and adult education? Here, Professor Smith offers his first volume of a two volume magnum opus: he asks how the liturgies we ritually embody - at the mall, say - shape us, shape who we are, how we see life, indeed, what we become, and what we most love. Deeply Augustinian, this is an exploration of our deepest loves and desires that are created and nurtured more by cultural liturgies than by our regular church worship. It explores how Christian affections and subsequent ways of life must be shaped by radical (deep?) worship more powerfully formative than the secular rituals of sports and nation state and commerce and entertainment. This is truly a major, major contribution. Anyone interested in worship, shaping lives for the reign of God, Christian education, or what we sometimes call "worldview studies" would be wise to spend time pondering (and hopefully discussing) this vital work. Part two will come next year, and will be extraordinary, I am sure. Read this volume now, and join the conversation. It is very, very important. It is one of the most important books of the year.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work Matthew Crawford (The Penguin Press) $25.95 You may have heard of this, seen my review of it earlier, or seen it on other astute lists, where it has gotten some very nice accolades. It really has gotten very good reviews, in some prestigious circles, but not nearly enough as it deserves. This is an amazingly important work, nearly perfect (except for a few spots it bogs down just a bit, and perhaps the concern that it is a bit too academic for the audience that needs it most, despite the author's quirky humor.) This is a memoir and study that evaluates the ways in which our information revolution has seduced us into thinking that we don't need real work, real craft, blue-collar labor or those who work with their hands. We've devalued shop class - in many cases, schools have eliminated them - and the working trades, in favor of abstract and arcane academia or computer skills for the alleged virtual world. Crawford tells the story well of his own journey into PhD-dom, his work in a think tank, and the sense of intellectual and vocational emptiness (and worse, a compromise of ethics) garnered from his work pushing papers. A beautifully written and deeply thoughtful story ensues, in which he tells of his new found energy and joy from starting a motorcycle repair shop, a now renowned little business in Roanoke VA.

Around this memoir is a wonderfully realized, extended essay on the dignity of work and the meaning of education, and why it is we privilege certain ways of knowing (purely abstract, or rationalistic) at the expense of more humane, multi-dimensional, or tacit ways of knowing. (If you think of Michael Polanyi here, you get an award yourself!)

We love this Shop Class book, serious and profound as it is, and think it is exceptionally important, raising matters that we simply must attend to, soon. Without confessing the Christian faith, the author raises significant, religious-like questions about what we know, how we know, the role of our hearts and minds and hands, and how our embodied work - like fixing things - has not only great social significance, but can be a source of glad joy and lasting meaning. Literate, captivating, intelligent, and (yes) about motorcycles. If this doesn't deserve an award, nothing does! Way to go, blue-collar soul-man.

BEST CONTRIBUTION TO THEOLOGY

Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision N.T. Wright (IVP) $25.00 I am sure there are more weighty volumes that have been released this year, and some are truly noteworthy. We've got piles of 'em all over that room of the store, heavy tomes like spiritual bricks, stacked. Some, I know, have taken years to write, and deserve serious accolades. I am sure some in the academy or theological guilds will honor those, even those that are a bit arcane. This, though, is a book that we believe merits extra attention because it illustrates great, creative, Biblically-shaped theological study, done for the educated layperson. This is smart and informed, but not stuffy. It is deep, but not arcane. It is passionately polemical, but not grating (although he expresses his frustration with his critics in rare moments of ire.) This is theology meant to be studied together, and it is a major contribution from a person (agree with him fully or not) who is one of the most important Biblical scholars writing today. This book deserves all the acclaim it has gotten, and it has gotten much. Wright deserves very little of the criticism he has gotten for that matter, as this book shows.

The first half of Justification is mostly a response to his critics (most directly, the fascinating, infuriating, and important little book by passionate pastor John Piper, that I applauded with great qualifications here two years ago.) The second half illustrates Wright's understanding of the Biblical Kingdom vision and of what justification is, in light of the centrality of Jesus' victory. He builds his case carefully and thoroughly, explicating how justification is to be understood in every major discussion of it in the New Testament, mostly Romans and Galatians. I ought not over-promote this - I was going to say it was nearly magisterial - as it is only 250 pages, and is very readable for ordinary people wanting a solid study of a central question of our faith. Thank goodness for books like this! We are happy to call it the most important theological contribution of the year.

