About May 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in May 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2010 is the previous archive.

June 2010 is the next archive.

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

May 2010 Archives

May 7, 2010

ONE MORE DAY for the N.T. Wright sale

We've extended the N.T. Wright sale for one more day.  We're calling a halt to this mad sale atsale-sign.jpg midnight, Saturday night. 

Ya snooze, ya lose.

(And thanks to those who have responded so far.  It is gratifying to know that folks really are reading the blog.  Sometimes one wonders, and to know we've got a tribe of friends who care about books--who "read for the Kingdom"---is a joy and encouragement.)










NTWright-thumb-275x329-4737.jpgWant to know if your interested?  Heard some funky stuff about Tom's views?  Read him for yourself, and we are confident you will be blessed. Agree fully or not, this is truly "must read" Christian literature. Our offers are the best prices around, on several of his paperbacks, and the three latest hardcovers. Call us up or send an email order.  Eager to serve you, happy to help.

Here is a link to a recent chapel talk at Wheaton College.  Very, very nice.  He tells the students to memorize Ephesians and preaches from a few key verses, showing their place in the book.  Would that all our Episcopalians would preach like that.  Would that all our preachers of any sort would break open the Word in this way.

Here are videos of all the Wheaton talks, friends offering critique (and his replies.)  You know I'm partial to Walsh & Keesmaat, and it will knock your capitalist socks off, if you've got any left.   You'll have to open your Bible, though, as the exegesis is serious. 

Here is the N.T. Wright page, where you can see articles, sermons, hear lectures and come to a fuller understanding of his large body of work.

Here is a review of the latest book, After You Believe, which explains it all quite nicely. It's from a blog called "Kingdom People" written by a thoughtful Reformed Baptist fellow.  Note the other archived pieces, including an interview with Wright, a discussion of John Piper's critique (on justification) and some other stuff especially important to evangelicals who have reason to fret that Wright is perhaps proposing views that are less than fully orthodox.

Here is another review by a theologically conservative author.  I link to it because it shows a generous reading from a guy who may have some concerns about other aspects of Wright's work.  Would that all critics would be so fair and appreciative.
 
You can see our prices in the previous BookNotes post.  Spread the word, ASAP. Thanks.

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May 10, 2010

Living the Christian Year author Bobby Gross to speak here on Ascension Day

living the christian year.jpgLiving the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross (IVP; formatio line; $17.00) is one of the most interesting and unique 52-week devotional books I've seen.  We've mentioned it before, and we could hardly recommend it more gladly.  I love even the first few pages about the power of stories, and what it means to have our story shaped by God's Story.  It is, as you might guess, a devotional guide to the church calendar, so it is arranged with daily readings from the cycle of Light--- Advent, Christmas and Epiphanhy, through the season of Life Lent/Holy Week/Eastertide, and into the ordinary days, which he explains compose the "cycle of love."

Although not all churches frame their year through this three-fold cycle, and even fewer attend to the lesser known festivals and feast days, nearly everyone knows about Advent; many non-liturgical churches have Maundy Thursday services or Good Friday sermons.  So this is pretty universal stuff.  We think it is a great way to learn about ways to live into the graces of God, in ways that may not come quite naturally, but, once considered and experienced, really, really do make sense.  This is not just a quick pick-me-up sort of daily inspiration, but an invitation to deeper ways of being.  "Inhabiting the Story of God" as the sub-title puts it.

the-sabbath.jpgYet, few really plumb the deepest depths of understanding time--the rhythms of our days and weeks and seasons--in light of a truly spiritual view of the calendar.  20th-century Hebrew prophet Abraham Heschel, of course, gave us one of the great classics in his little book The Sabbath (Farrar, Struass & Giroux; $15.00) which explores notions of time from within the Biblical, Jewish worldivew.  It is a serious and important work, highly regarded. (It is such a rich and lovely book that we stock a gift edition in a small compact hardback with ribbon marker that is very, very handsome to hold. Send me an email if you want more info.)



 



0787956473.jpgAlso,surely one of the most elegant and insightful books I've ever read is  Dorothy Bass's sublime Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (Jossey-Bass; $14.95.)  Words can hardly express how much I enjoyed this when I first read it, very slowly, when it first came out. It is one of the three or four books on Sabbath that are "must reads" in my view.  I always need to be reminded of this deeply faith-filled and wonderous view of time, so this is helpful for me. 

liturgical year.JPGMuch more recently there is a lovely book in the "Ancient Practices" series by popular Benedictine sister Joan Chittister called The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life (Nelson; $17.99)  So many folks are exploring this ancient and historic way of thinking about our lives, that it seems that we are reaching what might be a new ecumenical agreement.  Evangelicals are learning about this from the Orthodox; liberal Episcopalians are teaching staunch Reformed folks, and Roman Catholic practices are enriching even charismatic and non-denominational folks.

 I recall with glee how Marva Dawn once confided that she often dressed according to the colors of the church year.  Many of us adore the writing of where Vigen Guroian such as the small and delightful Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening (Eerdmans; $12.00) where he tells of his garden, and how he plants flowers to bloom to compliment thinking about the liturgical colors andthe church year.  Listen to his fabulous Krista Tippett interview from NPR, here.  I think this is really quite interesting, how this ancient notion of an embodied spirituality, enhanced by thinking about time and seasons and our church calandar is cropping up in many, many circles.  

9781566993968.jpgYet another example of this trend is seen in the wonderful new book on these themes published by the Alban Institute, that think-tank that most typically publishes reliable guides to parish life, mainline authors offering best practices learned from the thorough research within healthy mainline churches. It is by a Presbyterian author that we like and the title and subtitle shows how it is linking this year-long practice of attending to the church year and ordinary parish issues.  It is called The Wisdom of the Seasons: How the Church Year Helps Us Understand our Congregational Stories (Alban Institute; $18.00.)  Isn't that just a fabulously rich idea?  The book looks very good, and we've been happy to tell pastors about it--- thinking that such a resource will firstly enrich their parish spirituality even as it strengthens their congregational management competencies.  Knowing the church year is good for disciples of Jesus and it is good for congregations.

Which brings me to this great announcement, that we have Bobby Gross coming to our bookstore9770.jpg this Thursday to do a presentation on Living the Christian year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God.  Actually, we are hosting the book talk and author appearance and book signing in the context of an Ascension Day service so we won't do it here at the shop.  We are inviting folks to gather at John Calvin chapel at First Presbyterian Church (York, PA) to celebrate this very significant holy day.  40 Days after Easter, you know---always a Thursday.  Yep, we'll sing and pray and Bobby will read from his book, and do a bit of a sermon on the significance of Christ's ascension, his exaltation and reign.  Then we'll have some refreshments and hang out while he signs books.  If you know anybody in central PA, we sure would love it if you'd spread the word.  It is being co-sponsored by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Emerging Scholar's Network here in Central Pennsylvania (That's Tom Grosh) who does creative work trying to reach and connect those in grad school, young scholars, and seasoned professors. (Bobby is the National Director of graduate and faculty ministries and is on the national board of one of our favorite organizations, CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts.)  Bobby is a very thoughtful guy, a good friend, and, as we've noted, this is a topic of increasingly popularity.  Come and join us if you can.

hemingway-ernest1.jpgWant an autographed copy of the book?  On sale, even!

