About November 2010

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

October 2010 is the previous archive.

December 2010 is the next archive.

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

November 2010 Archives

November 2, 2010

A generous offer on the new Timothy Keller: Generous Justice

51xmsUbGkKL._SL500_AA300_.jpgPerhaps here on election day it would be good to highlight a brand new book on justice, Generous Justice: How God's grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller (Dutton; $19.95---see sale price, below.)  This is doubtlessly going to be on our best-of-the-year list and I am utterly thrilled to announce it today.  It released just today (although I have had opportunity to read it earlier.)  I've been itching to describe it, but didn't want to jump the gun of the "street date" when it was legal to sell it.  Have to be just in describing a book on justice, eh?  Well, I'm happy to now tell you about it, because it is splendid.  It is a great book for nearly anyone, it is a great witness for the gospel, faithful to Christ and helpful for those of us wanting to be part of God's Kingdom's work.

You are most likely aware that we have been fans of Keller for years.  His very first book, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (P&R; $12.99) is fantastic, and emerged from his own Doctorate of Ministry study on the role of deacons as agents of humanitarian care and social service.  As he describes it, while studying at Westminster Seminary in Philly, he went to Temple University school of social work and read everything they were recommending for their grad program, and compared that with an extensive study of Scripture and church history.  We've carried that book for years, and knew about it from its earliest days as he was influenced by a hero of ours, the late Harvie Conn.  We still love Conn's fantastic little book Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace (P&R $10.99) and so respected his own work with the urban poor, both overseas and domestically.  Keller also drew a bit upon the extraordinary Richard Lovelace, whose seminal book Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (IVP; $30.00) showed the factors in true renewal throughout church history, and the multi-faceted relationship of urgent prayer, social service, serious thinking, cultural engagement, evangelism and social action and community and so forth. So, from Keller's first book, we were very impressed.

His 2008 Reason for God: Belief is an Age of Skepticism (Dutton; $16.00) is one of the better books of apologetics in recent years, and we are glad that an inviting call to evangelical faith can be made with such literary clarity and gusto. That places like the New York Times compare him in persuasive strength to C.S. Lewis indicates something of the seriousness with which he writes and his high caliber reputation.

The work of that great book inviting us to think deeply and even "doubt doubts" andthe-reason-for-god-dvd.jpg "deconstruct the deconstructions" has just come out in a fine six-session DVD curriculum along with an excellent participant's guide.  The great subtitle to that video panel discussion with Keller is "Conversations on Faith and Life."  Although you can buy 'em individually, the DVD and participant's guide comes shrink-wrapped in a great package deal: $31.99 (It is 20% off, though, with our blog special shown below, making it just $25.59.)  Please call us if you'd like to order it---it would make a great small group conversation, something to share with seekers or skeptics, or a discussion oriented adult Sunday school course.  We've also sold a good number of his basic discipleship DVD course, The Gospel for Life, which also comes in a similar shrink-wrapped bargain deal, with the DVD and participants guide together.  See our BookNotes feature on that, here.

Rev. Keller's next two books are smallish---the same shape as Generous Justice, that easy to hold, somewhat compact-sized hardback---and yet are exceptionally rich and heavy with insight.  The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (Dutton; $19.95) is a remarkable re-telling and explication of the famous parable, showing the power of the gospel to forgive the runaway, of course, but, more, the way the Pharisee-like religiosity of the older son prevented him from understanding the father's great love and mercy.  Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promise of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope That Matters (Dutton; $19.95) is one of the more profound books in years, certainly one of the best studies of idolatry I've ever seen.  Yes, this urban and urbane Manhattan Reformed church planter has his finger on the pulse of our culture, and is able to bring clear and orthodox gospel truth to the false gods and stories and thinking of our time.  Exceptional!

Generous Justice: How God's grace Makes Us Just is truly stunning.  That such a solid, evangelical, pastor/theologian can bring the message of social transformation so well is itself a bit of a miracle (I can only shout "Praise the Lord" and "Thanks Be to God!" in gratitude that a leader of Keller's stature has put the weight of his reputation behind this topic and this small book.)  Mr. Keller has studied this topic, and engaged himself in this topic, has led his church into this topic, for years now (remember his D-Min work on deacons and church-based social ministry.)  His reading is wide and the varied footnotes are splendid, as he explores the deep questions of the meaning of justice (Rawls? Wolterstorff? Sandel?  Yep.)  And what the Bible says about it.  He's a Proverbs 29:7 righteous one.

You may know that our own passions here at Hearts & Minds have long been to help equip church folk to live out their lives in efforts of social reform and cultural transformation.  We've stocked everything from Dorothy Day to Marvin Olasky (both well-worth reading on the urban poor) and regularly note that Ron Sider (author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger [Nelson; $15.99] and Just Generosity [Baker; $17.99]) is a friend and mentor.  We have been active in Bread for the World and the Jubilee Campaign to cancel portions of the third world debt and have helped start crisis pregnancy centers and have fought for the rights of local immigrants.  We recommend resources like the truly lovely and artfully designed full-color book on micro-financing, The Poor Will Be Glad by Peter Greer (Zondervan; $19.99) and, for digging deeper, titles such as Walking With the Poor by Bryant Myers (Orbis; $26.00) which is a serious must-read.  Just a few weeks ago we ran a few posts of recent, fresh voices from evangelical publishers who are telling stories of those involved in social justice, fighting slavery, working in micro-financing, forming relationships across cultures to model Christ-centered racial reconciliation.  There are tons of good things happening, and many great books by sharp, edgy folks, creative thinkers, with wild stories of goodness and grace.  I'm blown away by the insight and wisdom and maturity from books such as the brilliant new Likewise paperback Living Mission: The Vision and Voices of New Friars edited by Scott A. Bessenecker (IVP; $16.00.) That the forwards are by Shane Claiborne & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove may give you a sense of the approach of these new monastics, and their global ministry; it should thrill anyone with a heart for wholistic mission and we love it!

Yet, for several reasons, Mr. Keller is able to articulate the social ramifications of the gospel in  ways that will ring true for those perhaps less enamored with Shane or even Sider. That Keller
keller1.jpg is a PCA scholar and  successful pastor will appeal to some---yes, he cites the powerful and important book by Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits and avoids the lefty lingo of Wallis or Campolo.  Yes, he is very clear about holding on to historic and sound views of justification and the role of the Cross.  Yes, he roots his social outreach in the "first things" of the gospel as understood by the classic voices of the Protestant Reformation.  And yes his Biblical exegesis is respectful and serious, not trendy or speculative. I do not mean to suggest that others writing on social justice (and certainly not the impeccable Ron Sider) are theologically shoddy, but Keller is utterly reliable, clear, and known to be conservative (in the best sense) in his traditional Presbyterian and Reformed theology.

But beside being theologically sound, and basing faithful ministries for justice in the gospel itself,  Keller also has a writing style that is not breathy or overstated or provocative.  He is passionate, yes, but he writes with some humility and restraint.  I know balance isn't the most zealous or compelling word, and I do not mean he is hum-drum or middle-of-the-road, which he is not.  I squirmed in conviction while reading much of this, and it is very compelling.  It is compelling, but it is compelling exactly because it is not manipulative, politically correct,  guilt-producing, or "prophetic" (as we often say.)  The case is made carefully and with great care for nuance and facts, both Biblical facts and the data "on the ground."  He does not have an axe to grind. It is not partisan. This is a great book because it is truthful and fair and modest, calmly following the evidence of the Book itself. Which ends up being nearly revolutionary!

I think Generous Justice is a great book also because it is both thoughtful and brief.  It does not skimp on good Biblical study and the footnotes, as I've suggested, deserve careful study.  Keller has done the mature work of studying what we mean by justice, the different sorts of justice, and the foundations for notions of human rights; he's looked at the arguments about natural law and the nature of civil society and the task of the state.  And he's related those ideas clearly and helpfully and he's related all of that to a Biblically-informed worldview. 

His academic work is very thoughtful and theologically reliable and thereby should appeal to at least two sorts of readers: young activists and people caught up in the passion of a cause or a ministry or an area of concern who need to know these finer-tuned matters if their good work is going to endure, if their passions are to be sustainable, if their work is not to die out or be co-opted by either the right or the left. This is the exact sort of sure footing they will need.  And, conversely, those theologically suspicious ones, those who fear that recent attention to justice, liberation, freedom and such are just trendy distractions to the real gospel, will surely find a very convincing case here that we are, indeed, called to be agents of justice and shalom.  Yet, gladly, it isn't a 500-page tome, and Generous Justice offers this rare treat: a fairly serious study that is succinct and concise and easy to understand.

I also think this is a great book because, as the subtitle puts it, it shows that it is God's justice which makes us just.  Keller actually does not reflect at length on the possible relationship between justification and justice, between the sanctifying power of the Spirit and the renewing Spirit hovering over creation, but he does not fail to link good doctrine and good action.  The very title gives away some of his hand: our work for the common good, for "justice for all" is itself a result of grace, common and saving.  Justice and grace are not at odds,  and our social service emerges from our sense of grace---blessed are the poor in Spirit!--- and such spiritual truth will sustain us through thick and thin.  A passion for a commitment to true healing justice for the oppressed in this distorted and broken world, is rooted in God's own just-ness, which creates in us a desire to see justice roll down.  These are my words, of course (Keller is so much more clear and profound) but it is true that this book about justice is written by a man whose calling is largely to the work of being a church planter and pastor and theologian.  If you don't like doctrine much, he is not overbearing.  But his clear theological tone is a true asset, making this a great book.  I hope young turks involved in missional outreach take it to heart and I hope older mainline leaders do too---all of us need to be reminded of the saving mercy of Christ as the foundation for our efforts of being kind and doing justice.

Finally, I think this is a great book because it points us to some practical options, ways to be involved, invitations to "next steps" without ever being simplistic.  It is not a how-to tool or a handbook.  His reflections about "justice in the public square" are wise and prudent. He's got some interesting angles, too--for instance, his brief reflections on the way in which beauty can lead us to justice.  Here he draws on the thoughtful little book On Beauty and Being Just (Princeton University Press; $14.95) by Harvard professor Elaine Scary which is a book we've long promoted.  There are other surprising or interesting pointers along the way, making this always an interesting read.  The fact that he has stories to tell that are not only from the front-lines of soup kitchens or refugee camps is, frankly,  helpful, since most readers are not immersed in those worlds with the truly impoverished or homeless.  That is, no matter where you are in region or perspective, there is insight here for you.  This is a great book because it is so helpful.

