About August 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in August 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2011 is the previous archive.

September 2011 is the next archive.

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

August 2011 Archives

August 8, 2011

Words Made Fresh: Essays on Literature and Culture by Larry Woiwode

Several decades ago, Larry Woiwode was a young author, his novels nominated for all the most prestigious literary prizes, his essays anthologized in creative writing readers, his by-line found in both academic journals and popular magazines known for good writing such  as The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, The Paris Review and the like.  He was invited to replace the inestimable John Gardner in his writing program at Binghamton after Gardner's death by motorcycle accident in northern Pennsylvania.  Books such as Beyond the Bedroom Wall and What I'm Going to Do, I Think were in vogue and rightly so.  He was asking important questions in his important work and, we come to find out later, he was desperate.  He began reading the Bible and became an Orthodox Presbyterian.  His next novel, Poppa John--which featured a clown and a conversion and which I truly enjoyed--was panned.   Now that he was a person of faith had his craft weakened?  Was he a worse storyteller?  Was it cheesy to put a conversion story in a contemporary work of fiction?  Or was he every bit the same excellent novelist and the New York literary establishment unfairly despised his religious faith and how it shaped his latest work?  Well, that was a long time ago, it seems.  Over a decade ago, in 2000, he did his first memoir, an autobiographical book called What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts (Basic; $15.95.) More recently, in a highly regarded memoir he wrote for his son (upon being sparred from a near-death experience with a hay-baler), he takes readers to his early days as a writer, and into his interior life as farmer, husband, father.  That is called A Step From Death (Counterpoint; $15.95.)


9781433527401-192x300.jpgYears later, Mr. Woiwode remains a Christian, has deepened and widened intellectually, and is respected as a novelist and perhaps more so as essayist and critic.  He has written poetry, a book-length Bible reflection, a memoir which gathered great reviews   Words Made Fresh: Essays on Literature and Culture (Crosway; $24.99) is a brand new and very handsome hardback volume collecting some of his well-crafted essays, spanning his career, mostly about literature. 

A famous Esquire piece, "Guns" from 1975, opens the book with an allusive yet helpful afterword, indicating obliquely that he has found greater peace since those turbulent years.  All of the subsequent pieces, in fact, are considerably re-worked, added to, expanded and updated, giving the very title of the book a bit of a double meaning.  Words Made Fresh is, obviously, an allusion to the beloved and central Christian notion of incarnation--the Word made flesh--but also indicates that these older words of Woiwode have been freshened up a bit.  Not that they needed refreshing (although it is good that some are brought up to date, citing more recent books by the authors under consideration.)  These were excellent and nearly timeless, even though they are now updated. What a treasure trove this is.



It is curious to me that this profound collection of serious literary criticism ended up at Crossway books, who has long published books on evangelical faith, including some about faith in the marketplace of ideas, social engagement; they released books on the arts, film, literature and such, influenced as they were by Francis Schaeffer, who emphasized historic,51ywfOrszLL._SL500_AA300_.jpg orthodox faith applied robustly to the culture at large. They do good work, of course, and, in fact, published a version of the controversial Woiwode novel that was panned by the literati.  Yet, this new book is so beyond the scope of the typical "Christian Booksellers Association" release that it is breathtaking to see it published by Crossway.  Kudos to them, I guess. (And kudos that they will publish early this fall a new hardback Christmas novella by Mr. Woiwode, to be called The Invention of Lefse: A Christmas Story; $12.99. You can pre-order it now, if you'd like, at the BookNotes discount, below.) 

Still, this current work, Words Make Fresh: Essay on Literature and Culture could have been easily published by any number of prominent mainstream publishing houses.  Any serious bookstore that cares about contemporary fiction will have it, if they order from such a singularly Christian publisher.  It should be considered a very prominent collection.
 
As a fan of Wendell Berry, perhaps Larry Woiwode wanted to be published by an independent publisher.  (Most New York publishers are "controlled by a conglomerate, or owned by a television network or oil company or German corporation" Woiwode points out in a piece about the craftsmanship and financial woes of Wendell Berry's one-time indie publisher, North Point Press, which became for a season Counterpoint, and is now Shoemaker & Hoard.)  Anyway, regardless of the publisher, parochial or not, this is literary criticism at its finest, offering exceptionally thoughtful ruminations, wonderfully-written observations, reviews and argument.

Copy of Woiwode02.jpgThe work's illuminating Christian influence is most often implicit, covert, as it were.  He does not wear his faith on his sleeve, except when he does.  And even then, it is lucid, poetic, demanding, classic (perhaps bringing to mind the great essays by Calvin scholar and Nobel Prize winning novelist, Marilyn Robinson.) Many, many serious writers have endorsed Woiwode's work, from Charles Johnson (Middle Passages) to Brett Lott (who says of him "there is perhaps no better writer at work in America today...his books are built to last") to Sven Birkerts to Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner.  Gregory Wolfe, author of the recent Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age (ISI; $29.95) is one of our best critics and he says "Larry Woiwode's prose is so piercing and precise, so concrete and muscular, that I would read his reflections on the price of potatoes.  In an era when words have become weapons or commodities, Woiwode reminds us that they can still become flesh and blood, full of grace and truth."

Oftentimes we recommend books, especially in the religious marketplace, that are inspiring, but not particularly deep.  Or they are challenging, but not particularly gracefully written and we wade through it because we know the material is valuable; I sometimes call these "resources."  Occasionally, though, we find a book that is not a breeze to read, that is sometimes quite demanding, not because it is poorly written or dry but because it is so very profound, with a mature vocabulary and a slightly dense style, and yet we sense that it is worthy, a book we gladly spend the energy to read slowly, from which we enjoy learning. (Earlier in the summer I named the essayist Alan Jacobs somewhat in these terms; smart, eloquent, but serious-minded.  Ditto with Greg Wolfe.)  Larry Woiwode's essays, in this volume at least, require some basic knowledge of American letters.  In Words Made Fresh he writes about Gardner, of course (two splendid chapters) and has essays on Reynolds Price, John Updike, and a great article that had appeared in Image on Bob Dylan---actually on Dylan's view of the news, compared to CNN.  There is a closing chapter called "The Faith of Shakespeare: My Favorite Actor" that Leland Ryken called "a small classic."  To be honest, if you do not know who these novelists are, you should read this as a mature and helpful way to be introduced.

9781433527401-192x300.jpgThese essays--now updated and expanded--were previously published in places such as the Washington Post Book World, The Chicago Tribune Book World, The World and I.  A provocative essay on education ("Deconstructing God: Teaching the Fourth R") appeared in Civilization which is the magazine of the Library of Congress.  (Man, for an organic farmer from Western North Dakota--he has been their Poet Laureate since 1995--this dude gets around!)  One of the expanded chapters were first published by Books & Culture.  Another was a rather auto-biographically-shaped lecture on faith and the arts given at a conference sponsored by the Graduate Theological Union at Berkley. I loved "Homeplace: Heaven or Hell? On the Order of Existence" so much I read most of it a second time out loud to Beth (and I understood some of it better then, too.)  He notes that he was reading Wendell Berry in those years and I have heard he was also reading the aesthetic theory of Calvin Seerveld.

There is another great chapter that will be of interest to some BookNotes readers, I'm sure, on the work of Reynolds Price.  It is brief and accomplishes three things, I'd say.  It puts Price on the map for those who may not know him.  It discusses his interesting work in translating, and reviews Price's translation of the gospels.  And, through-out, he pushes back against those in the literary establishment who seem to have an open mind about nearly everything except Christianity.  There is bigotry afoot and Woiwode names it; those who are frustrated with liberal PC tone-deafness to nuances of faith will appreciate this chapter.   And he gets away with it; the Boston Globe says of him "he continues to be a writer who can not only dazzle, but illuminate...There is something organic, whole, and necessary about his work; it blows fuses." 

And so, we celebrate this book, and the fuses it blows, and we are grateful that publishers like Crossway occasionally surprise us---they are particularly predictable these days, with fine stuff from the Gospel Coalition and a small bit of typically truly Reformed cultural engagement, and we stock almost all of their books.  We are glad to be among the evangelical wing of the Christian Booksellers and yet have always pushed those envelopes, carrying books when we opened like, well, like Beyond the Bedroom Wall and What I'm Going to Do I Think.  Woiwode published a paperback of Poppa John with Crossway in the mid '80s and one sales rep said we were one of the very few Christian bookstore book buyers in the country who knew who he was.  I doubt that that was true, but it indicative of an often-discussed problem of the anti-intellectualism and insularity of most religious bookstores, especially the chains.  So we've followed this author's work, read much of it, and are just delighted to have this great collection, now.

HERE you can find a brief little promo video conversation between John Wilson (of Books & Culture) and Mr. Woiwode, and then a longer one. (In the first he speaks of vampires and in the second, John Calvin, so take your pick.)  The two of them collaborated as editors for The Best Christian Writing of 2001 so they have been friends for a while.  Do watch it, but be sure to come back---you'll want to see what I say is the best chapter in the book.   

So, I must say this, about one chapter that is my favorite one in the book, I think. I believe that Larry Woiwode's chapter on Wendell Berry ("Views of Wendell Berry: A Life Against Agribusiness") is perhaps the finest short introduction to Berry's writing (especially his nonfiction) that I have yet seen.  I know it is a cliche, but it is nearly worth the price of the book, just for this helpful chapter.

We often tell customers that the best paperback book about Berry, written by friends Matt 3248671.jpg Bonzo and Michael Stevens is Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Readers Guide (Brazos; $22.00) which is a great, great, book-length introduction.  There are two more spectacular anthologies about Berry that have come out recently, both by University of Kentucky Press, and each are so good I could cry. 

(One is called Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven's Earthly Life edited by Joel James Shuman & L. Roger Owens and the other is called The Achievement of Wendell Berry: The Hard History of Love by Fritz Oehlschlaeger. But they aren't exactly introductory.  They are large books with many specific chapters, and they are expensive--each one is $40.00, a shameful price tag that should be embarrassing to the authors, with a crummy discount to bookstores, at that, so we cannot mark them down or offer discounts.  I can only guess that the editors at the University Press haven't read Mr. Berry very closely and don't want mom-and-pop bookstores to sell these books and that the authors somehow didn't have the wherewithal to protest, so are complicit, in the exact way Berry so passionately warns about. Ironic.)

That said, we are thrilled with Larry Woiwode's lovely one-chapter study of Berry's localism, his sense of place, his literary life, his faith in the good nature of creation, his desire that our work and scale of living be ordered and attuned to the realities and givens of land and history--- it is just the best!  There are others who are perhaps more breathy and passionate in their joy for the radical critique Berry brings to the ways of North American living and there are many wonderful pieces about him. But I am really glad that this chapter is in this collection; it is helpful, sane, reasonable---nearly calming.  Woiwode is not dispassionate---he himself, as I have noted, is an organic farmer and poet---but it seems that the most flamboyant line about Berry is the title of the chapter.  It is a fantastic overview, with several good excerpts of a few of his early books.  It makes Words Made Fresh, an already great book that much better.

Mr. Woiwode is a natural to tell us about Berry.  Firstly, he has this unique experience of coming of age as a writer and student of literature in the last quarter of our previous century---under the shadow of the likes of Faulkner, maybe, but contemporary to Updike, Cheever and even Pynchon and, yes, the somewhat older Eudora Welty and Wendell Berry, whose first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published in 1960 and whose first bit of cultural criticism, The Long Legged House, came out in 1969, followed up quickly with The Hidden Wound in 1970.)  Not only was Woiwode an up-and-coming writer as Berry was becoming art-commonplace-agrarian-essays-wendell-berry-paperback-cover-art.jpg renowned (I think The Unsettling of America, published by the Sierra Club in hardback in 1977, the first Berry book I read, may have been the one to launch him to greater popularity) but Woiwode was also one who left the big city, like Berry, to return to his home state to take up a homestead, a rural vocation he took as a calling.  Also, he is unashamed of being a Christian, and--except for the (perhaps) religiously-motivated slighting of Pappa John---seems to get away with describing his faith in the most prestigious venues in the country, as does Mr. Berry.  Woiwode is, like Berry, besides a novelist, a poet and he does short stores and essays of literary and cultural criticism. So it surely seems he is perfect to introduce us to Mr. Berry's agrarian vision, his fiction and nonfiction.  I pray that the conservative evangelicals who tend to buy Crossway books will take up Berry's novels, perhaps starting with Jayber Crow or Hannah Coulter. (Here is a splendid little review by a conservative Baptist inviting us to read good fiction, and particularly the likes of Hannah Coulter. It is a very nice review. Send it to your pastor, as he recommends that pastors read good novels!)