It sells usually for $17.00 but we'll be offering them at $15.00 
 okay, it might not look like this...  

 With a forward by Lauren Winner, and some helpful explanations about the seasons and cycles, Living the Christian Year is a daily reading guide really that is a wonderful, wonderful resource for you or your family.  I'll tell you a bit more about it in a post tomorrow, but, for now, let us know if you want us to get him to sign one for you.  Tell us TO WHOM IT SHOULD BE SIGNED and we'll take it from there.

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May 11, 2010

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God

In yesterday's post I celebrated some good and useful books about the liturgical year.  Joan Chittister's has gotten some good press, as have most in that fabulous "Ancient Practices" series.  (The last two have been on tithing and going on pilgrimages.) 

9770.jpgAnd, I celebrated that we are doing an author appearance with Bobby Gross.  He is the author of the aforementioned Living the Christian Year, a book we commented upon when it first came out, and which we are very happy to be able to promote again now.  Having an author around keeps us on our toes and we are filled with nervous anticipation.  We hope you are with us in spirit, as they say, and that if you're in the area, you might stop by.  As we've announced, we will have a worship service at First Presbyterian Church of York (downtown)  at 7:30 to celebrate Ascension Day with Bobby reading excerpts from the book and more.  Afterward, we will gather for refreshments and another "ancient practice"---that of getting books signed with author autographs.  I doubt if that will get into the series edited by Ms Tickle, but it is classic, eh?  Something about signing books. 

If you want one, just send us WHO it is to be made out to, and we'll get Bobby to autograph a book for you.  We'll send it, at the sale price of $15.00.

Living in the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God starts out with Gross giving anliving the christian year.jpg historical overview, educating us about the "intersection of time and eternity" and how living into these sacred cycles really helps attune us to the ways of God.

That very first part alone is worth the price of the book, but, of course, there is immense wisdom scattered in the rest of the daily devotions, too (and I mean that--- there are treasures of insight here, good, good stuff.)  In that first chapter he tells of his own growing journey into liturgical time and how living in New York during the horrors of what we now call "9-11" effected him.  His judicious use of good quotes from the likes of Eugene Peterson, Lawrence Stookey, and Dorothy Bass show that he has read widely and deeply in this sacramental view of time.  And, given his own experiences (as one who didn't grow up in a highly liturgical church), there is nothing taken for granted. He tells us a bit about where these notions come from, and---what is most important, I think---how inhabiting these patterns, allowing these cycles and seasons and holy days to shape our imaginations, allows us to do what even the most recent Donald Miller book invites us to: living into a bigger and better story.

Bobby starts the book with a brief, but well written and tender recollection of having Bible devotions in his family  (see, he did have some ritual experiences early on.)  This love for Bible stories and other stories, too, gave him the "ears to hear" the deeper meanings of epics like the Tolkien myths, which he cites to great advantage. 

"Most of us,"  he writes,

think of ourselves as ordinary people living quiet lives in unremarkable places.  We are merely hobbits in our shires.  But listen!  We may not be caught up in dangerous drama like Frodo and his loyal companion, Sam, but we nonetheless live inside a big story, one that started long before our birth and that will go on long after our death, one that's as wide as the universe and as old as eternity: the Story of God as centered in Jesus the Christ.
Our personal narratives take their fullest shape and deepest meaning in relation to God's purposes for us and for the world.  As Eugene Peterson puts it, "God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves." A very large context and very long plot indeed.

Later, Bobby summarizes, "In other words, we want to inhabit the still-unfolding Story of God and have it inhabit and change us.  And this is exactly what the ancient liturgical habits of living the Christian year helps us to do."

I don't know if this language of "story" resonates with you.  Bobby has worked with university students, and now directs those who do this hard work, campus ministers among grad students, faculty, and emerging young scholars.  I do not think it is an accident that he has found this approach helpful, as it is a common-place that our post-modern generations long for coherent stories.  Some of us still just tell the gospel in terms of dogma and doctrine with little beyond theological facts either affirmed or rejected. (Think of the debate about how to best describe justification and imputation that raged at my Facebook site after I applauded N.T. Wright last week.)  Some of us talk about faiths as worldviews, but often as if they are mere intellectual constructs, philosophies, ideas.  Yet others are increasingly realizing that worldviews are, in fact, shaped not only by ideas, but by the flow of narrative, by images, by metaphor.  That is, our lives are story-shaped and our deepest convictions come to us as a story of which we are a player.  As scholars as diverse as Stanley Hauerwas, Eugene Peterson, Madeline L'Engle, Lesslie Newbigin,  (and yes, N.T. Wright) remind us, the Bible itself is story-shaped.

So how to "get into" the Bible story?  Reading it in bits and pieces won't do, and wading through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and so on, while mandatory, isn't enough, either. Perhaps this ancient wisdom of a liturgical calendar, of arranging our very days and months and seasons in terms of the life of Jesus might help us.  Bobby makes a brief, but solid case that this is so, and then gives us 52 weeks/chapters showing us how it is done.

At one point he nicely reminds us that the Christian year "gives us a panoramic view of the triune God and his Story.  But we don't just survey the landscape; we inhabit it."  Nicely put, isn't it?

Near the very moving last page, he wonders how the reader is doing.  He wonders out loud for a paragraph or two about different kinds of readers, those who naturally enjoy this approach, or those who have found it odd or off-putting.  Some are part of communities of faith that reinforce these ancient rituals and practices, others not so much. 

He suggests, "But whether all this seems brand new or old hat, feels liberating or overwhelming, I encourage you to stick with it.  Continue to avail yourself of this means of grace.  Enjoy the freedom to experiment and find the patterns of observance that work for you.
And be patient.  Like any new habit, the doing gets easier over time and the dividends grow more rewarding."

Reading and pondering books like this is a way to grow up in Christ, to deepen discipleship.  In workshops I do, I sometimes call reading a "spiritual discipline." Whether it is this resource or another, I hope you are doing "spiritual reading" and "sticking with it."

Here is the transcript of an interview with Bobby Gross about Living the Christian Year.

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May 15, 2010

Glad to hang out with Paul Marshall. Glad for churches who care.

