About September 2011

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

August 2011 is the previous archive.

October 2011 is the next archive.

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

September 2011 Archives

September 2, 2011

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani

Talk about uneasiness and disorientation. Last week I experienced the first earthquake I ever felt and within a matter of days was battering down our hatches for what was to be the first hurricane we ever encountered.  I was on the phone calling a few friends in NYC, inviting them to stay here, even as I realized that was probably more symbolic than useful.  Why would somebody want to flee a dangerous hurricane zone to another, only lesser impacted region?  Somehow it just felt good to be connected to others who were waiting it out, anxious, curious, glued to the TV, praying for others on the Eastern seaboard.  

But what to pray?  That God would avert the winds from those we know toward those we don'tDivine Providence.jpg know? From us, to them?  Dare we praise God when our place seemed spared, giving God credit for that, only to find terrible damage done elsewhere?  This stuff is a mystery and we dare not be glib.  If you want to study this question--does God cause all things?  Direct all things? Does God limit His own control?--- the best resource came out just recently and shows several perspectives.  It is called Four Views on Divine Providence (in the excellent Counterpoints series) edited by Stanley Gundry (Zondervan; $19.99.) It includes four views, and each author replies to the others, too. What a huge question, what a vexing matter, and what a fine collection of able scholars to argue their respective views.  A lovely last concluding essays looks at the bigger picture, the areas where the authors agree and a bit about the strengths each view carries. 

For a serious book that is more specifically about natural disasters and a creational theology, see Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters by Lutheran Old Testament scholar Terence E. Fretheim, (Baker Academic; $19.99.)  I appreciate it because it not only is about the theodicy question, but starts with the givens of creation, and the goodness of creation. It may surprise you, challenge you, maybe comfort you.  It is worth reading.

Here are a few blurbs about it.

creation untamed.pngThere is no issue in contemporary faith more vexing than how we are to understand God's will and action in the event of natural disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes, wildfires and floods. Fortunately for readers, there is no more reliable guide for thinking biblically about these issues than Terence Fretheim. In this thoughtful and compact volume, Fretheim helps us not only to see clearly our own created vulnerability but also to encounter biblical testimony to a God who becomes vulnerable with us.   --Bruce C. Birch, Wesley Theological Seminary

Who better than Fretheim to take up the hard contemporary question concerning the destructive forces on exhibit in creation! The author has spent his life thinking about these issues and reading these old texts forward toward our time and place. He begins with the conviction of the goodness of God's creation, and from there he launches into the dangers of reality and takes us with him.    --Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

Terence Fretheim explores the biblical materials to grapple with the devastation of natural disasters. He encourages readers to reconsider their traditional understanding of the relationship between God and suffering. I enthusiastically recommend Creation Untamed to all who want to be honest with the Bible and with life.   --Tremper Longman III, Westmont College

Well, as I sent little notes to friends in the bad weather danger zones---not to mention to a friend whose father died in a plane crash, and another who had a re-occurrence of cancer---I invited them to know God's presence.  To rest in confidence of the deepest truths we know about the world.  To be attentive to the living and reigning Christ.  I believe in intercession and regular hope for miracles.  Yet, with Irene churning up the coast, all I could muster was to recall that God was with us, nothing more.

with.jpgI suppose that "with" may have been my operative word in part because it is important to my own heart.  Knowing God's presence and experiencing God's daily graces seems most important so we might live wisely and glorify God in all things. Immanuel, God-with-us may be enough.  But it is also because I had just finished a splendid book, a book called With by Skye Jethani (Nelson; $15.99.)  It was an easy read, enjoyable and uplifting.  And it taught me a lot, reminded me of much, and gave a new handle to discuss spirituality and discipleship.  I think many H&M friends will want to get it.  It is very nicely done and, importantly, it really is that helpful.    Let me explain.

Skye Jethani is a good writer, has been involved in journalism and in public speaking in prestigious venues such as Christianity Today, Catalyst and Q.  He is currently the managing editor of Leadership Journal.  His earlier book was much discussed, critically reviewed, and we pushed it happily a year or so ago, although it wasn't easy to describe.  It was called The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Zondervan; $18.99) and it analyzed how late modern consumerism---an ideology of reducing things to commodity, things to be bought, claimed, owned, controlled, used up---influenced the way many of us view religion, God, church life ("church shopping") and spirituality.  Jethani is nearly brilliant in that meandering book, and many people found it both enjoyable and insightful.  There are even 8divine c.jpg pages of full color plates of Van Gogh paintings that he uses to make his valuable, wise, provocative points.  (Remember what Nouwen did for the story of the Prodigal Son by using Rembrandt?  Jethani isn't that contemplative and his Van Gogh ruminations are not utterly central to the book, but it is that sort of thing.  Very effective.)  Walter Brueggemann said of it, "This is as good a book on the pervasive power of consumerism as I have read."  Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church, predicted that "this book will challenge your assumptions in a way that will result in deeper-held convictions."  By using the Bible, church history and his own very contemporary narration (and a lot of well placed and sometimes surprising, wonderful, citations of great books and authors) it invited us to be liberated by surrender; by engaging in spiritual practices with holy imagination we can resist the world's consumerist/marketing pull which has been distorting faith and church life for at the last few decades, at least. We can be free to know God truly when we stop making God into a commodity.  This is a book that deserves to be known better than it is--it is beautifully written, very creative, expansive and very thoughtful.

I suspect that his new publisher worked hard to get this new book, With, a little less sweeping in its reach and a touch more focused, making it an easier book to describe and a bit easier to read.  This is not to say it is less interesting or more shallow.  With carries a subtitle "Reimagining the Way You Relate to God" and one doesn't get more profound or urgent than that.   In some ways it is a follow up to Divine Commodity, although it isn't marketed that way.

The new book has two parts and the first part is fabulous---fairly obvious stuff, or at least it becomes so in his writerly hands.  He discusses four traditional ways Christian people have approached their relationship with God.  As you may guess, these four each have some grain of truth, perhaps, but are very fundamentally askew.  Jethani shows why these common styles, styles that are common place and often presumed, need to be rejected and avoided.  Does he step on toes?  You betcha.  Is he nice about it?  Oh my, yes.  This is not a jeremiad or angry book and in no way mocks these sub-Biblical spiritualities.  He is firm.  We need him to be.  But he is pleasant and kind.  As Jim Belcher writes, "Jethani convincingly diagnoses the reigning paradigms of life, with secular or religious, and shows how each one has captured some element of truth but in the end is deficient."

What are the four failing ways?   You will have to read the four chapters to get the full critique of each but he names them like this: Life Under God; Life Over God; Life From God; Life for God.  Each one sounds good (well, the prosperity gospel of life "over" God seems pretty obviously inappropriate, but he cites well known authors who fall into this posture, and not just the obvious culprits.)  Is it wrong to be "under God"?  Don't we agree that we should live our lives "from God"?  And certainly I most often talk about serving God, as if we are living "for" God?  You got a problem with that?

Yep, he does.  And it made a lot of sense.  It was, actually, the chapter that most moved me, even if the critique of "doing" for God has been said before.  He tells about mentoring some evangelical college students who live in near despair and how he listens to their pain and it opens up the immense topic of experiencing God's grace.  That chapter is worth the price of the whole book, especially if you care about young adults.

The chapter describing life "from" God is a further exploration of the themes of consumerism and how capitalism has influenced even how we perceive things of the Spirit.  It isn't just a reiteration of The Divine Commodity, though, but carries that argument further, with great force and clarity.

And a problem with all of these less than appropriate paradigms is that they tend to inoculate us from the real gospel.  All our God-talk and spiritual energies and our trying and religiosity just backfires, doesn't work, and creates an ethos in a church or within a person that offers an impression that God is known and life is going well, but it isn't sustainable.  It is empty.  It isn't true. 

Well, the alternative to these four distorted models is life "with" God.  And he has four chapters on that, exploring how our "with God" view can help us embody faith, hope, and love.  It is surprising to me that there is precious little about faith, hope and love in contemporary Christian literature (oh, how I love Dan Allander's book about recovering from hurts of the past, The Healing Path (Waterbrook; $14.99) which, although designed for those who have experienced trauma, abuse or grief, is helpful for any of us who want to recover a deeper sense of faith, hope, love.)  These last sections themselves are, therefore, a very valuable contribution to practices we need, ways of thinking about virtues and character and spirituality that are rooted in these basic Biblical values. 

Skye Jethani gets it right, and helps us along.  His writing is clear, concise, conversational and I believe offersskye.jpg very serious teaching. I hate to say this is a "worldview" book as some don't find that to be a compelling selling point.  But surely how we think about God, and how God works in the world, and what sort of relationship we have with God is a core aspect of the most basic thing we can know about "life after Eden" (as he describes the human condition in the first chapter.)

With is a fun book, too.  He illustrates a point nicely using The Birdman of Alcatraz, one of the few movies I remember my father taking me to, and he quotes Jerome Berryman's Christian ed classic, Godly Play.  He quotes letters of J.R. R. Tolkien and commends Robert Letham's magisterial work on the Trinity.   Any book that uses Surprised By Hope gets my attention, and he throws in an elegant line or two from The Call by Os Guinness.  The last line is from a famous poem of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I love a richly written book with great use of good quotes that isn't difficult but which teaches new content, and reminds us of old truths.  Jethani is a good communicator, and that is important. Missional guru Alan Hirsch is spot on when he says "Skye Jethani writes with a stylish verve, real intelligence, and spiritual depth."

Here are a few other quotes endorsing the book.  They are all from writers I respect and I'm happy to share this to let you know that this may be worth your time.  I hope you read through them as they capture the strengths of this title.  Why not recommend it for your small group, book club, or adult Sunday school class?  This is a good appendix about discussion With with others, which makes it that much more useful.

with.jpgMade of the stuff of spiritual classics and presented in simple, contemporary terms, Skye Jethani does each of us a great service in calling us to reimagine the way we relate to God.  We so readily fall prey to living out distortions and reductions to our Christian faith--with disastrous consequences.  You and I are far more than sinners, consumers, managers, and servants.  We are dearly loved by God and made for eternal communion with him.  Everything looks different when we live life in response to God's love.  Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., Professor of Christian Theology & Theology of Culture, Multnomah Biblical Seminary and author of The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town

Cleverly using four prepositions-under, over, from, and for, Skye Jethani convincingly diagnoses the reigning paradigms of life--whether secular or religious-and shows how each one has captured some element of truth but in the end is deficient; Ultimately, they miss the most important thing-real communion with the living God. Thus utilizing one final preposition, With, he lays out what it really means to know and experience communion with God-a life of faith, hope and love--the very things that we all desperately want and need. This is a helpful, encouraging, and inspiring book.  Jim Belcher, author of Deep Church

It doesn't matter, as old theologians were rumored to argue, how many angels can dance on a pinhead. But it does matter which preposition governs your faith - over, after, against, for, from, under, with. Who knew what huge worlds turn on such tiny words? Who knew what theological riches were laced into the bones of grammar? Skye has done a great service to the church. In prose elegant and clear, with insights keen and deep, he shows how everything changes with just one word: With. It's a book I want my whole church to read.  Mark Buchanan, author of Spiritual Rhythm

Who knew that a preposition had so much influence? Skye's book will challenge the way that you think about God and faith digging deep into our motivations and heart issues. You can't read this book and not see yourself and others differently!  Margaret Feinberg, author of Scouting the Divine and Hungry for God

This book will do for our generation what J.B. Phillips, in his classic Your God is Too Small, did for his. With reveals views of God that can't satisfy and opens up the possibility for exploring a life with God that more than satisfies.  Scot McKnight, author of One.Life and The Blue Parakeet, professor of theology and biblical studies at North Park University

Since I dove into With, I can't stop thinking about it. Skye Jethani's insights will change how you think about God...and you...and how the two of you relate.  Dr. Kara E. Powell, Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute 

There's a good reason why Skye is a senior editor at Leadership Journal...he writes with a stylish verve, real intelligence, and spiritual depth. Suggesting that the basic posture that you adopt towards God determines the quality, meaning, and direction of your life, With is designed to head readers in the right direction  Alan Hirsch, author of Untamed, TheForgottenWays.org

Here is a link to the Q website where Skye gave a great (short) talk "Inoculating a Generation" which we also recommend. It is upbeat and hip, but very profound.  Check that out, watch his keynote talk, and then order the book from us asap.  It will help you reimagine your relationship with God. 