It may not interest everyone, but at the end of the essay about Berry in Words Made Fresh there is a coda, a several page bit of brilliance where Woiwode gives a fascinating description of the ups and downs of Berry's independent publisher's work to use quality ink and nice woodcuts on the covers, to smythe-sew the bindings of hardback editions (rather than gluingmedia.nl.jpg them in the procedure called perfect binding, which Woiwode slyly calls imperfect binding) and why acid free paper is so important.  He notes their effort to issue his work in uniform editions.  This, he astutely observes, is an "organized and sympathetic overview which in the past was a publisher's way of indicating confidence in the writer's future."  And he laments the plight of the indie publishers, noting those that went belly up or were bought out, now run by the aforementioned television corporations and oil companies.  Anyway, it's a good couple of pages that are a good tribute to publishers who try to do things well, especially apropos for an author who does things well, like Berry, like Woiwode.  He ends this chapter, and the afterward about book binding, like this,

All of this should remind us, as Berry reminds us, to think small, not big.  And to perhaps hold foremost the truth that we're all at the mercy of time, that eventual sifter of the elements of history, whether written large or small across the decomposing substance of the present.

And so, for the various good chapters of Words Made Fresh gathered from Image and Books & Culture and a number of prestigious secular publications, we are thankful.  We are glad to be able to feature just such a book---deeply rooted in the very Christian worldview that we ourselves work out of, but not preachy or pushy.  This is top scholarship, mature and good and wise and often very, very moving.  It is surely one of the best books of this sort in a long time and will should be considered as one of the better books of this year.

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August 11, 2011

Six Sensational Summer Stories (sorry) -- Truly Wonderful Reads

The evening is cool, the moon bright, and the crickets lovely, not as annoying as the usual screech of the cicadas these mid-summer nights.  It is such a nice night out, I long to get my little lamp and sit outside with a cold beer and a good book.  But yet, I want to be in touch with our cadre of Hearts & Minds readers---would love to do some "book talk."  I wonder what others are reading? What is enjoyable and what is edifying?  (I learn a lot from facebook and twitter about the habits of our fans) and am always delighted to see the orders that come in from across the land.  We got some good replies about my Larry Woiwode piece---the Words Made Fresh review, but few orders.  It is serious literature, I realize, so maybe isn't widely appealing, but it is an important book.  As we said, we are thrilled to see this caliber of thoughtful work from within a seriously Christian worldview.  Hats off to Crossway for releasing the collected essays of such a substantive thinker, author and critic.

Here are some books that we have wanted to tell you about but they just haven't matched any of the previous columns.  So, we offer a miscellany of six wonderfully written, very thoughtful, and fully lovely books.  A surprising mix, all but one by my bed-stand as I work through them all as the mood fits.  These are each exquisite volumes and they seem right for a night like this.

Last-American-Man.jpgThe Last American Man  Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin) $15.00  I have admitted often that we loved Eat Pray Love, and while we obviously have a different understanding of truth, God, the faith experience, and romance, we adored this wise and often hilarious travelogue.  Even her section about the Ashram was beautifully rendered.  How would you narrate your encounter with the sublime, the Divine?  Well, that fun book led us to Committed, her history and sociology of marriage, written very much as a sequel to EPL, telling of her reluctance to marry the man she met and feel in love with in Bali.  Despite some opinions that seem wrong-headed, it was a nearly brilliant book, and Beth and I both devoured it.  On a roll, then, I took up her first book, The Last American Man and Beth immediately followed suit (since I wouldn't shut up talking about it every night) and I cannot even tell you how this book rocked our world!  We both zipped through it, laughing and rubbing our foreheads and shaking our heads and staying up late, awestruck.  Beth loaned it to a friend before I could; it is that kind of book. 

A long and very colorfully story short, it is the biography of a lad from the early 70s raised by a6a00d8341c831253ef00e551f4e1828833-640wi.jpg super-strict, nearly abusive father who ends up living in a teepee, knowing the ways of Native customs the world over and thereby living a "back to nature" ideology that stood as a firm rebuke to the materialism and superficiality and alienation of American culture.  This fellow--Eustace Conway from North Carolina--is a natural outdoorsman, woodsman, hunter, self-taught carpenter, a born storyteller, a manic visionary who builds his own homestead, starts a nature center for guests that flock to him in nearly cult-like passion, becomes one of the finest horsemen in America, and longs to be happy with a hippy-chick Earth Mother, pioneer woman wife, a hope that for reasons that become clear, ain't gonna happen any time soon.  Alas, he's a troubled soul, gifted, rugged, stubborn, a Dreamer Like No Other, tenacious, hardworking, and not a little bit magnetic.

 As is her style, Gilbert makes us laugh, can swear like a sailor, and tells this amazing tale in clever prose and in ways that offer insight, compassion and more balance than most could conjure up in the face of such a story.  She realizes, it seems, that there is something deeply religious about our human quests, and to better understand them, we must know a bit about history, sociology, culture, zeitgeists past and present.  She is helpful ruminating on the American frontier and how that rugged individualism shaped our identities, from cowboy towns to utopian communities to contemporary wilderness sporting.  This is a wide-ranging book, years in the making, reporting intimately on this whole remarkable (and remarkably dysfunctional) family of Eustace Conway, his genealogy, his famous grandfather, various relatives, former friends and bitter enemies, all as a canvas to draw some interesting conclusions about American history, masculinity, our relationship to the environment and how in the world to be happy in a world gone dumb.  One of the most interesting books I have read in years!

Here is the long GQ article that became Gilbert's book.  Hold on tight and if you find it as interesting we I did, despite the crass language, order it from us.  Fair enough?

Growing-at-the-Speed-of-Life.jpgGrowing at the Speed of Life: A Year in the Life of My First Kitchen Garden  Graham Kerr (Perigree) $27.00  Speaking of characters, Graham Kerr was in many ways a caricature of much of what Eustace Conway despised. He was tony, un-serious, wasteful, on TV.  Those who grew up when I did knew him as the Galloping Gourmet, the predecessor of all those characters now on the Food Channel, brilliant, British and way too giddy.  Except he drank and drank as he showed his gourmet dishes, turned into an on-air alcoholic.  During those years he was mockingly awarded the "Broken Wooden Spoon" by Weight Watchers International, who called him Public Enemy Number 1 because of his bad culinary choices.

Kerr found himself at the end of his extravagant rope and in other books has described his turn to Christian faith.  He did a low-salt cookbook with the Brethren Press, became a very helpful teacher about good nutrition and healthy living, rethinking how he related to food and how he taught cooking.  He published a string of cookbooks and became involved in philanthropy and soon was even outspoken about world hunger. And now, he's taken a large new step, timely and important and a natural "next step" on his journey, even though it seems a brave one for his career.  As he says in this lively new book "In my long career as a gourmet/nutrition teacher I have cooked just about everything that grows, but I've never grown a thing I've cooked."   

Here, Kerr reflects on the earth-to-table process.  As he puts it "I decided to go back to theindex.jpg starting line and run the whole race from the beginning."  And what a book it is.  Whether you are an armchair gardener or an active one, whether you are a foodie or a newbie in thinking about whole foods and organic eating, this book is for you.  It includes his story, lots of sidebars and illustrations, and over 100 recipes, all taken directly from Kerr's family garden.  The illustrations are especially nice, pencil and ink line drawings that conjure up images of the Moosewood cookbooks or classics like From a Monastery Kitchen.  They show the plant and the root system, with lines like an architect's drawing showing how many inches everything should ideally be.  Perfectly helpful. Growing at the Speed of Life, is a great title, too, eh?  Gladly the book is as good as the title makes it sound.  Highly recommended.  Here is an small bit where Kerr describes it.
 â€¨â€¨
While it wasn't immediately clear to me what impact the experience of creating this garden would have on my life, my neighbors, and even--to a small but vital degree---our community, I recognized that I wanted to share the lessons I learned.  It became my intention to write a book that would not only be of value to home cooks and armchair gardeners but also serve as an introduction to gardening for people who had the wherewithal to pick up their own spades and dig in---be it a few square yards in a suburban backyard, a couple of pots on a city balcony, or an acre or so in the country.

Here is a good TV interview with Graham Kerr from a Vancouver station; listen to him mention delight. And how he talks freely about his Christian faith and fellowship, his group's prayer about the needs of the neighborhood and their idea for this very thing.  Great! Here is a clip of some good gardening tips, too.  Know anybody that you can give this large, handsome book to?  It makes a lovely gift.


OneHundredNames-210.jpgOne Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing  Diane Ackerman (Norton) $26.95  This is one of those books that just feels good to hold, a touch heavy, well bound, a delight that deserves such a solid presentation as it is gloriously written, full of grace and gravity.  By the best-selling author of The Zookeepers Wife, the very important classic of naturalist literature, The Natural History of the Senses, and a dozen others, this is a passionate and intimate study of her husband's life-changing stroke.  Ironically, she was out on a book tour for her just-published book, The Alchemy of the Mind, which was an work on brain studies, when West had his stroke. Many have said this is Ackerman's best writing yet, and her best book to date.  She deftly explains in neurological detail the complexities of the human brain, but, more, the complexities of human sorrow and heartrending love.  (It is hard for anyone, of course, to suffer aphasia, but to have such an articulate wordsmith--her husband is an esteemed novelist-- lose language in such a way, and to have such an informed writer as a spouse, is especially poignant.)

For those of us who have experienced even a bit of the anguish seeing loved ones suffer, for those of us who know about the ministries (and mistakes) of doctors, nurses, scientists and caregivers, for anyone who longs to speak deeply to and with a lover, this luminous book speaks great truth.   Can faithful love help speed healing---even after serious brain damage? Can two writers (again, her husband, Paul West, is himself a serious aithor) learn to live in the obvious aftermath of a stroke?  I must admit I sat for a few days pondering the cover sheet of "part one" which she calls "The Cartography of Loss" before I could continue.  The last section is called "One Hundred Names for Love" and the appendix includes, yes, her 100 poetic phrases for her husband.  It is a bit deep but will take your breath away.  It is that kind of book. 

Here is a good NPR audio (Bookworm) interview with her  Please view this short, classy YouTube "trailer" for the book to hear Ackerman explain it, reciting some direct portions.  Get out your hankies.  And, as West says, "Thank God for language."  Indeed.

The Grace of Everyday Saints.jpgThe Grace of Everyday Saints: How a Band of Believers Lost Their Church and Found Their Faith  Julian Guthrie (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt) $25.00  I do not know what first drew us to stock this, perhaps it was the advanced blurbs by award-winning reporter Ken Auletta ("a gem of a book") or activist scholar James Carroll ("moving and eloquent") or Beth Kephart, herself a brave and good writer we admire who says it is "brave and engrossing."  Perhaps the story itself piqued our interest as it is not uncommon, even here---a Catholic Diocesan decision calls for the closing of a church and the folk in the parish are left to their sorrow.  In this case, the good people of the exiled congregation of St Brigid do not give up their church, find a renegade lawyer and take their prayers to the streets and the courts.  What a saga, as they enduring in their campaign.  In their holy revolt, as Carroll puts it, "resistance and reverence open to one another."  In their work they learn more than they want to know--you've heard about the coverups of abuse in the Church, so you can imagine---and enter an awful battle pursing truth and finding faith, all the while insisting that their faith can keep them going, pressing on against all set-backs.  As Kephart puts it, "This is the story of a candle that burned on the steps of a fabled, shuttered church and the people who kept that flame---and their own faith---alive. What is sacred? Who can be trusted? Can communities save us when hierarchies cannot? This brave and engrossing book seeks answers.  It sanctifies a truly moving quest." 

And what a quest it is, told by a fantastic storyteller whose good writing (Ms Guthrie has won awards for her work in San Francisco journalism) will keep you reading, turning page after page, and pondering much, being both outraged, humbled and inspired. Can communities save us when the institutions fail?  Can organic, lay-led worship be as meaningful as officially authorized liturgy? I suspect this is a story most of us have not heard before and I am confident it is a story you will never forget.