Thanks to Shepherd of the Hills (UCC) and Morningstar Fellowship (Assembly of God) in Bechtelsville (near Pottstown, PA) who Friday and Saturday co-sponsored an event with my old pal Paul Marshall for an exceptional set of lectures on radical Islam, the religious dimensions of global terrorism, how the media does and doesn't report on that well, and what the persecuted church in the third world is going through.  Paul just got back from a very high level meeting in Europe with several Prime Ministers, Duchesses, Baronesses, and Dukes and famous folks from Tony Blair to an official from the Vatican.  From there, despite jet lag, to a couple of small town churches here in Pennsylvania.  It is to Dr. Marshall's credit that he lectures amongst the world's elites, and he worships with common folk in Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia, or Nigeria.  He has seen the worst sort of human rights abuses (documented in the chilling book, now out of print, Their Blood Cries Out) and that may be what motivates him to speak so often, so passionately.  

Paul, as you may know, wrote one of my all time favorite books, a call to live faithfully in the9780849990403.jpg ordinary, with good chapters on a Christian perspective on work, play, education, art, politics, technology, and the like.  We are embodied, made for this creation, and therefore can worship God gladly in the ways in which we live into our daily practices, from shopping to voting, playing, to resting, doing our jobs and thinking about evangelism.  Heaven is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God's Creation (Nelson; $15.95) preceded by a decade Surprised By Hope (N.T. Wright) or Randy Alcorn's Heaven, each which also celebrates the "this world being restored/creation-regained" vision, and emerges from the worldview stuff that we are so fond of.  That Os Guinness, while writing his magnificent book The Call, encouraged Paul to write this---an easy to read, wide-as-life, guide to discipleship---reminds me of how excellent and vital it is.  The folks at the two churches were thrilled to hear about this--- intuiting, I think, that if we are to care about the big stuff of human rights and be faithful in this age of terror, we must first get it into our minds that God cares about this world.  Real life matters, and we do live "in the now of God's creation."  We are meant to be here.  You know that "for God so loved the world" stuff?  It's really, really true!

41HG79WXK0L._SL500_AA300_.jpgPaul also wrote what I take to be the best book on politics from a distinctively Christian view, God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics (Rowman and Littlefield; $27.95.)  It isn't partisan, and, to be honest, I believe the title is mis-leading, as it isn't about the constitution, as such.  It is more generally about faith and civic life, the Biblical framework for governance, what the task of the state is and isn't, and how faith informs and funds a vision of pluralism and justice.  It isn't academic, really, but it is quite substantive.  If you are wishing to get beyond the fairly predictable examples of the "Christian right" and the "social action left" this provides a thoughtful foundation...

blindspot2.jpgMarshall literally rolled up his sleeves for the jam-packed lecture of examples of how the leading newspapers and news sources in the Western world don't seem to get how religion influences major world events.  From the religiously-motivated Al Quada, for instance, to the ways in which American citizens vote, the press seriously and routinely make significant errors and omissions.  It is, as the book he co-edited puts it, a "blind spot." (Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion, [Oxford University Press; $19.95.]) It is a big seller right now for Oxford, and, although it is written to the journalistic community, firstly, it is great reading for anyone serious about the nature of religion in the modern world, and the secular "tone deafness" that is prevalent, especially among cultural leaders.)  Marshall's examples---over and over---of how, for instance, radical Islamist terrorists kill Christians in developing countries (say, Pakistani Catholics or Christians in Bali, or believers in certain states of Nigeria) and the typical Western press (The New York Times, say, or the Associated Press, or the major papers in France or England) says the terrorist actions were against "Westerners."  Of course the dead Pakistanis or Nigerians aren't Westerners, and they were targeted because of their faith.  This misunderstanding of religion, even where it seems so evident, is an example of a perplexing matter in how we get our information and how we see God's work in the world.  (His lecture, I might add, was not about media bias, about whether Fox news or CNBC is more honest or balanced.  It was about this blind spot which is evident in most major media outlets.)  Other great chapters in the book are by other faith-based media scholars (not all Christians, by the way) and a great piece by the Orthodox  syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly, who I admire a lot.  A Jewish scholar says on the back that it isn't always when he "let's out a whoop of joy" in reading a book, but he did with this. 

Well, again, it is great to see one who has this deeply spiritual and robust faith who sees his calling as mostly to the secular world, scholars, activists, and think-tank wonks.  Praise God with me for Paul's good work at the Hudson Institute, for congregations who bring in authors (and booksellers) allowing us to do our thing.  Maybe through this learning and thinking together, we will not only be better prepared to help "repair the world" but to work together across denominational lines.  It was worth the trip to Bechtelsville just to see two very different congregations sharing in a joint project.  An Assembly of God mega-church with a very cool contemporary worship space and coffee shop and a UCC parish (with wooden beams and stained glass in their lovely circa-60s Protestant sanctuary) bringing in a human rights activist who is Episcopalian, who had just gotten back from Europe--- with a Presbyterian bookseller from Dallastown.  It was a good week-end.  Thanks for caring.  

May 18, 2010

Five great books about the struggle with radical Islam

After the last post's mention of the Paul Marshall books and his expertise on a balanced and informed view of Islamic extremists, I thought I'd list a few books that those serious about this crisis of our times might want to know about.  Two are a bit demanding, two are more readable and inspiring.  All are recent.

By the way, those of us who are followers of Christ have to always keep in mind--sorry to preach--that despite however unjust and grossly dangerous our enemies may be, we are called to exhibit a Christ-like demeanor, always protecting the dignity of all who are made in the image of God, with the goal of seeking reconciliation, not necessarily victory.  (Gandhi was right, I think, that a defeated enemies is not nearly as good as a converted friend.) Just war theorists and pacifists alike who are serious Christians agree that we must frame our examinations of these current affairs by the coming reign of the One who was slain.  We are to bring great glory to Him, and we know how He did that.  Through suffering love, the sort of non-violent grace that Peter says is "an example for us to follow."

I don't know if any of these authors share this ethic of Biblical peacemaking in the way of the Christ, but they are nonetheless vital resources for contemporary living.  We recommend them.

images.jpgFaith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East  Bernard Lewis (Oxford University Press) $24.95  Agree fully with him or not, there is little doubt that he is one of the top world-wide scholars of the Arab world.  For years he has researched, written, observed and guided the world's leaders into a deeper understanding of the conflicts of our age.  "Lewis has done us all--Muslim and non-Muslim alike--a remarkable service", says Paul Kennedy in his New York Times review of the classic What Went Wrong?  In this collection released just this week, the Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton gives us previously unpublished pieces, chapters formerly published in obscure academic journals, and a few first released in foreign languages.  A long introduction frames the collection.  Very important. Here is a good summary of some of his views, an overview of some of the criticisms waged against him and a link to a transcript of his debates with Noam Chomsky.

www.randomhouse.com.gifFlight of the Intellectuals  Paul Berman (Melville House) $26.00 Mr. Berman's post 9-11 book Terror and Liberalism was one of the most stimulating and important I read in those hard years. Considered one of the most significant books on the topic, it was widely reviewed. He admitted that as a proud and classic liberal intellectual and activist (a framer of what was once called the New Left and a true man of letters), he resisted abuses of American power, worked for international justice, presumed that war was a front for crass U.S. power and investigated how imperial interests too often propped up unjust regimes, and failed to stand for human rights.  Oddly, however, in his view, his liberal comrades failed to see or understand the horrific human rights abuses and despotism found in radical Islam.  From their treatment of homosexuals and women to their foreign policies of terror, their hatred for modernity and reason, extreme Islamists stood against everything liberals stood for.  So why the failure to speak a clear "no" to the repression and totalitarian tendencies of some of the more unsavory parties within radical Islam, such as the Muslim Brotherhood?  Why the failure to denounce the rabid anti-Semitism? Why blame the West?  Terror and Liberalism brilliantly exposed the inconsistencies and blinds spots on the left and while I didn't agree with all of his conclusions, it was a very, very important work.