God in Dispute: "Conversations" Among Great Christian Thinkers Roger Olson (Baker Academic) $24.99 Yes, this is a hoot of a book, creative and maybe a bit crazy, offering imagined conversations between historic figures. And, yes, it is exceptionally rigorous as an educational text. In other words, while he constructed these complex and serious pretend conversations, he ain't makin' this stuff up! It is a creative overview of the history of Christian thought, from the Early Church through the 21st Century. In each chapter he pairs two or more conversation partners and offers scripts as they debate the issues they were most known for.(Think, perhaps, of the work of Peter Kreeft, on theological steroids.) Olson is a prolific church historian and theologian and is well qualified to "get into the minds" of these thinkers, representing them fairly. There are 29 long conversations, so there is plenty of detail and it covers acres of ground. He does not playfully pair folks from widely different eras (no, we don't have Polycarp talking with Barth) but reasonably plausible debates: Augustine and Pelagius; Bucer interviewing a host of Reformation era leaders (nicely including Grebel and Servetus alongside the usual suspects of Calvin, Luther, and the boys.) There is a bit of humor here on occasion such as when he sets up one chapter as "Medieval Scholastic Philosopher-Theologian Thomas Aquinas and Tree-Hugger Francis of Assisi Enthuse on How to Know God." Some are very pressing, such as the one called "Theologians Liberal Rauschenbusch and Conservative Machen Argue About True Christianity, the Bible, Evolution and Doctrine" or one on liberation theology joining Rosemary Ruethuer, James Cone & Gustavo Gutiérrez. The last, on emergent/post-modern theology is too brief, and no names are listed, presumably so as not to appear to be putting words in the mouths of real, working scholars.

Okay, this is perfect for any geeky theology nerds, or, to be honest, anybody willing to work through some of the greatest debates with the greatest minds of Western history. Hold on, dig in, have fun. This is a theology text that deserves some kind of award! I wonder who he'll invite up to the stage to receive it, and what words he'd put in their mouths? Accepting this award on behalf of the author will be John Chrysostom, John Calvin, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Whewie!

AWARDING BOOKS ABOUT THE CHURCH

Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional Jim Belcher (IVP) $17.00 Already named this as one of the best books of the year, so you can read my remarks, above...

This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers Eerdmans) $16.00 I almost put this in the "favorite books" category, but hesitated as I wanted it listed here. I really did love this book; I found myself wiping tears that were running down my cheek on more than one occasion. This is by two fine UCC pastors, excellent church leaders in the mainline Protestant world, and very gifted writers. (A few of the chapters were excerpted in The Christian Century.) Here, they describe in intimate detail, the ordinary lives of pastors. If you are a clergy person, you will love this. If you know pastors well, you'll get it. If you want to understand what ministers go through--their inner lives, their joys and frustrations, the strains on their marriages, their fears and foibles--this is a must-read. Lauren Winner, an excellent storyteller, theologian and writer herself, declared this: "My dictionary doesn't have enough enthusiastic adjectives for this book, which I adore...Everyone who loves the church or struggles with the church or is just plain curious about the church will relish every page." I read much of this book before I got an edition that had Ms Winner's blurb on the back. I knew I "adored" it and I indeed was "relishing" nearly every page; Beth heard me read some of it out loud, as we passed the Century articles to each other, anxious to see the full book. I am glad Winner put into words my heart-felt affirmation; I adore this book.

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck (Moody) $14.99 I wasn't sure if I should list this, as I disagreed with a few things, and found their critique of a few friends to be a bit overstated. Maybe I will review this more carefully later, showing how they didn't fully get every nuance right; they maybe made a few straw men to be too easily knocked down as they fret about those who use missional language to avoid the ordinary details of congregational life. But, still--still!--this was a book I couldn't put down, that I wanted to keep reading, that I wish I could sell more of, that I want others to consider. It is important and fun and vital, and there is hardly anything like it. In a year when a handful of books came out documenting why people - even deeply religious, Christian disciples - are leaving church, and some publishers are not only documenting, but affirming the departure, somebody had to say this trend is wacky or worse. Why We Love the Church is a Biblically centered discussion of why we really need to stay involved in churches, and how to keep churches focussed on the right stuff. When dry old J.I. Packer writes "As I read, I wanted to stand up and cheer" you know you've got a winner. (Okay, sorry about that; Packer has become quite a lively writer himself since his early days densely commenting on his beloved John Owens.) These two young men have written other fun stuff (including Ted's recent The Reason for Sports) but this is by far their best. They love Christ and they love His church. Let's hear it for these guys! Whoot.

Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry Debra Rienstra and Ron Rienstra (Baker Academic) $19.99 This may be considered an academic book, as the "engaging worship" series co-sponsored by the Calvin Center for Christian Worship is, but I think nearly anyone interested in richer, more faithful, and more fruitful worship ought to study this remarkable text. The authors carefully examine the role and use of language in our praying, singing, preaching, and in the other worship practices in the church. WW is very personal (with lots of stories) and practical, even though it is rooted in very serious scholarship and research. When I reviewed it a month or so ago, I noted that Marva Dawn raved about it, as does Sally Morgenthaler and Thomas Long---important voices to whom we should listen when they commend something so firmly. An "extraordinarily rich treasure," Marva insists. Dawn continues, "Because of the unusual combination of their brilliant literary, musical, and theological gifts, the Rienstras offer phenomenal contributions to all of us..." Wishing to explore, learn or re-learn the grammar of worship? This is the most useful resource we've seen, truly an award winning effort! Praise the Lord!