This thorough Grace of Everyday Saints Youtube clip is very moving, and the author, Ms Guthrie, is very articulate, kind and compelling.  I hope you check it out.  This book deserves to be widely known and widely read.


home-short-history-idea-witold-rybczynski-paperback-cover-art.jpgHome: A Short History of an Idea  Witold Rybczynski (Penguin) $16.00  I've been wanting to pick this up for years---we've had it in our homemaking section and in our architecture section---and just never got to it.  I knew I had heard amazing things about it, and of course knew his other greatly esteemed books, mostly about appropriate technology, the one that is a "natural history of the screwdriver", and several good books about architecture and buildings and city life, not to mention the best-selling A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century.)  Rybczynski is a learned man, a crisp and very entertaining writer, and the sort of scholar who can write so nicely that you find yourself wanting to re-read passages for the sheer joy of it all.  Do you love to learn? Do you want to know a bit more about the history of houses, interior decorating, fashion, intimacy, and---in a spectacularly informational chapter---the history of houses and rooms and living arrangements in the medieval world (whoa!)?  Well, then, this is a truly wonderful little resource.  If you read even a few chapters and you haven't learned something good, and are not happier about learning such curious things, (like the fabulous chapter on the sixteenth century Dutch and what we learn about gendered roles of family life from painters like Jan Vermeer) I suspect you might need to check your pulse.  This is fine, fine stuff, enthralling and good.

The point of this book, besides the sweeping history, is that our own notions of home-life, domesticity, intimacy and comfort, are, in point of fact, quite socially constructed.  Our houses and our homes and how we abide in them are the way they are because of the ideas we have, because of what we carry in our consciousness and what we presuppose about the nature of these very human matters.  Worldviews matter, even in how homes and rooms and privacy and comfort are understood---Hearts & Minds readers know this! (Can anybody say weltanschuauung?)  The very idea of a room, for goodness sake, was only invented and entered into the vocabulary in the late sixteenth century!  And the word "comfort" as we know it is very recent---Rybczynski is good at tracing the fascinating roots of various words and how they came to their current usage..  And time does not permit to explain all that this book explains about privies, lavatoriums, bathes, bathrooms, outhouses and loos and how notions and practices of hygiene have shaped the development of our culture.  

Each chapter starts fabulously with a narration (lesson sounds too formal but it is jam-packed with information)  based on a photo or drawing. The first, for instance is a Kate Greenway illustration from 1879, which serves as a segue into a detailed exploration of the world of Ralph Lauren and his home furnishing lines. (It is a brilliant look at nostalgia and work the price of the book for this short piece.)  The justly famous second chapter starts with a close reading of an Albrecht Durer engraving (1514) of St. Jerome in his study.   What a helpful, vibrant reminder of what we can learn about social history from artwork.  (And who knew, later in the book, that we could learn so much from the study of---sit down as I say this---the history of the chair!)  It is a long way from the one room hovels of the peasants of the Dark Ages or the earliest days of furniture, used by the bourgeois of 15th century France (or Norway.  He has a section on Norway!) to the last photo, a reflection on well-being, via a painting by Norman Rockwell, circa 1945.  R means no ironic deconstruction here, he is not winking at us as he shows it.  This scene is illustrative and in the hands of such a fine and eloquent and knowledgeable social critic, the final chapter leads us to more pure gold.  This is as enjoyable as learning gets as he explores notions of style and efficiency and, I would say, almost as important as it gets.  As our notions of family, home-life, marriage, community, and lifestyle change in this new century, knowing a bit about the history of this idea of home just may be a godsend.  Home: A Short History of an Idea is very nicely done, with equal portions of good style and good substance. 

Here is the classy website of Mr. Rybczynski, including this page with descriptions of all his books.

sabbath-world-glimpses-different-order-time-judith-shulevitz-paperback-cover-art.jpgThe Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time  Judith Shulevitz  (Random House) $15.00  Again, I often held the handsome hardback of this well-reviewed book over the last year but never got around to reading more than a few random pages.  I swore I'd take time to care for it, but, of course, a book like this dare not be read in haste, so never got to it.  I was glad when it came out in paperback, a nice trim edition. 

I've read several books about sabbath keeping as a specifically Christian discipline---Marva Dawn, Lynn Baab, Dan Allander, Wayne Muller---and carefully studied the dense classic by Rabbi Abraham Heschel.  I don't know if other bookstores have a "sabbath" section, but there are a lot good books on this topic.  This one, though, is unique: as the subtitle suggests, it is a report, offering glimpses, revealing much.  Bruce Feiler notes that it is "compassionate, revealing, and deeply personal"  This is indeed a personal story, much of it written as memoir, but informed by thorough scholarship on the history of the idea. And, my, how she can take us all over the world, and all over the centuries, so deftly!   Shulevitz has herself struggled to keep this difficult practice, so it is not an abstract study---at times it reminds me a bit of Lauren Winner, this yearning tobe faithful, to live "out of time."  It is, as I've said, grounded in rigorous research--she is an accomplished young writer, publishing in Slate and The New Republic and the New York Times, etc. etc.  It is beautifully written and is finally an invitation, a call to depth.  A Sabbath World was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award (and there has been added to the back of the book a reading group guide.)  Are you feeling over-scheduled, over-worked, even over-networked?  Slow down this summer and23284_106765472684218_8581_n.jpg take in some lovely words, some sharp thinking--informed by literature, social history and healthy spirituality, brought to you in lines and paragraphs of sheer beauty.

Here is a live 45 minute lecture by Ms Shulevitz on the book, introduced by the mother of one of the book's fans, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer.  How cool is that? Listen in and you'll want to read the whole book!  It is learned, thoughtful, exceptionally well-written and in many ways quite exceptional.  A perfect book for late summer nights.


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August 20, 2011

Schaeffer, Pearcey, The New Yorker, and American Grace (and other good books on faith and the public square.)


I wanted to write about two other topics these past few days--we just got the new Richard Foster on meditation called Sanctuary of the Soul: The Journey Into Meditative Prayer (I(VP; $16.00 hardcover) and there have been some other good spiritual formation titles lately.  And, although I've mentioned Mark Noll's amazing Jesus Christian and the Life of the Mind (Eerdmans; $25.00) in a Comment review, I wanted to highlight it here at BookNotes.  I'm pretty eager to run through a batch of new books and will do that soon.  Now, though, I'm feeling a bit off-center, confused, needing to write about something else.

confusion.gif
                                                                                                     Confusion by Jeanne Curin.
I feel like I should offer a few resources that will help us navigate through the rough waters of our political and cultural conflicts, waters that got me a bit sea-sick this week.  The culture wars are hitting hard these days and while I mostly want to be a conscientious objector in these battles, my fingertips were kept busy this week posting on various websites, blogs and threads of facebook conversations.  It has made my heart heavy for various reasons.  As I wrote to one friend, it is disheartening to try to entry a discussion as a voice of moderation and reason and end up making matters worse and getting all irritated.   

Here's the backstory and a few books that I think are important, wise, balanced and helpful to understand this exact sort of conflict about religion in the media, the ways evangelicals are construed, and the questions about how to be civil and fair even as we advocate for a pluralism that values a variety of voices, left, right and center, religious, secular or neither.

newyorker-logo.jpgLast week the prestigious The New Yorker magazine wrote a long, critical piece on Michelle Bachmann, followed by the author of the piece doing an interview on NPR ("The Books and Believes Shaping Michelle Bachmann" which distorted the nature of Bachmann's religious influences and oddly expressed dismay that some Christians believe their religion should inform everything they do, rather than be limited to churchy stuff.  What followed felt like a firestorm---well, it seemed like a firestorm, but, to be honest, it was mostly a few voices trying to cry out in the wilderness, my own among them, that were mostly ignored by the The New Yorker editors and the many other places that picked up the story.

The author, Mr. Ryan Lizza, said Michelle Bachmann was influenced by one of my heroes, Francis Schaeffer, and one of my friends, author Nancy Pearcey.  Not bad press, being mentioned in one of the world's leading literary and news journals and my beloved NPR.  

However, Mr. Lizza went way beyond the obligatory note that this could be construed as having some connection to the Christian right (it is no secret that the congresswoman is a conservative Lutheran evangelical and politically right-wing) raising some alarming specter of some group he (taking a cue from other journalists, making way too much of a weird thing) called the "Dominionists."  This group, the godfather of which is R. J. Rushdoony, is not new to those of us familiar with conservative Reformed circles, although they actually call themselves Theonomists or Reconstructionists.  ("Dominionist" is a confusing phrase since many Christians of all sorts have developed a theology of culture based on the primordial mandate to "take dominion" found in Genesis 1 but it is used now as a pejorative to apparently de- legitimize proposals from those with faith-based motivations, as if they are the only ones wanting to have influence and their public contributions are, ipso facto, duplicitous.)  So, yes, there are those who want to impose a theonomy or reconstruct the culture along principles gleaned from the Hebraic law.  And, yes, they could be seen as parallel to the very real Afghani Taliban but that would be silly since their influence is virtually nil and even among themselves, they don't tend to agree on what, if any, steps they should take to bring God's law into the law of the land.  They tend to (in various ways and in various nuances of application) believe the Old Testament law should be the basis for civil law, or perhaps should be some day.  Importantly, they are widely denounced by nearly everybody who is half-way normal, including nearly anyone who has had any significant influence over serious policy thinkers in recent years.  They are unimportant, routinely renounced (when they aren't being ignored) and fringe.  To say that Francis Schaeffer or Nancy Pearcey are "Dominionists", and believe in the violent overthrow of the US government (which even the Theonomists-slash-Dominionists do not) is beyond irresponsible, it is blatant slander.  To add to the insult, it then makes most conservative Christians look bad, as if there is something inherently dysfunctional with orthodox religion, the old "guilt by association" racket.  This is a little of what our decent Muslim friends feel, I'm sure, when anyone Islamic (or even anyone Arab) is seen through the lens of our fear of terrorism, judged unfairly.  And it is somewhat what motivates some of new Protestant liberals like Spong and Borg and Gulley: they create their new versions of faith in reaction to the very worst caricatures of the far right. But that is for another day.)

Let me be clear that I don't care at all right now about Michelle Bachmann, let alone  Governor Perry from Texas.  I do care about irresponsible journalism and I really care when they misrepresent people I have been influenced by, whose books we sell, and people that I care for.  One need not agree with all of Schaeffer's history nor all of Nancy Pearcey's philosophy to want them to be understood properly.  And Lizza botched it big time.

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER'S WORTHWHILE BOOKS
francis_schaeffer.jpgWhen I worked in campus ministry in the 1970s I showed the documentary that Bachmann says  that she saw, the ten-part film series How Should We Then Live?, and I showed it more than once. (We still sell the DVD--- here is a sample of part of his lecture on the Middle Ages---and gladly recommend the book.)  It led to remarkably fruitful conversations, about how history gets written, about how to study the social context of art and architecture, about the strengths and weaknesses of the Middle Ages, whether the Enlightenment project of rationalism was ultimately a helpful shift in Western culture, and how to think wisely as we discern the currents flowing through Western society and whether the American dream of "personal peace and affluence" is a morally sustainable value system.  The DVD and book is still a great overview of Western history, and his earlier works---The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, Pollution and the Death of Man, or his lament-filled study of Jeremiah, Death in the City--remain some of the most influential books I've ever read.  We still sell a few of his wonderful little Art and the Bible from time to time.  True Spirituality is a fine work, one that resists any overly-gnostic tendencies, insisting that the work of the Holy Spirit happens moment-by-moment, in not too dramatic measures, in daily life, not in any super-spiritual, mystical ways.  His little volume The Mark of a Christian reminds us that after we make the best case exploring the presuppositions of Western thinking, reject the idols of reason and romanticism, embrace the absolutes taught about God and shown in God's creation, we still must, finally, love.  The "final" apologetic, Schaeffer insisted, was love.  The anguishing shot in How Should We Then Live? of Schaeffer holding disgusting shackles that slaves would be forced to wear, and declaring that the church failed to adequately speak out for human rights, is still a powerful memory for me, a good illustration of what he meant.  

For Schaeffer to be so misrepresented was frustrating, to say the least.

NPR
And then, in the Lizza NPR interview which was also being posted and tweeted and passed around, warning the nation about the dangers of Schaeffer and his ilk, Lizza nearly implied that anybody of historic orthodox faith is a fanatic, maybe dangerous for the public order.  As I noted, he seemed dismayed and resentful that any Christian would want to take their faith into their public life. My friend Keith Pavlischek, who wrote a book about important Catholic political theologian John Courtney Murray, noted that Murray used to say that secularists wanted to "keep the church in the sacristy."  