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September 6, 2011

10 books to help you commemorate the sorrows of 9/11

I know that you are reading articles on line, in magazines, and perhaps watching TV specials about the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks and I feel almost awkward adding to the torrent of words and images.  Yet, we need them somehow, don't we?  In the review from the other day I recommended Skye Jethani's new book With (thanks to friends who ordered it--we are grateful and hope you like it as much as I did.)  Yet, somehow, although we practice the presence of God, realizing that the Risen Christ is truly with us, we are, some of us, need to know that there are others with us, too.  Being in touch and sharing our stories reminds us that we are not alone. There is little doubt that many of us want to talk about where we were ten years ago, how we heard, who we fretted about and how we grieved.   So, doing our part, we offer some books for your consideration.  We stock some classics---national best sellers, say, like, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (Vintage; $15.95) which won the Pulitzer Prize.  We would like to offer some less well known resource, book that we think you will enjoy knowing about.  I think they would be useful this month as we reflect and commemorate this important milestone in our collective experiences.

liturgy of grief.jpgA Liturgy of Grief: A Pastoral Commentary on Lamentations  Leslie C. Allen (BakerAcademic) $21.99  Even as he was becoming a senior Old Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Allen served (and continues to serve) as a hospital chaplain for over 10 years.  This is the first clue that this Biblical scholar is well acquainted with grief.  A scholar who does his exegesis through tears is to be trusted, I'd say. Nicholas Wolterstorff writes of this splendid new book that it "is at one and the same time an important contribution to our understanding of and dealing with grief and an important contribution to our understanding of one of the supreme pieces of literature in the Old Testament."  Other scholars of the Hebrew Bible concur (M. Daniel Carroll R. of Denver and Tremper Longman, for instance.)  Are you heavy of heart?  Do you do caregiving for the hurting? Do you preach or teach those who need to hear an affirmation of their need for rituals of grief?  I don't know what those churches who call their contemporary worship services "celebrations" will do this week, but this book could help.

haitiaftershock.jpgAfter Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken  Kent Annan (likewise/IVP) $15.00  I mentioned in my previous post a few books that might serve us well as we talk together about the floods and natural disasters that have hit so many.  There was one book I considered mentioning but wanted to hold off listing it until I could commend it here. It is a very special book.  While After Shock was written in the aftermath of the horrific earthquake in Haiti a year and a half ago, it could also serve as a serious reminder of what it is like to have faith shaken after any sort of rending crisis.  Whether your anguish is over a neighborhood shooting or a family cancer that has rocked your world; whether you are led to doubt God's goodness after a natural disaster like a tornado or flood or whether this week's 9-11 recollections uncover deep anguish in your soul,  this book will speak honestly to you.  You see, Kent was himself a passionate missionary serving the poorest of the poor in Haiti (and he had written an excellent book about Christ's call to serve others, one we often recommended, Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously; likewise/IVP; $15.00.)  He worked hard on that one, editing carefully, as authors will, and worked to make it interesting and compelling.)  After the earthquake, Kent told me, this second book just poured out of him. There was little time to ponder, no time for re-writes.  The wonderful, edgy imprint, likewise, wanted a raw and honest appraisal of how to cope when, as the subtitle suggests, the ground below your feet is rocked.  If you are coping with any sort of trauma or you just wonder how in the world to make sense of a world gone awry, this book is a wonderful conversation partner and Kent will be a good companion in your pilgrimage on the way towards new hope.

911-what-a-difference-a-day-makes-ten-years-later.jpg9/11: What a Difference a Day Makes: Ten Years Later James W. Moore (Abingdon) $7.50  I wanted to list this one because it is so very clear, simple, concise and inspirational.  James Moore is a best-selling author of oodles of upbeat, clever books, a great storyteller and a fine United Methodist Bible teacher.  This just a bit larger than pocket-sized paperback is useful for anyone who is stressed who needs to be reminded how God is with us (even in the turbulence--you have to read that chapter inspired by a great illustration.) He has a good, common-sense chapter on why religion can be a force for good and not evil, and how we can recall the stories of 9-11 to find comfort and hope. The last chapter is a pleasant reminder--or is it a plea?---that a shared experience like this can bind us together as we have shared sorrow and shared resolved.  United we stand, in shared love.  Nice.  

writing in the dust.jpgWriting in the Dust: After September 11 Rowan Williams (Eerdmans; 2002) $12.00  It is well known that a publisher can rush a book to press in nearly miraculous speed.  When it is important, sometimes, this happens, and in the fall of 2001, there was a real need for a reliable and mature voice from within the mainstream Christian tradition addressing the horrible attack and the state of the world.  There had been awful things said about the attack, and even those with well-grounded faith traditions felt confusion, grief, and anger (at the killers, of course, at Al Qaeda and militant Islam, at the politics of those years--each of us for our own reasons---and even at how some in the faith community hijacked the tragedy of the event seemingly for their own ignoble purposes.)  I needn't tell you that times were pretty awful and many looked to churches to offer words of insight and hope.

One of the early responses came from a deep and thoughtful pastoral letter, a handsome small book rushed to press by Eerdmans, an historic publisher in Grand Rapids, written from across the ocean.  The author was the widely respected British Archbishop of Canterbury, a learned man and profound thinker, The Revered Rowan Williams.  His ruminations came with a dust jacket with a subdued photo of an iconic bit of rubble, with a nearby tree, perhaps struggling for life.  It had a simple quote on the front, naming it as a "fully sensitive theological contemplation" by Lutheran novelist, John Updike.  On the back cover, Nicholas Woltersdorff, an extraordinary scholar and author of books on social justice and shalom, as well as one about personal loss and grief, says that Williams wrote about this particular grief "with hushed tones, as before a mystery."

Writing in the Dust soon became an international best-seller, beloved by Episcopalians and Anglicans (it was endorsed by the Rector of the Parish of Trinity Church on Wall Street) but by others as well.  Stanley Hauerwas noted that it was written with a "hard gentleness honed by the language of prayer."  The metaphor of dust, so poignant in the book, continues to haunt.  It was an important, if occasionally uncomfortable, reflection, in the early days after the attack.  I believe it is equally valuable today.

Refractions.jpgRefractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture Makoto Fujimura (NavPress) $24.99  Over the last twenty or so years Mako has worked hard at his abstract painting craft, has written and spoken widely about a Christian view of aesthetics, and has helped organize an extraordinary organization (IAM) which networks and supports artists and cultural creatives of all sorts.  His 2009 break-out book was a collection of ruminations, pieces from his luminous blog, which he calls "refractions."  It is a book that (if you follow BookNotes) you know we routinely recommend.  It is splendid!  Mr. Fujimura works and worships in lower Manhattan and his children were in school within a few blocks of the WTC the morning of the attack, creating a panic for this gentle Christian family as the fateful day unfolded.  His well-told reportage of that day is well worth reading.  In fact, several chapters of this beautifully illustrated work tell of the way in which he and others organized artists in the neighborhood of Ground Zero to create visual and multi-media art installations that would offer (sacred?) space and give visual voice to grief.   His clear insights about how the arts can be used to restore peace to a broken city are exceptionally profound and while this book isn't exactly a 9-11 title, there are some chapters here that emerged from Mako's work near Ground Zero in the years following the attack.

decade of hope.jpgA Decade of Hope: Stories of Grief and Endurance From 9/11 Families and Friends  Dennis Smith (Viking) $26.95  Everyone knows about the heroic bravery and self-sacrifice of so many first responders and fire fighters but few have followed their stories with the care and passion as Dennis Smith, whose Report From Ground Zero was the definitive account of those horrible first hours, certainly the most appreciated, well written, heart-stopping narrative of the rescue efforts. Written a few years after the attack it was a beautiful way to juxtapose those who died trying to save lives and the brutality of mass murder.  Smith was a fire-fighter in New York and has been on the board of Tribute, the interim memorial at the World Trade Center.  These new stories, based on years of diligent interviewing bring us important insight about how these families of rescue workers and victims have fared in the last decade, allowing their stories to put us in their shoes and finally give us a portrait of hope.

14Cows1.jpgCows for America Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree) $17.95 This may be one of the most stunning picture books in years---both the breath-taking art done by a Cuban illustrator and the sheer power of the story that is both sentimental and incredibly weighty. After the horrible bombings of 9-11, word got back to some Maasai tribesman in rural Kenya about this tragedy in the United States. (One of their young men had been studying in the states and was at United Nations students meeting and saw the towers fall.) They could hardly imagine (literally) what it meant to lose skyscrapers and that many lives, from a fireball that hot, but they understood that it was a large, large loss.  Through a child's idea, they wanted to help   In their culture a cow is a sign of life, literally and mythically, and an elder tribesman was dispatched to find the American ambassador. The tribe wanted to give the United States people a cow. (This is unprecedented---they would seldom give such a prized possession to strangers.)  A few more were donated by other poor Maasai warriors---again, these are their most prized possessions, and were offered as profound act of friendship to a grieving people.  Can you imagine the ambassador wondering what to do with this beautiful gift of 14 bovine?  When the story became known, Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah (the younger man in the tribe who was studying in the U.S. who first told the tribe the story of what he saw) was featured on Oprah, who helped fund his obtaining a science degree from Stanford, and was awarded a Rotary Club Peace Fellowship; he is soon to take up a degree in international peace studies. This art and text in this book is breath-takingly wonderful, capturing well the mood of this genous tale, and we highly, highly recommend it.  It is an episode and a book that truly deserves to be widely, widely known.

Here is a splendid little video that shows most of the art from the 14 Cows book.  You will enjoy it, I'm sure, and hopefully will think of somebody you can share this with.  Here is a 5 minute clip of the author, the delightful Carman Deedy, describing the story, the book, and what it meant to her to be involved in this poignant drama.  There is a lot of very dramatic backstory here, so don't miss it.  Then buy the book---please!

light at ground zero.jpgLight at Ground Zero: St. Paul's Chapel After 9/11  Krystyna Sanderson (Square Halo Press) $15.99  At the very heart of the hell that was Ground Zero on the day of September 11, 2001, and the hard months following, stands St. Paul's Episcopal Church, just yards away from the destroyed Building 5 of the World Trade Center. Hurrying from her home in Greenwich Village, photographer Krystyna Sanderson headed to lower Manhattan amidst the smoke and dust to help with rescue efforts.  In the first paragraph of the introduction to this collection of photographs--a piece which still causes me to choke up, even though I've read it numerous times--she tells of how amazed she was that her church was not destroyed.  "Except for a layer of ash and soot, the building survived unscathed.  Many proclaimed that 'St. Paul's had been spared.' It seemed clear to me that if this was true, it was not because we were holier than anyone who died across the street; it was because we now had a big job to do."

Any rescue effort at huge global disasters will always be full of drama and passion, pain and tears and the very best and worst of human endeavor.  St. Paul's became a center of all this, a weigh-station for the rescue teams, a hang-out for the first responders, a place of rest and recovery from those involved in one of the most intense human ministries in recent memory.  Day by day the brave rescue workers and helpers and chaplains dug through the rubble and day by day Ms Sanderson documented on film with her expert eye and artistry the ministry of the chapel.  This paperback book is hardly a coffee table book: it is too precious for that, and its relatively small size makes it perfect for prayerful consideration.  

These shots are tragic, of course, but yet triumphant.  To see the church altar covered with the heavy rubber coats of the workers, to see the styrofoam coffee cups by the knave, to see the pews turned into first aid stations, to see the hand-made emergency signage taped over the stained glass, is to glimpse a vision of the church made messy in ministry to the world.  Anyone who cares about the nature of the church's work will glimpse a parable here; more than a parable, a reality.  The radical hospitality offered as relief workers partnered with folks of good will from around the world is shown visibly in these lavish full-color photographs.  The photos could easily stand alone, and on many pages they do, but there is a brief and tasteful illumination by setting alongside them text from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.  Thank goodness this work, too, came to press in the year immediately following 9-11.  Thank goodness it remains not only as a close-up remembrance of this ministry among the horror, but an on-going reminder, a photo essay, of the goodness of human kindness and the resilience of those dedicated to life-giving service.

peace be with with you.jpgPeace Be With You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World David Carlson (Nelson) $15.99  Of the several books I've pondered this month around this theme this one stands out.  It is based on a fabulous idea, rooted in a fabulous question: do monks and nuns have anything to say to us about how to think about the horror of 9-11 and how to respond in these times?  This  new book was envisioned, it seems, nearly a decade ago when the author, a Baptist college professor who had converted to Orthodoxy, longed for greater clarity about his own unsettled spirit after the attacks of 9-11.  The handsome cover art of this paperback tells us of his journey: there is a stark picture of Ground Zero rubble on the top half of the cover design, while the lower half of the cover is a stunning photo of the walkway of a historic old abbey.  Indeed, the question of Professor Carlson is about the relationship of the two: what insight might monks and nuns, sequestered at their monasteries, have on how we remember--and respond to, even now--the terrors of that day?