The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life M. Craig Barnes (Eerdmans) $18.00 Barnes is a good pastor, he has been through some hard times, he is a rich thinker and a practiced writer. Importantly, he's a working pastor. This is his best, a soaring and beautiful study of pastoring, using the metaphor of being a poet. Walter Brueggemann has explored this richly, and he writes, "Barnes knows all about being a pastor, how to use authority, how to lead, how to listen, how to provoke. He knows, moreover, that it finally all comes down to faithful words that can conjure alternative scenarios of the future. In a society cold with technical reason, this summons to poetic truth is of huge importance." We couldn't agree more. Rave on.

A HEARTS & MINDS EXCLUSIVE AWARD: WORLDVIEW STUDIES

You may know that we do what we do here at Hearts & Minds mostly because in the 70s we committed to studying this notion of worldview, and how the Christian faith becomes a lens for all we see. Worldviews shape how we construe, how we make meaning of life, and therefore how we relate our deepest convictions to our perceptions and evaluations of daily life, how we "lean into life" as James Sire famously put it. That is, the Christian faith becomes a vision, a transforming vision, or, as some now say, a story in which we play a part. Every so often, books that talk about this deserve special acclaim. I don't know how many other stores have a section of "worldview studies" or a special award for them. We sure do, it,s how we see life: worldviewishly. So here's a worldview award for books on worldview.

After Worldview Edited by Matthew Bonzo and Michael Stevens (Dordt College Press) $13.00 Several years ago, some of the most prolific and important authors who have used this method of discourse, who have entered this particular conversation, who have studied and taught, and written on worldview formation, gathered to ask if in the postmodern 21st Century, we still need this bit of rhetoric, or even this very idea. They struggled with many questions, but one was this: If we are hoping by using this concept of worldview to make a distinctively Christian mark on the world, by learning to discerningly "think" Christianly, then we must ask if the very notion of worldview - which some argue is more rooted in a Continental philosophy than a Hebrew way of thinking - is the way to do that. Does a Christian worldview really have a need for this notion of worldview? That is, is the very word and its idea freighted with too much non-Christian ideology that trails along, deforming our Christian way of life in the world? (The irony was not lost that it was largely the worldview thinkers of the Dutch neo-Calvinist reformational movement that taught them to ask this very question, to explore in this very way the deep philosophical presuppositions of an idea. Dooyeweerd and, more popularly, Francis Schaeffer, preceded the deconstructionists on this by a decade or so.) And, the question is also one that happens to be thick these days: does worldview imply only getting "ideas" correct, thereby missing the transforming way of life that the Bible calls for? There are many chapters here, pieces from James Sire and David Naugle and Al Wolters and Calvin Seerveld. Trinity Christian College philosophy professor George Pierson, an old college friend from our early CCO days in Western Pennsylvania, gives a lecture on evangelical confusion on these things, stuff he was astute enough to be saying back in the day, stuff that was formative for me, and still important for our work here. What a great bunch of serious and critical studies about worldview. Does something come after worldview?

I don't know how much others appreciate this fine-tuned debate, or if they will resonate with James Olthius, who playfully and poetically talks about the wild ways of love as we seek to be faithful in our Kingdom service, riffing on words and holding forth on various ways to both appreciate and deconstruct the language of worldview. I know that anytime Cal Seerveld or Al Wolters or Davey Naugle show up, it is worth reading.

I also know one of these chapters was dedicated to a late mentor of mine, Dr. Peter J. Steen, who first taught me the word weltanschauung. That alone would be enough reason to celebrate this fine book. I think this is exceptionally important stuff. I invite you to join the discussion.

The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (fifth edition) James W. Sire (IVP) $22.00 James Sire, as some readers surely know, has been a significant voice in carrying on this conversation about not just "world religions" but world-and-life-views, and how these ways of thinking show up in philosophy books, literature, movies, and in daily conversations, not just in comparative religion debates. He has been a cultural apologist, defending Christian truth with grace and thoughtfulness for much of his life, writing splendid books about the life of the mind, and why Christians should think clearly about all of life under God's reign. In his many books, Sire has often reminded us of the deeper constellations of ideas and assumptions that shape our visions of the meaning of life--- and why we must be aware of these faith-like, life-perspectives. This book has been updated several times in the last twenty years, which has always been helpful, but never terribly urgent (in my view.) He's added a chapter or two in each new edition and the book remained a chestnut in this field, a standard.