Here are the chapter titles, the flow of which will, hopefully, allow you to see the value of this fine little work.

What Is Doing Justice?
Justice in the Old Testament
What Did Jesus Say About Injustice
Justice and Your Neighbor
Why Should We Do Justice?
How Should We Do Justice?
Doing Justice in the Public Square
Peace, Beauty, and Justice

Here is an brief printed interview with Keller that might explain more of his reason for writingTimKeller.jpg this and his perspective.  Here is a video lecture of Dr. Keller, which is a good illustration of his style and teaching (from a Reform and Resurge event a few years ago.)  I hope you agree that this will be helpful to many, and that this is a book worth considering.  We hope you'll buy several.  And we hope--in the name of justice--that you don't buy a book on justice at a faceless, under-cutting place like amazon or Wal Mart, who bully publishers and has little respect for the just nature of a fair price, which they regularly can abuse.

Still, we are eager to get this book out there and for a limited time--two weeks from today---we will sell this at the deep discount of 30% off---a savings of six bucks per book!  We bought a lot of these and got a good deal so can pass savings on to you, and are willing to forgo much profit.  We really, really believe this is a book that we should try to encourage you to buy, to give, to discuss, to use.  We hope our bargain price helps.  Thanks for caring.

$6.00 OFF
Generous Justice
 Timothy Keller
regular price $19.95
our sale price $13.95
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Hearts & Minds 2345 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333



November 3, 2010

Video message from IVP authors from the international Capetown 2010 Lausanne conference

Usually, when I find a cool review or interesting article, I might post it at facebook or tweet or re-tweet it.

This little video clip, though, is so wonderful, I'm putting it here on the BookNotes site.  But first, some explanation and book talk.

This clip is a joy to watch for several reasons.  Firstly, it shows the smiling faces of a bunch of folks I know, a few I count as friends.  Many BookNotes fans will recognize them.  They are all authors of InterVarsity Press, still my favorite publisher, whose books are consistently interesting, well-done, thoughtful and usually quite solid.  IVP authors often are younger than many who write for religious presses, and they are delightfully multi-ethinic.  And smart.  And passionate. If you want to hear the voices and see the faces of friends like Andy Crouch and Brenda Psalter McNeil and Greg Jao and Jim Belcher and Becky Pippert and Dan Chou of Veritas Forum;  if you'd like to quickly meet Albert Hsu or Word Made Flesh founder Chris Heuertz and our pal Leroy Barber of Mission Year or Tyler Wigg Stevenson, who isn't an IVP author yet, but is working on an important book on peacemaking which they will release, please (please) check this out.  To see authors who are happy about their publisher is a joy, too, I must say.  We who love books owe 'em a tip o the hat! 

Importantly, they are sending their greetings from the historic Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation in Capetown, South Africa.  If you don't know Lausanne, you should; it is a global movement, started at a truly historic 1974 gathering in the famed Swiss city to help evangelicals hammer out issues pertaining to world missions.  It was stunning in its international scope, with leadership offered from every corner of the globe, inspired in part by the trusted reputation of Billy Graham.  Particularly important was the effort to describe the exact relationship between verbal proclamation of the gospel and the deeds of justice, care, and solidarity that must accompany any incarnational explanation of the good news of the Kingdom. 

John Stott's little book Christian Mission in the Modern World (IVP; $8.00) is still a classic,
stott-christian-mission-4.jpg one that goes a long way towards a reliable approach to this question.  Stott, as a young man, had been involved in the World Council of Church's famous Fourth Assembly in Uppsala, so he has been in the thick of this conversation about "renewal in mission" all of his adult life.  Then, he gave the opening address at the first Lausanne Congress, laying out the basics of what became this book!  I still appreciate his clear-headed, theologically solid teaching in Christian Mission... including a section that reminds us that God equips all folks to live out their faith in distinctive ways, even in the marketplace and work-world, taking up their callings and careers as mini-mission fields.  I think much of our vision here at Hearts & Minds (see the post I did about vocation and calling earlier in the week) goes back to truths which captured my heart in the late 70s as forward-thinking evangelical friends were reading Stott, and others who were deeply engaged in this question of the relationship between word and deed, of faith and life, of Sunday and Monday, of evangelism and justice.  And hearing the voices of strong brothers and sisters from throughout the whole wide world.  Imagine!

This recently re-issued edition has a new forward by Ajith Fernando, itself a moving testimony to how these words impacted the now-famous Sri Lankan leader, as he heard and read them as a young man.  Ajith himself has, I'd bet, had an impact on many of the authors on the cheery video, so the influences continue.  And, I might add, many of these great communicators have been at our Pittsburgh Jubilee conference, too, year after year. 

Another excellent book that we recommend that continues this good conversation (a conversation that shapes and shows the significance of the new Tim Keller book I raved about in last night's post, Generous Justice, by the way) is Ronald J. 
good_news_good_works.jpg Sider's Good News and Good Works: A Theology of the Whole Gospel (Baker; $20.00.)  I do not know if Ron is at Lausanne this year, but his quiet leadership in those circles, insisting on a solidly Biblical wholistic approach---word and deed, not compromising on either!---has been vital. (Ron, too, like Stott before him, has also participated in WCC events.)  The various working groups in the Lausanne movement have done good work on all manner of social reform, and Sider has kept abreast of much of it.  This book is a gold-mine of insight, a book both standing in the grand tradition of thoughtful, incarnational, wholistic, Christ-centered, world mission, perhaps adding a touch of his particular Mennonite insights (As a Presbyterian, though, I think this Kingdom vision stuff is absolutely spot on!)  His teaching about the way in which the Biblical language of the Kingdom of God is essential to get at proper understanding and practice of either evangelism or social action is excellent; again, it is solid and helpful and could be an inspiring corrective to the weaknesses of the "social gospel" or the "individual gospel" approaches that still deform much Christian witness in the world.  Today's contemporary and hip missional leaders stand on shoulders, I'd say and this is an essential book for those attempting to live out faith in deep and faithful ways.

And so, with so many great resources reminding us that there is a world to reach, a variety of ways to witness to the redemptive work of Christ, and a call to think hard about the future of world evangelism, we invite you to join us in prayer and hope for the Lausanne Cape Town 2010 Congress.

And for publishers like InterVarsity Press who promote authors of international scope and evangelical substance.

Please, say hello to a few of our friends and a couple of our heroes, writers, thinkers, book-lovers all.

November 6, 2010

The Economy of Love: Shane Claiborne at the PA State Pastor's Conference

Sometimes, those that discover our bookstore on-line (or who wander in off Main Street in Dallastown) can't easily figure us out.  We have a vast array of books, some pretty heady, including theology texts, but not only scholarly work; we are clearly not an academic store.  We carry all kinds of stuff (including gifts and music and kids books galore.) We're pretty down-home and casual, but with an intense commitment to reading. We have both mainstream general titles and religious titles, and, as religious bookstores go, we are pretty ecumenical.  We believe in reading widely, enjoying the company of friends and authors, including authors who our friends like.  We may disagree, sometimes vigorously, but we enjoy learning and enjoy the pleasures of good literature, fiction and non-fiction. From political polemics to poetry to Puritan piety I sometimes say.  We attend a mainline Protestant church, but carry a lot of Roman Catholic supplies, and although we are pretty conservative theologically, we appreciate much in our peculiar mainline circles.  Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue...sorry if this is confusing, but it just makes sense to us. 

51xmsUbGkKL._SL500_AA300_.jpgMuch about who we are can be seen in the last few posts.  We have a great discount offer on the new book by Manhattan PCA pastor, church planter, speaker and author, Dr. Timothy Keller.  We've met Tim a time or two and listen to him on line and respect his prolific, thoughtful work.  I highlighted a number of his books earlier in the week to set the stage for describing his new one.  It is called Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just (Dutton; regularly $19.99 but see the blog special.)  This book means a lot to us as it combines our interests in winsome but classic Reformed theology, combined with the passions for cultural engagement,  social renewal and worldviewish discernment that some call neo-Calvinism with a particular interest in the poor and those plagued by injustice.  In this short book, Keller shows how historic Bible teachings about justification and traditionally evangelical formulations about the faith are not only vital because they are orthodox but they are most fruitful for sustaining commitments to building the peace of the city, for nurturing faithful practices of caring for the poor, and for being people who are advocates of public justice.  It's certainly worth debating, and I think he is largely correct.

There are deeper, and more thorough books on social change and how to "set the world to rights" as N.T. Wright summarizes the hope of the gospel; we read some wildly creative stuff, too, and sometimes that can be very helpful.  Typical church ways (of the liberal or conservative sort), it seems to me, aren't fully faithful or very fruitful.  We have to experiment with new thinking, and more faithful understandings and practices.  Of course, we would say we must be Biblical.  But what does that mean?  What does it look like?  One of my all time favorite books is the postmodern, anti-imperial study of St. Paul found in Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (IVP; $23.00) by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat.  It is a remarkable study of Paul's subversive community who, as followers of the messianic King Jesus, would have naturally resisted the idolatry of the Roman empire and worked for the shalom of their urban centers.  Might the Colossians passages singing glories to the cosmic risen Lord call us to "practice resurrection" today by faithfully witnessing to lifestyles of restoration and hope, stewardship and life?  Might it mean using our sanctified imaginations to think of being a bit subversive to the North American ways, the idols of our time?  With endorsements from the likes of N.T. Wright and Marva Dawn (and yours truly) on the back, this is a very rich work.

Scriptural themes of liberation which are explored with fruitful insight in that study of51LVt7bn16L._SL500_AA300_.jpg Colossians are sounded even more radically in the brand new release by Wes Howard-Brook called "Come Out My People!" God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond (Orbis; $30.00.)  This just came so I am not sure where all he goes with this, but I am sure it will be provocative and helpful as it points towards an renewed socio-political reading of the whole Bible narrative. (Howard-Brook as a similiar study of the book of John!)  Older liberation theology at its Marxist worst could easily be critiqued not only for reading Marxian assumptions into the ancient Bible texts, but for ruling out as uninteresting matters of eternal life, forgiveness of sins, atonement, redemption, piety, and such.  This new generation of Bible scholars are not like that.  And, they are not firstly political ideologues or revolutionaries, but are exegetes studying the socio-political knowledge that frames much of the Biblical story, who offer that to those wanting to be shrewd in following Jesus.  That is, they read the Bible carefully and coherently and having encountered God in its pages, try to live it out.   Again, some of this is pushing some envelopes in terms of traditional understandings of God's redemptive work unfolded in the Scriptures (wait to you see what he does with Ezra-Nehemiah) but these are important voices and we hope small groups or adult classes discerningly read this sort of stuff and struggle with it.