The idea of the book is simple and, despite the weighty topic, a bit light-hearted: the author goes on a road trip (sometimes accompanied by his non-believing adult son) to a handful of far-away and secluded monasteries, obtaining interviews with the often reluctant monks.  How did they remember the news? How did they feel about it?  Did their schooling in the ways of prayer equip them to respond more peacefully, with more Godly focus or wisdom?  What insights, since then, have they developed, based on their spiritual disciplines and global brother or sisterhoods, that might be offered to a world such as ours?

 The book is truly interesting, as books that include memoir and travelogue can be; it is even a bit clever at times.  The author is self-aware and realizes a good adventure when he sees one. 

Some of these intentional communities are deep in the canyons of New Mexico or across miles of harsh terrain and he writes about them well.  For instance, after a grueling trip along some treacherously icy canyon-lands--well, these roads are treacherous even without the ice, it seems--- he celebrates worship with Russian monks at their skete standing for two hours in the snow (their pipes have frozen so they can't use the indoor chapel.)  The book is not just travel writing, but it is enjoyable, including the portions where he is visiting more urban monastic communities. He talks about his journey, his relationship with his adult son, the anxiety he has about ever completing this rather off-beat project (some monks, as you can imagine, would rather do almost anything than talk!) And, yet, he finds some real characters,too.  (Do you know the story of Thomas Merton laughing about smelly feet?  Persons committed to a monastic lifestyle are still themselves, he finds, and, yes, he does go to the famous Merton location in Kentucky. How could he not?)

So the idea is easy: find some people who were praying the day of the attack, and find out if their prayer habits made a difference about how they felt about the attack during and afterwards.  

But it is not really so a simple quest as it ends up. Carlson admits to his own inner demons, hebenedictine-Lawrence-OP-CC2-a.jpg struggles with bouts of depression and carries great remorse about the mean-spiritedness of much of our political discourse (especially regarding our relationship with Islam.)  Surely, he thinks, these men and women whose vocation is to pray and who know silence, who worship often and serve humbly, have nurtured habits of heart that will allow them to speak well into our needy times.  He is both grateful for such good insights and happy to report much of the Christ-like character these prayerful saints exhibit. Hearing their take on international affairs, and the soul of our nation, is powerful.  But, as we all should surely know, monks and nuns are not in a holy bubble; they have internet and watch the news, and often live lively lives engaged in local neighborhoods. (I enjoyed one chapter where Carlson was spending time in a monastery whose urban mission included a bread baking business and cafe.  Working with the general public isn't the most "devotional" space for cultivating deep mystery, often, yet these men used their daily frustrations to guide them to greater Christ-likeness.  Men and women called to these religious vows are human, and struggle with the same quandaries of discipleship we all do when it comes to questions of forgiveness, mercy, peace and justice, caring about our daily issues and wanting to be aware of global concerns.

Peace Be With You takes us into this mix of sinners and saints on a holy road trip, leaving us with very big questions and some very significant answers.  I think this would make a perfect book club book---even if your group isn't used to reading overtly religious books.  This story is so interesting, the writing so clear, and the question so significant that it deserves to be read and pondered.  What do you think, does having a deep and consistent prayerfulness, nurtured in practices of solitude and silence, make you a better citizen, a more Christ-like peacemaker, a person with something to say about 9-11?  Read this book for yourself; it's a winner!

who is my e.jpgWho Is My Enemy? Questions American Christians Must Face About Islam---and Themselves  Lee C. Camp  (Brazos) $17.99  I will be doing a larger more substantive review, Lord willing, of this remarkable brand new book but I simply had to list it now.  It may be one of the most interesting and informative and important books of the whole year (and I mean that!)  Camp is known for at least two things.  First he developed a bit of a following when he released a very powerful and exceptionally well-reviewed overview of serious Christian discipleship called Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World (2nd edition) (Brazos; $21.99)  It is a more serious and mature study for those who like Bonheffer's Cost of Discipleship, say, or the punchy writings of Hauerwas or Yoder, Walter Wink or William Stringfellow.  Endorsements include rave blurbs from missional dudes Frost and Hersch. If you've read, say, Crazy Love or Radical, you need to advance to this.

Secondly, Camp got deluged with vulgar hate mail when a Nashville newspaper misquoted him (inadvertently, he graciously believes) as saying that Christians must "let go" of some of their theological claims in order to get along with Muslims.  Of course this is ridiculous, no evangelical leader involved in serious interfaith dialogue would say such a thing (you can read his clarification, here.) But few gave him the benefit of the doubt and he was severely rebuked by people from all over the world within a day's time.  Many called for him to be fired from the college at which he taught.  A few were legitimately concerned about a Christian leader suggesting doctrinal compromise but many more were incredulous about any desire to work for conflict resolution with Muslims.  So, Camp was quickly exposed to deep and troubling hostility by people claiming to be Christians. He's aware of the firmness of many anti-Muslim Christian activists, how some are very quick to hint at violence, and how anger and fear are often just below the surface of any conversations about how we are to perceive Islamic neighbors.  I've experienced some of that unreasonable hostility myself and cant imagine how he felt getting such scary emails and phone calls, people writing inaccurately about him.  

Well, in this wide-ranging work, Camp tells some of his story of what he had to do in response to that firestorm. He felt that he had to study more and come to know Muslims personally.  He draws on some significant insights of Miroslov Volf,  reads widely, and takes off.  He attends programs at the local mosque, travels to several important sites---from the Blue Mosque in Istanbul to the Oklahoma City National Memorial to Hebron in Palestine to the Old City of Jerusalem and to a local Arab barbershop. He gets to know some ordinary Muslims and some devout Muslim scholars. 

As you may guess, Camp is mostly interested in the question of violence and war.  Are they out to get us?  How do Muslim leaders understand the limits to war? Is there a restraining sort of just war theory in Islamic thinking as there is in the West? What about Bin Laden?  And---and this is where it speaks truthfully, painfully, and will, sadly, be controversial (get ready for more hate mail, Lee)--how do those who have grossly violated the just war theory in our own history have any moral high ground to critique jihadi violence? What might it mean to take a log out of our own eye even as we rebuke and resist others?  Camp is clear to state that this isn't a typical argument about "moral equivalency" and he offers much nuance in his teaching, whether it is about Puritan violence against Native Americans or the evil done during the Crusades.  He does serious Bible study and explores that thorny ground of hermeneutics (that is, how do Muslims interpret their Scriptures and how do Christians interpret theirs, especially on the legitimizing of violence?)  Camp invites us all to explore the way that Christ calls us to be peacemakers and wonders how to do that in light of the realities of the Islamic story and the facts of the Christian story.

I will have much more to say about this new angle on "Christian-Muslim" dialogue but wanted you to know we have it in stock now, I've read it all, and am very, very confident that regardless of your level of awareness about Islamic teachings or history or where you stand on the ethics of war, in this month after the anniversary of 9-11 we will simply have to have something better to say than the modernist liberal assumption that religion is mostly part of the problem or the right wing ugliness that burns Qu'rans and wants a holy crusade against an axis of evil.  Camp gives us a better way to think about the clash of civilizations and Who is My Enemy? will be of interest to anyone who cares about the state of the world in this era of terrorism.  Glen Stassen has said it is "truly the best book I know for all Christians who want to be faithful to Jesus while figuring out how to relate to Islam."  Scott McKnight calls the author "courageous."  Highly recommended.
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September 14, 2011

5 new books to help you grower deeper, journey inward, move outward and move forward

I hope you appreciated my top ten suggestions for reading around 9-11, published in the last BookNotes post.  I know everyone is different in these things, based on a lot of factors, but I was glued to the television, drawn to the sadness of the commemorations that day.  I perhaps had not grieved well enough, although I've pondered the attacks (and visited Ground Zero and Shanksville) and prayed about all this over the last decade.  But it was an intense and finally good day for me; shedding tears in solidarity with others is sometimes good for the soul.  I do hope you reflect on those books I mentioned; it isn't the standard list, I guess and I really to recommend all of them. (At facebook I posted a few short clips of interviews with Lee Camp about the book I described about Islam and war.  Very thoughtful; as is often the case, hearing an author describe why he wrote the book and a bit about it is really helpful.)

And, now, these.  A handful of good books that seem right, good ones to mention as we move forward.  What do we do now, if we were inspired somehow to see renewal, if we are drawn to "first things" and, aware of life's fleeting nature, we want to cry out to God, recommit ourselves to spiritual disciplines, if we want to recommit ourselves to being the sorts of people God calls us to be?

Well, this isn't a master list of spiritual classics (but such a list is coming soon!)  These are a few new ones that fell into my lap at the right time.  We're happy to sell these kinds of resources and hope you take advantage of our BookNotes discount.  Click on the order form link below and we'll ship 'em right out.  Thanks.

love-another-person-spiritual-journey-through-les-miserables-john-e-morrison-paperback-cover-art.jpgTo Love Another Person: A Spiritual Journey Through Les Miserables John Morrison (Zossima Press) $14.99  When pondering some of the deepest things of life these last days---death, justice, forgiveness, compassion, injustice, politics, revolution, faith---I thought of the splendid novel and moving musical Les Mis.  There are oodles of books (thank goodness) on C.S. Lewis and Christian studies of Tolkien, faith-based ruminations on all sorts of novels, but this is the only recent, distinctively Christian approach to the themes of Hugo of which I am aware. It is written by a retired Episcopal priest with advanced degrees in literature.  What a great idea!  Thomas Howard writes that in picking this up we are "sitting at the feet of an excellent teacher, theologian, and literary and drama critic."  Canon Denis Brunelle has degrees in the study of liturgy and medieval theater and he writes, "Hugo's commentary on the social life and ills of 19th century France is timeless and becomes, through Morrison's work, a reflection on how we 'miserable ones' of today are called to plunge deeper into the realities of God's presence and love for all."  Yes, a book for our time, and any time.  If you haven't read the great novel, maybe this season is a good one to embark.  Morrison will walk you through it.

invitations from God.jpgInvitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember, and More  Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (IVP/formatio) $15.00 This isn't brand new and I wrote about it in a column about spiritual formation when it came out earlier this year.  I said that I so appreciated this invitation to consider God's invitations to us: yes, God calls and invites and beckons us.  And, as the subtitle suggests, God doesn't just invite us to happy-clappy lives of faith and victory.  We are called to bring to God our cares, our fears, our anger, our needs; God invites us to lament, to doubt, to remember.  If you long for an experience of spirituality that is both fully human and yet drawn into the Divine, this guide book is a treasure--it is a book to experience. 

Solid thinkers like New York pastor Tim Keller and spiritual formation guides like Ruth Haley Barton have endorsed it.  Calhoun is surely right that life necessarily brings invitations and how we respond ends up shape who we are and what we become.  As she puts it, our yeses and noes "form the terrain of the future."  There are good reflection questions for your own pondering, journaling and reflection and they are also ideal for use by a small, trusted group.  Nothing quite like it.  It seems especially needed now.

rumors-of-God-cover.jpgRumors of God: Experience the Kind of Faith You've Only Heard About  Darren Whitehead & Jon Tyson (Nelson) $15.99  For some reason I have a bit of an allergy to marketing plans (and book subtitles) that suggest we haven't even come close to experiencing what the authors have.  I don't like stuff that smacks of formulas or over-promises.  It strikes me as prideful and dumb---unless you are trying to reach some perfectly demographed seeker who has heard of faith but has no clue, why imply the prospective reader has no experience of God but has "only heard" about it?  Having said that (there!) saying why I was put off by the subtitle of this, let me shout that this book is not at all pompous.  It is humble, kind, gentle, insightful, wise, and strikes a perfect tone for seekers, new believers, those who haven't read a ton of Christian living books or for those who have and want to perhaps move towards a balance and thoughtfulness that was a bit lacking in other such books.  This isn't arrogant or overblown and it isn't simplistic.  And there are rumors out there---in the Bible, for starters--that things can be (as Brueggemann likes to say it, "otherwise.")  Phil Yancey wrote a marvelous book Rumors of Another World and of course my favorite rock star, Bruce Cockburn, wrote a song Rumors of Glory.  So the rumor is afoot, and these guys helps explain it.  People do seek, and they do find.  Their powerful stories attest to this and it is wonderful to read them.  This new book is, I believe, one of the best books of its genre: a clear-headed, multi-faceted, mature and accessible overview of vibrant Christian faith, robust and sturdy and enjoyable.