Since being a part of the on-going conversations around the deeper question about refining the meaning of worldview (see the Bonzo/Stevens book, above) Sire has concluded that he had not really thought through all the implications of his rather rationalistic cataloguing of different worldviews. He had become known as a worldview guru, but he later admitted he had not adequately considered the very meaning of the word (and he found seminal for his own renewed thinking, the heavy David Naugle book, Worldview: The History of an Idea.) Sire bravely documented this journey, and presented his deeper, more profound, and more happily allusive approach to what worldviews are, and why they matter, in the great little 2004 book, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. This past Fall a new edition of Universe Next Door was released and it is the first time that it has not only been expanded, but has been significantly reworked. Sire has introduced his new understandings of worldview into each chapter, and while he continues to explore theism, Marxism, rationalism, naturalism, pantheism, new age mysticism and such, he has an excellent new chapter on Islam as a worldview. This is still subtitled a "basic worldview catalog", but this Fifth Edition is amazingly richer than anything that has come before, not only with Sire's new insights, but with sidebars, helpful pull out quotes, and the ever-present great footnotes. My hat is off, as always, to Dr. Sire, but he is surely to be awarded honors for the hard work of rethinking things, and redoing things, making a classic so very much better. Here's the award I've been waiting to give, to the fully re-done Fifth Edition!

Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives Steve Wilkins & Mark Sanford (IVP) $22.00 I am sometimes suspect of those who jump too quickly to name the various ideologies and worldviews that are behind this or that cultural artifact. As Andy Crouch has described in last years fabulous and justly famous Culture Making, we sometimes develop a posture, a habit of cultural engagement, that is unduly negative and chintzy. We just sniff out this or that idea, this or that false philosophy, and off we go, not really understanding or maturely discerning profound matters, we just point and judge, blasting away with this habit of cheaply naming and quickly criticizing. So I was nervous about this, wondering if it just was another example of the hyper-critical posture of judging anything we don't think is religious enough for our pious tastes. I can see why I thought that, and I am glad to say I as wrong.

This is a wise and thoughtful book, engaging the deepest level assumptions and values of the American way of life. Some of the critique sounds a bit as if it might come from the left of center--from Sojourners or Bob Goudzedwaard say; other critiques and analysis could have been found in First Things or the deep end of the conservative think tanks. Which is to say, Hidden Worldviews is not exactly predictable, it is not driven by sharp ideology, and it isn't just a screed trying to get Christians engaged in more culture warring. These discerning authors accomplished what they set out to do. Their project was to decipher the meaning of the story of the American way of life, to uncover and evaluate the philosophical (religious?) assumptions of that driving drama. It explores, for instance, how implicit beliefs shape what we hear in the evening news or what is implied between the lines in college textbooks. I may not say it just like they did on every page, and I had some underlined portions I wanted to reconsider. Which is also to say this is a darn good piece of work. We're happy to do more than commend it, we want to promote it with this little not-so-hidden Hearts & Minds award.

A REALLY GOOD NEWS AWARD: BEST BOOKS ABOUT EVANGELISM

Learning Evangelism From Jesus Jerram Barrs (Crossway) $17.99 I love reading books about evangelism, and there are so many good ones. Barrs' remarkably thorough, careful, thoughtful study from a few years back, The Heart of Evangelism, has often been the one I've recommended when someone asked for the very best, the foundational one, the most readable, but serious, theological study of the topic by a solid evangelical. Here, now, he follows up that extraordinary study with another book exactly on Jesus and what the Bible tells us of his approach. This has been done before, of course, but rarely with as much Biblcal insight, depth, or as much personal passion and wisdom. As William Edgar writes (and when Edgar commends something, I listen): "I can think of no other living educator who better embodies the gospel's tough love combined with its unconditional acceptance of flawed people than Jerram Barrs. In this wonderfully moving account of Jesus' approach to evangelism, Barrs shows us the ways in which the Lord's message penetrates deep into the human heart, uncovering its darkest secrets while always defending the dignity of its owner." As David Wells writes, in Learning Evangelism..."the great truths of the gospel shine forth undiminished while at the same time the recesses of the human heart are explored with real insight." Discussion questions at the end make this a very useful study for motivated adults.

The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk With People About Jesus Lee Strobel & Mark Mittelberg (Zondervan) $14.99 I like these guys; I've enjoyed their other books, and appreciated hearing them live. They are funny and fun and serious and joyful. And they just "bleed" evangelism, as they say these days. These guys want to reach others for Jesus, and they want the good news of forgiveness and new life to be known by many. They have learned how to invite people - push people - into taking new steps of speaking about God, and this is a collection of ways they do that. I could call it "evangelism training" but that sounds dry and textbooky. This is an adventure, a game with God, nearly. Sign up to do this, read a chapter a day (or a week if you prefer) and do whatever they say. This includes 42 real-life stories to inspire your own spiritual adventure. The authors believe that one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling dimensions of the Christian life is (kindly, responsibly, relationally) sharing the gospel news with others. I am sure you have spiritually confused friends. I am sure you have neighbors with needs. Here is what they say on the back: "Whether you are a new believer or a seasoned Christian, you'll find new vision and sage advise for living a high impact life." I don't think this is just market-jive to sell yet another devotional guidebook. This really could do the trick, helping nudge you to do something great for God. I am glad for easily read, enjoyable, challenging books that invite readers to actually do something. This is a winner; one of the best of the year. Yay.