Similarly, Walter Brueggemann, who has written and taught and preached about
41qo5wXFLKL._SL500_AA300_.jpg the themes of exile and Biblical Babylon as a generative contemporary metaphor for years, has a brand new great collection of meditations (lectures or sermons, no doubt) simply called Out of Babylon (Abingdon; $15.00.) I so enjoy reading Walter, who I so greatly esteem, and intend to sit still with this soon---I can't wait, as I know I've felt my heart quicken and my heart enlarged when I've heard him speak this stuff.  Like his spectacular collection of three lectures Journey to the Common Good (WJK; $16.96) that came out earlier this year (see my comments here) this shows Brueggemann working less in the academic guild doing detailed exegesis or serious long-form commentary, but taking excursions into and out of the texts, offering creative and passionate lectures and messages and prophetic calls to mature fidelity.  These are truly amazing books, and we promote them eagerly.  Be ready to think hard and be prepared to live better because of it.

Still, I think Keller gets it just about perfect for starters: solid reminders of the first things of the gospel, and how God's justification makes us just.  And how we live that out, prudently, wisely, in Christ-centered ways for the good of our neighbor.  Like the folks at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation that I wrote about in the last post, global evangelicals who are serious about personal evangelism and social renewal, about mentoring young believers and "discipling the nations."  I don't know if Keller spoke at Capetown 2010, but he surely could have.  I am a whole-hearted fan of his innovative work in New York, and this great book, a guide into the themes of social reformation, rooted in a conservative theology, a balanced reading of Scripture, and a careful concern about contemporary culture.  Generous Justice is surely one of the most important books of the year, and one we hope you will purchase.  It would be excellent for those who aren't fully convinced of this "justice" stuff or who have be influenced by the confusing teachings of Glen Beck against relating faith and social justice.

I say all this not only to again promote Generous Justice, but to remind you, fair reader, a bit of our heart, our tradition, who we are, and where we are, as they say, "coming from."  Keller and Brueggemann.  There ya go. 

And, add to that a bit of our zany anarchist pal, Shane Claiborne.  I cannot tell you how thrilled
homeless_tshirt.jpg we were when his first little powerhouse of a book, Irresistible Revolution: Living as An Ordinary Radical, came out, and then his next, Jesus for President, on an evangelical publisher (Zondervan; $14.99.)  And what feisty little books they are!  The anti-war Catholic priests Dan & Phil Berrigan, the Episcopalian radical lawyer William Stringfellow, heavy-duty Mennonite John Howard Yoder and the Reformed social critic Jacque Ellul all in the footnotes of a fun and funny book, published by Zondervan?!  In my lifetime?!  That these early radical influences of mine were showing up in the work of a new generation of young activists, and being received in conservative churches, written by a guy who worked at Willow Creek for a while (!) was just a thrill to me. We reviewed Irresistible carefully and promoted it widely.  This, too, says a bit of who we are, caring about young guys and gals in alternative communities like The Simple Way--some call 'em The New Monastics.  Wow; didn't see that coming in the 21st century!

We are very happy that we will be with Shane again in a few days (November 8, 2010) as he is speaking at the annual Pennsylvania State Pastor's Conference put together by the PA State Council of Churches.  Here is their conference brochure.  You know, if you are within a few hours driving distance from Harrisburg, Shane is always a hoot to be around, so you should come on over; I'm sure you can register at the door.  Eric Law of the Kaleidescope Institute who is speaking on Tuesday is a nationally-know trainer on multi-ethnic churches and will be helping us work through issues of racial reconciliation and being graceful congregations of inclusion and diversity. We've stocked all of his Chalice Press books here for years.  I am sure it isn't too late to show up for a day or so.  Heck, I'm even doing a lunchtime workshop on books and reading, sharing with some clergy friends about a handful of important, off-beat releases, books they might want to know about, and a few of my all-time, favorite, well-written memoirs that can serve as guides on the journey. Or at least bring some perspective.   And, we will have a huge book display set up. (Pray for my severely aching back, please! We've got a lot o boxes to unload tomorrow.)

Shane has a brand new book coming any day now---a handsome hardback prayer book called Common61CKWH6zTWL._SL500_AA300_.jpg Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals co-written by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, & Enuma Okoro (Zondervan; $24.99.)  Haven't seen it yet,  but we're told it is truly interesting, and very attractive.  Sturdy, in ideas and heart and binding. You may know Jonathan's many books, but the other co-author, Enuma Okoro, has a new memoir called Reluctant Pilgrim (Fresh Air/Upper Room) which I'm preparing to review, soon.  Amazing!   We hope Common Prayer will arrive next week. We are taking pre-orders at 20% off.  Let us know if you want one by click the "order" link below.

51KSPO2zNGL._SL500_AA300_.jpgThe Economy of Love: Creating a Community of Enough (the House Studio; $12.99)
Shane, his Simple Way community, and a network of other friends in the "relational tithe network" also have a relatively new project that just came out this fall.  It is a small book and a DVD,  a very thoughtful, edgy kind of overview of what they have been calling "the relational tithe."  That is, they are inviting us to think seriously about generosity, economics and time, relationship and community---sort of the foundations for their shared live there in Camden. These aren't monastic vows, really, just earnest and risky talk about being more faithful to Christ and his teachings.  Claiborne and company spell it out in Economy of Love---the book comes as a colorful and playfully designed art-format book (not unlike his visually stunning, post-modern graphic book Jesus for President.) Kudos to Arthur Cherry for the hip graphics.  And to Darin Petersen who seems to have written some of it.  Including the stellar line noting that "God is head over heels in love with this beautiful and wretched world." 

Basically, the thrust of this edgy little handbook---which really goes with the DVD of the same name--is to invite us to experiment with shifting from philanthropy to friendship.  That is, most of us who are firmly middle class don't actually know many truly poor people, and if we do, we know them as recipients of our volunteerism, not as our friends.  If we were to actually commit to spending less on ourselves, freeing up time to be in friendships with those unlike ourselves, it might just help us move away from our anxieties about things, and towards, well, an economy of love.  Out of Babylon and into the goodness of God's reign, of Christ's "beloved community."  Yep, that's about it.  Hear some stories of Shane's friends as they come to know hurting folks, reaching out in authentic friendship to those on the margins.

Here is a link to the Relational Tithe webpage, which includes some articles and some video trailers with Shane.  We suppose that some will find this weird and out of their ballpark, so to speak, and yet others are deeply hungering for expressions of faith exactly like this.  Here is a website about the Economy of Love book and DVD project.     

As we've noted, this essential five-session DVD goes along with the book and is also called Economy of Love. Some of the book has some of the transcripts of the DVD, along with extra commentary and stories that aren't in the DVD.  (And typed in with circles and arrows and other dumb scribbles are the Bible texts, too.  Older folks might think this looks worse than a rough draft, but younger folks will immediately resonate with the art style that looks like the inside of a sloppy art CD cover.)  The book has excellent and important questions to talk about, which can be done without watching the DVD, but I think if your watching the sessions, you really ought to have some of the book. It isn't marketed as a "participants guide" but it sorta is.  And it's sorta not.  They don't want to insult people's intelligence and yet they guide us through these hard questions in helpful ways.  Cool, huh?

Want to spice up your young adult class?  Fire up your teens with some fun-loving, hard-hitting, Jesus-following, Spirit-driven subversion?  Conspire goodness, as Shane likes to put it?  Have your mission committee actually think about living missionally? This EoL DVD is highly recommended, very energetic, and well worth having.  Please check it out. 

We have a 20% off discount going on at the PA State Pastor's conference, so if you can't be there, we'll offer the deal as if you were.  We will send it with 51MbX31KEqL._SL500_AA300_.jpga smile you'll be supporting our indie efforts here, and--yep, you see this coming, I hope--you'll be supporting an "economy of love." We are grateful to have such interesting things to sell, such good stuff to talk about and a network of friends and fans who care.  Glad you know us, and thanks for the chance to serve you.

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November 13, 2010

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

There has been a renaissance of new prayer books being released lately, and old ones--from the classic Book of Common Prayer to the popular collection of Puritan prayers and devotions called Valley of Vision, to the lovely and wise paperback by John Ballie, Diary of Private Prayer--are more popular than ever.  Perhaps this was inspired by the popularity of the fantastic Upper Room trilogy by Rueben P. Job, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, and A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek.  Their handsome leather (blue, red, and green), perfect hand-size and ribbon markers invited users to hold them, to use them regularly, to enter the rhythms of reflective, liturgically-shaped daily devotion.  Doubtlessly, the remarkable three volume set Praying the Hours (and then an Advent-Epiphany one, and a Night Prayers edition) by Phyllis Tickle set a new standard for fixed hour prayer books.  Authors like Marva Dawn have long encouraged evangelicals and mainline Protestants to use solid prayer books, and Mennonite pastor Arthur Boers and Episcopal writer Robert Benson penned marvelous introductions to the tradition of fixed hour prayers, and edited prayer volumes themselves.

The radical, counter-cultural, missional communities that some call "New Monastics" have also emphasized communal prayer practices and, like their emergent friends, have used the language of "ancient future" faith. (I was with Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way this week at the Pennsylvania State Pastors' Conference and it was good to have him share a bit about his own community with these ordinary clergy persons.  If you missed it, please see my highlight of his new book and DVD, The Economy of Love that I did in the previous post!)  Younger Christ-followers---whether from highly liturgical backgrounds or not---have shown interest in older forms of liturgy and worship.  While the powerhouse rock anthems of contemporary "praise & worship" (coupled with grungy neo-folk quieter songs, including new renderings of older hymns like the Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Music, and BiFrost Worship projects) are still the dominant form amongst most youth and young adult ministries, it is not uncommon to hear evangelicals talking about compline services or lighting candles for quiet prayer meetings. Slower, more gentle music shaped by a spirituality which includes the work of justice, such as the Celtic  Iona's and the French Taize movement are capturing the hearts of many, older and younger pilgrims through the 21st century church. 