 Here, in this very important new work, Berman continues to skewer the failures of the left, asking tough questions about the integrity of the American intellectual tradition.  Perhaps you saw the much-discussed piece about Oxford professor (and near celebrity) Tariq Ramadan in The New Republic from which this book grew.  It is respectfully dedicated to two great liberal journalists and intellectuals, Marty Peretz and Leon Wieseltier.  These are top shelf intellectual reflections, which I commend for the sheer joy of seeing a master essayist at work, to spend time with the writings of a public intellectual, who, sadly, may be more correct than we realize. 

0310325757.jpgThe Imam's Daughter: My Desperate Flight to Freedom Hannah Shah (Zondervan) $19.99   There are several great books that illuminate conservative Muslim culture, that tell the fascinating tales of what it is like living in places where fundamentalist Islam is the primary culture. In this instance, Hannah Shah (not her real name)  lived in the strict Pakistani Muslim sub-culture of  Northern England.  Sexually violated and abused, with a submissive mother, she fled to freedom at age 16 (to avoid an arranged marriage), married for love, and writes poignantly about trauma and freedom.  Some of the story is harrowing, even after her escape as there is the need to flee from her families efforts to execute her in an "honor killing" (since she converted to Christian faith.)  A moving, powerful story from a woman who Rob Bells says has "Jesus-sized courage."    See more about her at www.hannahshah.com.

Untitled-Image_1269995700.jpgSon of Hamas Mosab Hassan Yousef (SaltRiver) $26.99  Before the age of 21 Mosab Yousef had seen things that are truly horrible----Palestinian poverty, human rights abuses, torture, even.  He observed historic backroom arrangements with some of the leading figures in the Arab world, participated in the Intifada, was held captive deep inside an Israeli prison.  He eventually gained the trust of various factions within Hamas, and had access to extraordinary secrets that only a few people in the world really know.  He is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding leader of Hamas, internationally recognized as a terrorist organization and responsible for countless suicide bombings against Israel.

It isn't every day we get to read the account of a potential double-agent, a man interested in jihad, who has slowly come out of it.  Here is a good interview with him, oddly, in GQ (sorry.) As they say in the interview, this is not your typical Christian book.  By the way, his father has now disowned him, and he is under threat.  He says he is not afraid, and still loves his father, and stands with his people.

The dust jacket reports that "after a chance encounter with a British tourist, he began a soul-searching journey that lead him to jeopardize his family and threatened his life.  He has since embraced the teachings of jesus and sought political asylum in America."
Ron Brackin helped him write this and he is a man with extensive and dramatic investigative journalistic experiences (from the Al Aqsa Intifada to Baghdad, from southern Sudan to time in Gaza.) 

The subtitle puts in powerfully: "A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices."  Pretty amazing stuff.

stones.jpegStones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan Greg Mortenson (Viking) $26.95  Even the most politically jaded warmed to the great adventure and beautiful humanitarianism of Three Cups of Tea. We are glad it has even been made into a children's picture book called Listen to the Wind.   Here, he is back, with a forward by Khaled Hosseini, affirming the joy of books, the beauty of learning, the need for cross-cultural relationships, and how his tenacious work to help girls in remote mountainous villages may be the very best way to resist terrorism.






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May 25, 2010

Wisdom Chaser: Mountain climbing with Richard Foster (and the healing power of the outdoors)

No, silly, I wasn't mountain climbing with Richard Foster, or anyone, for that matter.  Beth and I did have a recent rendezvous with some long lost pals from Beth's college days in the foothills of the Rockies.  I even walked around a bit (hiking would be an overstatement.)  We were at a wedding, so forgive me if I didn't take a backpack.  The weather and scenery and micro-brews and recovered friendship were stunning.

So it seemed right to be reading a book about the famed Colorado "fourteeners" along the way.  To be reading about Mt. Quandary as one friend mentioned it, or the breath-taking Long's Peak while literally gazing at its snow-capped jut into the sky, was really cool.  As with so many topics, reading can enhance an experience (knowing a bit about Colorado climbs was helpful as I listened to a local climbing expert and reading about the various chains and canyons helped me appreciate them even as we drove around) and it serves as a great, vicarious substitute.  We can "do" and "visit" so many things and places in the pages of a book that I can hardly imagine why more people don't read widely.  What fun!  What learning! 

wisdom-chaser-6b2.jpgThe book I carried is about climbing with famous mystic and Christian author, Richard Foster.  It is called Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet (IVP; $16.00) and is written by his son, Nathan.  It has a very interesting thesis, and it is a story that is nicely told.  It is on the fabulous "likewise" imprint of InterVarsity Press, so has an honest, contemporary feel.

Here's the brief version: Richard Foster, as most BookNotes readers will know, is a studious and quiet author who has brought the deep mystic tradition of the ecumenical church to evangelicals (and others, too.)  His best-selling books from the 1970s and 80s, Celebration of Discipline or Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home or the one against speed, greed, and materialism, (Freedom of Simplicity) are must-reads.  I think Foster is the only living author in the top ten of the Christianity Today list of top 100 Christian books of all time.

Sadly, Nate was a somewhat quirky kid who became a truly troubled youth, and it seems that Foster in his monk-like practice, and his seriously introverted job (writing about the inner journey) and his (often difficult for him) rise to fame and subsequent world-wide travels, simply didn't relate well---hardly at all, it seems---to his boy.  As Nate remained unaware and, then, increasingly hostile to his father's work, he fell into aloofness, rebellion, addictions, self-injury, and hostility to organized religion.  He doesn't dwell too much on his descent into such pain, but the few scenes he describes are shocking.  How could a member of the household of a solid, Godly author become so unglued? 

In his young adulthood, Nate approached his father and basically said something like this: " I don't know you and you don't know me and, despite my rage and dysfunction, we ought to get to know each other.  Let's climb a bunch of fourteeners and see what happens." 

As the back jacket copy puts it, "It began with a simple question...and for Nathan and Richard that simple question changed everything."