"THE B-I-B-L-E-YES THAT'S THE BOOK FOR ME" AWARD: BIBLICAL STUDIES

The True Story of the Whole World Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen (Faith Alive) $11.95 You may know our fondness for the large but vibrant overview of the Bible, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama (Baker.) A year ago, the publishing arm of the Christian Reformed Church, invited Goheen & Bartholomew to re-do that massive work, and slim it down for more average readers. What has happened is a miracle of modern publishing and marketing and editing. Here is a much hipper cover, printed with a nicer size type font, attractive pull out quotes, discussion questions, and a lot cheaper price, all the while retaining the substance of this worldview-shaping, visionary view of the unfolding drama of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures that finds its center in the story of the Christ and His redemptive work in the world. This now is ideal for youth groups, college-age studies, adult classes, or anyone who wants a seriously considered and altogether enjoyable Biblical overview that invites us to see not just the full story of the Bible (as important as that may be) but to learn to see and read the Bible as a holy narrative that makes sense of life and times. Borrowing from the likes of N.T. Wright and Leslie Newbegin, this is now our favorite introduction to the Bible. Award-winning? It's so true!

God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom Graham Cole (Apollos/IVP) $26.00 While this could have been awarded in the theology category, it is informed by Biblical theology, so it is rigorously exegetical, following all the great themes and storylines of the unfolding Bible itself (creation, fall, covenant, promise, fulfillment, redemption, consummation and such.) You may know that I have pacifist leanings, and am interested anytime serious evangelicals explore the Biblical themes of peace-making. Yes, indeed, this is an extraordinary study of the ways in which the cross provides shalom to a broken creation. Yes, it is properly titled. It is neither Mennonite nor pacifist, and holds to a traditional view of atonement, even while pushing the scope of God's redeeming love in helpful ways. D.A. Carson is the editor of this fine New Studies in Biblical Theology series, and Cole teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; this is not Rene Girard (although Cole interacts with him) or anything particularly unusual. It is truly stellar scholarship of the first order, helping us understand the classic truths of the faith, applied to the modern world of ache and horror, giving us confidence of what God intends to do, enriching our understanding of how it happens, through the cross of the Lamb. I wish a few technical details were done differently (why don't scholarly books write the first name of the many authors they cite, but only the first initial? What's with the odd abbreviations? Okay, it's academia, but it could be a bit more reader-friendly, couldn't it?) Still, this deserves a listing for one of the best scholarly treatments of Biblical themes this year.

THE WHAT? AWARD: YES, THE BEST FESTSCHRIFT OF THE YEAR

You know you are a non-fiction book geek when you are interested in those anthologies done as a presentation gift for a retiring scholar. There are often excellent chapters written about, inspired by, or in honor of a sterling professor who has become a beloved mentor. Sometimes they are really terrible, if well-intended. Occasionally, they are excellent. They are always pricey.

Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame Edited by John Hughes (P&R) $59.99 I suppose it doesn't matter if you fully agree with this staunch defender of historic Reformed theology, a scholar from Westminster West, a sister institution to the renowned Calvinist seminary in Philadelphia that broke off of the too-liberal Princeton in the early 1900s. Frame is a truly extraordinary scholar, a genius in many ways, and his last few very hefty books have been the pinnacle of his long career in apologetics, systematic theology, and Biblical ethics. This new collection of pieces by former students--themselves now seminary professors, scholars, authors or pastors---is stunning in its breadth, scholarly acumen, and pastoral importance. There are chapters here that deserve to be read and re-read, and even if you don't find yourself quite in the same camp as these strict fellows, the writings will make you think, sharpen your mind, stretch you towards Biblical faithfulness and Godly living. Some of the chapters are on topics of interest to Reformed theology, and many are explaining, defending, fine-tuning, or interacting with Dr. Frame and his prodigious career. There are dozens of authors, dozens of chapters, over 1200 pages! The rave reviews of this massive volume are from the likes of Wayne Grudem (one of his students), D.A. Carson ("If Frame writes it, I read it!"), R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and J.I. Packer who says Frame has made "a huge contribution to the future well-being of the entire evangelical world" and calls this "a spectacular achievement." Here is serious work on theology, epistemology, apologetics, church, worship, ethics, culture, and more. I hear it is the thickest book P&R ever published. It deserves an award for a more substantive reason than that. Congratulations.

ONE OF GOD'S FAVORITES: BEST BOOKS OF SOCIAL CONCERN AND FAITH-BASED ACTIVISM

The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty Peter Greer & Phil Smith, photography by Phil Smith (Zondervan) $19.99 This colorful book tells the story of micro-finance, an idea which has been much discussed of late. Can this help us eradicate world poverty and hunger, or at least make a significant difference in the lives of the poor? Can a strategy of development based on small loans offer insights about a more normative and just understanding of economics, markets, development, aid? Yes, this topic is urgent, and this book documents one of the premier Christian relief and development agencies working today (Hope International, from Lancaster, PA.) Happily, Hope International does this micro-loan business very well, and they are exceptionally fruitful in their efforts.