I've seen Rev. Tyson before in some of the great Q Ideas That Matter DVDs that we often recommend and he is very good--a New York City church planter who hails from Down Under.  Very impressive.  Mr. Whitehead is no slouch, either, also an Aussie, who now works at Willow Creek.  Their footnotes and examples are really, really good, and I sometimes wonder how authors like this do it, reading so widely, being such good communicators, coming up with clear and yet exciting ways of saying some very old truths.  Kudos to them and the publisher for pulling it off with class!

There are endorsements by Louie Giglio, Gabe Lyons, Scot McKnight, and Alan Hirsch. (Note that again: a passionate worship leader, an engaged and savvy cultural reformer, a respected New Testament scholar, and an energetic missional activist.)  Each shares how this simple book really could influence your views of discipleship, draw you away from triviality and move you towards what is more than a rumor: a better way, a Kingdom dream, an "unimagined future."  Unless we are utterly jaded, most of us hunger for a spiritual life of intimacy with God, and a walk with Christ that is lively and real.  We want our worship to matter and our lives to count.  We know we must engage the culture around us and that a life with God means a life of civic integrity and social concern. I'm telling you, this book is both a clear-headed and a bit of a visionary guide, well-grounded and forward-thinking.  There is a good discussion guide making it ideal for a book club, study class or Bible study. Highly recommended as these two pastors know how to communicate, are helpful guides and, as young leaders, have earned the right to be listened to.

Sanctuary of the Soul.jpgSanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer  Richard Foster (IVP/formatio) $16.00  I have had a small hand-sized advanced copy of this for a while and I've carried it around, outdoors, to coffee shops and cannot tell you easily how much it has helped.  I don't naturally find silence appealing and I don't often hear the voice of God. I don't take the needed time and when I do it isn't very fruitful.  This book reminded me of much and taught some new things. 

Watch this lovely video to hear Richard talking about this short book, a lifetime in the making.  You will enjoy the many names he cites at one point, I'm sure, as he reminds us that the resources are many.  He is uniquely situated, I think, to teach us about them and to distill their ancient wisdom for our busy lives today.  The guidance Foster offers is clear as a bell and the material is solidly Biblical, so I commend this to one and all.  Foster is eminently reliable and his wide awareness of the best spiritual classics and devotional literature of the ages make him one of the finest and most important writers in spirituality.  He includes a lot of Bible study, yes, but he tells stories from his life, too.  The stories (including a major chapter at the end of each section where he narrates a particular experience) rang true--I met Foster once and had a remarkable and memorable episode that blessed me profoundly, so I can imagine that his stories and illustrations are quietly so.  He is gentle, not breathy, but also very profound and serious.
Richard Foster has written a bit about meditative and listening prayer before (in Celebration of Discipline, for instance) and many of us have long wanted more good guidance about this discipline. (Foster, by the way, notes that Dallas Willard's Hearing God is one of his favorite contemporary books on this subject and we agree!)  Of course he draws on older authors like Madame Guyon and even older authors like Theophan the Recluse.  He warns against inappropriate versions of meditation, new age or Eastern, and affirms a keenly Biblical approach.  (There are those who mistrust Foster but we are proud to carry his books, glad to stand with and for him, and eager to commend this book on meditation to you.  I am not a mystic and certainly no master of the sorts of stuff he invites us to.  But I hunger for it.  Don't you?  I love Ruth Haley Barton's good Invitation to Solitude and Silence and perhaps that is a more foundational place to start.  But if you want simple guidance about silent, listening prayer, about Christian meditation, entwined with Foster's telling of his own on-going journey to the "sanctuary of the soul", this book will be a beloved ally for you.  Certainly in these hard days of political controversy, of national sadness, and of the already hectic new season upon us, we need to be still.  This book will help us, and now is a good time to read it.  Highly recommended.

start_something_that_matters_200.jpgStart Something That Matters Blake Mycoskie (Spiegel & Grau) $22.00  One of the things that was nice about the 9-11 coverage was the cutaways and human interest stories of people doing good work, volunteerism, thousand points of lights and the like. One of those stories, I forget which one, inspired me to tell you about this book by the founder of TOMS shoes.  I suppose you know that books about upstart entrepreneurs are often inspiring, can teach us a lot about getting involved, following our dreams, taking chances, solving problems, making a difference, and they are also, I suppose, nearly a dime a dozen.  As one who enjoys trying to motivate others, equipping folks to be more than they are, who feels called to promote books that educate and inform, I could write about these sorts of books often, but they often seem a bit out of reach.  Sure we can learn much from the founder of IBM or Starbucks, but, really.  Who of us can do that? (The founder of Zappos has a cool book, Delivering Happiness and started a foundation to build a movement.)   Well, when I read how Blake started TOMS shoes with a free intern in his shared apartment, I literally broke out laughing.  I thought we started small.  I thought we were sketchy, trying to get free publicity and keep the bill collectors at bay, pretending to be more professional then we were.  Blake is a go-getter and he is deeply concerned not only about cool fashion but about global justice. (You surely know that TOMS gives a pair of shoes to impoverished children for every single pair he sells!)   He wants us to know how he stepped up to do something so that we, too, might follow our idealistic dreams and make a difference.  Or work with those who are stepping up, supporting and buying from or praying for or volunteering with...yep, we can all make a difference.  As Andy Crouch says at the end of Culture Making, we can all take initiative, maybe with just three friends. 

Blake Mycoskie challenges us, tells his own story, and inspires readers to find a "new model ofbook-4-book.jpg success" (as he puts it) and to make a difference in a hurting world.  Look, I like TOMS, and like this startup vibe and I even like the graphic appeal of this handsome book.  Start Something That Matters is for you, or someone you know.  In the post 9-11 world, one thing is certain: folks are eager to get involved, to do something bigger than they might have before.  The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and many people, including people of faith, are allowing God to lead them to good things, missional endeavors, ministries, classes, programs, ways to love and serve and care and give God the glory as the love is spread.  This is a fun book, but more, it could light the fire under you or somebody you know.  (And, with every book you purchase, naturally, a new book will be provided to a child in need through Blake's latest dream, One for One.)  TOMS, by the say, stands for Tomorrow's Shoes, shortened from his first slogan, dreamed up on a vacation to Argentina: Shoes for a Better Tomorrow.  A better tomorrow, indeed. 

Check out this very cool video of (rural?) street rapper David Bowden who did a piece  of spoken word slam poetry over edgy guitar, inspired by the title of this book.  Start Something That Matters.  Or as some folks said in another context, "Let's Roll."

any book mentioned above 
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September 19, 2011

Local Bookseller laments the closing of Borders, Tells of Local Indie Stores that Remain

This weekend our local Borders closed for good.  A few weeks ago I had this essay published in a shorter form in our local York Sunday News.  It is always nice to get to write for the home town paper and I tried to both lament the loss of the local Borders and celebrate the other locally-owned bookstores that remain in York County.  So that it wasn't a piece just about Hearts & Minds I sincerely gave a shout out to a few other stores in the region.

When a few local media stories included ill-informed comments like "now there are no bookstores in York" I was understandably irritated, but I toned down my righteous indignation.  Ha.  I thought you might like to see my effort to talk about ourselves in public.

The last line or two are important to me, too: weaning a generation of shoppers away from the glitz and glory (and uniformity) of the big box stores and their unreasonably huge, if predictable, inventories will take some doing.  Many smaller indie stores are fantastic but funky.  We can't be everything to everybody.  The indie experience may take some getting used to, not unlike experiencing the difference between a casual, eccentric, health food store and the florescently lit big box pharmacy chains, or the difference between a farmer's market and the giant grocer.  Long live the little guys in their odd little glory as an alternative to the mass markets. Except for the most pragmatic of buyers, shopping with us will certainly be more interesting and, we hope, finally, more enriching.

What a loaded question!  As a local bookstore owner I have been asked many times this past month what I think about the closing of Borders, the national chain, and the local East York store, by folks who may think I am somehow glad; they were one of our chief competitors, after all.  But I am a bookstore owner because I am a bookstore lover, and each member of our family has good memories of browsing Borders' many shelves and we are truly sad to see them go.  I recall sometimes feeling a bit sheepish as I studied their selections or as a friendly clerk would ask how our Dallastown business was faring or when a regular customer of ours would greet us with a hearty "What are you doing here?"  And so we all were there, happy for the bookish conversation, the new covers, the hiss of the espresso machine.  Of course we are sad.

Now they are gone and there are thousands of booksellers throughout the country who are unemployed.  Acres of empty parking lots, hundreds of missing venues for authors to get their books into the marketplace, publishers themselves cutting back due to the loss of bookstore space to sell their new releases.  In these hard times of civic contention and a hunger for serious answers to our cultural malaise, the loss of even one decent bookstore is a shame.  The loss of hundreds is a tragedy.  Books and bookstores are unspeakably valuable assets for a free society and the demise of so many is worse than just the inconvenience and loss of an entertaining venue that so many of us feel.  We are now more impoverished.

And so, along with many others, we offer our lament, pained that a land such as ours cannotbook.jpg support those very businesses that invite thought, the investigation of ideas, learning, and that exquisite pleasure of being lost in a story.  No, we who are called to the vocation of book-selling are not glad for the demise of Borders.  We wish our local colleagues in the book business the very best.  Some were true book lovers, themselves poets and writers and I hope they might somehow find a way to stay in the important world of books.  Certainly, we need more cheerleaders these days for those lovely rectangles of paper and print.

Yet, for those who care to drive just a bit, there are bookstores to be found in our region.  Our own shop has served customers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic for 30 years in our small town setting;  we often apologize for our sketchy signage, cluttered feel, and mish-mashed fixtures, but those whose eyes are wide with the thrill of the discovery of new titles, a unique blend of topics, and vital, good authors, seem to not mind much.  Book lovers are like that---indeed, one recent. popular on-line column opened with the AA like mantra: "Hello.  My Name is Wendy and I am a Bookstore Addict."  I can't tell you how many serious book buyers have told us that we are a threat to their budget (or their relationship with their spouse.)  Interesting bookstores offer a setting and service that, in some ways, is significantly different than the rather cookie-cutter ethos and selection of the major chains.

Just this week a customer from out of town started to cry when she noticed a particular book and our selection of Bruce Cockburn CDs. (And, oh, was I proud tell her that I was working that very day on a manuscript I was doing a blurb for, a Biblical reflection on the work of the Canadian folk-rocker.)  This sort of synchronicity is more common than you might suppose as we have curated our selection with care and a bit of eccentric passion, offering a curious blend of books on current events, cultural criticism, spirituality and memoir.  When a person alive to the truest things of life sees titles that resonate, when she connects the dots between her deepest convictions and her daily life, well, it is often a very exiting moment.  For instance, we currently have a display of seasonal cookbooks, titles about buying local produce and the relationship of religious faith and food, and it is fascinating how people respond.  Books about real life matter!

 * * *
Throughout York County there are several great used bookstores (including one in Dallastown, making our village a two-bookstore town, not to mention the home of Pennsylvania's best hot dog and the area's best burrito!)  There is a large religious chain bookstore in East York with a niche focused exclusively on conservative Protestants.  There is the delightfully funky Readers Café in downtown Hanover.  There is a new age shop in downtown York.  There is even a small Bookland in South York, a hold-out from the local chain that served the region in the 80s and 90s.  For typical beach books and bestsellers, Target and WalMart handle a handful. For what it is worth, our store is the largest and most diverse of any bookshop in the area, but all of these outlets combined offer plenty of opportunity for browsing and purchasing books old and new.
It isn't easy in this era of faceless, on-line ordering, but we believe that locally-owned and passionately bookish independent bookstores can still thrive.  So do shed a tear about the loss of the big-box Borders.   But don't give up on bookstores, especially indie places that each have their owner's mark, selected by lights different than bestseller lists or market fads.   For a real find, be prepared to linger, to browse, to dig.  You will find treasures on the shelves of locally-owned indies and you will find staff who sincerely want to help you in your reading life.  Indie booksellers took up this strange literary life for a reason: we love books and we love people and we are convinced that reading matters.  We hope that York Countians agree.

children's books.jpg
We are as committed to the printed page as anyone around, and read widely.  Our store is stronger on nonfiction than on popular novels and poetry and we long ago realized that we needn't fill our limited shelf space with standards that are widely available elsewhere.  (Still, the very first book we sold, the day we opened in November 1982, was the extraordinarily rich novel by Victor Hugo, a complex story called Les Miserables.  This was years before the Broadway musical made Les Mis a household word, and we saw this as a good sign, taking comfort that such readers would find themselves driving down Route 74 to our homey spot.)  Still, we are mostly a theological bookstore, probably the most ecumenical one on the East Coast.  We define "theology" in fairly expansive terms, choosing to carry books of all sorts, from kid's books to resources on grief, books on film and books on finance, from the work of the new poet Laureate to current events studies about the role of religion in globalization; we have books which creatively evaluate the Twilight books and books that engage the work of farmer-writer Wendell Berry.  We recommend books on prayer and books on peace, confident that there is a connection.