I'm sure you can see why that just gets my goat. I hope it gets yours.

So, I linked at facebook and tweeted the firm rebuke of the New Yorker misquoting of Schaffer written by Joe Carter over at First Things. It is interesting, well documented, and worth reading. It is called "A Journalism Lesson for the New Yorker."

And then I posted Carter's next reply, "Dominionismists - The New Birthers" where he responds to the "regrettable silliness" in the much-forwarded Michelle Goldberg's Daily Beast piece, of which he says "this dominionism nonsense is about the stupidist trend to come along since Birtherism.... I have to give her credit, though. I thought on this topic it would be difficult to produce an article less informed and more slanderous than Ryan Lizza's embarrassing New Yorker piece.  But when it comes to lowering the bar, you really can't beat Tina Brown's Newsweek/The Daily Beast.  So kudos for your remarkable achievement, Ms Goldberg: You've written the dumbest article I've read all year."

Okay, Carter is fairly highbrow and doesn't get out much, I guess.  I could forward him a lot of dumber articles.  But, still, this is about the legacy of Francis Schaeffer and whether evangelicals should be involved in the public square, so I'm all in.  Dare we as people of faith speak of faith in the public square? Should we be embarrassed if we found Schaeffer's work appealing?  Could our own unique convictions actually be a balm for the common good?  Must others of other faith commitments compartmentalize their faith, too, leaving it at the door of the workplace, the university, the voting booth?  It seems that this is what Goldberg and Lizza and their many fans--whew, you should read the vitriol on the left-wing blogs-- are demanding.  And this is frightening for any pluralistic social order.

NOBODY  EXCLUDED
At some point, we have to back up and insist that no-one's faith-based motivations or formulations dare be excluded from the public square (not fundamentalists, not liberals, not Muslims, not atheists, not creationists, not Marxists, nor anybody else!)  The pressure of modernity, of course, is to marginalize faith.  Many liberal opinion leaders seem to have a particular antipathy about traditional religion (as do some rank-and-file liberals, too: in a recent informal survey, nearly every liberal polled indicated that they would be willing to censor conservative authors with whom they disapprove.  Yikes!)   As Stephen Carter once said, it seems that liberals often want to treat religion as if it were a hobby akin to collecting stamps or building model airplanes.  Which is to say, keep it to yourself since it is, de facto, idiosyncratic and irrelevant. Those of us who hold to the core Christian creed that Jesus is Lord simply must bear witness to that, in all we do, also in our (humble, bold) politics.  We have not done a good job of this -- see the very important UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon (Baker; $18.95) for how younger adults are turned off by right wing impressions given off by legalistic religion -- but be that as it may, the intellectual gatekeepers have no business distorting the facts about our foibles. (Yes, the truth itself is sometimes bad enough!)  Again, Francis Schaeffer was no Theonomist and nobody cited in the Lizza piece called for violence against anybody.

NANCY PEARCEY ON WORLDVIEWS
Nancy Pearcey Saving Leonardo Google for Blog 1.jpgI was glad to see Nancy Pearcey reply to the accusations about her and I linked at my own facebook to the important explanation of worldviews offered by her at Human Events. Her essay is called  "Dangerous Influences: The New Yorker, Michelle Bachmann, and Me." To explain what Lizza made murky she mentions the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, for crying out loud (as does the Wikipedia site about Francis Schaeffer) which has no relationship to the far right.  I "liked" her piece and more trouble ensued.

(I was scolded there by folks who were quickly posting, irked that I wanted to change the subject away from their rather mean-spirit and generally random comments, poking snark at those who care about global warming or complaining about Obama.  Indeed, I did want to reorient the thread, wanting to shift from blaming the left (got that), The New Yorker (done), or even other secular humanists for their inconsistencies---they want to stop conservative Christians from allowing their values to shape their political work, but they themselves sure seem to want to work for "dominion" guided by their values, (fair enough), to actually talking about what Pearcey wrote. I wished her readers would respond to her explanation of how worldviews must be understood to really "get" where others are coming from---this is an important contribution.  When one guy insisted that if "humanists" had power, "they would kill us all off" I realized I had entered some pretty scary waters.  A young friend who has been paying attention to this stuff in recent months, who I helped spiritually years ago, admitted he had had it with this dreadful sort of talk, he admitted that Voltaire and his animosity to any religion was beginning to make sense.  And I just wanted to cry.

The way in which the "Schaeffer is a Dominionist" trope was picked up all over the internet, repeated by a dozen major outlets within the day, and hundreds of blogs and tweets, was an example of the astonishing speed and power of the internet, an example of this thing we call "going viral." Ugh.  And, sure enough, within a few more days, more mainstream news columnists began to repeat the dishonest meme: Bachmann hangs out with religious nuts who want to overthrow the government. That advocate violence against abortion providers.  That don't believe in any separation between church and state. That are linked to this cult-like "dominionism." Blah, blah, blah.  One misinformed piece slandered Pearcey (who believes in principled pluralism) by saying she taught that only Christians should be in positions of influence.  Nonsense!

I can't imagine how Nancey must feel, knowing that such widely-read reports have said suchNancy Pearcey.jpg disturbing things about her views.  Heck, I feel badly since we carry her books.  If they said that stuff, we wouldn't promote them, that's for sure.   One person, well intended I'm sure, reminded us of Jesus' own command to rejoice when people say bad things about you, but I somehow couldn't muster the faith or attitude.  I care about what people think about the vision we share here, the books we carry, the God who we try to represent and glorify.  I hate it when people are accused falsely, whether it is some of the far right saying scandalous things about Obama or whether it is the mainstream media saying unfair things about Schaeffer and Pearcey.

Of course, so much of this indicates the way in which many in the media are simply ill-informed about religion, don't know who evangelicals are, and don't seem to want to understand us, either.  (Lizza refers to the "exotic" nature of Bachmann's religious influences.  Really?) One of the best pieces about this, giving good facts about Schaeffer and Rushdoony, is written by Barry Hankins, here. (Note Hankins' excellent book on Schaeffer, mentioned below.)

SCHAEFFER CO-OPTED BY THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT
Schaeffer was eventually co-opted by the Christian right, quoted by conservatives who hadn't read his earlier work and wouldn't have cared about the things he most cared about.  In the last years of his life he was dying of cancer, too, and that may have altered his typical clarity; I don't know.  There is no doubt that the current religious-conservative movement includes leaders who have been influenced by Schaffer to one degree or another.  Francis and Edith's disapproving soncrazy-for-god.png Frank Schaeffer has told that story, embellishing it a bit, I gather, in the controversial memoir Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the recent, riveting (and also contested) Sex, Mom and God both of which, characteristically, it seems, to this big-ego angry son, suggest that he nearly single-handedly started the Christian right and the evangelical wing of the anti-abortion movement.  It is obvious that some folks who identify with the Christian right or the Tea Party, have been inspired by Schaeffer's final book or two; Frank now regrets that profoundly and is speaking out against his father and his own detrimental role in those years.  The elder Schaeffer did shift from art and political and cultural evaluations as he ministered to the counter-culture in the early 70s to more political matters in the early 80s. (You can see it coming in the last few episodes of How Should We....films and book.)  Frank now tells how he took his dad around (with his father less convinced of the wisdom of it) to rile up Falwell and Robertson and others who became the cheerleaders for the Reagan revolution. I know that some of his story is true---I crossed swords, as they say, with him in those very years myself, sad to see him push his father in such an uncharacteristic direction. That a Tea Party favorite such as Ms Bachmann sees in Schaeffer's understanding of the absolutes of a Christian worldview an intellectual funding of her traditionalism and conservatism is fascinating and not unimportant.  But Dominionism?  Violent revolution?  Come on!

By the way, although I read and enjoyed both of Frank Schaeffer's flamboyant, controversial tell-alls--the new one about Edith and sex is as much about Frank's abandonment from evangelicalism as it is an expose of L'Abri---it needs to be underscored that friends who were close to the Schaeffer family have chastised Frank for disrespecting his parents, for making it all sound much more extreme than it was, for overstating Francis' crankiness and Frank's own influence in the politics of the Schaeffer family.  I don't know about that, and trust those like Os Guinness who have expressed great sadness about these books. 

Schaeffer bio.jpgFor those wanting a more traditional biography of Francis Schaeffer, the one by Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Crossway; $24.99) is the best at this point.   It is just fantastic and is applauded by many who were there!  Kudos.

  Francis Schaeffer: A Heart and a Mind for God edited by Bruce Little (P&R; $12.99) just came out this year and is loaded with anecdotes, stories, and appreciative testimonials of Schaffers work and influence---it is very good and a great reminder of why he was so important to so many of us.

For perhaps a broader historical view of Schaeffer's impact, written by a critical but appreciative scholar, see Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America by Barry Hankins (Eerdmans; $20.00.)  Hankins does a very good job showing how the youth who were part of the revivals of the late 60s and early 70s created a movement of evangelicals which needed an intellectual basis for faith and how important it was for someone like Schaeffer, who took the bohemian culture seriously, to appear in those very years. He  (and his wife) made a mark not just on persons--like me--but on the very texture of American evangelicalism and certainly shaped the views of many who were rising to parachurch leadership at the end of the twentieth century.  Oh, that authors like Lizza would understand this recent religious history and understand the configurations of various sorts of evangelical Protestants. 

No one can predict who is going to quote what book as an influence, and therefore, for instance, we shouldn't blame the Quran for suicide bombers any more than we should blame Schaeffer for abortion clinic murderers.   Most in the mainstream media are careful not to insult all Muslims because of the way some act.  Yet it is clear that the media's take on Bachmann and Perry and the ways they are or are not influenced by Schaeffer does not offer the same care or respect.  (And conversely, there are some responding to this egregious sloppiness on the part of the New Yorker, insisting that it is unfair to blame Schaeffer for the extremist views of the Theonomists, but yet they still seem to want to despise all Muslims for the extremity of the jihadists.)  Can't either side on the culture wars get this thing right?  Too many people are too quick to connect too many dots, blaming others without warrant, due to the most implausible or incidental connections.  Heck, I once read a book by a Theonomist/Dominionist leader Rushdoony critiquing John Dewey's role in American educational philosophy;  does that make me a Theonomist?  Geesh.

(There was at least one nice exception in a major outlet to the journalistic Schaeffer-hatefest by the way, a fine short piece from The Indiana Star, which gives a more positive view of Schaeffer, if, indeed, Ms Bachmann has been influenced by him as she says.)

So, I entered these conversations and some of you did too.

Here, for instance, is one brief summary of the discussion by Alan Noble that offers a bit of balance in tone and pushes us to not just demand that Christians not be pushed out of public affairs but that we are equally passionate about the religious rights of others as well.  Thanks to "Christ and Pop Culture" for this short but helpful reminder.

Again, I do not mean to imply that Schaeffer was faultless or that he was not deeply involved in stirring up activism both to help unplanned and troubled pregnancies and to overturn Roe v. Wade.  He maintained that some of America's founders were influenced by a more-or-less Reformation base coming, as they did, from the North of Europe.  He offers a fairly non-controversial reminder about earlier Christian ideas that shaped some of 18th century framers. He was admired by conservative family values doc James Dobson and was read and understood by Congressional quarterback Jack Kemp (as well as anti-war Republican, the late Senator Mark Hatfield.) In The Christian Manifesto he made a limited and cautious case for nonviolent civil disobedience, a case I had learned long before from Gandhi,  Martin Luther King, Philip Berrigan and Henry David Thoreau.  And that's news?