We are tickled to honor them by applauding this book, but we also want to offer special honor to the publisher, Zondervan (of Grand Rapids, MI.) Not only have they done several great books along these lines in recent years (a new development, I might add) but they have done them with verve and class; not all of their older fundamentalist clients have appreciated the works of Shane Claiborne or books on social justice. Yet, they have done a commendable job, taking a significant risk for God's Kingdom's sake, and are changing the reputation of those with conservative, evangelical foundations.

The design on this hardback is stunning, the artful photographs enhancing the book many-fold. We admit to having some interest in this ministry (they are in Central Pennsylvania, have been at the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference in the past, and have even ordered books from us before.) Still, who would think a conservative evangelical publishing house would release this exceptionally rich and colorful study of this arcane topic about global poverty, and make it truly interesting, accessible, joyful and spiritually hopeful? This is a revolution of hope that makes complete sense, is driven by evangelical zeal, and this book is more than award-winning. It is a near miracle, documenting a sea-change in Christian publishing and the horizons of the possible. Hats off to everyone involved!

Hey, the Proverbs say that whoever gives a loan to the poor is actually lending to God.  I wonder if we are giving an award to a book about lending....ahh, never mind.

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $15.00 In recent years many authors (Mark Noll, Martin Marty, Lamin Sannah, Harvey Cox, but supremely Philip Jenkins) have documented the way in which European and North American Caucasians are now in the minority within the global, multi-racial Body of Christ. The future is now, as they say, and global trends within Christianity have caused a seismic shift away from the West to the South and East. Even within North America, the church is diversifying in terms of race, ethnicity, and culture. This is, without a doubt, the most important and clear and powerful book to explore this and we are thrilled to promote it. As Cox himself says, "this book is the best and most balanced treatment of the subject now available." The esteemed Dr. Jenkins says it is "timely, thoughtful and very rewarding." Reward it we shall, in our own little way.

Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church Rather Than the State Daniel M. Bell, Jr. (Brazos) $21.99 I don't know if this guy is right, and I don't know if I've allowed this to sink in enough yet, but I know it is very, very important, and a major contribution to an age-old conversation about the ethics of war. You may recall that many pundits---from The Atlantic Monthly to Christianity Today to America have commented on President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, a speech laden with references to the classic just war theory. It is obvious that our President knows enough to cite Niebuhr, and we ought to be having better discussions about the role of peacemaking, just-peace work, the just war theory and such. Here, Bell--a United Methodist who studied with Hauerwas, and now teaches at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary--has written a book that one reviewer calls "astonishing" and another says is "groundbreaking." The preface, written by Lt. Col. Chaplain Scott Sterling notes that "his is a book I wish I'd had during my deployments."

I have seen conversations about the just war theory, or about Christian nonviolence, grow shallow and mean, so we need good and fair thinkers, since most people haven't thought all that deeply (let alone read widely) on this urgent matter. This conversational work is deep and thoughtful, bringing together the voices of pacifists such as John Howard Yoder, with the more standard views of the just war tradition, finding some new common ground, and drawing insights from all. As one who has for years engaged this debate, and who still has so much to learn and to live, I am grateful for any new approach. Very highly recommended.

Kudos, by the way, again to Brazos, as they also released this year a long-gone-missing set of remarkable (and often alluded to) lectures by John Howard Yoder, the premier scholar of Mennonite non-violence, who died a decade ago. This was a book that he was working on when he suddenly died, and some have eagerly anticipated in what form it would come out, if ever. What an exciting publishing event. It is vintage Yoder-- and it shows the serious, public relevance (contra Niebuhr!) of Biblical nonviolence. The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking was lovingly edited by Glen Stassen, Mark Thiessen Nation, and Matt Hamsher.

TRULY GREAT BOOKS FOR EVERYONE: THE BEST OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP

Counterferfeit Gods: Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope that Matters Timothy Keller (Dutton) $19.95 Hard to know where to put this marvelous little volume, as it deserves multiple awards. Upon getting an early version, I knew it deserved to be named as one of the best books of the year. There are a few other books on idolatry---one would think there would be more--and this is, I believe, the best I've yet read. It is Biblically rooted, culturally savvy, sociologically informed, and, although based on good theology, is very pastorally presented. Typical for the highly regarded Manhattan Reverend, this book is thoughtful and compelling, well-written - drawing on sources and insights, and illuminating quotes from a wide range of places, from The New Yorker to Christopher Lasch. Although he is not the first to do this (think of the spectacular Richard Foster book) Counterfeit Gods looks pointedly at three great idols of our culture, in most of our hearts - money, sex, and power. Of course, at the nexus of Wall Street and the theatre and art districts in NYC, Keller's Redeemer Church meets (literally) some of the world's wealthiest, sexiest, and most powerful people. There is no doubt that he has worked hard on this stuff, learning to present it wisely, to sharp and deeply ambitious people. Maybe your world isn't quite like that, but I found the book to be convicting and riveting and very, very timely. I have celebrated Keller's other three great ones, but this is his best yet. Highly recommended. Now, let's hope this prestigious H&M award doesn't go to his head.