If one is not too imaginative or has an allergy to faith-based books, I suppose our shop might seem weird.  But if you love books, thoughtfully selected, creatively juxtaposed, even, displaying titles of all sorts, including those that may be a bit off the beaten path, serious and fun and beautiful, your visit to an indie bookstore will be worth your journey.   For a generation reared on the glossy shelves and high end snacks at the oh-so-uniform big-box chains, it might even see like a step back in time, not unlike the jarring experience of reading a truly great book.

store front pic.jpg
Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313    

September 21, 2011

Great New Books, from John Piper to Michael Moore. Oh yeah, this is fun.

Sometimes I feel nearly overwhelmed, wanting to tell you about all the new books that have arrived here at the back door of our Dallastown shop.  I have high hopes of being all erudite and clever and persuasive.  These are the books you need!  We have an eye for great authors!  These titles are very important! You won't discover these just anywhere!


Well, it may be true, but maybe I should just tell you about them instead of staring at the blank screen wondering how to be more interesting as I share the glory of great new books.


There are other new titles, of course, but these are the ones I thought you'd most want to know about.  And maybe buy.  From us. 


So let's get on with then, shall we?


good and perfect gift.jpgA Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations and a Little Girl Named Penny Amy Julia Becker (Bethany House) $14.99  We started hearing about the quality writing and insightful narrative of this first-time author earlier in the year when she had a piece in the Wall Street Journal, I believe.  My friend Andy Crouch gave a heads up that she is somebody to watch, an excellent thinker, an honest Christian mother, telling of her raising her handicapped child. Becker has a degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, has written for The Christian Century and Books & Culture, and appears often at the Christianity Today her.meneutics blog.  The back cover says, "sometimes joy shows up when you least expect it" and the cynic might wave her hand and assume this is saccharine.   Not a chance.  This will bowl you over, take your breath away and give you new courage to live.  As Andy writes, she has "the courage and grace to tell the truth."


bloodlines.jpgBloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian  John Piper (Crossway) $22.99  This book deserves a larger review and since it just came, I can't do that yet.  But I have read pieces of it, have followed Piper's admirable gospel-centered passion for racial reconciliation that he has preached about and exhibited for years, and know this is going to be firm, foundational, Biblical. Bloodlines should be one of the most talked about books of the year (we can hope!) as it is an antidote to any sentimental view that thinks that social justice or multi-cultural diversity can get far without the Cross.  This is serious business and I can't wait to work with it. I think it should appeal to many who want to be clear about theology and who are driven to work out the social and cultural implications of the gospel.  Tim Keller wrote the forward.


thinking loving doing.jpgThinking. Loving. Doing. A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind John Piper & David Mathis, editors (Crossway) $15.99  Our staff almost fell over when we saw an endorsement on the back from radically hip, St. Francis type social activist Shane Claiborne, and the buttoned-down, right-wing Wayne Grudem both celebrating the thoughtfulness of this Biblical call to holistic faith.  There are good chapters here by R.C. Sproul and Francis Chan, Albert Mohler and Rick Warren.  These were messages from Piper's conference on this and his final chapter ("Thinking for the Sake of Joy: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God" summarizes his own book called Think and is nearly worth the price of the book.) Check out this very cool video clip that invited people to the conference.  Since you most likely missed the event, you can take it in for a fraction of the price --- all in this handy book.  


By the way, I know that some fundamentalists think that Rick Warren is a heretic (and criticized Piper for having him as his event) and I know my mainline friends think he is a hopeless fundie (and have fits about his non-liturgical Hawaiian shirts in which he preaches.)  I invite one and all to read his chapter in this book and take seriously his call to learn and serve.  Right on!


simply-sacred-daily-readings-gary-thomas-hardcover-cover-art.jpgSimply Sacred: Daily Readings  Gary Thomas (Zondervan) $22.99  We have often touted Thomas as a superb writer, upbeat and full of stories and real life stuff.  Yet, he is deeply rooted in historical theology and ecumenical spirituality.  (How many conservative evangelicals know Orthodox writers, say, or the desert fathers and mothers?) Thomas has written very interesting and inspiring books on spiritual formation, on character virtue, on parenting, on marriage, on pleasure, on sanctification, even a new one on caring for your body.  Using this big book is a way to dip in to his large body of work a page each day.  When you buy it now (say, for a Christmas gift to help someone start off their 2012 with a daily devotional) you'll start reading, and you'll want another to give as that gift, because you'll keep the one you bought yourself.  I betcha.


ir-rev.jpgIr-Rev-Rend: Christianity Without the Pretense.  Faith Without the Façade.  Greg Surratt (FaithWords) $19.99  I know that this is a theme that has been voiced often in the last decade but holy smokes, don't we need to keep hearing it?  Surratt gives us a memoir of a journey towards authentic experience, an adventure of seeking God, sharing his faults (to a fault) and doing it with bold comedy.  Many have said we should lose the pretension and lighten up but few really do so.  It's good to laugh and refreshing to be invited on a journey of faith that's a bit irreverent.  This isn't all that edgy or all that raw but it is a fine step in the right direction.  And how 'bout that cover?  Love it!


kingjesusgospel_.jpgThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited  Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $19.99  Join the club of those who say they will read and consider anything McKnight writes.  Here he studies the big gospel theme of the whole Scripture, from the story of Israel to the way in which Jesus described the gospel.  Then, he hangs out mostly in New Testament studies, explaining well how Paul understood the gospel. His citations are rich, rooted in antiquity and the church fathers even as he gives hat tips to recent shifts in thinking. His books just deep getting better and better, informed by good scholarship and yet for the layperson. If you don't read Biblical scholarship, this is a great place to start.  If you do, you will appreciate this fine "revisiting" of the gospel of the Kingdom.  The lengthy endorsing blurbs on the back are from N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard.  'Nuff said.


reading bible with reformers.jpgReading Scripture with the Reformers  Timothy George (IVP Academic) $16.00  To kick off their new audacious publishing project of the multi-volume Reformation Commentaries on Scripture (that will be styled after the big series of commentaries they published by the church fathers) George here gives a fine overview of how 16th century Reformers (and counter Reformers) understood the Bible.  Ad fontes, indeed.  Who wouldn't benefit from learning about Luther or Calvin (or Erasmus, for that matter) and how they handled the Word of God?  The reformation was, it is often said, a revolution of a book.  This tells you why that was and how their study of the Book happened.  Very highly recommended.  George, by the way, has his PhD from Harvard University and is a renowned Reformation-era historian and author of Theology of the Reformers.  He is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School (at Samford University) and on the advisory council for First Things.  Not too shabby.


Here-Comes-Trouble-9780446532242-205x300.jpgHere Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life  Michael Moore (Grand Central Publishing) $26.99  Well, the title of this may be true for us since some of our readers may be perplexed why we'd suggest this bawdy blue color memoir.  Well, I find Moore to be a very interesting person and often more right than his detractors admit.  Sometimes he's way off base and sometimes crazy-making.  But he is one of the most public faces of the activist left in our country and much more interesting than the learned likes of Chomsky or other dry cultural critics.  This guy means business.  He gets death threats and still laughs it off.  How does an (almost) Motor City Catholic guy turn out like this?  I dipped in and wanted to keep reading.  I will admit that I'm also dipping into the big fat book of Dick Cheney and it is making my blood boil.  (When conservatives such as Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell are dissed, dishonestly, they claim, you know the author is nearing incredulity.)  Will Moore get me riled up as well?  We'll see.  With episodes ranging from his very youthful (and controversial) work as an elected public school board director, behind the scenes at the Academy Awards, to his protest of President Reagan laying a wreath at the grave of Nazis in Bitburg, this is going to be a fascinating read, capturing much of the counter-cultural zeitgeist with plenty of bluster and gusto.

road to missional.jpgThe Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church  Michael Frost (Baker) $14.99  I loved the very first Frost book I read---well, Robert, of course, but I mean the missional one, Michael.  We still stock it, a great little import from Down Under, called Seeing God in the Ordinary. This is my kind of guy, I thought.  Then he went on to make his mark (along with co-author Alan Hirsch) as one of the most important missional writers working today. The Shaping of Things to Come was truly seminal. His later book Jesus the Fool was fantastic and provocative study and Exiles was a radical critique of cultural accommodation---pow!  Yep, it hit us hard.  This brand new one is a basic introduction to what is and isn't meant by missional, how it is not an add-on to church business as usual.  With a light touch, Frost invites us to live, as Hugh Halter puts it, "a vigorous life after the King."  Prophetic and undiluted, yes, but it is accessible and full of great stories which I am sure you will love. Read it for your own edification and share it with leaders at your local church.  Really fine. 

forever tripp.jpgForever: Why You Can't Live Without It  Paul David Tripp (Zondervan) $14.99  Tripp is a serious gospel-centered counselor who has written no-holds-barred books about a Christ-centered view of helping, caring, counseling.  He's done work on marriage, parenting teens and is very passionate about pastoral care done faithfully.  In this, his first major book on a major publisher, he writes about heaven. But, of course, it is on so much more---how to get beyond the "faux joy" of our secularized culture.  He talks about how a "forever" perspective will helpfully effect our view of relationships, our work, our parenting and so forth.  He has a really, really moving section about his daughter's deadly accident and their hard recovery.  (He has written wisely about suffering before, for instance, in What Did You Expect?)  One chapter title is "Why Is Faith So Miserable?" and another is "Hope Can't Live Without Forever."  This is Biblical faith, apologetics and practical Christian living woven together with stories and helpful, realistic illustrations.  The back cover teases us, suggesting, "You may be suffering from Eternity Amnesia."  Don't know if that is in the DSM-II. Randy Alcorn says Forever is "superbly written and breathtakingly on target.  I found myself exclaiming yes over and over."  Isn't that the kind of book you love to read?"


Lit!.jpgLit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books  Tony Reinke (Crossway) $15.99  I've been waiting for this for months now and just shiver at the thought of a reliably Christian study of the topic so dear to my heart and calling: reading.  As one friend of his puts it, Reinke "doesn't just read, he reads well."  Oh if that could be said of more of us!  Isn't that what you want for yourself?  This paperback delightfully covers all manner of reading--why, how, when, where--and most importantly, what.  He gives spectacular quotes and sage advice.  He roots his invitation to read widely in serious historic theology (when the very first footnote is from Kuyper's compatriot, Herman Bavinck, I'm a happy man!)  Brainy literature prof Leland Ryken says "It is hard to imagine a reader of this book who would not catch the spark for reading..." Singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson says it is "the perfect book for someone who does or doesn't like to read. A wise, theological, and edifying case for why words matter."  J.I. Packer promises that this book will help us read books "as both a discipline and delight."   Maybe you think you don't have time to read or maybe you only read "Christian books."  This is for you.  He approaches his subject from a serious, conservative, Reformed, view and yet engages the concerns of up-to-the-minute authors like Nicholas Carr. He quotes Piper and he quotes C.S. Lewis and he quotes Alan Jacobs (how could he not?) And he cites P.D. James and the brilliant novelist and essayist, Marilyn Robinson.  It is truly meaningful journey into the wondrous beauty of the printed page. 


Two small concerns: there are very few women writers mentioned and no writers of color from what I could notice.  I'm fine hearing about Bonar and Bacon and Bloom (oh my) but where's Madeline L'Engle or Susan Howatch or Nikki Giovanni?  And what's with the title?  Don't they know that Mary Karr's stunning memoir has the same title?  Reinke's, though, clearly does not bear Karr's juicy double entendre and, frankly, her's deserves the exclamation point. 