NANCY PEARCEY AND THE MANTLE OF SCHAEFFER
total-truth-207x300.jpgIt is obvious to anyone who has read Ms Pearcey that she is one of today's most able interpreter of the philosophical views of Mr. Schaeffer, channeling influences from Herman Dooyeweerd to Cornelius Van Til to Michael Polanyi offering a new voice for his old perspective. She hammers the fact-value dichotomy, what Schaeffer called the "upper story and lower story" views of truth, and she shows how this simple commitment to a robust view of truth effects everything.  It is no news that she favors a serious and open-minded deconstruction of the orthodoxies of old school Darwinism, a matter which she explores even in her first book, a co-authored work with Charles Thaxton on the history of naturalism within the philosophy of science, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Crossway; $17.99) is a very fine work (there is a section on mathematics which is fantastic), and whether or not she is fully right is nearly beside the point---she is a thoughtful, engaging, widely-read cultural critic whose work is very reasonable and certainly valuable to consider. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from It's Cultural Captivity (Crossway; $19.99) is her most foundational book and even if it has struck some as a bit overly confident and insistent, it makes her case consistently and clearly, with tons of illustrations, stories, and serious footnotes as well as a thought-provoking discussion guide to further the conversation.  Her "recommended reading" list is not only wise and wide-ranging, but it is annotated wonderfully, making it very helpful.  (That she did this is interesting, too--many authors don't add this touch.  I think it indicates firstly that she is a good teacher, and she is serious.  She expects people to "master" this material and to allow it to shape how they engage in cultural reformation.  It is vast and sweeping stuff on the history of ideas and the deformation of culture based on bad assumptions and ideas, but she thinks you must understand, and she is walking you through it.  And she means business.  To know these books is, well, part of the cost of discipleship, I suspect she'd say.  And she would be right.)  I am just so troubled that there are so many hare-brained and truly odd writers claiming to be Christian, that this is what the critics of Bachmann chose to go after?  Have they even read these books?  I bet you'll have some kind of conversation about this very thing before long.  I hope my confidence in the significance of her work is somehow helpful as you defend as the legitimacy of offering a Christian perspective in the marketplace of ideas.  

If you want to learn a bit more about her, here is a new report done at the "Solid Ground" website by  journalist Jesse Mullins, a fine cowboy reporter (who interviewed me about Pearcey and quotes me in the story. Even though I don't wear a cool ten gallon hat like he does.)

If candidate Bachmann reads Pearcey, I am glad.  If The New Yorker reports it, all the better.  As long as they get it right.  Which they did not.

SPREAD THE WORD, SUBVERT THE TROPE, IGNORE THE FRINGE
To wit, your ever-ready pals at Hearts & Minds BookNotes will offer a few suggestions for your background reading and wide and unruly list of books to keep our heads about us in these nutty discussions.

Is it tacky to suggest that I wish Mr. Lizza would have read a few of these?   Maybe somebody should buy a few and send 'em out to your local news writer or blogger who covers this beat, especially if she or he keeps spreading these dumb rumors that Schaeffer was significantly influenced by  Rushdoony or other writers of the Theonomist persuasion.  (If Lizza or Goldberg had enough reportorial chops to check, uh, even Wikipedia, they'd see a good footnote documenting that two of the leading lights of the Theonomist movement opposed Schaeffer!  Schaeffer didn't have to distance himself from them, because they were not in his camp!)

Or, how about those that repeat that mantra that because some of us call upon evangelicals to get out of the comfort of their pews and get active in shaping culture, being involved and trying to have a helpful impact, that makes us somehow like some Taliban?

Look, we all know there are "Christian" fascists out there, holocaust deniers, gun-totin', Bible-thumpin' militias, weird right-wing characters of all sorts who are obviously undemocratic and sometimes dangerous.  Still, I'd rather ignore Rushdoony, Fred Phelps and the like.  I'm disinclined to fret much about gold-buying alarmists like Rushdoony disciple Gary North who are so far off the reservoir that they just don't matter.  And they certainly don't have anything to do with any discussions about the wisdom of Francis Schaeffer or Nancy Pearcey or any others of us who, with a different tone and perhaps even a different key, talk about worldviews and cultural engagement from a Christian perspective.

There are enough important matters to argue about, good debates to be had, ideas to be thought through, principles to be clarified and causes to care about that we simple ought not be distracted by those who would fixate on these nearly cult-like "Dominionists" or the equally nearly cult-like secularists who insist that anyone who has faith should stay in their church and out of the way. Yes, both exist, the hard religious right and the hard secular left.  Some are in some dingy church basement somewhere, self publishing their "reconstructionist" books about taking dominion.  The others are writing slipshod stories for the Daily Beast, CNN, The Daily Kos and The New Yorker.  It is easy to ignore Rushdoony, but harder to ignore the influence of stars like Lizza.  So it goes.

ONE MORE TIME: RESIST THE ALARMISM
A final little story.  An acquaintance of mine that I respect is a columnist at a nationally known newspaper.  He has been burned a bit by conservative and legalist religion, it seems, and is smart enough to know that true followers of Christ will be known by love, known by grace, and that the far right ought not have the monopoly on describing what Christianity looks like in the public square.  I like his writing.  It tilts to the left on matters of peace and justice and race relations, and I appreciate his good eye and good heart.  And yet, this week, he wrote a column about a guy he somehow met, who said---inspired by these "Theonomists" that some call "Dominionists"---that he would kill his parents for being idol worshipers.  The Bible demands it, he said.  

Wow.  Catch your breath. This is dangerous stuff, the stuff of cults, right?  Maybe like Charles Manson or the Mormon Fundamentalists or from the sort of group from which the phrase "drinking the Kool-aid" arose. I am sad to think that anybody would be taught such a thing, that religion would be so misused.  However, to even whisper any relation of this tragic loss of sanity to a candidate such as Michelle Bachmann, or well known, respected authors, like Schaeffer, is ridiculous.  I have no idea why this award-winning reporter couldn't wrap his journalistic head around what seems so obvious to me: the guy who says the Bible teaches him to kill his non-Christian parents has nothing to do with Francis Schaeffer or even Jerry Falwell or Glen Beck or any of the other notorious hot-heads on the right.  Nothing at all.  To try to connect those dots is just plain old wrong.  Talk about the metaphor of "drinking the Kool-aid"---this oft-repeated trope that the "Dominionists" are all over trying to take over America and that Bachmann has been influenced by them via Schaeffer, well, it's just the stuff of urban legend and UFO conspiracies, except it is repeated over and over, from people who ought to know better.

BOOKS AS LIFE PRESERVERS FOR THE COMMON GOOD
So maybe these will help.  Consider them life preservers for the upcoming year.  It's going to be a wild ride in some rocky waters.  Get ready to throw 'em out to others and help and save the day. 

Blind Spot .jpgBlind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion edited by Roberta Green-Ahmanson, Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert  (Oxford University Press) $19.95 This is the best collection of pieces about the ways in which typical journalists seem to be tone-deaf to the role of religion.  Marshall's own piece on how reporting on terrorism misunderstands the role of radical Islam---suggesting that the violence is not religious in nature by inaccurately describing jihadists in ways that mask their self-proclaimed religious motivation--is riveting and worth the price of the book.  There are a variety of  media scholars and observers included making this a thoughtful overview. And it is Oxford University Press, people. This isn't reactionary pulp, but important scholars evaluating major gaffes, indicating a huge hole in the professional training and insight of most major journalistic outlets.  Very important, judicious and helpful.


American Grace.jpgAmerican Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us  Robert Putnam and David Campbell (Simon & Schuster) $30.00  This thick tome of social science by the respected author of Bowling Alone may just be one of the most important books of recent years, a monumental work, elegant, descriptive and exceptionally insightful.  I reviewed it briefly when it came out nearly a year ago, cribbing from the rave reviews from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon Meacham, Cornel West, and others.  Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie (The President of Union for Reform Judaism) says that "this is the best overview of American religion in the last half of the twentieth century that I have ever read. If you care about American religion, you must read this book."  Religion matters, in private and in public. It isn't coming out in paperback until February 2012 and it may be too important to wait.  Highly recommended.

case-for-civility-why-our-future-depends-on-os-guinness-hardcover-cover-art.jpgThe Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It Os Guiness (HarperOne) $23.95  I reviewed this when it came out, declaring my huge appreciation for it, and have mentioned it time and again.  One needn't agree with all the proposals but it is a must-read for anyone interested in conversations about church and state, faith in public life, and the like. This is not just about public manners or civil etiquette---which itself would be helpful, but not quite the full point of this volume--- but Guinness here explores how the first amendment offers a framework for freedom for and from religion. We must not move towards any God-based Theonomy or any kind of state church, of course. But a "naked public square" that privileges secularism is equally faulty.  This "case" challenges the religious right and the secular left calling us all to take steps to solve the impasse of of our times through what he wonderfully explains in vigorous and inspiring prose as a "cosmopolitan public square."  I do hope you consider reading this and living out his important vision and urgent call to decency, civility, and, urgently, a robust commitment to the principles of our First Amendment.

bye bye miss.jpgBye Bye Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and Their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America's Political Map  Bill Kauffman (Chelsea Green) $17.95  I gladly named this as one of the best books of 2010 and couldn't stop telling interested folks (and, well, some who weren't so interested) about this cool and remarkably intricate history of parts of the country that want to secede from the union.  Weird, I know, but bear with me--this is a fabulous read. Look, I don't know what I think about all this but I do like the quote from the Guinness book, spoken by JFK years ago.  Our democratic witness should "make the world safe for diversity."  Want diversity?  Really?  Want to hear the people--real people?  Listen to the crazy folk from the Yooper State, the Lakotah Nation, the Second Vermont Republic, The Republic of West Kansas.  Did you know about the State of Jefferson?  Take a stroll with Kauffman through the deep South hearing out those--including blacks!---who just want to hold on to their own unique barbequing culture.  Listen to the longings for liberation of some from places like Hawaii, who wonder why the US colonized them in the first place.  These backyard anarchists, localist yahoos and populists against Empire sometimes heroically want self-rule.  Some just want to be left alone.  Some are sorta nutty.  Is this a great country, or what?  I'd vote for Bill Kauffman for President if he'd run, but I can tell ya now that he ain't.  He's too busy in his own home town, coaching Little League and fighting WalMart. Read his story about leaving Washington activism for his own front porch and his own home town in the wonderful memoir Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: An Affectionate Account A Small Town's Fight to Survive (Picador; $14.00.)  Kauffman knows more about American history, I'd bet, than anybody you've ever met and probably more than almost anybody you've ever read.  And he's fun: he's so far to the left he's right.  Or so far to the right, he's left.  Anybody who wants to understand America--that is, her people---heck, anybody who likes the History Channel's How The States Got Their Shapes---ought to read through this amazingly rich ride full of very long sentences through the backcountry of the U S of A.  The Republic of Texas?  Why not?  Seriously.

purple state.jpgA Purple State of Mind: Finding Middle Ground in a Divided Culture  Craig Detweiler Harvest House) $13.99 Not up for the wild ride against Empire and into the localist's dreams, narrated by history geek Bill Kauffman?  Fair enough, he's an acquired taste.  This is a more simple book, excellent in many ways, by an astute cultural critic (film scholar, too) and PhD who taught at Fuller Theological Seminary and now is at Pepperdine. This upbeat call to move past the culture wars---purple is a blend of red and blue, of course---was somewhat inspired as an old college friend of the author's (a guy who helped him cross the line of faith and become a follower of Jesus) who renounced his own faith and wrote a book against the Christian right.  Detweiler sees himself as a purple Christian, conservative on some things, liberal on some things, traditionalist in a good way, but progressive at times, too.  Yet, A Purple State of Mind isn't even about politics as such, but is interested in an "in but not of" the world wise and discerning Christian cultural engagement.  It explains why followers of Jesus must offer a view of life that is grace-filled and, while Biblically-grounded, anything but judgmental.  Is all about Jesus, less about religion. It celebrates love and joy but also faces disappointments, and is honest about life and life's struggles.  Such a view wants to hear the story of others, wants to build bridges.  This sort of purple view tries to embody the love of God but avoids evangelical cliches, encourages creativity and the arts but yet isn't disinterested in moral values, advocates for all people, working out a consistent sort of way of being truly pro-life.  Maybe if more religious folks were known for this sort of nonpartisan, courageous middle ground we might make more headway towards less hostile interactions of the sorts I experienced this week.  The issues may be more complex than this, but certainly not less.  Very nice.

Public Faith Volf.jpgA Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good  Miroslav Volf (Brazos) $21.99  I gave this a brief review in my column at Comment, and only scratched the surface of what can be said.  Volf, of Yale Divinity School, has given us one of the best books of the year, perhaps of the decade!  For a time such as this, indeed.  Volf lived through genocide in Eastern Europe and knows about exclusion, marginalized faith, and all manner of confused views of the relationship of faith and public life.  He has written extensively on peacemaking, forgiveness, and just did a book on gracious Christian view of Islam called Allah. This wonderful call to care for the common good within a framework of pluralism is more urgent, I believe, than most of us realize.  Volf is clear about the dangers and problems of a public faith. But he shows its great necessity.  There are rave, rave endorsements on the back from Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw, and Randall Balmer.  Many are saying that this is must-read, and we at Hearts & Minds agree: a highly recommended book.