CommonPrayer.jpgWhat a joy it is, then,  and what a bell-weather indication of important things, to finally get to hold and see and start to use Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan; $24.95.)  Although they fought the prominent publisher's marketing instincts to insist that their names not be engraved on the hardback cover (it's a prayer-book, after all!) the chief editors are Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro.

(The marketing compromise now includes a handsome paper half-sleeve wrap-around with their names shown, unlike the earlier version of the cover shown here.)  Knowing that it was "new monastics" who did this does help place this as an exceptional prayer resource and helps explain the "ordinary radicals" reference in the title.  It is, of course, from the bold subtitle of Shane's Irresistible Revolution.)   Even if you aren't part of a new monastic community, or aren't a fan of the subversive whimsy of Jesus for President or Shane's anti-materialism, neo-Franciscan lifestyle, I think this prayer book could be very, very useful.

Shane and Jonathan, unofficial co-conspirators of the new monastic movement, which--perhaps inspired by older Catholic Worker communities who served the poor and prayed the Divine Hours--are serious about communal prayer, even wrote a book9780830836222.jpg a year or so ago called Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers (IVP; $13.00) where they explored not only the visions of the Desert Fathers & Mothers, but challenged us all to root our ministry and missional discipleship in the rigors and graces of daily prayer.  That is a great little book on prayer.  These "ordinary radicals" attempt to live into their slogan that "a new world is possible"  and take seriously the adage that we are to "be the change that we want to see in the world" so they quickly learned the need for prayer, the transforming power of prayerfulness, and the wisdom of deeper prayer vocabulary than we can muster on our own.

And so, this new prayer book makes sense.  It is not surprising that these guys living on the edge of hope among the hurting, who are drawn to the pain of violent urban streets and who are regularly lamenting---and sometimes being knocked around by---the abuse of political power, war, and injustice, would be driven to prayer and the enduring words of ancient saints and mystics and reformers.  And, as I've noted, it isn't surprising that thoughtful evangelicals who are drawn to ecumenism and learning from the wider Body of Christ, would appreciate older catholic (and Catholic) forms and cadences and language of liturgy.  This is not a trendy marketing ploy or superficially claimed novelty.  New Monastics and ordinary radicals are a part of this post-modern shift to deeper prayerfulness and they are driven to ancient prayers by the violence of these times.  I hate to use such an overused word, but the whole idea seems truly authentic.  It makes sense; they could hardly not move in this seemingly heavy direction! 

Yet, Shane was nearly giddy with joy and possibility as we talked on the phone yesterday (we have some involvement in trying to make these available at some informal prayer services/release parties that are organically popping up to celebrate the release of the book.  See here.) He really believes that this will nurture and nourish communities that are struggling.  He believes that ancient forms will sustain us through the "long obedience in the same direction."  He believes that evangelicals (and others) simply must learn from others if our faith is to be balanced and mature.  And he thinks it just might work.  Who knows who's going to start using this?  What God might do to our movement as we have a good tool like this to center our common lives in common prayer.  Yippeee! 

The forward to Common Prayer is itself worth the price of the book.   It  tells just a bit about the history of this kind of prayer, and walks us through the joys of spoken word prayer, the litanies and styles of groups reading together.  It highlights some of the unique touches of this particular volume---including the social justice themes, the subversive litanies, the earnest idealism that shapes their hopes that prayer can make a difference and that someday "justice will roll down."  One of the sections is called "Welcome to a New Time Zone."  Uh-huh!   It helpfully invites readers into the patterns to be found in the rest of the book, and ruminates a bit about the transforming impact it could have. It explains that this ancient form of communal litany will be attractive to many, especially if the wording, vocabulary and themes are contemporary and socially aware, ethnically diverse, and politically charged---just like the Scriptures themselves! 

This book, they say, is for you.

Whether you are over-churched or under-churched, a proud evangelical, a recovering evangelical, or not an evangelical at all; whether you are high church, low church, or no church, a skeptic or a Pentecostal; whether you have found community or have burned out on community; this book is for you.

A few of the features of which I am especially fond include a fantastic set of sidebars  Over twenty little essays are offered, including notes on advent and Christmas, and lent, a good piece called "Sacred Space: Thinking About Where We Pray" and one on "Taking Liturgy to the Streets."  There is insight on eucharist and communion, one section called "smells and bells" and a few on creative stuff like the use of prayer bowls and using your body in prayer.  There are a few on specific secular holidays (Columbus Day is an opportunity to reflect on the need for new heroes) and a few on specific actions and their implications (like, say, confession, or a good one on passing the peace.)  In other words, embedded in this thick prayer book is a "users guide" on how and why we use such liturgical rubrics.  These side bars are brief, clear, a bit provocative, and very, very good.  And through-out they suggest books to read for those that want further knowledge.  Great!

There is artwork scattered throughout, original woodblock or linoleum block prints that cause us to think of Fritz Eichenberg and the famous Catholic Worker aesthetic. (Eichenberg and Day met, by the way, at the Pennsylvania Quaker retreat center Pendle Hill in 1949.)  These new pieces were designed by three artists, one an Orthodox artist,  and are a wonderful enhancement to the prayers.  An artist friend of Shane's did some great artwork around the edges of the pages that include the Lord's Prayer and, again, add a very handsome touch that somehow is both rich and simple, stark and nuanced, beautiful and yet drawing us to the poor and the hurting.

Near the back of the volume---which feels like a good, solid hymnal, nearly 600 pages, with a beige slightly woven textured clothbound cover, by the way---there are prayers offered for various special occasions.  There are a bunch of house blessings and prayers for new babies or adoptions.  There are prayers for the land (even a garden) and a prayer for those who have been killed in the neighborhood.  There is a celibacy commitment and a litany to honor women.  There are prayers for the workplace, prayers for Sabbath, prayers for life transitions, and several more.  

And there are hymns and spirituals and folk songs.  Singing together is an important aspect of spoken and sung prayer, although I'm not sure if these are going prove useful or not.  They have one verse of a large handful of stuff---a few very appropriate, a couple less vital, from hymns to Taize chants.  It is helpful, I suppose, to have the music printed out (even to well known tunes like We Shall Overcome and Swing Low.)  To see Praise to the Lord the Almighty and Ubi Caratas and Come Thou Font or Come Ye Sinners next to We Are Marching in the Light of God is surely a wonder! 

Of course, the heart of Common Prayer are the cycles of prayers, readings, Scriptures, and liturgies.  There are more than 365 entries for daily morning readings, bunches for evening or occasional prayer, and a suggested one for midday.  Many note the birthdays or anniversaries of important Christian leaders, peace-makers or justice activists (certainly one of the great strengths of the book.)  There are the expected cadences of collects and responsive readings.  There are Psalms for each day, of course, and an Older and Newer Testament reading.  The prayers are sometimes classic and ancient (penned by Ignatius, say, or John Chryostom, Claire of Assisi, or William Wilberforce) and sometimes quite contemporary, perhaps penned by the communities of Shane or Unuma (who is a memoirst, workshop leader, musician and poet herself, or drawing on the stories of Fannie Lou Hammer or Dom Helder Camara.  As I said, these stories, feast days and testimonies are remarkably rich diverse and important.)  I suspect Jonathan did much of the background work, as he is quite familiar with the ancient stuff, and has written widely on the church fathers and the new monastic vision of economics, place, community and justice.  And, as the editors say in the acknowledgments, they have had consultants and helpers galore. Ms. Okoro first lived in her homeland in Africa and brings a global awareness, too.  Yet, the prayers and readings seem not at all disjointed or "forced" or ideological.  It is a solid, useful, global prayer book.  For those who love the rich liturgical traditions of other prayerbooks, or those new to this style of praying, this resource is a treasure.

The patchwork project of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals is not a whim or a cheap paperback resource that will soon disappear.  This is an important, valuable, rich, and lasting project, a gift, really.  The word liturgy--from the Greek, they tell us in the long introduction--means "the work of the people."  Yes, they have worked to create this, many people have and the excellent quality of it shows.  But the task is now ours.  We must (we get to) work these pages.  Use the ribbon marker.  Pray the prayers, get the lovely cover marred with fingerprints and candle drippings, maybe spilled with tea or red wine.

Will you accept the gift of this work?  Will you share this book, offer to use it with others, invite your own community, church, prayer group or fellowship to use it as a resource?  I suspect the authors won't care if you use it haphazardly.  I know you will use many prayers often.  This gift will last; it will be turned to in your own hours and hopefully in your own family, household, small group or faith community.  We celebrate its publication, thank God for the movements of these sorts in these days and trust that God's people will be encouraged, deepened and sustained by the use of prayers and readings found here.  Common Prayer?  Yes, our prayers are common, common as daily breath, and commonly done together.  Yet, this wonderful book is quite uncommon. Young evangelicals discovering feast days and litanies?  Justice activists calling us to routine prayer?  Zondervan publishing a radical prayer book?  Yes, this is beautifully uncommon!   Let's get to work, settling down for the long haul of subversive, radical Christian living.  May the uncommon become more common!  We are happy to invite you to purchase this today.  Thanks.


Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals  (Zondervan)
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November 18, 2010

The Match: Complete Strangers, A Miracle Face Transplant, Two Lives Transformed

It happens from time to time, a remarkable moment when you know you've met someone who is, for reasons as mysterious as they are profound, truly an extraordinary person, a person you are exceptionally glad to have encountered.  I've heard countless speakers, lecturers, authors.  I've been moved by sturdy stories, touched by interesting people, moved by heroic testimonies of lives well lived, but it is still exciting and quite a gift to meet someone who leaves an impression that will last a lifetime.  Sometimes it all comes together, and you are struck that you are on holy ground, standing before an individual with character, charm, grace, and a heck of a story.  It happened to Beth and me last night.

the_match.jpgWe were looking forward to selling books at a speaking engagement of an author, Susan Whitman Helfgot, who has written one of the most fantastic books of the season, perhaps of the year, about---get this, and hold on, because this is going to sound weird---the face transplant performed when her husband passed away suddenly. The Match: Complete Strangers, A Miracle Face Transplant, Two Lives Transformed (Simon & Schuster; $26.00) is the story Ms Helfgot tells, and it is amazing, not only for the story of the life-transforming transplant (only the second done in the United States, and one of only a handful done worldwide) but of the truly exceptional ways---coincidental doesn't even touch it---that lives inter-twined as this dramatic story unfolded.  Time and again, similarities and unique relationships emerged for her sick husband, her family, the Viet Nam vet Jim who got the new face, and the Czech surgeon in Boston who led a team of over 30 medical staff in a grueling experimental surgical procedure that was both daring and historic.