Exclamation point or not, this looks to be a tremendously fabulous book, almost the sort I've been wishing for for decades, interesting for readers and helpful for those who need encouragement in this rewarding Christian discipline. I will surely have to tell you more about it later (including Reinke's  admission about owing library fines---ha!  I can relate.) But you shouldn't wait for that: order this today and get one for a friend.  Reading matters.  This books is a Godsend.

my-dyslexia.jpgMy Dyslexia Philip Schultz  (Norton) $21.95  Norton continues to prove itself as a publishing house of exquisite quality and cultural importance and here they offer the memoir of a boy who, although very (very) smart, could not read

His dyslexia was severe; in some cases he couldn't even decipher spoken words.  The study of language and language disorders is fascinating and this Pulitzer Prize winning poet has told his tale in truly beautiful prose and thought-provoking stories.  There was little known in the middle of the 20th century (and there is still so much more to understand) about these sorts of odd language dysfunctions, so there is great sadness here---you can imagine how he was mistreated and how school often failed him.  But yet it is triumphant, although not easily so.  Schultz describes his alienation and inner life in very moving ways as his pain, finally, shapes him in ways that he is able to become an artist.  A few weeks ago Mr. Schultz had a wonderful, wonderful essay in the The New York Times ("Words Failed, Then Saved Me") to which I had linked on facebook, so badly did I want to share it. Read it here and you will see why we are eager to promote this marvelous book.  It is a thin, high-quality hardback, a bit pricey, to be sure.  But it is a true love story, a story of great love.


all is grace manning.jpgAll Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir  Brennan Manning (Cook) $22.99  Born in 1934, Manning grew up to become a Catholic priest, got married and became Episcopalian, and has been described as a "vagabond evangelist" fiercely daring us to believe a line too good to be true: God loves you as you are, not as you should be.  His books The Ragamuffin Gospel, The Signature of Jesus, Ruthless Truth, Abba's Child and so many more are beloved and praised around the world. (He has a brand new children's book, too, about which we will tell you more, soon.) Brennan Manning has lived a life very few of us could hardly even imagine: he once put himself in a dank Spanish jail (with a promise from the jailer that he wouldn't tell that Manning was a priest wanting to minister to the outcasts on their own terms.) He is a recovering alcoholic, a messy story of recovery that is itself a riveting testimonial; let's just say that he has been through a lot.  Max Lucado is surely right when he says that the book shows that Brennan has lived "a life marked by foibles and blessings, gifts and pain, joy and regret. But always, in every paragraph, grace."


This is going to be a great, great book and we hope it sells well, is discussed and shared.  I have been a fan since his earliest books, cheaply published by a very indie little charismatic Catholic outfit.  I met him once and I was left with an experience I'll never forget--what a wonderful and kind man he was!  I got choked-up at the grace-filled forward by Philip Yancey and his use of the famed Leonard Cohen lines,


Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That's how the light gets in.

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September 26, 2011

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper (Crossway)

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian (Crossway) $22.95 on sale - $16.95.  Order below.

We had a good email exchange recently with a sharp mail-order customer, a friend working at an impressive church who was ordering a book display from us to have on consignment as they tried to sell some books to their people.  She noted that they hoped the books would be "gospel-centered." 

Well, of course.  But does that mean, I wondered, that they wanted a general Christian perspective on the topic (it happened to be sexuality in all its human glory and sorrow) or was that phrase suggesting a bit more, perhaps serving as a bit of a code-phrase (as it is in some conservative Calvinistic churches these days.)  Was any basic Christian book acceptable, or did they mean something specific, something more?

We have found that for some the phrase "Gospel-centered" does imply more than just a general, Biblical perspective, but one that particularly holds up the facts of the atonement, the way exalting the cross of Christ is the key not only to our salvation, but how we are to mature and grow and find some measure of sanity amidst the "idol-making factory" that is the human heart.  Any issue of spiritual growth can be answered by affirming our being freely adopted and given Christ's pledges of promise.  Beyond God's acceptance of us through the atonement made by Christ, our growth happens as we appropriate the same gospel truths.  God saves us, God sanctifies us.  The gospel is the answer.  That take on gospel transformation is heard in books like Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges (NavPress) or Intransforming g.jpg Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson (Reformation Trust) or the several good books coming from New Growth Press.  There is, in fact, a popular 9 session small group curriculum created by World Harvest Mission called Gospel-Centered Life and we stock the Leaders Guide and the Participants Guides to help mentor disciples into these amazingly useful foundational concepts.  We also stock the study book by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis (from Good Books in England) that interestingly carries the same title (Gospel-Centered Life: Becoming the Person God Wants You To Be) and works out the same grace-based theme, a resource we recommend.  These books insist that the very good news of Christ's atoning mercy is the power to grant us saving faith and also is the power to form us into effective agents of God's Kingdom.  This is more than just a basic Christian perspective on a topic, but a vision to apply God's own righteousness as seen in the atonement to the details of our lives. God's grace is always the answer; God at work in us to shape us into the image of Christ. Mercy. Grace.  It is an angle on discipleship that resonates with Luther's famous dictum that we must "preach the gospel" to ourselves, at least.

It is this Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, God-glorifying vision that undergirds the preaching and writing of John Piper, perhaps the most important and popular Reformed evangelical leader today.  Piper's books are many but his theme relentlessly focused.  Influenced by C.S. dangerous-duty.jpgLewis and a particular sermon of Jonathan Edwards ("The End to Which God Made the World") Piper over and over (and over) calls us to find God and Christ's gospel as the great treasure upon which we stake our lives and in which we find our highest joy.  He made a name for himself by his thick book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Multnomah) making a case for "Christian hedonism" by which he means that we find our greatest joy by making much of God. ("God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" he says, a phrase I think which is well worth pondering.) The basic message of that complex book was released in a pocket sized hardback entitled The Dangerous Duty of Delight: The Glorification of God and the Satisfied Soul (Multnomah.) Jesus said we are to find ourselves by losing ourselves for His sake, after all, and Piper makes a lot of sense telling sinners such as we that we are in worse shape than we admit and God's grace offers so much more than we could expect.  This singular passion to exalt Christ can propel us to do great things. "Let goods and kindred go" the famous hymn says.  Piper's call is a dangerous and passionate one, suggesting great risk and sacrifice (he renounces greed and the American dream more than any other conservative evangelical leader.)  His inner city church in Minneapolis continues to thrive as a church that stands for this one thing: we are never happier than when God is glorified in us.  He is the most insistent voice for a "gospel-centered" worldview than any writer today.

bloodlines big.jpgThe brand new hardback Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian is, to explain it simply, a quintessentially Piper-esque, gospel-centered view of racial injustice and how the gospel itself can bring about ethnic and racial reconciliation.  On several levels and for several reasons I think it is one of the most important books of the year.  It may be one of the most significant books Piper has written.  It is a book that I hope our more liberally-minded progressive customers who care about social change and racial justice will read and I hope it is a book that our more theologically and socially conservative customers who love inspiring Bible study will also read.  It is not the last word on this subject, but his passion and clarity and balance and wisdom make it a very, very useful resource for churches of all sorts.  Nearly anyone will find something in it to inform or inspire or shape them.  Nearly everyone will find something off-putting or stretching.  Nearly everyone will be touched and impressed and some will roll their eyes at a few things.  Hey, this is what makes for a great read.  You'll want to underline and mark it up and interact with it too. 

There are a few of us who think that Piper is sometimes more repetitive than he has to be.  Yet, the preacherly gospel-centered lines he repeats bring me great joy, so I don't really mind: to be reminded that we do whatever we do (in this case, working for racial healing and justice) motivated by grace and in order to exalt Christ, to honor Him, to help establish His glory in the world, that we can do little on our own but that in His Holy Spirited power we have much to hope for, well, that keeps this old luke-warm heart glowing a bit more than it might if the writing were less preachy or more subdued.  Or if he took for granted that, well, this is an evangelical Christian book and we can just presume all that Pauline truth about atonement and justification and such. 

Look: I know that there are other tones and vocabularies and ways of getting this all said, but I do appreciate Piper's mantras; few authors underscore the things he does in the way he does, and it does us good.  These texts and themes preach well.  I need to be reminded and I suspect you maybe do too.  If it isn't your style of religious discourse, I dare you to try it out anyway.  If you wish for some other Biblical soundings and theological tones, fine.  At the very least, it will remind you of a ton of Bible verses since he cites so darn many.  I commend it especially to my mainline friends, even if we don't always name all this stuff in our typical Sunday sermons or push to the front these particular texts and teachings or describe their influence in quite the way he does.  On one hand that is what makes this such a very interesting, passionate book.  Get ready to scribble in it a bit.  But know this: it is serious business.

Interestingly, Piper seems particularly remorseful about his complicity in racial segregation in the 60's in his hometown of Greenville South Carolina, growing up just a few miles from Jesse Jackson. He will soon release an on-line 20 minutes video documenting this and you can see a short trailer for it here.  His mother, a Yankee Baptist from Pennsylvania, was the only vote to oppose a resolution passed in his boyhood church forbidding blacks from attending (his father was out of town during the vote.)  At the wedding of her daughter, John's sister, she personally walked the family of their black cleaning lady, Lucy, down the isle of the church (when the ushers were perplexed what to do.) He writes that his Godly mother washed his mouth out with soap once for telling a sibling to 'shut up.'  "She would have washed by mouth out with gasoline if she knew how foul my mouth was racially when she was not around," he writes.  The passage almost moved me to tears.

I have lived in an rough urban neighborhood, worked in numerous racial reconciliation projects, attended rallies against the Klan and done other such work with mostly mainline denominational church folk (or progressive secular activists working on housing or human relations laws and such) and have conversed with people who knew Dr. King.  Yet, I have never heard anybody name their own racial shame as Piper does.  His understanding of the supreme holiness of God causes him to take his sins, such as they were, seriously. (I have for years read other pietistic authors who write about sin and holiness and never has anyone shared anything like Piper does here.)  His glorying in the full gospel, including the liberating reality of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, gives him the basis for a profound antidote to this sickness of soul.  I think of another racist whose perverse chains fell free, John Newton;  "amazing grace" indeed!

Piper has other reasons to care about this perplexing issue.  He and his wife adopted an African American child when he was 50 years old so these concerns are very intimate to him. I have heard him speak of her before and I can't imagine how seeing what he has surely seen as she grows up has broken his heart and strengthened his resolve.  As I said, his Bethlehem Baptist church is in a poor and racially diverse neighborhood.  He has homeless and mentally ill people in his church and he and his wife and sons are racial minorities in the primarily African American neighborhood in which they has lived for well over 30 years.  Considering his experience with global missionary work, he has friends from every continent, I am sure, and has had more cross-cultural experiences than most pastors I know.

Yes, he is cross-culturally experienced and has a profound heart for ethnic diversity.  But, mostly, he is a blood-bought Baptist preacher who teaches the five points of Calvinism routinely from his pulpit, convinced that serious historic Protestant theology is the foundation for personal growth and wholeness among his flock.  Some think that---as I wonder myself--he obsesses too much with the fine points of justification theory and is limiting the vision of his people by an overstatement of these good things.  Although he has written on vocation, on marriage, on suffering, on fasting, on missions, he regularly brings a Pauline tone.  Everything else is rubbish except knowing Christ and Him crucified.  Over and over.  With long sentences with lots of hyphens---"Christ-exalting, God-glorifying, Bible-saturated, justice-pursuing..." is just one hopped-up example. I love those truths, (and the hypens, for that matter) but is it healthy to sound like a dogmatic, broken record? To some it just feels like bombast, I suppose, but I don't mind it so much.

And then he does a book like this, with moments of personal tenderness and remorse and this huge concern for social justice and once again I'm reassured that Rev. Piper's  longing is to honor God not just by proclaiming these truths so forcefully over and over but by showing them, by doing it, by loving the world well.  If he can lead a church that has set goals about racial diversity and reached some of them by teaching the details of Calvinism and doing detailed Bible exposition, well, the proof is in the pudding, is it not?  We should rejoice in Piper's desire to honor God and nurture glad, obedient disciples, and affirm that it seems to be bearing fruit of sacrifice and service, mission, care for the poor, and sustained attention to this major, complex matter of ethnic diversity. There is a whole chapter about what his church is trying to do and it is candid, instructive and inspiring. Piper is correct that liberal concern about rights or over-reacting white guilt or well-intended sentimental desires to be diverse are not adequate to uproot the evils of personal and institutional racism.  What is needed is a gospel-centered approach and in Bloodlines, we have it, clear as a bell. Racism is rooted in sinful hearts and embedded in our culture and society as idolatry and institutional injustice so only a Risen Lord who "disarmed the powers" is able to solve the vastness of the problem. 