Surprisingly, to Nate, and to some readers, too, I'd bet,  60-something father Foster says yes.  Climb by climb, Wisdom Chaser unfolds the story of the reconciliation of father and son, describing Nate's own journey--with frank language, telling of huge frustrations, painful episodes, and his deep questions in his "lovers quarrel" with the church.  As he matures and grows (and comes to understand and appreciate his famous Quaker dad) he tells of his own young, struggling marriage, his entry into parenting an infant, finishing a college degree, and seeking out his own vocation, first as a crisis counselor and  leader of an Outward Bound-type of program for very troubled youth, and, eventually, becoming a college teacher.  He continued to climb, or hike, with his dad (and their faithful companion, a dog named Ziggy) as Nate's recovery blossomed and their relationship saw considerable healing.

I loved this book, in part due to its simple and clear prose, and its fairly obvious themes. It's very good stuff, traversing some serious emotional and spiritual terrain, but it is a very quick read.  Famous and famously spiritual dad fails to connect with his son, son rejects traditional faith and dives into self-abuse and addictions, they re-connect in some trying and dramatic episodes of wilderness experiences.

Almost anybody who is a Foster fan will enjoy this, as you learn a bit about his life, his family, and his approach to these daunting tasks---the climbing and the relating.  Those of us who have met and been ministered to by Richard know of his humor and his nearly casual way of approaching extraordinary spiritual experiences (but we learn here how we learned some of these gifts.)  He and Nate are so different on this that it produces some conflicted (and, at times, hilarious) situations; from packing to pacing, Richard is slow, methodical, and gentle.  His son is, well, exhuberant and wild.  What a duo!

I can think of several sorts of readers who will enjoy this.

I think almost anyone who loves outdoor education, wilderness expeditions, or even moredsc02399.jpg casual day hikes will love this.  There is much to learn about experiencing the harsh terrain and dangerous weather and "going with the flow", resisting presumptions about "conquering" nature and learning to respect nature's wild ways.   Nathan Foster's writing style is not richly literate like Annie Dillard or Terry Tempest Williams, Brenda Peterson or Aldo Leopald.  He's not writing mostly about the aesthetics of the wild.  (Although there are beautiful sentences here, and Richard's slower pace allows Nate to see and be attentive to striking little flowers and lovely colors of rocks as the slant of sun changes, or as ice forms in lovely detail.  The writing about an encounter with wild lightening was itself electric, and the coming to grips with certain "failures" during climbs was very moving.)  So it isn't about nature, per se.  Still, the dramatic center and arche of the book---Nate's recovery and the healing the wounds of his boyhood---is set in the great outdoors.  It is not a book of pure "nature writing" but it is about mountain climbing. 

Further, I think anyone interested in psychology, AA stories, recovery, discovering one's self, inner healing from deep hurts, learning to find a radical Christian faith community that is authentic and hopeful, relevant and not about marketing or glitz, but about Christ-like relationships, will find this immensely useful, too.  It isn't a guide book to recovery or how to be honest about one's pain within the religious community, but it is important to hear these kinds of stories of brokenness and restoration, fears, foibles and the search for reconciliation.

 Whether or not the story is about a famous (distant) dad and his hurting son, and whether or not the story is set in the spectacular drama of Western wilderness sojourns, this messed up fella finds God's great grace to be real and makes commitments to being an agent of Christ's reign of shalom on Earth.  He is a poster boy for Nouwen's nice phrase, "wounded healer."   I suppose it is fair to say that, at the end, besides the tender parent/child stuff, and the thrilling accounts of mountaineering, this is a testimonial book, a memoir of what God can do for needy sinners, through ordinary stuff---talking, hiking, paying attention,being faithful in relationships, surrender.  It is a book about deepening discipleship, about being serious as followers of Christ.  What a wonder that an adult child and an older parent can become friends and partners in the journey of grace and write about it with such candor.

Here is a link to Richard Foster's website that has some great youtube videos of the two of them talking about their quest, and the book.  Enjoy. 

***

9781590307717.jpgOther books come to mind on this topic, especially about how being in the outdoors can be revelatory.  I've written previous entries about great nature writing, about memoirs that illustrate the beauty of creation.  One of my favorite writers is Kathleen Dean Moore, an exceptionally talented writer, a trained naturalist and philosopher, who has an ability to help us see by telling of what she sees.  She has given us a lovely, lovely gift in a recent book  entitled Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature (Trumpeter; $15.95.)  The always impressive Diane Ackerman says it is "a richly poetic book, brimming with wonder, sorrow, happiness, and the intricate designs of nature that can surprise and sustain us all." 

Most who know this genre respect the prolific Scott Russell Sanders (do you know his splendid A Private History of Awe, with that great blurb in the form of a letter from his friend Wendell Berry?  Sweet!)  Sanders says of Moore's Wild Comfort,

...in spite of grieving over the death of friends, the extinction of species, and
the tattering of Earth's web, she finds comfort in natural and human creations,
in symphonies and snakes, in science and stars, in the beauty constantly
upwelling from the mystery we call life.  This book itself is such a consoling
creation, a cause for gratitude and joy.

Wisdom Chaser is simply written, very interesting, and clearly helpful---he tells of lessons learned along the way, insights gleaned from the talks with his father, stuff he learned from creation and stuff he learned in his own journey towards healing and wholeness.  Even if you've never been to Colorado, this is a book we highly recommend.  As Eugene Peterson (perhaps only half-jokingly) writes, "Wisdom Chaser is as poignant and winsome as successive mountains deepen for each, the son and the father, what it means to be a son, to be a father.  Add mountain climbing to your list of spiritual disciplines."

And Wild Comfort, again, is great for anyone who loves good nature writing, beautiful and luminous words about the glories of seeing stuff.  Whether one is in grief or not, don't we all need comfort and care?  Shouldn't we be glad for authors who model for us how to be attentive, and find solace in the commonplace?  Who can with such elegance point things out along the way?  Kathleen Dean Moore has much to teach us, and teaches in such a gorgeous and stimulating way.  Thank God for good writers who share their wild experiences with us.  Especially when the wildness is quiet, gentle, healing and hopeful.

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May 29, 2010

new edition of Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What (including hidden game)

Not too long ago a website came to my attention (they were complaining about the heretical books we sell, authored by the likes of Eugene Peterson or Brennen Manning or on topics like creation care) and although I have tried to forget their cult-like narrowness (seeming to advocate book burning, literally) I involved myself (against dear Beth's wiser wishes) in asking them to, at least, tell the truth about what authors do or don't really say.  We can disagree about much in our culture, and certainly even within the church, but this nasty tendency to make our adversaries worse then they are is just wrong.