The dynamic story of The Match is well worth knowing about, and it is a book we are eager to promote.  The author, Sue, whose charisma and kindness enveloped our small crowd here in York so warmly, is perfectly suited to tell this wild and inspiring tale.  She was in the thick of it, and is now an experienced and passionate advocate for organ transplants---and for trusting in human goodness.  She won us over immediately with this romantic tale, this story of grief redeemed through generosity and courage, and her own earnest telling of each aspect of this multi-layered, epic story.

We were impressed with the author and the book.  Beth and I were deeply grateful to spend a bit of time with her, hearing her read from the book and hearing a bit about her grueling schedule promoting it, and the cause of organ transplants, inviting one and all to leave a life-giving legacy by being sure to sign up as a donor.  In a quiet moment as she helped us pack up unsold books and paperwork, it became evident what a grueling task this book tour and her advocacy has been.  She is, after all, a hero to many and now a celebrity of sorts---appearing on Good Morning America, Dr. Oz and the like---and yet is a grieving widow.  We admire her and hope our readers will consider buying her book.  All the proceeds go to charity, the foundation Whitman Helfgot has set up called the Joseph H. Helfgot Foundation (which supports face transplant research, and is even working on heart disease in Rwanda.) She also recommends Donate Life America.

Yet, reporting that we met a charming storyteller, telling of a life lost and a dramatic medical procedure that gave new hope to a terribly injured man, simply doesn't capture the high drama and breathtaking degree of inter-connections and common threads in this high-energy story.  Susan told us she didn't intend to tell the tale---at first, the offering of her husband Joseph's face was to be anonymous, and organ donation policy is such that recipients do not know who offered the life-saving gift.  The story grew larger than she could keep to herself, and all of us in the room as she shared, concluded quickly that this was a story that had to be told.  Kudos to Sue and her family and her co-writer William Novak (who has helped some very famous people write some very famous books) for doing the hard work of dozens and dozens of interviews, wading through the over 300 hours of tapes, recreating medical and familial drama, and of digging deep into the painful stories of the principle characters.  As she noted in her presentation, off-handedly, but so true: you couldn't make this kind of stuff up!

First, you may want to know that The Match chronicles the larger-than-life story of her husband, and of Jim Maki, the struggling and tragically injured Viet Nam vet, and of the surgeon, Dr. Bohdan Pomahac of Brighams and Woman's Hospital in Boston.  The stories swerve back and forth through time, in very quick pacing, allowing the narrative to be energetic and interesting. The writing is not what we might call eloquent or literary but it is straight-forward and informative.  And thrilling.  

For starters, Sue has come to deeply appreciate the family history of each character.  Her own beloved husband, Joseph, courted her after only one meeting, with a pinata full of chocolate-covered fortune cookies, and roses delivered to her workplace as if in some over-the-top romantic comedy (or an episode from Bob Goff's life, for those that know that merry prankster.)  Significantly, he is a survivor of an extended family who was mostly murdered in Hitler's holocaust.  His mother and father escaped from Warsaw and Joseph was raised poor in the Lower East Side of New York.  (Soon enough he had two PhDs, was a sex-advice radio broadcaster, a popular sociology professor at Boston U, and, eventually, a significant player in helping Hollywood moguls market their films, working on movies whose names you know.)  Happy as his life grew to be, most of his relatives were the victims of fascist genocide.

Interestingly, Jim Maki's father was adopted from Japan--his mother sold him because they were so poor--and they were (in the same season as Joseph's parents capture) herded into a Japanese-American prison camp, themselves held against all reason by the U.S. government.  (Jim's heritage includes some Blackfoot Indian blood, too, and the mind reels at the injustices faced by his various ancestors.)

 And, a decade later, the parents of the surgeon, Bohdan Pomahac, were repressed by the brutal totalitarian communists that squashed the Czech revolt.  The elder Pomahac was a great Eastern European scientist, or would have been, but he signed a freedom-loving petition, in favor of the revolution.  The Marxists knew this, and he never worked in his field again.  Bo, Sue tells us, was inspired by the unfulfilled dreams of his father, and in a story that would make Horatio Alger proud, eventually knocked on doors at Harvard Medical School ("you just don't do that" Sue insisted, still dumbfounded by his chutzpa.)  In time, he became a surgeon in Boston, with interest in plastic reconstructive surgery.  Eventually, he met Jim Maki.

Even as the elders of the three principles were all repressed or worse by oppressive powers, Jim himself was becoming a star athlete.  He was talented and handsome and ended up in the late 60s in Viet Nam.  Like many in his troop, he sniffed the white powder that drew him into a disastrous heroin addiction.  In the early 70s there were precious few supports for returning vets and he spiraled downward to an awful life, involved still in drugs and living sometimes in half-way houses, even into the new century. He was married, had a daughter, and was divorced.  When he fell onto the third rail of a subway train track, it literally vaporized much of his face.  It took ten surgeries and years of hospitalization to keep him alive.  He had no mouth, no teeth, of course, no palette, no nose, no nasal cavities, nothing below his eyebrows until bits of what remained of a lower jaw.  He could not eat, breath or talk.

Joseph the movie marketer,  was hanging with the rich and famous in Hollywood, enjoying his family and his attractive wife. They were good folks, doing good work, active in synagogue and the creative arts community and in educational reforms.  He was well loved, energetic.  Joseph had a serious heart problem that got worse and worse.  A rather complex condition can be summarized bluntly; he was dying, hooked to machines that kept him alive, and he was urgently awaiting a heart transplant.  Unbeknownst to him, on another floor of the same hospital was Jim the vet, awaiting a face.  Dr. Pomahac knew such a transplant had only been done once in the United States.  He thought it could restore life and a level of normalcy to the handicapped and demoralized Jim.  There was no reason to think that the two lives would ever cross. 

Interestingly, two summers ago a documentary reality show called Boston Med was tracing a few key patients through Brighams & Woman's Hospital.  They were documenting Joseph Helfgot's need for a heart, and James Maki's need for a face.  Both suffered as they waited.

As the cameras rolled--with doctors and patient blurred out--Boston Med was filming the heart transplant when Joseph Helfgot died on the table.  The stunned Susan immediately agreed to donate the still-thriving heart to yet another patient; Joseph had died of a stroke, even though the heart transplant was successful.  Shaken, of course, and exhausted from the ordeal, she was then asked the question that would change the next seasons of her life.  Would she allow her husband's face to be donated to restore a severely disfigured man of similar skull size?  It did not take long--she consulted her husband's Rabbi, and a sister who was a Catholic sister---and she said yes.  Only the psychologist who does the organ donation counseling, who was consulting with both Joseph (about his heart) and Jim (about his face) knew them both.  Esther, who Sue calls an "angel of God" who "saves people's lives every day," became a major part of each family.

Imagine the funeral.  Ms Whitman Helfgot wanted the dignity of anonymity and while all her loved ones knew of the heart transplant, no one new that she had allowed Joseph's face to be surgically removed and used as an organ transplant, given to a complete stranger.  Back at her home, after the funeral, the packed house grew interested when, by odd coincidence, a TV news story reported the famous face-transplant that had just been successfully completed.  Sue, moved to her bones, bit her tongue, as this report beamed through her home. She thought she would faint.  Only Esther and another friend understood.

Within the week the Boston Globe somehow pieced together that it was the famous movie guy who had died during the heart transplant whose face was offered to the messed up vet.  They realized that he went from being an organ recipient to being an organ donor within moments.  It was quite a story.  Within a week, it was on the front page of the paper, and within hours and through the next many days, she had movie rights offers, Inside Edition bugging her, folks camped out day and night, around her home.  She called a lawyer friend who said they'd need documentation if any of this harassment went to court, so she should keep a diary.   She started to write, reluctantly, and then poured out her heart.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Gratefully, she grew to realize that she had quite a story and that it needed to be told.  She came to learn of other odd connections, unique relationships that seemed almost divinely arranged. She explored various facets of the backstories, from family legacies to medical researchers.  She set out to learn more of the history of transplant surgery, and The Match tells of the hard work done in hospitals and surgical units and research labs.  She is a natural lover of science and a good writer, so these portions of the book glow and are woven quite naturally into the narrative of Joseph, Jim, and Dr. Bo.

The story deepens, the relationships are cemented as this historic episode is explored for
FaceCar.jpg deeper meaning, and explained from the very heart of the story.  Susan is that heart, a dear soul, deeply committed to honoring her husband's memory by bringing us into the lives of those he touched, in life and in death.

Beth and I were moved by her candor, her professionalism, and her good grace.  And her thoughtful vision of working to bring greater education about organ transplants to both the medical establishment and the wider public.  She is a perfect balance (or so it seemed in our brief meeting) of authentic storyteller and savvy crusader.

The Match is not a sentimental book, despite the pathos of the subject.  I jokingly asked who will play her in what must surely become a forthcoming Hollywood drama.  She bristled just a bit, insisting that she would never allow this to be a sappy Hallmark made-for-TV movie!  She is too serious for that, the subject too important, the story too mature.  Yet, later, she laughed.  Well, maybe if it was made by certain producers who she trusts, artists with integrity and vision.  I don't know what she thinks, really, but I'm sure it would be a blockbuster.

We suggest that this is not only a great human drama, an entertaining read, a good science book, a fascinating bit of oral history, a great holiday gift, but it could be a rather useful educational resource for anyone in the medical field.  Family doctors, nurses, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, counselors, social workers, organ donor specialists (obviously) and anyone who cares about health care could all benefit from The Match, as would those in social work or counseling.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did, hope that you are touched by the way the lives, and even the deaths, of fairly ordinary folks can be restored to some deeper meaning and goodness, experiencing the repercussions for a lifetime of one act of dramatic generosity.   This is not what one might call a religious book, yet, as one reviewer exclaimed, it is a book about the sacredness of life.  We are grateful for Susan, for the late Joseph Helfgot, for Jim, for Dr. Pomahac, for Esther and the others whose lives were opened up to us all in this insightful story.   We thank them, and we wish them all God's peace.

Here is Susan's website, which includes the fabulous Good Morning America interview,  some good links to places to learn more about organ donation.  And some other fascinating links, including one to a press conference where Susan tells her story and Jim Maki speaks.

Here is a fantastic video done by Pittsburgh photojournalist Andrew Rush.  Watch it!

We have a few autographed copies, while supplies last.  Very cool. 