How to Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior  Scott Bessenecker (IVP) $15.00  I will be reviewing this in greater detail later--it was an year's end release from the marvelous and always provocative Likewise imprint of InterVarsity Press.  You may recall Bessenecker's survey of younger evangelicals doing extraordinary work serving the poorest of the poor, all over the world (The New Friars.)  As a writer, Besse has honed his craft even more and as a deeply spiritual follower of Jesus he tells his story with raw candor and stunning insight.  There are dozens and dozens of truly great books in our "basic Christian growth" category, and I regret not telling of more of them.  This, however, deserves a large honorable mention as it inviting us to consider as aspect of our discipleship that is rarely discussed: submission to others.  Scott organizes and mentors passionate and dedicated folk, and he has seen suffering matched by servanthood in ways few of us ever witness.  Yet, he asks, what does it mean to be a leader in a world that doesn't value that kind of mercy, that kind of servanthood?  In a culture (including our church and ministry cultures) that too often prizes leadership uncritically and unreflectively, this profound book calls us not to narcissistic entitlement, but humility.  Killing pride?  Letting go of independence? Meekness as leadership?  I've rarely read a book so stimulating, challenging, convicting, insightful, all done with good humor and true grit.  Kudos to Likewise, too, for the illustrations, photographs and grapics, adding a nice touch to a gently revolutionary study.  Okay Scott, no gloating, now.

THE RIGHT ON! AWARD FOR THE SHEER COOLNESS FACTOR

Follow Me To Freedom: Leading as an Ordinary Radical John Perkins & Shane Claiborn (Gospel Light) $14.99 How can I not celebrate a book that brings together in good conversation two men I really admire, who I have met and heard and been inspired by, whose books we love and love to sell? Dr. Perkins, as I hope you know, is an older black man, who has written dozens of books about his evangelical zeal, his work in African-American leadership development, community organizing, working with the poor, and insisting or racial reconciliation as a central manifestation of the gospel of Christ. He was one of the earliest writers for The Post American (the predecessor to Sojourners) and has been preaching and leading for decades. Young Shane is a hippy radical kid, a young man who has quite a following as he calls with great whimsy young people to simplicity, nonviolence, service to the poor, and to radical church communities. To bring these two together---John is much more typically old school evangelical, counting Billy Graham as a partner, for instance, and Shane is much more a Catholic Worker type, radical and sassy---is sheer genius.

That they both have great care for issues of poverty and Kingdom living, and social transformation brings them to similar points. But their lifestyles, their ways of interacting with the world, their ages and worldviews strike me as greater barriers than their race. Yet, Shane is not only spunky and creative, he is also deeply respectful, realizing in nearly every conversation that he is talking to a true elder. His respect, however, is matched by John's great leadership wisdom, the wisdom that knows a true leader must pass the baton to others. This book is about leadership, but more, it is about follower-ship. And it is a broad overview of deeply Christian discipleship and social action, seen from the lens of a mid-20th century African American evangelical and evangelist living in rural Mississippi, and a 21st century post-evangelical, ecumenical follower of Jesus living in the run-down ghettos of Camden. This literal transcription of a year's worth of conversation is worth its weight in gold. Thank goodness for the idea, thank goodness that a publisher pulled it off, and that these two busy activists took time together, and allowed us all to listen in. I think this deserves a very special honor of great appreciation. Thanks, bros.

BEST BOOK OF BUSINESS HISTORY

The best book in business history? Oh geesh, that sounds like we're stretching, but I can't think what else to call this splendid survey of history, buissness, ethics--oh, yeah, and something else pretty darn great (and award winning.) Get this.

The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer That Changed the World Stephen Mansfield (Nelson) $24.99 I'm not trying to be cute, or transgressive (for a religious bookstore.) Yes, I like Guinness, but I don't drink much, so it is a rare treat. Still, this book is a page-turner of the first order (with or without the brew.) "Frothy, delicious, intoxicating, and nutritious" says super smart biography dude, Eric Metexas (his long-awaited, long book on Bonhoeffer should get an award when it finally arrives.) "No, I'm not talking about Guinness Stout---I'm talking about Sephen Mansfield's fabulous new book." This is an amazing story, a story of grace and justice and goodness galore. Who knew there was so much consideration, so much faith, so much philanthropy in this classic, long-standing family-owned company. You may not be interested in the role Christian faith has played in the rise of democratic capitalism, or the entrepreneurial visions of 18th century Arthur Guinness, but I am sure that you will learn a lot from this book, and you will enjoy it (with or without the stout.) In this age when business failures, dishonest politicians, Wall Street disgrace and economic trouble is ever-present, this holds out a different vision of the meaning of work, the meaning of business, the meaning of economics, the meaning of our very lives.