I mention this because I realize that a few folk out there---maybe even among our fair readers---don't trust Donald Miller.  They have heard he is a bohemian who is a bit out there.  Blue Like Jazz (I first ordered it not only because I had so liked his previous book about a post-college road trip in a mini-van, but also for the sheer allusiveness of the title) is a bit meandering, full of odd musings, edgy, even.  It is laugh-out-loud, hold yourself so you don't pee on the floor, funny.  It is not an orderly theology book. But I think it not only has a good heart, but is very thoughtful, even wise at times.  His memory of growing up, his ponderings about deep things, his understanding of being a follower of Jesus, it is all very, very much worth reading.

And so, I was particularly peeved when that dumb website said the most outlandish things about the book, saying things about it, and about the author, that simply were untrue, grossly untrue.  I called 'em out on it, but they did not back down.  One can find fault with Mr. Miller, I suppose, but these were flat out lies and it nearly made me ill to think of it, and the great harm done by people who are too sure that they are defending God.  I am sad even writing it now.

It is nearly a cliche, it seems, one that the emergent movement and many others (including some Christ-followers who are now writing books about not belonging to a church) seem nearly defined by, that ugly and shallow fundamentalists have made grace-filled, robust Christian faith nearly untenable these days.  Yeah, yeah, I get that.  Don't get me started.  But, sometimes, I want to shout out: get over it!  Sure there are lots of unappealing and even mean Christian folks, too many slimy televangelists, plenty of tacky "Christian" kitsch in the "Christian bookstores" (that don't stock many real books.)  But we sure don't need to reject orthodoxy or traditional faith communities because some are overly middle class or up-tight or seem to not quite understand what Jesus called "the weightier matters of the law, mercy and justice." (Matthew 23:23.)  And, anyway, for every so-called "Christian" militia plotting evil in God's name, or some using despicable language about gays and lesbians, or every super slick "name it and claim it" religious huckster,  there are decent and dedicated followers of Jesus doing quiet deeds of Kingdom worth.  And there are those who are indeed credible, innovative, and interesting who bring a creative eye and voice and yet maintain clear Christian conviction.

Which brings me back to Donald Miller.  He is a fun author, and he is interesting, and his last big book---A Million Miles in a Thousand Days: What I Learned While Editing My Life---has gotten great press.  I've raved about it here at BookNotes, truly enjoying the notion of how the principles and structures of "story" (they were making a movie about his life, and realized there wasn't much happening in Blue Like Jazz except going to the coffee shop to think and write about God) could help him actually make something of his life.  It really was one of the best books I read last hear, and so love certain parts that I've taken to reading pages out loud to friends who will listen.  Lawyer and global humanitarian Bob Goff plays a part in it, too, and anyone who knows Bob knows he is about the most amazing fellow one could ever meet, all three of the musketeers (and stooges) rolled into one.  If Goff befriends Miller, and Miller tells about that, trust me, it is worth reading. 

Miller also is doing some pretty considerable work in getting guys to sign up to mentorfatherfiction.jpg fatherless young men.  He writes about not knowing his own father in Blue... and then revisited that in an entire book---a tender and thoughtful book about why boys need men in their lives---called To Own a Dragon.  Happily, it has been considerably expanded and re-released this spring under the title Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation (Howard Books; $19.99.)  It isn't quite as hilarious as his other stuff as it is a tad more serious in focus, but it still is Donald Miller.  Lots of stories, anecdotes both amusing and poignant, a bit zany, with considerable insight.  We recommend it.

So, no, Donald Miller is not that "out there" and he seems to hold a very orthodox, evangelical faith.  Those who have met him have enjoyed his presence, his honest, Gen X tone, and his authentic, casual demeanor.  (I've been with Christian authors and convention speakers who just reek of showmanship and pride.  I honestly don't see this in Donald, although he may have to fight for integrity and character here, who knows?)

1400202752.jpgThose who care about solid doctrine, who worry about what kind of wacky stuff this Portland storyteller is promoting only need read his most substantial book, newly released this month, Searching for God Knows What (Nelson; $14.99.)  It has a structure a bit like Blue..., but perhaps less memoir and a bit more exposition.  He does extended riffs on certain notions (including his fairly famous Calvinist take on Romeo & Juliet.)  He's got the edgy counter-cultural beatnik thing going on, and the artful cover---a very authentic-looking bit of Americana, a carnival-esque publicity poster---sure gives it the feel of a book that any young literary type or coffee shop hipster would love.  Yet, despite the feel, the tone, the vibe, when the haze from the smoke and mirrors in the fun house clear, this dude can preach.  This is gospel.  Not so plain and not so simple, but it is solid.  We are thrilled that such an fine writer and interesting thinker can speak with clever prose and wild analogies into the hearts of seekers, reminding them of pretty basic, true truths. Truths about Jesus.

(And, yes, there are some of those weirdo shifty mirrors in this fun house.  One chapter is called "The Circus of Redemption: Why a Three-Legged Man is Better Than a Bearded Lady."  Got that?)

He has some serious ideas, here, but yet--and this is an idea worth savoring (as John Piper might say)---"Being a Christian is more like falling in love than understanding a series of ideas."

I liked what Christianity Today wrote when the first edition came out in 2004 "Like a shakennews_1256819541_Donald_Miller.jpg snow globe, Donald Miller's newest collection of essays creates a swirl of ideas about the Christian life that eventually crystallize into a lovely landscape..."

The new expanded edition, by the way, is considerably expanded, and also includes a brand new introduction, a personality theory based on Genesis (essentially a whole new chapter), and a game hidden in the book with clues, anagrams, and codes that unlock prizes and secret content.

I almost feel like some barker on the mid-way, asking you to "step right up" ladies and gents.  But it really is a hoot.  This revised version of Miller's most substantial book really is a bit more interesting, and re-reading it, with an eye for these weird clues---it is sort of explained in a cool, glossy insert---makes the book a bit like a tilt-a-whirl.  I'm enjoying the wit, appreciating his famous cadence, making sure that my claim that he's really quite orthodox hasn't been undone in this new version, and yet all the while doing this odd anagram thing.  Only Donald Miller, I think to myself.  Or maybe Bob Goff.  I bet he cooked this up, daring Miller to put games in his most serious, theological book. What a holy, goofy blast. 

All the game instructions and (yes) the decoder wheel can be found at www.DonaldMiller.Fan.com or www.SearchingForGodKnowsWhat.com.

Our little game is simple.  Buy Searching for God Knows What (revised) from us and we will thank you for it.  And give you a 20% off.  Buy the book from us along with any other Donald Miller book or DVD and we will give you a 30% discount on them all.  Step right up...

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May 5, 2010

A FEW FAVORITE BOOKS ON MARRIAGE

We have more books about relationship, sexuality, marriage, family, parenting, baby-care, teen care, aging and elder care than you can imagine.  Some promise quick solutions if you follow their easy plan.  We sometimes roll our eyes at these, and even mock a few that are too cheesy.  Yet, folks are dying for good conversation, eager for help, in such need of common sense advice (at least) and (even better) balanced and helpful faith-based wisdom, that a little intentional time spent reading and learning nearly anything is bound to help.