The Match: Complete Strangers,
A Miracle Face Transplant,
Two Lives Transformed

Susan Whitman Helfgot

regularly $26.00
sale price
(while supplies last)
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November 24, 2010

The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus by Mark Labberton

I hope you have read our last few blog posts; we are fond of them, and really hope to continue to promote those great titles.  Those who are friends and fans (or followers on twitter) know that we have lately discussed some really extraordinary books.  Books about social justice (Generous Justice by Tim Keller), about cultural diversity (several by Eric Law), caring for the poor (Economy of Love by Shane Claiborne and his "relational tithe" gang), praying for a world of justice and peace using a new prayerbook drawing on ancient liturgical traditions (Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro.)  And then that stunning book, the science/medical/family drama story, The Match: Complete Strangers, A Miracle Face Transplant, Two Lives Transformed, which tells the tale of a historic face transplant, written by Susang Whitman Helfgot. (Here, by the way, is another very recent piece on Susan, the widow of the deceased man who gave his face, and Jim, the recipient, and Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, the doctor who did the transplant.  Here is a remarkable video done by our photojournalist friend from Pittsburgh, Andrew Rush.  What a great series the Post Gazette has been doing on faces!)  The Match really has become one of the books I most care about these days...

What interests you---or doesn't?---about these various reviews?  Why is there a renaissance of evangelical social concern, specifically, and volunteerism generally in our needy world?  Why would someone work in the field of organ transplants, or among the urban poor?  Why do some of us learn to care about such things, to embody such virtue, and others may not?  Why do some yield to "compassion fatigue" or encroaching cynicism, while others grow more loving as they age? And why do some who are indeed quite kind often limit their love to those in their personal circle, failing to care much about the suffering of the outside world?

You may recall I've often noted the eloquent and rich writing of my good friend Steve Garber, whose Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, set out to explore why some young adults who grow into serious, orthodox, and socially engaged Christian discipleship stick with it, year by year.  Why do some who intend to be followers of Jesus Christ, who join churches and strive to live out their faith in every area of life, move into their mid-life years with "cares and convictions intact"?  Dr. Garber has pondered this most of his life and his book remains among a handful of essential texts for religious leaders interested in deepening their understanding of how folks become--and remain--engaged in God's call into radical Christian living.  His research has shown us why some deepen and some don't.  It really is important.

51-lFcZ5Z2L._SS500_.jpgAnd, now, I will add another essential book to such a must-read short list, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus by Mark Labberton (IVP; $20.00.) This is a new one that has immediately catapulted onto my list of "must-read" resources for anyone wanting to deepen Christian discipleship, learning to care for others in God-honoring ways, being aware of and sensitive to the needs of the world, and, specifically, for those of us who want to influence others to do so.  That is, if you want to care (if you felt drawn to order the books I listed above, or, more, if you didn't) this new book will help you explore how it is that some people end up with tender hearts, caring for others, growing in passion for issues of justice and how to grow, yourself.  And, further, as I said, it is ideal for leaders, spiritual directors, Christian educators, campus ministers, pastors or anyone who wonders how to help others learn to love, who long to motivate others to ministries of kindness, public justice, or social concern.

Mark Labberton is an author who we've come to admire for another book that we take out with us9780830833160.jpg almost anytime we are displaying books among church folks: The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God's Call to Justice. (IVP; $20.00.)  In that fine book, this Presbyterian (USA) pastor explores the ethical implications of proper worship, and shows how worshiping leads us to living well; praising a God of justice creates in us a desire for justice, and we live out our grand worship of the majestic king in a way that is consistent with the truths we proclaim in our assemblies.  Rev. Labberton is a persuasive, good writer; clear, inspiring. He brings things together in that book like few others. We sincerely recommend it.  

The new one on loving neighbor is in many ways a sequel to the first, on loving God. The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor helps us further enter the world of injustice, pain, brokenness, carrying God's love into the world.  Yet--and this is the moving and essential heart of the book--the question remains: why do some move more generously into loving service and some do not?  How can you move more generously into loving others?  How can I

I suppose this might be seen as a book about ethics, public justice, living in the world, global concerns, and it is.  Yet, is seems also to be an astute survey of regions of the human heart, a book about character formation and spirituality.  As Labberton says,

Our hearts don't consciously will injustice.  Nor do they deliberately withhold compassion.  Nor is it that tales of injustice fail to grab and concern us.  Yet our hearts and weak and confused.  Our hearts are easily overwhelmed and self-protective. They are prone to be absorbed mostly with the immediacy of our own lives.  Our hearts have the capacity to seek justice, but they are usually not calibrated to do so---at least not beyond concern for our inner circle.
He is clear about "the systemic realities greater than human hearts and elements beyond individual will."  He is a senior fellow, now, for the International Justice Mission (IJM) and knows well the complexities of structural and political matters; in the book he spends time reflecting helpfully on the forces of patterns of injustice.

Yet, this book includes very, very helpful insights about the workings of the heart.  About how each of us sees ourselves, our privilege, our cultural settings, the stories (sometimes of great injustice and bullying forced upon us) that have shaped our own worldviews.  Some of the chapters are so illuminating, inviting us to explore what he metaphorically calls "our address."  (Ahh, and here is part of it; it is move metaphor and somewhat literal.  Who will deny that where we live effects how we see the world, our position in the world coloring our angle of vision.)    In the really useful second chapter called "paying attention to paying attention" he wonders how we use words like "we" and studies the relationship between what is, well, "inside" and "outside."   While Walsh & Bouma-Prediger's Beyond Homelessness remains the mature standard for such worldviewish studies of social location, Labberton's Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor is similarly wise and provocative, and loaded with fun stories, interesting illustrations, and some very rich spiritual exercises he calls "sabbath encouragement." 

My favorite folk/rock recording artist is the highly acclaimed Bruce Cockburn. He sings in Child of the Wind (from Dart to the Heart )

Little round planet/ In a big universe
Sometimes it looks blessed/ Sometimes it looks cursed
Depends on what you look at obviously
But even more it depends on the way that you see

Labberton spends some remarkable pages writing some insightful, engaging, and inspiring stuff about "what you look at" and, more,  "the way that you see."  Part Two of The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor, in fact, is called "Seeing" and we are so grateful for this important kind of work done by such a clear and helpful pastor and evangelical thinker.  The way he combines astute insights about what I might call "worldview formation" and spirituality and the differences (as he puts it) between "vision and sight" are tremendous.

I don't always take back-cover book blurbs that seriously, but there are authors and leaders who I trust, and who I admire, and when they commend a book with gusto, my ears perk up.  When folks like Richard Mouw call it a "must-read" and Brenda Salter McNeil says it is "the book I've been waiting for" we know this is going to be great.  For instance, missional activist, prolific writer, and all-around creative dude Alan Hirsch says Dangerous Act of Loving is

Eloquent and subversive, intelligent and passionate, these reflections are designed to move you toward a true worship of God that involves loving him in and through every sphere and domain of life.
And the always interesting singer-songwriter Sara Groves says of it,

This book opened my eyes to the difference between doing something, and becoming someone---a person of justice, reoriented to the heart of Jesus 
I could list other leaders who have raved about the spiritual helpfulnesslove_thy_neighbor.jpg of The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor and who give ringing endorse-ments.  You have my own assurance that this is a book I personally have found very moving, very stimulating, and truly important.  Many of us have struggled for years to grow into being the people we long to be, to be those who care rightly, who live lives of mercy and justice (in private and in society.)  It's that old Micah 6:8 thing, isn't it?  Being personally kind and politically active? Walking with God?   Living into a spirituality of justice, a philosophy of kindness, an integrated faith-life?

Mark Labberton's The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus (IVP;  $20.00) helps us grow into all that and more.  From sources as diverse as medieval mystic Meister Eckhart to Ugandan Anglican priest David Zac Niringiye to contemporary Afghani novelist  Khaled Hosseini, this book glows with great stories and great writing which is clear and profound.  Labberton tells stories (some pretty funny, even) from his own experiences, making this an often enjoyable read, despite its hard topic.  He offers wise reflection questions throughout, and has an excellent set of conversation questions for reflection and discussion, making this a fabulous resource for a book club or discussion group---if you are willing to be honest and supportive.  If you are willing, as he argues, to follow John Calvin's advice and allow our worship to "rename" us.  Re-naming?  Books can do that to us, too, and this one surely will.  We are happy to promote it and invite you to order some today.  

Visit the IVP webpage and click on Author Q & A for a very nice interview about the book.

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November 27, 2010

Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? Book & DVD set

Well, here on the Saturday after "Black Friday" we are a bit puzzled, as always.  It is a roller coaster ride around here: we try not to put out too much of the Christmas decorations and merchandise before Thanksgiving (don't ya hate seeing Santa decorations in September!)  Yet, church leaders need Advent resources for their planning, and shoppers can't be faulted for wanting to be less stressed in December by doing some early holiday preparations.  We've tried to be less legalistic about our principles on these matters, slowly adding new Advent music, calendars and the oodles of devotionals we stock.  Sure folks complain about stores who put out Christmas merchandise too early, but they still buy the darn stuff, and we truly don't intend to inconvenience our loyal friends. So we've been at it for a few weeks.

Still, Thanksgiving night is a hectic time of clearing out the family and getting to work over in the shop, late into the night.  (So what's new, our best friends wonder as they roll their eyes at our odd schedule.)  We get geared up for the next weeks of craziness of the retail world.

Since so many shoppers are doing that "black Friday" thing, going out in the middle of the night---my own youngest daughter had to get to her job at the mall before 6 am---we here in Dallastown aren't so busy as you might think (nor as we might wish. No, for those who care, we have not moved into the black yet for this year.)  This time of here we do think a lot about shopping, consumerism, buying responsibly, supporting businesses we care about (offering our vote in the marketplace, as they say) and fair-trade products and the like.  We are glad that the fabulous folks at Herald Press, the Mennonite Publishing House (we get in every one of their new releases, by the way), just re-issued the classic Living More With Less, a varied and fun collection of reflection on a more simple lifestyle. The new edition is better than ever, and glancing through it reminded us of how influential that book was---on the heels of the first edition of the More With Less Cookbook and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and books by the late Art Gish---as we, in the 70's, tried to keep some of the counter-cultural rejection of materialism alive and stave off the early signs of 80s decadence.  Kudos to Herald Press for the new, expanded, 21st century Living More With Less, a resource of lived theology and helpful guidance which we need now more than ever.