Here is a very short video clip where he explains what the book is about.  Volf is very clear and thorough.  In this clip, you'll get a sense of how thoughtful and helpful this book is.

political-visions-illusions-david-theodore-koyzis-paperback-cover-art.jpgPolitical Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies David T. Koyzis (IVP) $20.00  Okay, I trot this out nearly every year when there are elections or political debates or if there are matters on the news that seem to exhibit the "culture wars" debates.  And now is that time, for sure.  It just amazes me how little most people know about the background ideas and philosophical foundations for both right and left wing writers, pundits, movements.   In this complex and important book Koyzis adeptly explains where ideas come from, what liberals and conservatives really believe (or assume) and whether those guiding ideals do or do not comport with a consistently Christian worldview.   How do legitimate ideas end up becoming idols and get hardened into ideologies?  What are the dynamics of ideological conflict in our new century?  Why does the typical "liberal vs conservative" story not really do justice to the more complex realities behind political movements?  This is beyond astute, it is genius, the best and most comprehensive overview of political thinking that I know of.  It uses words appropriately, explaining how political philosophers have used phrases and ideas in the past, and helps us all get a handle on what is going on in our heated civic debates.  Highly recommended.

tochangetheworldbook.jpgTo Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World  James Davison Hunter (Oxford University Press) $27.95  Forgive my colloquialism but this is one brainy dude and this is one sophisticated book.  Seriously, if you haven't considered reading this, you haven't been paying attention to BookNotes.  We've cited it often, noted that we may not agree with it all, and assured readers that it may be one of the more important scholarly books on the sociology of social change written in our lifetime.  Hunter, a thought-provoking scholar at UVA, who ends up being the guy who coined the phrase "culture wars"  has garnered, not surprisingly, rave reviews from super-heavy sociological philosophers like Charles Taylor and esteemed writers like Robert Bellah who says it is "extraordinarily important."  Nicolas Wolterstorff says it is "a feat of great intellectual imagination."  Tim Keller says he learned much from it.  For what it is worth he is very critical of the Christian right and the Christian Left.  And just about everybody else, too, but that's another story. 

from Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.jpgFrom Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservativsm  D.G. Hart (Eerdmans) $25.00  I'm usually pretty frustrated when even well-schooled journalists don't seem to know much about what evangelicalism is, or what creedal faith is about.  As it ends up, that ain't half of it: as half the blogs yapping about Francis Schaeffer and Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry have implied, they don't know what conservatism is, either.  I'm not sure I do, either, after starting this very provocative and serious book which---to make a complicated story very short---says that the dynamism inherent in revivalistic evangelicalism, that wants to make the world a better place, doesn't really lead, ultimately, to conserving much.  Hart, a Paleo-at-least, finds this troubling.  Authentic conservatism, he shows, is not enhanced by the likes of mega-churches rallying around the likes of Sarah Palin.  I'm rubbing my head from this category-changing, mind-bending study suggesting that those evangelicals that are conservative are insufficently so in ways that really matter.  Mike Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center says to get this "for your pastor and also give one to your favorite political activist.  By doing so you will raise the level of theological, and political, conversation in the church." 

calvin and culture.jpgCalvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview  edited by David Hall and Marvin Padgett (P&R) $19.99  For the 500th anniversary of John Calvin this anthology was created showing how Calvin has influenced various aspects of modern life.  Grounded in historical reformation-era studies, this explores how a Reformed vision has shaped the rise of the arts, business, economics, history, journalism, law, literature, medicine music, philosophy, politics and science.  As reporters and pundits mock Schaeffer for his "wide as life" faith and his strict adherence to a conservative Calvinism, we all ought to know a bit about the truth of the matter.  Calvinist or not (heck, whether you are a Christian or not) this kind of amazingly rich historical record is very, very helpful to know.  Further, Paul Marshall---recall that I started this list with his edited volume on blind-spots in journalism---is the author of the piece on politics.  He is certainly one of the leading Calvinistic political philosophers in the world, and this short chapter is worth the price of the book.  Buy it, photocopy that chapter, and send it to anybody griping about Schaeffer or the goofball New Yorker thesis that Schaeffer followers want to take over the world by force, and only want Christians to be in elected office.  That simply has nothing to do with Reformed views of statecraft and nothing to do with Reformed understanding of jurisprudence.  There are other books on this exact topic, but this one on various aspects of Calvinistic influence on the rise of culture---from music to science to economics---is the one I think might be most useful here. Calvin and Culture by Hall & Padgett is informative and illuminating.  You will learn something, I guarantee it.

raised right.jpgRaised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics  Alisa Harris (Waterbook) $14.99 I will be writing more about this when it releases in a few weeks (it is still unavailable, shipping early September 2011.)  I'm almost done with my advanced copy and I'm mostly astonished at this young woman's story, her being raised in a very active Christian right-wing family---she picketed abortion clinics as a child, holding signs that she surely couldn't have known what they meant---and becoming active (oooh, how she was active!) in Republican politics as a teenager. This narrates how she has come to a different understanding of her faith and no small amount of serious anguish, anguish that I would guess many of us have felt.  Ms Harris is a fantastic writer, making this one of those great memoirs that is easy to read, fun and well-told, and yet very memorable--what a story!  Has she just shifted, as many of her twenty-something young evangelical peers have, from a right wing faith to a left wing one?  Is her organizing demonstrations at the Bank of America and her advocacy for the poor, just the flip side of her still politicized faith?  As she untangles and rethinks things, she lets us look over her shoulder, watch as her rather exciting New York life unfolds, and we get to be a part of the religious coming of age of a very sharp young woman, who is a reporter and very fine writer.  I suggest that the story isn't over and I predict she will write more.  I hope so.  This is, in many ways, what this whole crazy New Yorker bigotry about Bachmann and the "exotic" nature of the Christian right is all about.  It guess it is rather exotic, as is anyone who takes faith seriously these days, and lives out her principles in public ways.  Harris' conservative family has done this, and it has left its marks,  in ways that are good and maybe not so good.  One story, one family, one very thoughtful twenty-something.  I could hardly put this book down and trust you find pleasure, empathy and insight, regardless of your thoughts about faith, politics, or social justice.

READ SCHAEFFER & PEARCEY FOR YOURSELF. 
MAKE UP YOUR OWN MIND
.
BUT DO SO WITH OTHERS.

And, of course, since this nasty brouhaha started with the viral trope about the horrible views of Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcey, and then all the push-back from it,  you might start by reading them for yourself.

How Should We.jpgHere you can find a list of Schaffer's books and if they are in print, we probably have them. I mentioned a few favorites earlier in the column (like the short Art & the Bible and True Spiritualty) but I think I'd start with How Should We Then Live? (Crossway; $19.99.) Unless you prefer philosophy, at which point  you should get his famous The God Who Is There (IVP; $15.00.)  The anniversary edition has a good forward by Jim Sire, too.) 

Here again is the fine article about Nancy Pearcey and we stock all three of her books too (as well as the ones she co-wrote with Charles Colson.)  I'd start with the thick but important Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from It's Cultural Captivity (Crossway; $19.99.) I reviewed her fascinating survey of the arts and popular culture, Saving Leonardo: The Secular Assault on Mind, Morals and Meaning (B+H; $26.99.) here. Enjoy!



THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR
Nancy Pearcey writes about, and Francis and Edith Schaeffer lived live examples of, intentional, friendly, hospitable, community.  Book clubs, reading groups, and fellowship gatherings are the natural venues for exploring big ideas, deconstructing the unhelpful ideas of our culture and discerning what is true, and what difference it makes.  Our bookstore would love to enhance your community by providing resources and we are grateful for your support.  But it is most important that you are together, in your locale, being part of the lives of others who care about you and will help you to think clearly, wrestling honestly with these heavy ideas about faith in public life.  We may get a little sea-sick by it all, disoriented.  That's why we need not only good books but good friends.  We learned that, too, from Francis Schaeffer.

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A new long essay is up at the monthly review column.

A new long piece is up over at the monthly column at the Hearts & Minds website, archived under "August 2011."  I usually do a longer review there, a big list or a rambling reflection naming lots of authors and books in passing.  This month I shared my involvement in a bunch of facebook and website debates, and finally list a whole batch of books about civic life, books I really like.  They are all offered at a good 20% discount, too.  

Here is how it starts, slowly---I hope you read the whole thing:


I actually wanted to write about two other topics these past few days--we just got the new Richard Foster book on meditation called Sanctuary of the Soul: The Journey Into Meditative Prayer (IVP; $16.00 hardcover) and there have been some other good spiritual formation titles lately.  And, although I've mentioned Mark Noll's amazing Jesus Christian and the Life of the Mind (Eerdmans; $25.00 hardcover) in a Comment review, I wanted to highlight it here at BookNotes.  I'm pretty eager to run through a batch of new books and will do that soon.  Now, though, I'm feeling a bit off-center, confused, needing to write about something else.

confusion.gif
                                                                                                     Confusion by Jeanne Curin.
I feel like I should offer a few resources that will help us navigate through the rough waters of our political and cultural conflicts, waters that got me a bit sea-sick this week.  The culture wars are hitting hard these days and while I mostly want to be a conscientious objector in these battles, my fingertips were kept busy this week posting on various websites, blogs and threads of facebook conversations.  It has made my heart heavy for various reasons.  As I wrote to one friend, it is disheartening to try to entry a discussion as a voice of moderation and reason and end up making matters worse and getting all irritated.   

Here's the backstory and a few books that I think are important, wise, balanced and helpful to understand this exact sort of conflict about religion in the media, the ways evangelicals are construed, and the questions about how to be civil and fair even as we advocate for a pluralism that values a variety of voices, left, right and center, religious, secular or neither.

* * *

Well, I have a lot of links there to a number of great articles about how The New Yorker, in anewyorker-logo.jpg story about Republican candidate Michelle Bachmann, wrongfully linked Francis Schaeffer, a hero of mine whose books and ministry influenced me immensely, and Nancy Pearcey, a friend of mine whose books I admire, to a fringe and weird group called the Theonomists; the author of the piece called the "Dominionists" which is another phrase some use, although not what the Theonomists call themselves.)  Yes, that's the odd ball movement founded by R. Rousas J. Rushdoony, wanting to "reconstruct" American life--well, maybe not now, but someday, maybe--around the principles of the Old Testament civil codes.  Nobody takes them seriously, but a dozen major media outlets passed on this stupid trope that Schaeffer and Pearcey were part of that.  It went viral and hundreds of mostly left-wing bloggers were all exclaiming about these horrid folks advocating violent take-over of the government. NPR then interviews Mr. Lizza, the author of the piece and he dug himself deeper, suggesting that it is unacceptable for people of religious convictions to allow their faith to shape their public lives.  Keep it in the church, folks. (You can read it yourself; I've got the link at the column.)   Misquotes and distortions abounded about Schaeffer and Pearcey, again.  I swam into it a bit, offering comments there and there. It wasn't pretty.  Joe Carter at First Things called 'em out and it is tart and right. You've got to read his two piece, so I give ya the links. 

As I say in the column, I'm not interested in Michelle Bachmann much, but, as I also explain in the column, I am interested in Francis Schaeffer and in honest journalism and how evangelical faith is seen in the public square.  I took all this pretty personally this week, and the on-line discussions didn't go all that well.  It has been wearying, and I thought of books I wanted to mention, from books about the religious tone-deafness of much of the media--- a brilliant book, actually, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion edited by Roberta Green-Ahmanson, Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert (published by Oxford University Press) to one of the most important books of the year, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Robert Putnam (Simon & Schuster), the famous sociologist who wrote Bowling Alone; from David Koyzis's brilliant and essential-for-understanding political ideals, Political Visions and Illusions ** (IVP) to Bill Kauffman's spectacularly interesting road-trip throughout America, telling of movements that want to secede from the Union, or at least break up their states a bit (like in New York.)  That heckuva great read is called, cleverly, Bye Bye Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green Press) and will do two things for you, at least (besides inform you about a whole bunch of history you most likely didn't know.)  It will introduce you to some of your odder neighbors, which is always a good thing.  And will help you realize that folks who seem a little off the beaten path are not necessarily scary and ought not be demonized, like the Lizza NPR piece on the "exotic" influences of the likes of Francis Schaeffer.  You want exotic?  Kauffman knows exotic.  And he is pretty sane.  He's about caring for your community, staying put, being local, sort of a wise-cracking Wendell Berry.