Still, I like the advise in the closing to John Piper's recent book on marriage. In explaining why his book doesn't describe the sociological benefits of strong marriages and the pragmatic stuff, he writes,

Focusing on the pragmatic effects of marriage undermines the very power of
marriage to achieve the effects we desire.  In other words, for the sake of all
these beneficial practical effects, we should not focus on them.  This is the way
life is designed by God to work. Make him and the glory of his Son central, and you
get the practical effects thrown in.  Make the practical effects central, and you
lose both.

Here, then, are some that we regularly recommend, some of which are fairly practical, and a few that are more foundational in nature; all are well written and a delight to read.  Why read the dumb ones when you can find the richest and most useful?  This started as a list to be used in a pre-marital setting and I adapted it to suggest to a small group wanting to read something together. We think these are all quite good in their own way.  Enjoy.
 
0785266712.jpgAs For Me and My House: Crafting Your Marriage to Last  Walter Wangerin (Nelson) $14.99  This is part teaching, part memoir, typically passionate Wangerin--- great stories, by one of our great living authors. Stuff about forgiveness and communication and failure and goodness.  A good discussion guide in the back is beneficial for anyone, couples or small reading groups.  I suppose it doesn't explain all that a pre-marital course should cover, but it is a wonderful, wondeful book, and a H&M favorite.  I know a pastor who gives it as a wedding gift, and tells the starry-eyed couple to read it in ten years.  I'd say read it now, and every five years for the rest of your life.
 
intimate marriage.jpgIntimate Mystery: Creating Strength and Beauty in Your Marriage  Dan Allander & Tremper Longman (IVP) $13.00  I really loved their bigger book based on Genesis (Intimate Allies) which uses a "case study" approach of marriage problems, and then referring back to the "original plan" in Genesis, but it maybe was a bit much for most folks. So this new one is fabulous, and much more useful since it is more slim.  It uses the framework of "leaving and cleaving" and it is wonderful to see a shrink and a Bible scholar working together like this.  There were, with the previous hardcover edition, a set of Bible study guides for each chapter, which now, in the paperback, are included in the back of the book making it a gem to have.  There is a DVD, too.  Excellent, solid, beautiful stuff.  Highly recommended.
 
The Mystery of Marriage: Meditations on the Miracle Mike Mason (Multnomah) $13.99 mystery of marriage.gif  Contemplative, rich, thoughtful, deeply spiritual, quite lovely. I cannot say how much I was touched by this beautiful read.  Eloquent and elegant, and just a bit mystical, it may therefore not be for just everyone.  A favorite of many, though;  there is nothing like it in print!  His friend and mentor J.I. Packer writes the tender forward.  Later, get his wondrous collection of brief reflections, The Mystery of Children.
 
Sacred Marriage Gary Thomas (Zondervan) $14.99 This, too, attempts to offer more the "reason for" and "meaning of" like Mike Mason, but it not as deep or richly mystical as his.  Still, this is a wonderful look at the deeper theological and spiritual nature of marriage.  His tag line is "what if marriage wasn't to make us happy, but make us holy."  Whew.  Still, he's not a heavy writer, tells nice stories, and brings this spirituality stuff into the ordinary, daily work of crafting a Godly marriage. There is a companion called Devotions for the Sacred Marriage: A Year of Weekly Devotions for Couples (Zondervan; $14.99; hardcover) too, which is a nice gift to give, or which could be used a resource during the pre-marital time. (By the way, I'd read anything Gary Thomas writes. Amongst his books on spirituality, Christ-like character formation,  even one on enjoying the pleasures of life, he has also written the excellent Sacred Parenting and Devotions for Sacred Parenting which, like the marriage ones, bring a nice blend of philosophic/spiritual stuff and practical stories.)

9781433511769.jpgWhat Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage Paul Tripp (Presbyterian & Reformed) $21.99  This is brand new and just in time to offer a significant does of reality to happy couples being married this season, or an offering of great grace to those who are struggling, as we all do, East of Eden.  This is a seriously theological-informed study, yet applied in clear, pastoral wisdom to real people, with real expectations, and real hurts and sins and baggage.  Can God bring redemption to dysfunctional folk like us?  Does the Christian gospel empower us to live more joyfully, even in our aches and sorrows?  Can a Kingdom vision and a Christian worldview help us navigate a healthy and happy relationship?  Some may find Tripp's strong views about gospel transformation off putting, but for many, it is the wondrous truth of the power of the gospel that is the only reliable foundation for a solid Christian marriage.  Highly recommended.




REL-0065-2T.jpgTo Become One: After 'I Do' The Real Journey Begins  Chris Seay & Chad Karger (Relevant) $13.99  You may know Seay as a guru of pop culture; he's written books on religious questions and insights found in The Matrix, The Sopranos, and, most recently, he did a nice book on Lost.  Here, his down-to-earth style, and his savvy awareness of younger adult culture, and the insight learned from being a third generation pastor (his grandfather and father were Baptist preachers) all combine in an interesting, theologically mature, insightful, and very, very helpful way.  We recommend this book highly, and it seems to appeal well to those who are younger, a bit edgy, who don't want pablum or cliches, but are eager for Biblically-rooted, practical advise that is authentic and hopeful and witty.  Very nicely done.
 
Gender and Grace: Love, Work & Parenting in a Changing World   Mary Stewart Van Leeuwn (IVP) $23.00 It may not be the first choice for marriage counseling as it is a bit rigorous, but I always recommend it, and truly hope many young folks read it and discuss it. If one doesn't get this fundamentally right, there will be troubles...I think it is wise and thoughtful, but, admittedly, a bit heady and theological for some folks.  Every pastor should have it though, and foist it on anybody who will go for it.  As you may guess, it recommends a more egalitarian view of marriage and rejects the worldly constructs of stereotypical gender roles.  The sequel, also on IVP Academic,  which is a bit more demanding, is called My Brother's Keeper? What the Social Sciences Do and Don't Tell Us About Masculinity (in which, Beth and I are mentioned---ha!)  Very thoughtful.  
 
Marriage at the Crossroads: Couples in Conversation About Discipleship, Gender Roles, Decision Making and Intimacy  William & Aida Spencer and Steve & Celestia Tracy (IVP) $20.00  This is not a simple marriage guide or an easy-to-use class book; not eve a typical textbook.  It is sprawling, diverse, thoughtful, and very (very!) interesting.  These two couples differ in their assumptions: one couple describes themselves as "egalitarians" and the other as "complimentarians." (For those not familiar with the term, it indicates a more traditionalist understanding of the complimentary role of men and women, using older views of "headship" and such which has arisen in the scholarly evangelical community in reaction to the rise of evangelical feminism.)  Each couple are vibrantly and robustly followers of Jesus, and they are each marriage counseling professionals.  So they bring their own personal marriages and their work as specialists to the table as they work their way through this extraordinary set of conversations.  It is very useful for those trying to figure out what to believe about what the Bible says and what our theological and doctrinal views might be, and it is equally practical, full of daily guidance and example of working out the details of a committed Biblical marriage.