We are, for reasons that I hope are not self-serving, want to suggest that the "Buy Nothing Day" movement isn't all that helpful.  Sure, we like the "holy mischief" of Geez magazine and appreciate the deconstruction of secular consumerism in Adbusters.  Protest is always a good first step. Next-level sorts of normative practices, though--what we do after "buy nothing day"--- have to be explored.  Eating "more with less" (or, as their more recent cookbook suggests, eating Simply in Season) is appropriate andcover_food.jpg good.  Such practices help us in so many ways to be oriented to the goodness and limits of creation; Christian faith is never gnostic, and we must do "all things as unto the Lord" thinking faithfully about the most mundane and human activities.

Eating Well edited by Kirsten Vander-Geisen Reistma is a small little book, part of the *cino Road Map series,  that explores this wonderfully and broadly and practically; I even have a bibliography in it, and we love the grass-roots feel of the book, with lots of ordinary folks, even students, contributing fresh ideas and good writing.  These are the sorts of guides we need to move beyond disgruntled complaints about black Friday shopping.

So.  Just saying no to shopping, as if were somehow inherently evil, is just nonsense.  Nobody in the Western world can not shop, and my frustration with the lefties who want to "buy nothing" is similar to my frustration with the tea party folks who seem to want to have the government "do nothing."  Shopping isn't a sin, and neither is paying taxes, and while we all should join in efforts to reign in bad notions of shopping, and untenable views of statecraft, both economics and politics are part and parcel of the world that God declared to be "very good."  Sin and idolatry has brought distorted views about, and stupid practices of, spending money (in families and in governments) but the sloganeering of  "just say no" isn't adequate, at least not as a sustainable impulse for the true reformation of culture.

If "buy nothing day" is merely a good PR stunt (and it is that, at least) what should be we thinking and doing about shopping, buying, resisting consumerism, and the commercialization of the holiday rush, and reforming our financial lives, especially this time of year?

Allow me to list just a couple of quick suggestions. 

First, read about buying local. Learn about the implications of the "big box" chain stores.  I may be stretching things a bit, but our human-scale, inefficient, and personalized website order form page is our way of helping keep a customer/shop-keeper relationship alive (as opposed to the increasingly de-personalized "shopping cart" world of you-know-who.)  If you order from us, Beth or I or one of our staff (Diana, Patti, Amy or Kimberly) will write back.  We will have some small connection, and we think that matters.

Are we local?  Well, we are in a real space, in a real town, unlike some internet stores.  In cyberspace, we try to maintain a small-scale, real-world, small-business ethos; we hope this has be helpful to you, our family of readers. Of course we would be happy to know of you supporting a morally-serious indie store in your own town.  But, if there is no such place, we'd be thrilled for you patronage.  We are not opposed to internet business (obviously) and see our clients here as, almost always, as a part of our authentic circle of friends.

Here are a few articles about the redemptive aspects of shopping, buying local and such.

I've linked to this before as it is one of my all time favorite short essays.  "The Flash of a Fish Knife" is Calvin Seerveld's fond remembrance of his father's hard work as a fishmonger.  It is an inspiration, and shows, without fastitidious doctrine, the genius of the Protestant reformation's view of the dignity of labor.  http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/276/ 

Facts and stats on what happens when you support out-of-town chains versus locally owned businesses.  There are large practical benefits for local economies when you buy from local folks.  Why aren't newspapers doing stories on this essential truth of our modern economy?  Thanks to *cino for the heads up.  http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/11/there-is-more-to-local-than-just-food.php

A great brief piece by a friend and H&M customer on his relationship with a Pittsburgh farmer from whom they buy:  http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/2352/

I've been wanting to cite this for a while; books really are great purchases, aren't they?  They are lovely things to own and give and cherish and use. http://www.catapultmagazine.com/good-books/article/why-i-buy-books

Find your local indie bookstore.  Tell 'em we said hi.  Be sure to watch the little video which is very inspiring and informative.   http://www.indiebound.org/indie-store-finder   Here is another store-finder search offered by our friends at the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association.) http://cba.know-where.com/cba/

For those interested in exploring this more here are a few well-chosen suggestions.

Living More With Less: Thirtieth Anniversary Edition Doris Janzen Longacre  (Herald Press) $14.99  Newly re-issued, this practical follow up to the famous More-With-Less Cookbook, includes tons of great new stories, reflections, ideas, and celebrations about living sustainably and well.  Re-edited by Central Pennsylvania writer Valerie Weaver-Zercher, this is not only a classic in the Kingdom Hall of Fame, but as fresh and necessary now as ever.  Shane Claiborne calls it "a cookbook for life" and Bill McKibben endorses it, as does Nancy Sleeth, all important authors whom we respect.  Marva Dawn writes of it, Exceptionally wise, urgently necessary for the sake of saving our planet, pertinently and personally practical . . . who could not but rave about this book!  Visit their webpage about it here.  Dedicated to the memory of the late Doris Janzen Longacre.

living sabbath cover.gifLiving the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight  Norman Wirzba (Brazos Press) $20.00  This is in a similar series, "The Christian Practices of Everyday Life" which are weighty and substantive meditations of "thinking Christianly" about everyday practices as experiences in our contemporary culture.  Here, Wirzba opens up not only ideas about Sabbath-keeping, but asks how those sustainable, restful, ways might influence our daily choices.   Not about shopping exclusively, but he brings important insights which can help us frame our more detailed questions about stewardship of time and resources.

s9780787997755.jpgMoney Enough: Everyday Practices for Living Faithfully in the Global Economy Douglas Hicks (Jossey Bass) $17.95  The latest in the essential "Practices of Faith" series edited by Dorothy Bass. This nicely explores ecumenical theology and daily lifestyle choices as we reflect on how to think about, handle, spend, save, and give money in ethical ways.  This whole series is great, of course, and this thoughtful reflection will take us a long way to foundational thinking about these topics.  Very impressive. 

Everyday Justice: The Everyday Impact of Our Daily Choices  Julie Clawson (IVP) $16.00everyday justice 2.jpg  Please, please, please: this is the very best book about fair-trade and ethical shopping in many different areas, from coffee to energy, from candy to banking. I did a hefty review of this here.  Julie is outspoken and yet pleasant, funny and passionate and we like her a lot!  We think this is great information to know, and she walks us through the complexities of knowing where our products come from, with great insight and care.  Please visit the book's cool website (and roll your eyes at the dumbly incongruous amazon link. Perhaps they don't know about Indie bound.)  We'd so love to sell this widely--very nicely done.  Yay!

31NQbANxUgL._SL500_AA300_.jpgShopping: Christian Explorations of Daily Living  Michael Gonzalez (Fortress) $15.00  This is yet another new series offering theological implications of and for different aspects of daily living; kudos to Fortress Press for bringing this serious little paperback series, "Compass." (The other one published so far is called Playing by James Evans, with a forthcoming one called Working by Darby Kathleee Ray.)  Gonzalez has a broad, mainline denominational orientation, a bit academic, greatly aware of the injustices of globalization and such.  More needs to be done on this topic, but it's an important contribution and a great kick-off to an important series of punchy, critical studies of the ethics of ordinary life.

AND, then, therefore, friends---ahem---drum roll, please: the big ending, the upshot of all this:  Please consider buying, viewing, using, showing, or giving a copy of the book/DVD set, The Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay ^ Greg Holder (Zondervan; regularly $29.99)

This beautiful work nicely frames the conversation about consumerism and economic justice by the wonderful story of Advent and our invitation to worship and love well.  What does it mean to celebrate the baby Refugee who grew up telling us to "consider the lilies" and that it is hard for those with much wealth to inherit the Kingdom of God?  To adore the One who taught us to love the outcast?  Does that kind of a God, incarnate in that kind of a Messiah, whose people are commissioned to point signposts to that kind of a Kingdom, deserve a certain kind of birthday party?  (Whose Birthday is it Anyway? says the poster and bulletin insert available from Alternatives for Simple Living.)  This is put together by Rick McKinley (himself an author of two spectacular books, Jesus at the Margins and This Beautiful Mess) and Chris Seay (author of one of my favorite books on Jesus this year, The Gospel According to Jesus) and Greg Holder (the author of, uh, never mind.  I'm sure he's a genius, too, like his co-authors, but he isn't an author.)  Holder's a pastor from Missouri, so you know this is show-me, reliable stuff that is designed for real-world use.  What a great collaboration this project is!  The five-session DVD usually sells for $19.99, the book for $12.99, but if you get 'em both, they are batched together for a packaged price of $29.99.  WE HAVE AN EVEN BETTER DEAL, as we are really trying to get this out there.  We cut our Christian reading teeth on Living More with Less, you'll recall, and recently raved about the new Shane Claiborne project, The Economy of Love book and DVD,  so you know we are advocates for the importance of this content.  Happily, the AC is not simplistic or prudish and nicely links our worship and way of life in the world without trafficking in guilt or fear.  We recommend it.
advent_conspiracy_8a8aj2.pngThe Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World book and DVD set is the best resource we know of to facilitate this kind of a conversation this time of year.  It is very hip, creative, compelling, and open-ended for all kinds of local adaptation and congregational use.  It is good for home use, for Bible study groups, for Sunday school classes, for youth fellowship groups (please consider using this with teens, whose lives hang in the balance with this consumerism stuff.)  I know some who have shown it in campus ministry fellowship groups and I know of regular congregations who have shown portions of it in their regular Sunday morning worship services.  The topic, naturally, can be anxiety producing, but I really think they do a fine, up-beat job, making this a joyous invitation (and not a hair-shirt tirade.) 

The five DVD sections are on their four "slogans" or concepts: Worship Fully -  Spend Less - Give More - Love All.   Not bad, eh?

The book is nicely designed and almost 150 pages.  Three quarters of it is an easy-to-read, inspiring call to join this groundswell to take back the Advent season and restore the soul of Christmas; the final portion is a provocative and very useful guide to the DVD.  I believe the book is useful on its own, but the DVD is the powerhouse.  Stimulating, cutting edge stylings make it especially appealing to those used to new media, but even we older folks will appreciate the innovative visual presentation and, more, the sheer profundity of the message.