**I just saw a blog that wrote as if it was some nuclear disaster and some stunning revelation, that Ms Bachmann, because of Schaeffer and Pearcey,  doesn't "believe in the Enlightenment."  Well, how about that?  And those guys aren't even close to being post-modernists.  That faith in science, brutality of the French Revolution, smashing the church stuff didn't work out so well after all.  If the writer knew even a little of the roots of Western culture, like the ideas that Koyzis so insightfully explains, they wouldn't embarrass themselves with such pointless alarm.

I end up mentioning a bunch of books I swear you won't find on one single page anywhere else on the whole world-wide-web.  Or in any bookstore in America, I'd bet.

Public Faith Volf.jpgSure, I explain plenty about Schaeffer and Pearcey but I also highlight titles that will help us navigate these culture wars waters in the months to come, and I'm not just trying to be clever, pushing Kauffman and the weird new thesis of D. G. Hart on why evangelical conservatives are really not conservatives.  This is urgent, important stuff.   We really need books like the new Miroslov Volf , A Public Faith published by Brazos, and books like A Purple State of Mind by Craig Detweiler (Harvest House.)  I suppose it will come as no surprise that I again recommend Os Guinness' rumination on the first amendment in his splendid and nicely written Call to Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It (HarperOne) a book that I think is really helpful as we talk about faith, the separation of church and state and all that.  For the journalists who don't know what their talking about I list a very helpful survey edited by Hall of how Calvinism influenced Western culture; that's a great book, too.  And I celebrate a really interesting new memoir about a child raised in the rigors of an activist religious right family.  It's called Raised Right by Alisa Harris and will be released in a few weeks.  It is amazing and very enjoyable.

Please do visit the monthly column.  Sorry it is a bit long.  Thanks for allowing me to share my discouragement, tell the tale of the internet debates this week, and offer our suggestions for ways to be more aware and more fair.  I hope you enjoy reading it. Send an order or two our way if you can.
 
 Just click here to read. After the essay and the book list, there is the easy to use order form link.

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

August 25, 2011

Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker J. Palmer

I hope you read my long piece last week about the error-filled bombast at The New Yorker et al that linked Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcey to the discredited, fringe, off-shoot of conservative Reformed theology, called Theonomy.  (The writer of said piece, a Mr. Lizza, following others, termed this Dominionism and then in other outlets seemed to implicate any Christian who wants to honor God by serving the public good with Biblically-derived ideas.  Lizza has been lionized by the left and roundly rebuked by the religious.) I offered good links to a few who responded to this woefully ignorant reportage and some of my own ruminations on Schaeffer (Francis and son Frank) and Ms Pearcey, whose books we carry.  We then offered a rather diverse array of books that promote further thinking and talking about all this, resources to have ready as we talk with our neighbors, write letters to the editor, start book clubs and otherwise take steps to put forward a decent, coherent and just understanding of the relationship of faith and culture, religion and the public square, church and state.

I noted that my list is diverse and valuable and a few of the titles are truly brilliant. Is there somebody you might want to forward that list to? I'm confident there are some real winners there.  Maybe somebody should send some to their own local journalists. At the very least, this fine piece on anti-religious prejudices in the newsroom, thoughtful explored by journalist Rod Dreher. It is well worth reading.

THE PROBLEM HAS NOT GONE AWAY

We were a bit ahead of the curve on this most recent chapter of this frustrating story, but it has gone viral--from various quarters---and it hasn't gone away.  National news outlets and hundreds of prominent blogs, and now an insulting and sophomoric (if cleverly-written) editorial by the--oh my--Executive Editor The New York Times continue to repeat this shoddy coverage of conservative religion. (The prominent Mr. Keller says he is going to ask and then report the answers to "tough questions" about the religion of the candidates and yet he in his inaugural volley repeats like it is some big deal the publicly discredited Schaeffer-Dominionist trope.)  Well, we've spoken about that enough for now, which leads me to this remarkable, brand new book.  I'm grateful that a number of BookNotes fans posted my column--it is good to think it maybe helped a bit.

SADDENED

As I indicated in that August "monthly review column" I have been deeply saddened by this angry mocking of conservative religion and the angry push-back by conservatives and nobody, that I know of, admitting they made any errors in judgement.  The ridiculous statements from the secular left are matched by hostility on the religious right.  And many in the middle are muddled---maybe me, too.  So much of it is heartbreaking, and I have used that word knowingly.

healing the heart of democracy.jpgImagine my surprise, then, when I picked up the brand new book by Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (Jossey Bass; $24.95) to find this opening line:

"I began this book in a season of heartbreak---personal and political heartbreak---that soon descended into a dark night of the soul."

I read twice the wonderfully rich and tender prelude, "The Politics of the Brokenhearted" and it reminded me of an earlier piece he had written in another collection, years ago (which I will mention below) also about heartbreak and citizenship.  Although Palmer started writing this book more than 8 years ago, it felt to me like it was written yesterday.  I've had an advanced copy of this for a while, and intended to wait for the right time to pick it up; in fact, I forgot I had it.  In what I assume was an act of gracious providence, I spotted it just a few days ago while looking for something else in my piles, and took it up almost immediately.  It was just what I needed.  And you?  He says it was his hardest book to write.  I think it will speak to many.

I will return to this theme of sadness, but first just a bit of background. You may or may not know about Parker Palmer's remarkable career, his friendship with the likes of contemporary contemplatives such as Howard Thurman, Gerald May, even Thomas Merton, or his writing about the inner life, especially as it relates to daily living, public life, work, calling, careers.  The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring (Jossey-Bass; $16.95) is a masterpiece, I'd say, and not too long ago a paperback version of A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (Jossey-Bass; $19.95) came out in an edition that includes a DVD.  The small, handsome hardback Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Jossey-Bass; $18.95) is a classic.

The title of his very first book is also a phrase--"in the company of strangers"---which re-appears in this new one, and it is in some ways a revisiting of this early theme, ruminating on the interface of our deepest inner lives and our civic involvement, how we live in public amongst those that may be different than we.  Indeed, this new book is explicitly calling for a "politics of the heart" and invites us to bring our deepest yearnings, emotions, insights, and values to the hard world of data and facts and reason.  This is grounded in some very impressive scholarship about which he has written nicely in the past.

For instance, his famous little book on epistemology and education, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey (Harper: $13.99), reminds us that in the Bible (and other great spiritual traditions) authentic knowledge involves head and heart and hands and is always a relational matter; we "know" in ways that are more than just rational.  Yada, the Hebrew word for knowing, is also the word for sexual intercourse and implies so much more than merely an Enlightenment view of mastering facts in our head---relationship, responsibility, and affection.) That wholistic view of knowing deeply--with the heart, as it were---gave rise to a particular view of education and teaching, and he then wrote about that. Palmer became justly famous for The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, now in a 10th Anniversary edition (Jossey-Bass; $27.95.) Soon, a book followed it, a collection of serious narratives of people who nurtured learning communities of caring, inspired by the methodology and vision of Courage to Teach simply called Stories of the Courage to Teach, compiled by Sam Intrator (Jossy-Bass; $18.95.)  That anthology showed that all sorts of educators--in colleges, in elementary schools, in seminaries, in prison groups, in senior centers, in doctoral programs, in adult ed study book clubs---could, in fact, teach with the heart.  

CITIZENS OF HEART

Can we, as citizens, like those teachers, embrace this "hidden wholeness" in our public lives?  Can we use our intuitions and feelings and values (and the heaviness of our hearts) as well as are brains to consider political proposals and work with neighbors for the betterment of our polis?  Can we bring our whole hearts to the public square? 

I deeply resonate with this and while it is a different approach and vocabulary than the historic Calvinism of Schaeffer and Pearcey of which I have written before, it seems to be a healthy next step in that conversation.  With Dutch Statesman Abraham Kuyper (and Schaeffer and Pearcey) some of us want to honor Jesus Christ in every sphere of life and while we resent cheesy accusations of crusading "dominionism" we cannot privatize our faith, marginalize our convictions, give up on our desire to serve the common good by proposing what we think the Good Book has to say about our life together under the sun.  Serious evangelical intellectuals have given us paradigms and methodologies of discerning how best to do this.  We've been offered good books that have critiques of ideologies and insights about hermeneutics, ways to imagine the political implications of general Biblical truths, without overstating things and without hubris.

[See, just for instance, the splendid and immensely helpful Church, State and Publicchurch-state-public-justice-five-views-p-c-kemeny-paperback-cover-art.jpg Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny ( IVP; $19.00) which shows the general commonality of the discourse despite the very large differences of opinion. Ron Sider's exceptionally thoughtful and thorough The Scandal of  Evangelical Politics (Baker; $20.00) is another very helpful example that walks one through a set of questions in order to develop some balanced Biblical vision, from which might emerge a political philosophy, from which we might humbly propose some tentative policy points. Or visit the interesting website of the Center For Public Justice, an non-partisan, mostly Reformed think-tank and center for Christian citizenship.]
 
Having done this sort of intellectual work, grappling with a theological worldview and a Biblical perspective on statecraft---yes, it is what Christians do---how then do we embody that, lean into and work for it, walking into the pluralistic culture, alongside our fellow citizens in this flurry of frustration we call democracy?  After the Biblical study and policy discussion, at the end of the day, don't most people of faith--you and I---just want to serve the common good, make our towns and states and nation a bit better? To be good citizens as the Bible teaches? Love our neighbors, also in our politics?  Here, Palmer's Healing the Heart of Democracy is wise, kindly, and urgently needed because he is showing us how to reweave the tattered fabric of our communal life and how to "walk on" as part of a commonweal.  He is good at this stuff, how to take next steps amidst tensions.  He is gifted and experienced and truly wants to bring a variety of voices to the conversation.

HOLDING TOGETHER TENSIONS - LIVING IN CONFLICTED TIMES

One of the big points in this book is the need to hold together various tensions, to hear each other out without demonizing one another.  (He tells of people coming to workshops to find common ground on abortion, even,  and although it isn't easy, such small steps are happening. Some deeply divided communities are working towards some common concerns. His reports from the field of "getting along" and "listening well" are very instructive and should make us glad.)  And, be clear---he shows us not so much how to resolve conflict, but how to learn to live with our deepest differences.  Our religious, cultural and political differences are not going to go away, after all.
 
ph_events-palmer.jpgYou may think that since Palmer is a kind-hearted Quaker, he tends towards sentimental ideals---"Can't we all just get along?"---and you would be wrong.  Yes, Palmer talks about the centering role of silence and solitude and has a fluency in the mystical traditions, but he is also seriously aware of the ways in which on-the-ground cultural and political differences are real, and can either be voiced in healthy ways or in destructive ways. He was an early student of the civil rights movement and was as anguished as most activists at the upheaval of the last 60s.  He knows much of this in his bones and, I suspect, carries it deeply within him.  Gee whiz, he even tells the story of how Martin Marty apologized for a bad review written in the Christian Century of Thomas Merton's 1964 Seeds of Destruction when Marty thought that Merton was being needlessly flamboyant in his prediction of the racial wars to come. Who knows this kind of stuff except those who had their ear to the ground and their heart on their sleeve in those hard years?)

To suspect Palmer of romantic, genteel idealism is understandable---let's face it, this is not The Art of War or a pragmatic guidebook in the spirit of Karl Rove (or Saul Alinksy, for that matter.)  But Palmer is politically savvy and street smart and considerably chastened by the stuff he has seen while pondering, acting and mentoring public figures over most of his lifetime.  A few of the great stories in Healing the Heart... are about political activists, legislators, people in positions of influence, as they struggle to follow their hearts, living out their deepest beliefs in their offices.

As an organizer and advocate for social change Palmer is not unrealistic when he reminds us that good conversation, art and poetry and empowering education can help us. (He is, more than anything, a teacher, after all.)  The right art and practicing attentiveness to it helps us become people who are deeper, who can host differences, live into tensions and conflict, and be decent with others, showing hope and grace and goodness. This "liberal arts" view is not silliness, not at all.  And to bring such art and poetry into our own interior selves, well this is transformative.  This focus on the heart, and being in touch with our sadnesses, is not poppycock.  Palmer argues here that it is essential work not just for personal wholeness and health, but for serious citizenship. 
 