9781433507120.jpgThis Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence John Piper (Crossway) $17.99 I suppose regular readers might know that I do not agree with all of Piper, and yet, I really enjoy reading him, and recommend him always. He is a fiery Baptist with serious commitment to the specifics of the Bible, and he does his tough stuff with a tender heart and a hearty laugh. Of course, if we are to be Biblical people, we simply must deal with the texts (most notably in Ephesians) that talk about mutual submission, and then the ways in which men and women are called to live into the mystery--that marriage somehow signifies the breath-taking glory of Christ and His church.  I do like Piper's passion, his thoroughness, his deep desire to place everything he writes about (in this case, marriage) in the context of the Christ-exalting, God-pleasing, worth-dying-for faith which makes much of God even as we die to self.  He is a fine pastor, here, walking folk thorough hard stuff, and reflecting deeply on the Bible and practical evangelical living.  I pity the person whose pastor offers cheap cliches of inspiration sentiment or the latest psycho-babble from the pages of a trendy journal.  In these trying times, married folk need this kind of meaty study, and I'd rather take exception to a page or two, than offer something more politically correct that is vapid.  For what it is worth, he has a bit about singleness (he's for it) and divorce and remarriage (he's against it.) This handsome little hardback is worth giving (or having on your nightstand) if only for the splendid subtitle which reminds us that marriage is a "parable of permanence."  

Here is something else that is remarkable about this firm, little book.  Each chapters starts with an excerpt of the truly extraordinary insight of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's pastoral letter on marriage, known to us as a chapter in Letters and Papers From Prison.  Why not give that as a wedding gift: notes from a dying martyr...whew1  Kudos to Piper, like him or not, for wanting the supremacy of Christ to shine as we do marriage in counter-cultural ways that allow us to fully serve, love, pray and enjoy each other, and the world, for God's sake.

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail...And How You Can Make Yours Last  John Gottmanwhy-marriages-succeed-or-fail-and-how-you-can-make-yours-last.jpg (Simon & Schuster) $15.00  This is not written from a Biblical perspective, but it emerges from what may be the most important marital research yet done.  Dr. Gottman has pioneered extraordinary methods of observing couples in action, and for 20 years has been documenting at his center/learning lab exactly how couples interact.  His tested methods show exactly what practices and traits are needed for a successful long-term relationship, and exactly what attitudes and habits create patterns that erode a happy marriage.  What he shows here is surprising (frequent arguing itself isn't bad; financial problems aren't the worst thing; more sex doesn't necessarily improve a marriage.)  Gottman notices how habits of making sour faces---signs of contempt---are one of the most reliable indicators of a doomed marriage.

His breakthrough study of over 2000 married couple has lead him to make this remarkable claim that he can predict within 94% accuracy which people will stay marriage and which will divorce.  Coupled with a foundation of Biblical theology and graceful spirituality, I think this kind of secular book could be very, very helpful.

Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before and After You Marry  Les & Leslie Parrot (Zondervan) $19.99  Surprisingly insightful, these two authors are very sharp, and I'd recommend anything they do (and they do a lot!)    This one is obviously most designed for pre-marital use, although I think anybody could benefit from9780310207481.jpg it.  It is a bit more psychological, self-helpy and practical that the ones I've named above, so I'd recommend it be coupled with some sort of substantial theology of marriage for a sound foundational framework. Still, the Parrot's pick the key topics of handling money, sexuality, communication and such and offer very helpful insight into how to handle these matters.  It is really very fine, so engaging and useful. There are separate workbook guides for men and women, too, that can be purchased separately. And, now, there is a brand new DVD curriculum, too.  Very cool.

 Very, very valuable for some will be another one they did with a similiar title, Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts (Zondervan; $17.99) which is arranged in a similarly helpful format, designed for those going through a re-marriage.  That one, too, has workbooks for men and women to do on their own.  Again, it has a most practical flavor and although rooted clearly in the Christian faith, avoids serious Biblical questions regarding the appropriateness of remarriage.  This one offers "nine questions" to answer, geared specifically for those in this awkward sitatuion...

Drs. Les and Leslie have done some other popular marriage and family books, but one little one that might be helpful is a small, very fun book, The Love List (Zondervan; $14.99), which names things couples should do once a day, once a week, once a month, and once a year.  A lot of wisdom presented in a clever "check up" kind of way.  Another invites men and women to "trade places" as they work through the habits of their relationship.  A very recent one documents different personality types and "love language" sorts of things.  We stock all of their work
 
Ten Great Dates Before You Say I Do  David & Claudia Arp (Zondervan) $12.99  These are fun and interactive "dates" that have a "point" or experience built in to then discuss.  What a great idea!  They wrote one years ago for married couples, now revised and entitled Ten Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage (and there is another one called Ten Great Dates for Empty Nesters) which have been so popular, they did a pre-marital one.  Fun and interesting and a good resource to have on hand, even if you don't do (or have the couple do) all ten in a row.  Some groups have done the dates, and then gathered later to talk about how it went, what they learned, and process the conversations in the book.
 
Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy Kevin Lehman (Tyndale) $14.99book-sheet-music.jpg  We have lots of fairly standard sexuality books---I still love the classic Eerdmans release by Lewis Smedes called Sex for Christians---which is arranged in three units: creation, fall, redemption.  I suspect that his Biblical/theological reflections are still the best. But we list this newer one by the ever-popular and creatively crazy Kevin Lehman because he is so upbeat, well known, and enjoyable to read. Excellent, even if it is pretty racy!   Clifford & Joyce Penner's Gift of Sex (Nelson; $14.99) is often used for those who have no sexual experiences, who need clinical and instructional information. Very frank and clear.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity Lauren Winner (Brazos) $14.99 Especially for those who are not yet or currently married, this is simply a must read; the best on the topic I know of for serious young adults.  Of course, Winner is a hip and serious writer, and her prose shines, her stories are very illuminating, and her broad vision is very solid. Did I say it was a must-read?  A, while you're at it, get a hold of her other two, her conversion memoir, Girl Meets God and her Jewish-inspired set of spiritual practices, Mud-House Sabbath.

9781567691115m.jpgThe Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers Matthew Haykin (Reformation Trust Publishing) $15.00  I needn't remind you how profound, deep, and eloquent old letters often are, and this handsome small hardback makes not only a very special gift and keepsake, it is a model of Christ-centered, beautiful renderings of the meaning of marriage.  A few of these are from famous folks, hymn-writers, Puritans, authors.  Most are not.  They are substantial and well worth reflecting upon (even if you aren't a church history buff.) If you value the instincts of the past, though, this is a real gift. My, my, how folks used to think and write and live.


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