Perhaps (if you are trying to decide if you can purchase this from us) you can review my description of it from last year.  Please visit here.  Or, check out the AC website, which itself has tons of stuff to download such as website banners, bulletin inserts,  posters and such.  They even have a children's guide, which is a wonderful and important little piece.  We think the on-line support that AC offers makes this an even more valuable educational tool, although, of course, one needn't do any of that.  Just watch the thing, call up some friends or relatives and say "hey, I found this pretty interesting.  Wanna borrow it?"  Or tell your monthly small group that you ought to do something special for the holiday besides a cookie exchange.  That is how a conspiracy gets started---one breath at a time, spreading the word, taking risks to share the good news of the real meaning of Christmas, and how to experience it.

Enjoy the great, great clip at the Advent Conspiracy website. Embed it at your facebook page if you can.  Savor the irony if you must, but we really think that to explore this most helpfully you should consider buying the book and DVD.  Spread this news.  Help us promote this resource.  Order today at the sale price we are offering, as long as our supplies last.  We took a risk and bought a bunch of these simply because we believe in it.  We hope you do, too.

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November 9, 2010

Advent and Christmas readings

 I know we have already traveled into the Advent season, but it is never too late to give seasonal books, to commit to reflecting a bit on the Meaning Of It All, or to find a good Advent devotional for these increasingly dark days.  Happily, with the vital twelve days and Christmastide and the celebration of bright Epiphany, we've got weeks and weeks of this spiritual season yet to go.  

We have an extraordinary 30% discount on these listed books

We're happy to offer the savings for those who may need it. 
While supplies last.

0800697332b.jpgChristmas: Festival of Incarnation  Donald Heinz (Fortress) $25.00  What a delight to hold such a handsome, gold-engraved hardback, and what a delight that it is so expansive, imaginative, and interesting.  I love this "history of the development of the idea" and the sociology of our (varied) lived practices and while he cites knowingly the scholars like Durkheim and others who explore the meaning of rituals, this isn't dry or distant (nor is it overly eccentric or oddly speculative.)  What a glorious bit of writing, covering the way the feast and festival has been celebrated, honored, dishonored, resisted and reconfigured.  His emphasis on the drama of the event (and how global capitalism and the subsequent commodification of even religious rituals) is very important.  I found his insights about the strict Calvinist resistance to such festivals historically and intellectually stimulating, and a very helpful expose of stupidity in my own chosen tradition.  Alas, folk will have their celebrations and rituals regardless, so the celebrations were turned outward, leading inevitably to the crass secularization and eventual secularization and commercialization of the holiday.  This is astute and rewarding stuff, important, insightful, glorious, semi-academic and exceptionally interesting ruminations.  It is, I think, one of the best books of the year!
And, I'm not alone.  Listen to what the great Robert Bellah writes:

Another book about Christmas?  Yes, but this is the one we really need.  Heinz tells us the deep story of Christmas all the way back...he is more concerned with helping us understand the joy in elaborations that seem far from the original meaning that he is with chiding the innovators. So this is a book that simultaneously deepens our theology while widening our sympathy.
Or, from Kristin Swenson, author of the very fun Bible Babel:

With this book Heinz gives readers front row seats and a backstage pass to the great drama that is Christmas.  Readers get  tantalizing inside information about the script, characters, set, and music for a story that has moved audiences for two thousand years.  In the process, Heinz brings the implications of Incarnation alive in new ways and treats us to a glimpse of how Christmas will continue to be richly relevant and meaningful in the years to come.

Yes, this is thoughtful, entertaining, and wise.  And important, I think, for those who are up for the slowly developed serious argument it makes.   As Walter Brueggemann puts it, Christmas: Festival of Incarnation is "for those who want to rethink and re-practice Christmas in a consumer culture."   We've got quite an "evangelical pageant among multiple temptations and distortions" on our hands and it seems that this Lutheran clergyman and Professor of Religious Studies (who goes ga ga over Christmas, by the way) may be one of the better thinkers to help us through it.  Highly recommended.  Here is a video interview with Don Heinz over at the Fortress Press website.  Enjoy him there, and come on back and order!

9780664234294.jpgGod Is In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (WJK) $12.95  Thanks to Eric Metaxas' spectacular, recent book Bonhoeffer there is quite a renewed interest in the brave German pastor.   It is good to see a new book like this, knowing these are solid and poetic, uplifting messages. Some of these 41 devotions have been around only in other places (in his letters or sermons) and it is gift to have them together in one handy paperback.  As Scot McKnight writes, "These Advent and Christmas reflections of Bonhoeffer flew from his prison cell, flung open the doors of hope, and sailed heavenward as heart-wrenching prayers, prayers from a condemned man, prayers from a hopeful man, prayers from a man who embodied what it means to pray 'May your kingdom come.'  Very useful as a daily devotional, with short readings, Bible texts and prayers. 

God Is With us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas
  edited by Greg Pennoyer and
9781557255419.jpg Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete) $29.95  You may know of this as we've promoted this before---one of our most popular Advent books in the last two years!  What a handsome, large-sized, elegant and eloquent set of reflections by the likes of poet Luci Shaw and pastor Eugene Peterson and writer Kathleen Norris.  The artwork is lovely and enhances the text nicely.  You should know that this emerged from the glorious pages of our best literary journal, Image, a mature faith-based quarterly of literature and art and criticism.  It has some nice touches, including a ribbon maker and glossy pages, making this a truly commendable book to own and share.

The Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations  Brian Walsh, Richard Middleton, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Vander Vennen w/ illustrations by Willem Hart (Dordt College Press)  $8.00  I've long said this is the best bit of Biblical study I've ever seen leading up to the large claims of the gospel as the fulfillment of the aching promises of the Hebrew Scriptures.  All four authors are friends, scholars, activists and leaders I trust to take us into the deepest political context of the Bible and its grand hope.  Yet, despite the themes of social injustice and the critique of false gods and new calls to radical discipleship, there is pastoral care and good sense here.  It is my favorite seasonal study and commend it loudly.   Here is a brief (and very moving) homily Brian Walsh preached recently which is both prophetic and pastoral and gives you a sense of his views (although there is substantial exegesis in the book, making it exceptionally substantive and educational.) The Advent of Justice, by the way, is out of print (pray that it gets reprinted by somebody next year) and these are the last ones anywhere.  

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas  (Orbis) $16.00  This continues to be the most respected and most-often commented upon resource we offer this time of year.  It was first put out by the short-lived genius publishing project Plough (of the Hutterite community) and includes so many great writers it is hard to describe. The excerpts are short, pithy, yet substantive and often beautiful.  From  C.S. Lewis to Henri Nouwen, from Madeleine L'Engle to Dorothy Day, from Jurgen Moltmann to Martin Luther there are writers classic and serious.  Brennen Manning's great "Shipwrecked at the Stable" piece from one of his early books that inspired the 1988 Bruce Cockburn song by that name is here, too.  Read these selections over and over!

handel.jpgHandel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People Calvin R. Stapert (Eerdmans) $14.99  Not a few of us have been longing for a good book to guide us through the music and lyrics and theology of Handel's beloved Messiah  and this is it!  Remarkably insightful, very informed, quite accessible, this will enhance your listening, enhance your season, enhance your life as this appreciation deepens down into y our heart.  Jeremy Begbie (to whom we should listen) says "this is destined to be a classic guide to this classic work."  Want good news?  Messiah is one of the Western world's great treasures and it is such a gift that it is done to the great glory of God in Christ.  Read this book to understand it better.  Dr. Stapert is professor emeritus of music at Calvin College in Grand Rapids and a much-respected Bach scholar. A truly great book. 

Saint Nicholas Joe Wheeler (Nelson) $12.00  This little paperback with French-folded cover is part of a series of light introductions to various historical figures.  Recently, the "Christian Encounters" series did one on Saint Francis and one on Saint Patrick so this made perfect sense.  There aren't many biographies of the humble and miraculous defender of God's truth and "the patron saint of practically everybody."  Wheeler is a great storyteller making this fun read.  I am certain you will learn something new, and enjoy knowing these inspiring facts about the real, old Saint Nic.

ResizeImageHandler.ashx.jpgKneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas Ann Weems (WJK) $16.95  We're happy to announce that the popular Ann Weems' Christmas and Lent books (and her moving Psalms of Lament) have been reissued with bright new covers in celebration of her new poetry collection, From Advent's Alleluia to Easter's Morning Light.  She makes us think and her words are, in the phrase of one reviewer, "powerful, poignant, and profound."

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation  Luci Shaw (Eerdmans) $15.00  Ms Shaw is perhaps our all time favorite poet (and a fan of the bookstore, no less.)  This isn't new, but we always feature it on our Advent display tables, and somebody always comments on how they so love this or that piece.  Not too many poets get the back-cover endorsements of Scott Cairns, Julia Kasdorf and John Leax.  She is a Writer-in-Residence at Regent College in Vancouver, we suggest these as devotional aids and as true art.

4126113115_0ae24d02a2_m.jpgThe Advent Conspiracy book and DVD  Chris Seay, Rick McKinley & Greg Holder  (Zondervan) $29.99  I have already done a whole post on this (see my "black Friday" ruminations here), and we are so very glad for this sensible, deeply Christian, up-beat call to love fully, spend less, give more, and love all.  The book is solid, the DVD a bit contemporary, with these young, hip pastors and clever, fast-paced film style, and cool footage; the whole thing is just so, so important.  Start a local branch of the conspiracy that believes that "Christmas Can Still Change the World."  Beats griping about commercialism or debating how to "keep Christ in Christmas."  (By the way, my friend David Dark did a tweet the other day wishing that "more stores would keep Christ out of Christmas so He wouldn't be connected to such hyper-consumerism."  Ha.)  The Advent Conspiracy is the best!  Watch the trailer here and see if you aren't eager for this fresh, wholesome, Christ-centered, missional approach. Call some friends, sing some carols and watch this thing!  You'll be glad.

The Christmas Countdown:
Creating 25 Days of New Advent Traditions for Families

Product5473_Photo1.jpg Margie J. Harding (Paraclete) $15.99  It has been a good number of years since we've seen a new book like this, helping busy families with easy-to-use devotional readings and ideas for prayers, music, food, family activities.  Margie is a mother of five (and a grandmother of nine) so she knows about the need for family traditions and ways to help family be the "forming center" during this time of year. A little of this great book is reflective and full of meaningful ruminations while other portions include games and fun stuff, even some worksheet puzzles and such.  We love Paraclete, a deeply spiritual Episcopalian community and we stock all this books.  Glad for this one this year!  Includes suggestions for Christmas eve, Christmas day, and into Christmastide.  Joy to the world!


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