HABITS OF THE HEART -- AT THE LOCAL LEVEL

No it is not poppycock or sentimentalism. After all, it was the famous French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville (who Palmer cites often) who coined the phrase "habits of heart" and insisted that Americans need some way to keep these character traits of virtue alive if democracy is to survive.  Palmer's wide-ranging study shows how our habits of heart might be more intentionally nurtured in order to fund a robust, fair-minded, and truly effective local civic life.
The notion of a "local" "civic" life--civil society, mediating structures, third places and such--is not new but Palmer explores it here as nicely as in anything I've read in recent years.  He extols third places, invites us to think about the "pre-political" and promotes the development of trust-building dialogue groups. (My friend Steve Garber of the Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation, Culture, who hosts discussions about living passionately as Christians in various career areas in what he calls Vocare groups, creates space for what he terms "conversations of consequence.")  Palmer says such meaningful conversations happen best in "circles of trust" and then surprised me with a funny footnote about the Robert DeNiro character in Meet the Parents.)  Interestingly, he even has a section about how trust-building citizenship enhancing communities can form even on line. The dude is over 70 and affirms ways our social medias can help create healthy civic discourse! 

DEEPENING THE AMERICAN DREAM

I noted that Palmer started his career thinking about public life.  Indeed, I have a series of papers he wrote about how higher education might speak to the cultural crisis of the early 70s, published by the National Council of Churches, and an early book of his was about civic life.  He then became known in education, wrote a book on calling (inspired by his sense that the best teachers worked from their heart because they viewed their jobs as a holy vocation.)  He has written several books about spirituality, contemplation in a world of action.  Last year he won the prestigious William Rainey Harper Award (that has previously been awarded to Margaret Mead, Paulo Freire and Elie Wiesel.)  Earlier this year he co-authored a book on how college life might be enhanced through "collegial conversations."  

As writer and "public intellectual" Palmer has never been far from politics, though, and has recently been behind the scenes networking people to ask big questions about our own dreams for a new politics, finding common ground, talking genuinely about our differences. He has helped organize a couple of conferences on this topic through his work as Senior Partner of the Center for Courage and Renewal.

We had the wonderful opportunity to sell books for him at a very lovely gathering a few years ago (at the prestigious National Press Club in Washington DC) that included a number of excellent speakers, addressing these exact themes. (One of the highlights of that event wasdeepening-american-dream-reflections-on-inner-life-spirit-mark-nepo-hardcover-cover-art.jpg meeting Vincent Harding!)  That conference actually celebrated a book edited by Palmer's friend, Mark Nepo entitled Deepening the American Dream: Reflections on the Inner Life and Spirit of Democracy (Jossey-Bass; $24.95.)  Some of the distinguished authors in that good volume include Gerald May, Jacob Needleman, Elaine Pagels, Robert Inchausti and Robert Bellah. What Palmer introduced in his important essay in that collection, the one about a politics of the broken heart, comes to full flower here.  That anthology was important but this new book will truly help us reconnect who we are with what we do, and how we do it--- yes, even in these heartbreaking times of culture wars, loud accusations, and divergent worldviews clashing in the public square.

I like how Mr. Palmer describes democracy as having an "ecosystem" and he describes it in suggestive ways that made me think. One chapter is called "The Loom of Democracy" and in another chapter he has a sub-heading "The Promise of Neighborhoods" with both images indicating his concrete vision, his down-to-earth hope that we will be busy, doing the work of citizenship, day by day. This truly gets beyond the most obvious partisan distinctions---he celebrates the "little platoons" of Edmund Burke and invites us to resist the "decline in public life" by banding together with friends to be more involved in local happenings.  His citations of Bill Moyers, and Robert Putnam, poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, or social critics like E.F. Schumacher, may appeal to those who slide towards the political left but his extensive use of Abraham Lincoln may make allow this book to become a considered recommendation for conservatives, as well.

LINCOLN'S MELANCHOLY

It is commonly agreed that in the Second Inaugural address Lincoln invited us to some of the most generous and profound ideals, delivered in some of the grandest eloquence,  in our nation's history so this isn't anything to roll one's eyes about--it is wonderful primary source stuff he is citing, substantive and momentous. (He cites some other, lesser known Lincoln speeches as well to wonderful effect.)  Palmer plumbs this material well and it is more than inspiring, it is a clarion call to renounce our current culture wars and incivility and with great intentionality, to forge a better way.



lincolns-melancholy-how-depression-challenged-president-fueled-his-joshua-wolf-shenk-paperback-cover-art.jpgIt is not just a matter of passing interest (although it is very interesting) that Palmer draws significantly on the award winning study of Lincoln's depression,  Joshua Shenk's Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness (Marainer; $14.95.)  Mr. Palmer takes heart that this sad, great man was able to so ably lead our broken nation.  This is a key to the book: it is our broken-heartedness that we must bring to the table. We must do inner work to be in touch with our disappointments and pains, and such self-awareness can drive us to honor the disappointments in others.  As we tend to the heart of the matter, often the broken heart of the matter, we will be more humane, more kindly, more insightful, and more resolved to do the good work of building civic community, long before we enter the contentious field of partisan elections or policy disputes. As in his other books he draws a fairly direct line from "inner liberation to outward transformation." 

As I write about this here it sounds nearly like shallow psycho-babble, new-agey pablum, but Mr. Palmer is too astute to allow for cheap solutions. If you are inclined to psychological language, I suppose you will love this book.  Few have brought the psychology and interior lives of our selves and our neighbors into the public arena quite so well.  However, please do not let any presumption that this is silly or mystical dissuade you from getting this book. Business writer Peter Block calls it "fiercely realistic."  Again, he is drawing on Abraham Lincoln. He quotes Reinhold Niebuhr's The Irony of American History published by University of Chicago Press, for heaven's sake.
 
The subtitle of this work is important.  Palmer invites us to summon "the courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit."  He believes this happens, mostly, as I've suggested, at the local, "pre-political" level, and it does, in fact, demand courage.  It is not a small matter to be in touch with our own fears and foibles and to be gracious about them as they appear in our fellows.  Good citizenship, though, demands that we listen to our hearts, and listen to the hearts of our neighbors.  Not only does this take exacting inner disciplines, but it demands a sense of place.  We must listen to our neighbors, our neighborhoods, our land.  We need a multi-faceted, perhaps less dramatic, view of our civic involvement.  Being a good citizen includes so much more than merely showing up to vote every so many years or sending off an electronic petition. We must be invested in the real, human infrastructure, care about the membership of the commonwealth.  Does it surprise you that Mr. Palmer quotes the farmer poet from Kentucky? 

Palmer tells many great stories throughout the book.  It is not mysterious or recondite but when it even verges on sliding into an overly abstract view, he reminds us of our common ground as humans by telling a good story.  And the stories are often fabulously inspiring.  A few are fairly mundane, and they are as good as the ones, say, from the civil rights movement, that are more dramatic.  (Ahh, the story he tells of why an African American Sunday school class at Koinonia Farms used Roberts Rules of Order is so illuminating!)

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Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer is a book about good folk who care to be in touch with what they most surely know, from paying attention to their wounds, their fears, their places, their community (or lack of community.)  And who care to know how to talk about that with others, who, carrying their own hurts and needs and fears, may have very different values and proposals, with both sides fearful and angry with each other. This is not easy work and it doesn't lead to simple answers. We need to tell our stories, but that is only the beginning; we live in a harsh world of power and money and injustice and duplicity and he knows it.  Such "heart work"  is, nonetheless, the only hope for sustainable steps forward for our civil union.  To help us get there he offers a brief "theology of hospitality."

Parker P.jpgHealing... is a book for our times, needed always, I suppose, but certainly now. (Yes, certainly, this very week!)   It is a book local groups should read,  study, talk about.  It has at times a tone of spirituality and of course talks about the heart, the core of our being, our deepest sense of our identity and such but it is not sectarian and could be shared with nearly anyone.  His anecdotes and stories tend often to arise from progressive movements for social change (like the Highlander School who taught Rosa Parks and countless others in civil rights organizing) and he tells examples of community organizers, those working with the disenfranchised, or farmers resisting the lures of agribusiness.  These are worthy of great consideration and I hope that no one is turned off by his tendency to hold up such remarkable examples.
 

Yet, clearly, again, this is not about how to work for the Democratic party or some lefty progressive faith movement and he is as even-handed as he can be.  This is about democracy.  It is about America.  It is about the real tensions of our current civic lives and the need for new approaches---literally newly found places (he even mentions malls)---to make democracy work at a local level.  It is about reclaiming safe public space for democratic conversations of consequence.

It is practical, but it is not a handbook; there is no blueprint. It is a reflection, a call, a rumination. And at times it is truly wondrous. the 

For instance, he writes,

America's founders realized that generation after generation of citizens would need to stay in the action lest the political movement they planted whither and die.  So they built opportunities for continual renewal into democracy's infrastructure...  As the journalist Jon Meachum observed in his review of Joseph Ellis's American Creation

How to live in a tragic milieu and yet strive toward triumph....was a consuming concern for the founders, who, led by James Madison, made a virtue of creating competing centers of power within the constitutional structure... To transform disagreement from a natural source of strife into a source of stability was a crucial insight, and is arguably the great achievement of the Constitution. What frustrates the passionate about America---its creaky checks and balances, diffuse sovereignties and general aversion to sudden change---is, Ellis argues, what makes possible the triumphs we do manage to pull off.

BROKEN-OPEN HEART AND SLOW POLITICS

Can we pull it off, some slow, small triumph of democracy working?  Again, Palmer says that he wrote this book in a time of sadness and that our own wounds might be that while will help us get beyond hurt and fear.  I think of the famous text in Jeremiah that says our own shalom might come when we give ourselves to our political enemies; in their blessedness (which we are told to seek) we find our own blessedness.  That comes close to what this book is about: our own hurts might be healed even as we are honest about them, thereby opening the possibility of attending to the foibles of another.

Palmer puts it better than I can, and reminds us that talk of such "politics of the broken-hearted" has been heard before.  He writes,

The broken-open heart is a source of power as well as compassion---the power to bring down whatever diminishes us and raise up whatever serves us well.  We can access and deploy that power by doing what every great social movement has done: put time, skill, and energy into the education and mobilization of the power of the heart.  As history consistently demonstrates, heart talk can yield actions just as practical as those driven by conventional forms of power.



I know this sounds a bit mushy.  For some of our readers, it sounds a lot mushy!  I think it is fascinating how he explains the differences between a heart that is broken with some proper attention and good grief and thereby broken open (ahh, I think of that line in Bruce Cockburn's Last Night of the World) and a heart that is shattered, which does not allow for greater awareness or compassion or understanding. 

Palmer maintains that "the heart has always been a driver of politics, a source of inner power that gets harnessed for ends that range from good to evil.  That power is amplified and released through the experience of heartbreak. But the kind of power generated depends on how the heart breaks---and the elasticity that allows it to break open instead of apart comes only through the exercise of democratic habits of the heart."

Again, he is drawing on Tocqueville insisting that this attention to our formation of habits of citizenship create the "inward and invisible infrastructure of democracy."  In a few specific chapters he shows where and how that can happen in places such as schools colleges, and universities, classrooms and congregations.  (He even happily commends author appearances and book studies are neighborhood bookstores!)  As I've noted, he affirms spaces with small face-to-face circles, but he also has come to explore certain forms of virtual communities as well.  These human scale settings can "resist the deformation of the mass media" and allow us to "find the sense of voice and agency that citizenship requires."



The voice and agency that citizenship requires.  Can we find this, in humility and common grace?  Even in these polarized times, where most of us have some frustrations with others, some of us with huge resentments, many of increasingly falling into the habits of caricaturing our opponents, never giving others the benefit of the doubt, presuming the worst of those with whom we disagree, we must learn to ask ourselves why we are this way.  Can we summon what Lincoln on March 4th 1861 called "our better angels"?

 AsAbe Lincoln.jpeg Palmer reminds us,

At the moment Lincoln spoke, with the nation on the brink of such massive violence, his hopeful words about "angels" must have seemed like a futile gesture, and a pitiful one at that, a thimbleful of oil tossed onto a raging sea in the vain hope of calming it.  Still, it was exactly the kind of moment---a moment of hopelessness that presaged many more of the same---when only hope deeply rooted in a broken-open heart can see us through.
Parker Palmer then quotes Lincoln himself, in the glorious passage from which the famous phrase comes:


We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Through passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

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