Listen to these lines from Mr. Mansfield, "I knew I had fount it: that earthy, human, holy tale of a people honing a craft over time and a family seeking to do good in the world as an offering to God.  It was a story thick like the smell of barley at the St. James Gate brewery and as filled with the bitter and the sweet as any generational tale is likely to be." Cheers!

NON-AWARD AWARD FOR MOST MEDIOCRE BOOK THAT ENDED UP ON THE TOP OF OUR LIST

What can I say about a book that I think wasn't all that good, but yet, for some reason, I cared very much for, one which lead me to care about the author, wanted to know what happened, continued on through the last pedestrian pages, and wanted more, much more, when I was done? This isn't by any stretch a bad book, and it has much to commend it. I want to mention it somehow, but just don't know....hmm. Let me award it with some pseduo-award. Half a hat tip, and a good recommendation. I know it is counter-intuitive, but this guy deserves something nice, nothing too grand.  He'd like it just like that, I'll bet.

The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do Ed Dobson (Zondervan) $19.99 Okay, the packaging is great. The rave reviews from a couple of hipster authors, helps. A.J. Jacobs--who wrote one of the best books ever, the hilarious and exceptionally touching Year of Living Biblically---wrote the forward, which is great. The full body shot of Ed in a Hasidic looking prayer shawl and long beard is really cool. Like Jacobs, who he credits for giving him the idea, Ed, a conservative evangelical pastor with old ties to the Christian Right, had this idea: he would live one year as Jesus lived, eat as Jesus would have eaten, pray as Jesus prayed, observe the Sabbath, attend Jewish festivals, and - here is where it gets interesting - read nothing but the gospels over and over each week, immersing himself in the life and sayings and story and teachings of Jesus.

The author has a very wry sense of humor, and is understated in nearly everything. The writing is droll, which I guess isn't really mediocre, but a studied effect. He describes his crazy wild Hawaiian shirt, or going to a bar talking to atheistis (talk about out of his comfort zone) and it ought to be hilarious, but he is so matter-of-fact, it isn't really. But yet the whole thing is kinda just there, his journal telling of this half-baked effort, and the whole thing just moves slowly on, with Ed getting some odd looks, and Ed wanting his own way, even over little stuff, and realizing then that that isn't very Jesusy. From road rage (well, road peeve, maybe) to figuring out how to eat kosher at potlucks, he weaves this journey into embracing the Jewish-ness of Jesus.

The most intriguing stuff is when this conservative evangelical - he co-founded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell, you may recall - concludes he should vote for Obama, because of his compassion for the poor. Also, when he starts hanging around with real Jews and Catholics, Orthodox and Episcopalians, learning their ways of ritual prayers and ancient practices, he seems like he really knew very little about these other religious traditions, which sort of surprised me, and I wondered if he was just playing dumb - not too Jesusy, if he was - or if he really was that ignorant. (Not too Jesusy of me to say that, so I'm sorry about that.) I really wondered: how can a grown Christian leader and author not know some of the stuff he says he never knew? Most strict Protestants (he's from Ireland) haven't done the Stations of the Cross, but did he really not have a clue what they were? Guess not. Oh well, I just kept reading, because I really wanted to keep seeing what was going to happen.

Happily, he narrates all his new learnings and efforts to be like Jesus, and it becomes truly fascinating. As I said, I couldn't put the book down, even though most of it didn't seem that radical. (He didn't turn over any tables, or really give everything away, although it was painfully funny to hear him wonder which of his beloved suits he would do without and what sort of a deal he could work out putting their savings in his wife's name. That was beyond mediocre, it was weaselly - where's A.J. Jacobs when you need him to come in and give this guy a talkin' to about doing what Jesus did? Yet, that he reports this cheesy plot to get out of the implications of it all was so incredibly endearing. It was real, a bit mediocre, but real. I began to realize why I liked this so, and how stealthy maybe this whole thing was.)

Still, this journey into humble new growth, experiencing religious customs and teachings that would raise the eyebrows of his conservative colleagues and friends, and compromise his own teaching ministry in the process, is endearing, somehow. As the book moved on, I couldn't wait to see what minor step he'd take next, what thing he'd grouse about, where he'd fail and fall. (Ed has fatal Lou Gehrigs Disease, ALS, keeping him from doing everything he intends, something remarkably poignant that he reports nearly deadpan, pre usual.) This journey wasn't quite like A.J. Jacobs', and, as his friend Rob Bell notes, was more about discovering an adventure "deep into the heart of grace, mercy, and the endless discovery of just what the way of Jesus looks like. And, of course, "it has very little to do about having a beard." Is this a major new contribution? Did it make me roll with laughter or wipe tears from my eyes? Nope. Yet, this at least gets some little consolation prize. A non-sensational book I liked.


TUNE IN SOON FOR PART TWO, WITH ODD AWARDS, TRULY GREAT AUTHORS AND TITLES CELEBRATED, SOME FABULOUS HONORABLE MENTIONS, AND MORE CATEGORIES OF BEST BOOKS OF 2009.