This doctrinal, Reformed, gospel-driven emphasis is Piper's great contribution to this large field of faith-based books about being anti-racist congregations.

Who else gives us a chapter entitled "Dying With Christ for the Sake of Christ-exalting Diversity" or "The Creation of One New Humanity By the Blood of Christ"?  Or sentences like this: "The doctrine of unconditional election severs the deepest root of all racism and ethnocentrism."

Or this, rumination on Paul's rebuke of Peter when Peter backed offered eating meals with those who were considered suspect (Galatians 2:11-13):

What is clear is that Paul's response to Peter's unwillingness to eat with those who were ethnically different took him straight to the gospel. There was no sentimental talk about how hurtful it is when you snub someone. That's true.  It is hurtful. But Paul didn't go there. He had something much deeper and more serious to do.  The remedy for Peter's fear and his hypocrisy was to see more clearly and love more dearly and follow more nearly the gospel.
As is often the case, the pastoral answer, as Piper sees it, and apparently as Paul saw it here, is to "fall in love again with the gospel."   In part because, Piper warns,

The implication of this for our day, among other things, is that any kind of racially or ethnically based exclusion will send the wrong message about the basis of our acceptance with God. It will subtly suggest that something about our race or our ethnicity or our works or our natural distinctives is the means of our justification.  But if faith in Christ alone is that means, then Christ becomes the sole foundation of our justification, and everyone who trusts him is on the same footing of acceptance with God.
From another place and time (South Africa a decade or more ago) written from a somewhat different theological tradition, came the Belhar Declaration, that said something similar.  Racism is wrong because it is idolatry.

Yes, Piper cares deeply about race and racism and he offers hints throughout the book that indicate that this is a topic very, very close to this heart.  As I've said, he is soon releasing an on-line video documentary about his journey to his boyhood home, so maybe that is part of it.  He tells of a few other decisive moments in the book.  But he cares about theological integrity and his preaching of the gospel even more.  He goes to great lengths to show why this is so, and why it must be (and why it is finally the most pragmatic, effective strategy, after all.) I think he is right about that.  Others, smarter than I, have agreed.  (Tim Keller, for instance, wrote a very glowing introduction, encouraging folks to learn from Piper.)

free at last.jpgSo, Bloodlines by John Piper is different than, but stands alongside, great resources which we've stocked for years.  It supplements excellent, urgent books like More Than Equals by Chris Rice and Spencer Perkins (IVP), Free at Last by Carl Ellis (IVP), Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah (Moody), Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson, Christian Smith et al (Oxford University Press.)  I love Native American Randy Woodley who wrote the very useful, deeply gracious, Living in Color: God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity (IVP.) How about the splendid book by Tony Campolo & Michael Battle, The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality of Racial Reconciliation (Judson)? And of course there are the many books of John Perkins---if you haven't read at least one of his, you are missing out. His first one was reissued a few years ago, his own story called Let Justice Roll Down (Regal) although the one he wrote recently with Charles Marsh called Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community (IVP) is so welcoming justice.jpgrich I would put it near the top of any reading list.

Do you know the very insightful sociological study Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Togetherlfs.jpg in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum? Or the heavy anti-racism classic recently updated and reissued by Joseph Barndt, Becoming the Anti-Racist Church: Journey Toward Wholeness (Fortress)? I really appreciate the neo-Calvinist worldviewish perspective of foreign language scholar David Smith who wrote Learning from the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity (Eerdmans) as it brings a somewhat scholarly, hospitable bit of research to the conversation. Even more scholarly is the extraordinary and highly reviewed (if dense) work The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings that came out last year on Yale University Press.  More practically, I hope every church leader or youth worker, especially, has practical educational resources like Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ To Engage Our Multicultural World by David Livermore (Baker), or the practical books on increasing and navigating congregational diversity by Manuel Ortiz (IVP.)  Do you know the progressive theologian and Episcopalian church diversity trainer, Eric Law? Or the books by Curtis DeYoung? Or Brenda Salter McNeil? Howard Thurman? Cornel West?  None of these standards, though, do quite what Piper does with quite the guts and theological gusto.

Here are 10 things that are strong about Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian and reasons why it is distinctive and important. 

1.   It is very clear in helpfully defining terms.  Piper has obviously thought carefully and read widely and offers some helpful information about what we mean by race, what ethnicity means, and how sociologists and anthropologists have pondered these things.  (And did I mention he brings a gospel-based, Biblically-intense approach to this, with Bible stories and Greek exegesis on every other page?)  This is basic, but good.

2.  Piper describes two main schools of thought regarding how to move forward on racial issues in the "post civil rights" era in which we now find ourselves. He explains each view, affirming aspects of those who think that individual blacks must take responsibility for their own choices to overcome attitudes of dependency and entitlement even as he also affirms some of those who think that institutional, structural policy and cultural changes must be pressed as the first order of business.  He reviews representative voices, drawing on Bill Cosby, Shelby Steele and Juan Williams for the former and Michael Dyson, especially, for the latter.  It is very important to follow this conversation and I think that Piper gets it pretty right, reminding us all that the best approach is "both/and" and that the gospel can transform personal hearts and lives as well as social structures and institutional dysfunctions.  I would have appreciated some Piper-esque insight about the work of Cornel West, and a bit more about the whole business of white privilege (which he does address in one very moving section, and again in a powerful excerpt from Shelby Steele.) Still, Piper covers this basic debate with clarity and kindness (which is, frankly, more than we get in most books on this topic, that seem ideologically driven from the right or the left.)

3.  He does what he does--as I've explained above--by literally linking the solas of the 16th century Reformation and the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) to the demolishing of racism.  He confesses the ways in which those who most often talked about these glorious Reformed views of the sovereignty of God and the majesty of Christ failed to apply these theological concepts to this topic.  Then he shows how we might advance that project: unleashing these basic doctrines would be explosive, even over Satan and his deforming influences, precisely regarding this area of racial pride.  Whether you are a Calvinist or not, this is good, good, stuff, and is a fine example of how a preacher, hanging out on basic Bible texts and standard doctrinal truths, can connect dots with the needs of the world.  Connect Word and world, we often say.  Piper shows us how he does it and it is instructive.

(I name this as one of the great strengths of Bloodlines and it is.  BookNotes readers who are well read and engaged on social issues should take it up and see if this approach is helpful.  However, I am truly hopeful that those who are most punctilious about their doctrinal purity--who mostly respect Piper I'd think---would take him up.  When he talks about the end of Luke 4 and Jesus' surprising, controversial invitation for non-Jews to get in on His Kingdom grace, it is radical stuff.  May the truly Reformed take notice that one of their own most reliable preachers is relating doctrine to life in this inclusive, subversive way.)
4. Piper reminds us over and over why it is easy to get fired up about this issue for a while but, with little headway and maybe with too-thin skins, we get discouraged and back off. We move on to other causes.  He reminds us why that isn't an option.  He pushes us onward, calls us to gospel fidelity, encourages us to keep at it over the long haul.  With great gospel hope he inspires us to dream big dreams and yet also seems rather ordinary about it all.  He never overstates the problem and never uses guilt to motivate anyone.  God bless him.  He wants ordinary folks to be moving forward, faithfully, in God's gracious mercy, step by step. You can do this.  And you should.
5.  In a handful of pages he wonderfully re-tells the story of William Wilberforce.  He has written about Wilberforce before (in The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon and William Wilberforce and the Wilby chapter of that book was published as a small paperback as Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, both published by Crossway.) It is obvious how much Piper admires him and his tenacious anti-slavery campaign.  He points out that  Wilberforce published just one book in his illustrious career and it was a book about how culture might be changed, and how nominal church members could become alive, if they were to trust in Christ's saving work.  Although pitched as a book of basic Christian discipleship, it was also a book about the need for good doctrine.  Linking justification and social justice is the theme of Tim Keller's recent Generous Justice, of course, but Wilby beat him to it in the 1797 book, still in print today, now known as A Practical View of Christianity (Hendrickson.)

6.  There is a chapter on interracial marriage, which Piper sees as a blessing.  It may be a hardship, but, as in other things, Christians can trust that God will use hardship in their lives to bring greater glory to Himself and advance His Kingdom.  It is interesting, especially given Piper's socially conservative social setting that he is as bold about this as he is.  He wrote a paper about this under Lewis Smedes when he was a student at Fuller in the early 70s and he's been promoting the topic ever since. It is a rare chapter, deeply pastoral, and very interesting.  He makes a passing reference to trans-cultural adoptions, and this chapter might be of interest for those involved in that experience as well.

7.  There is a short exegetical appendix about the often (mis)used passage about Noah's "curse of Ham" in Genesis 9:25.  Of course, the text itself may not be a prophetic judgement from God, but just a weary curse of old Noah.  Even if it does carry the weight of a Divine judgement, the curse went to Ham's son Canaan (as in the Canaanites, not dark-skinned people) not to his other offspring whose names are, in fact, connected to Africa.  (Cush, as most of us know, is most likely modern-day Ethiopia; Put's descendants are Northern African Libyans.) It is a brief study, but one worth having at your disposal if you ever hear anyone spouting this nonsense that God judged blacks via Noah's curse upon Ham.

8.  Chapter 3 of Bloodlines is called "Global Shifting and the Future Face of the Church."  Ifbl 2.jpg you haven't read the important work on this by Philip Jenkins or Soong-Chan Rah, he cites them both and it is a good introduction to the global church, useful, too, to frame our peculiar racial burdens in the US by these larger shifts toward non-Western, multi-cultural churches in our lifetime.

9.  He tells of the influence of brother Carl Ellis' very influential work Free At Last: The Gospel in the African American Experience (IVP) cites it several times, and explains why he is noticeably moved by it.  Those of us that have met Ellis and read his book understand just how important it is.  It is fantastic to hear Piper speak of it with such appreciation, even the bit about how historic black preachers bring a "jazz" style in contrast to the more "classical" approach of most white preachers.  And Piper eagerly concedes this to him.  Right on.

10.  John Piper offers a great service in highlighting many Scriptural verses that prove that God delights in drawing diverse ethnicities together, that Christ's gospel bridges the dividing walls, that folk from "every tribe and nation" will gather together in the end to praise the God of all creation.  Many of us know these things.  It does us well to notice them again.  We need not always prooftext our deepest convictions but we do need to know what the Bible says about God's desire for racial diversity and how Christ unites all manner of folk at His cross.  Piper has a good eye for this.  He believes it deeply.  Bloodlines is a helpful resource you will want to draw on in ongoing conversations.  These issues are not going to go away.  I hope you have tools for the fight ahead. This is not the only one you need, but it is a good one in naming so many simple phrases from the Bible that point us to the fact that God loves racial diversity.

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September 29, 2011

You Lost Me David Kinnaman

Hearts & Minds is sponsoring An Evening with David Kinnaman and you are cordially invited to join us over at Living Word Community Church (Red Lion) on October 25th, Tuesday evening, at 7:00.  He will address themes from the new book, You Lost Me and will autograph copies during a reception afterwords.  Thanks to Liquid Tuesday, the young adult ministry at LWCC for their good work in hosting this

Kinnaman.jpgYou Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...And Rethinking Faith  David Kinnaman (Baker)  $17.99  David Kinnaman was catapulted to fame when he produced for the Barna Group the research that became the bestselling book UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters (Baker; $18.99) which explored what unchurched North American young adults thought about Christianity and church life.  I hope you know that book because it is a wonderfully written and powerful glimpse into the religious attitudes of many young adults.  Author and leader of Q Ideas Gabe Lyon co-authored it and he and Kinnaman offered lots of hopeful ideas, offering sidebars and excerpts of interviews with lots of very thoughtful and relevant Christian folks who chimed in throughout the book.  These interviews and essays from other voices illustrate that the cranky attitude and serious criticisms of evangelical faith that are commonly held by outsiders to the faith are, in fact, only partially true.  There are wonderfully creative, interesting, kind and just folks who's faith catapults them into the thick of contemporary life.  So that book is both depressing (so many young adults are convinced traditional faith is unattractive or worse) and hopeful--a lot of good folks are working hard to repair our bad reputation.  It's important and interesting.

In that research one of the interesting things that the Barna group found was that many of the unchurched who had disinterest or hostility to the faith were previously active in church and in some cases still saw themselves as active Christians.  A phrase they heard regarding these young adults' sense of their own story went something like this: "I was active for a while.  I loved God and cared about my church.  But then, you lost me."  Of course, this is no real surprise; every BookNote reader knows somebody like this. The dropout problem is so common that many older church folks just expect it, and some think it is normal for young people to put their faith---or at least their connection to a church---on the shelf for a while.  I don't know about you, but I think this is tragic (both the dropout problem and the church's casual acceptance of it.) 

Mr. Kinnaman continued his research, this time documenting the views and attitudes and David_Kinnaman_Picture6747.jpg stories of younger adults who were, in fact, raised within the Christian churches, but who have chosen to leave.  He wanted to find the church dropouts and hear their stories.  Many of us are so, so glad for these findings since we now have more data and more tools to think about this problem that we so seriously care about.  We all have intuitions and hunches.  We have had conversations about this.  We have our own stories, perhaps, and those of our children, our friends, our colleagues or classmates.  But beyond these individual episodes, what are the documented trends?  What does the research show?  What can we make of it?   Kinnaman can help, and, because of his own great passion for this topic, he's a perfect person to interpret the data for us.  I couldn't recommend this book more strongly.

So, many young adults drift from church; of those, some are still on a spiritual journey and many would say they are not.  Why is this? Kinnaman uses the punchy phrase (used by more than one of his millennial interviewees) "you lost me" to indicate that these folks were open to faith, perhaps deeply involved in Christian practices and life, and at some point determined that they were no longer on the same page as their adult congregational leaders.  Kinnaman is passionate that we must understand the demographics of this cohort and we must "start a conversation" about this crisis of generational loss, and, more importantly, with this cohort themselves.  Why are younger Christians disengaging from church? 

I found the book to be very well written, really, really engaging, and a godsend for anyone interested in young adults--it is a vital read for those in youth ministry or those who work in campus ministry.  Parents who fret about their own grown children or young adults who are sad their their old friends from youth group seem to be no longer walking with the Lord will find much here.  The conversational tone is clear, the voices compelling, the insights and proposals very helpful.  Kinnaman is a good, good guy, a solid thinker and a real ally for those of us who want to somehow help make faith and Christian discipleship and church involvement a plausible reality for our young friends.

Of course, not everyone who drifts from church--or bolts from church as the case may be---has the same experience or the same (dis) interests.  Kinnamam sees three major constellations of disinterest, three sorts of folks who walked away from church.  (Each name seems to resonate with a Biblical theme or type, even, so this is really interesting!)

First there are what the book calls nomads. Although each one has a unique story, these are folks who are still seeking; the still haven't found what their looking for.  Most likely they will say they are "spiritual but not religious" and they just might return to a traditional congregation.  Or they might hold to an admixture of new age beliefs, bits borrowed from various world religions, or might just be wandering through a variety of more or less intense beliefs or worldview.  Prodigals, however, are another group he found and these are folks who are aware that they have left the church, perhaps for good.  They may or may not be bitter (and it is surprising how many are not particularly angry) but they are disappointed.  They've grown disinterested and they are far from faith.  Exiles are another group that the research brings to our attention and, again, it may be a bit surprising to some (or not at all surprising if you are paying attention.)  Exiles are those who feel that they still want to follow Christ, they are interested in some sort of discipleship and faith and they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they must reconfigure their faith in ways that traditional congregations find unacceptable.  In fact, some said in their interviews that in order to maintain faith in God and a sense of seriousness about the gospel they simply must stay away from the institutional church.  These are folks who have dropped out but still see themselves as Christians.  They may even be worshiping in a house church or may live in an intentional community or be interested in the emergent faith conversations.  Nomads, Prodigals and Exiles.   Fascinating, eh?  And helpful, I'd say.

Here is a 9 minute video clip of him talking about this. 

You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church... raises these questions for us, and anyone involved in church---mainline, Catholic or evangelical---should pay attention.  For what it is worth (before anyone gets too defensive) he does not always lay all the blame on the congregation.  Still, there is something going on, this unprecedented dropout rate, this disaffection with Christianity in the West, and it is a crisis we must deal with.  Knowing the facts of the matter and hearing the stories is certainly a good step

You Lost Me has some other features as well, good and important information for any of us who are leaders in the church or who care about the integrity of the gospel as it is lived out in our time.  For instance, Kinnaman offers some statistics--and one fascinating chart that I can't stop thinking about---about how different generational cohorts understand the obligations of obeying Biblical injunctions.  As you may guess, the bar graph decreases with age: the greatest generation insists that we must do our best to follow the teachings of the Bible.  Baby boomers have a bit lower commitment to Biblical obedience and Gen Xers even less so.   Of the younger "mosaics" (ages 18-28) who self-identified as Christians less than a third strongly agreed that this was important.  Does that make them lax and uncommitted? Or does it indicate that they understand the message of God's grace, that we cannot earn God's free gift of love?  Do they see the rules of religion as intolerably repressive?  Or do they have a good handle on what the relationship is between faith and works? Kinnaman explains much of this and he is very helpful as he explains (for instance) attitudes about sexuality, homosexuality, and marriage, that are typical among young adults.

One nice appendix of this important book is a listing of 50 suggestions for "passing on a flourishing, deep-rooted faith" from 50 different authors and leaders, many of whom are writers we know and respect.  Listen to the advice from Kenda Creasy Dean, Steve Garber, Walt Mueller, Shane Claiborne, Gabe Lyons, Charlie Peacock, Kara Powell, Donna Freitas, Derek Melleby, David Greusel, Christopher West, Sarah Groves, Rachel Held Evans, Francis Chan, Andrew Root, John Ortberg.  And more.

Watch this very cool video clip, a trailer for the project and the book and an invitation to continue working on this.  Even those of us who have been at this a while will be glad to hear him say "let's get this conversation started!"  Thanks, David.  

lost in transition.gifLost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood  Christian Smith et al (Oxford University Press) $27.95  Well, if Kinnaman does a spectacular job doing basic research through his Barna Group research firm and then popularizing that into usable, enjoyable, insightful books like unchristian and You Lost Me, Christian Smith is his serious big brother.  Professor Smith is a research sociologist par excellence and with titles like Moral, Believing, Animals (Oxford University Press) and What Is a Person? (University of Chicago Press) he has made a notable and significant contribution to the social sciences rooted in his ecumenically-minded, catholic faith.  This new book, Lost in Transition, is nothing short of magisterial, offering serious and stunning research on the ways in which this young adult cohort has emerged without a clear sense of morals.  The book immediately became a conversation topic last month when New York Times columnist and NPR talking head David Brooks wrote about it in a syndicated op ed piece a month ago which whirled around the internet.  This new study seems to be a continuation of the major work he and his team did on the faith of young adults which came out in the prestigious Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press; $17.95) and the follow up, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press; $24.95.)  You may know of this exceptional work because of the popular book by Princeton's Kendra Ceasy Dean which appropriated this research.  That amazing book was called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church (Oxford University Press; $24.95.)

Jean Twenge (who wrote Generation Me and other good books on how consumerism affects our youth) says, Smith's  "Lost in Transition is a groundbreaking, compelling, and deeply necessary look at the challenges facing young people today...The results [of their research] are shocking, revealing widespread moral relativsm and precious little civic engagement."  We are obviously very fond of the Kinnaman research on reaching de-churched twenty-somethings.  This work on the ethics, values, and moral reasoning of youth is broader and more foundation.  For those who are serious about this topic, it is a must-read.

tweet if you heart jesus.gifTweet if You *Heart* Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation Elizabeth Drescher (Morehouse Publishing) $20.00  Morehouse is the publishing arm of the Episcopal Church and, as you might guess, offers here a book that brings the wisdom of the ancient and medieval faith into conversation with contemporary theories of cultural change and the realities of new social media.  Drescher, who has great interest in spiritual disciplines and practices, has studied spirituality at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She writes for the online magazine Religion Dispatches.  All of this to say that she is an ecumenical, mainline Christian who is very sharp, very funny, and has a very sophisticated way of combining the postmodern and the ancient, all so we can understand the new ways faith is being practiced, especially among youth and young adults.  The title is a tad tongue in cheek, of course, and although she is quite enmeshed in new social media, her study is astute and her insights profound.  Very nicely done.

worlds apart.gifWorlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds  Chuck Bomar (Zondervan) $14.99  Chuck is a good guy and has a huge heart and amazing passion for doing college ministry. (He has written two books on how large churches near campuses can do young adult outreach ministry among their collegiate neighbors.)  Here, he backs up and gives us his most important book yet, a study of this stage of life---what Sharon Parks has called "the critical years."  As the back cover puts it, Bomar brings "understanding, comfort, and direction to all interested in this age group."  Yes, understanding.  He gets young adults.  Comfort? Well, he is full of hope that God can reach this generation and that we can build meaningful and sustained relationships with this younger cohort.  So it may be comforting, I suppose.  He offers such clear-headed and practical insight (like "learn to listen") that it really does give us great encouragement.  (Older readers, take note.  This really may be a comfort insofar as it will help you with tools to relate to your mosaic-aged friends.)  And direction?  Oh yeah, he guides us towards paths of understanding, helping us appreciate the mindset and ethos of 21st century college-aged young adults.  Huge endorsements from Chap Clark and Dan Kimball on the back, showing that at least evangelical thought leaders are taking this book seriously.  You should too.

generation rising.gifGeneration Rising: A Future with Hope for the United Methodist Church  edited by Andrew C. Thompason (Abingdon) $16.00  Whether you are United Methodist or not, this collection of essays by some of the Gen X leaders within Methodism is a real book treat.  (John Wesley was in his 30s, by the way, when his heart was "strangely warmed.")  There are unique cultural shifts which those who were coming of age in the past decades experiences and as they now rise to adulthood, they've got a particular angle of vision within the church.  I liked this quote by Will Willimon who noted "Generation Rising made me marvel at the ability of Wesleyan Christianity to reinvent itself in each generation. Here is Wesleyanism and our church imagined as having a future as bright as our noble past."  Granted, this offers the United Methodist church a prophetic challenge from its younger pastors and thinkers, but all of us should listen to these vibrant and forceful voices. The editor is the writer of the popular "Gen-X Rising" column in the United Methodist Reporter.

wandering in the wilderness.gifWandering in the Wilderness: Changes and Challenges to Emerging Adults' Christian Faith Brian Simmons (Abilene University Press) $14.99  This is a fantastic book, surveying the vast quantity of research done in recent years on the "emerging adulthood" stage.  (The term was coined by psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, by the way.)  Besides helping us understand the research and get a handle on the common changes emerging adults experience these days, Wandering...helps offer guidelines for how they (and their parents) can navigate those changes.  The subtitle explains the theme of this book well for it does study the changes and challenges, and it offers useful directives.  Study questions make it ideal for a small group (parents, maybe?)  How do those in their twenties tend to look at life and faith?  Can congregations or church leaders be more aware and sensitive to their concerns?  Simmons is a fine author, burdened to know and care about these very things. (His earlier book was called Falling Away: Why Christians Lose Their Faith and What Can Be Done About It.)  He holds degrees from Pepperdine and Purdue and lives in Portland.

greenhouses of hope.jpgGreenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World  edited by Dori Grinenko Baker (Alban Institute) $18.00  Some books just really intrigue me and although not everyone will appreciate them, I just have to tell our readers about them.  This is an somewhat odd book---deep, serious, playful, remarkable in many ways, describing congregations, including some multi-ethinic ones, that are doing some unusual stuff to attend to and minister with youth and younger adults.  Walt Brueggemann says it is "a primer on how to recover vitality and fidelity of the church" although that may be overstating it.  Paker Palmer's offers a more straight-forward observation---these are "well-tested green-house approaches" and notes that it will make you hopeful for the church and world. (The opening rumination on what constitutes Christian hope is marvelous.)  Carol Howard Meritt, whose two books, Tribal Church and Reframing Hope I have written about before, notes that it "provides tools, probing questions, and significant resources to grow hope in your own community."  The rich array of stories here are exceptional: they include  essays about "radical welcome" in interfaith dialogue and "converging streams."  One chapter by Presbyterian Sinai Chung explains the Korean idea of "mozying" which means "when the young mentor the younger."  An African-American community leader offers a good chapter on the African word (and the theology implied in it) Sankofa.  Joyce Ann Mercer writes a very important chapter looking at two congregations (one Lutheran, one Episcopalian) and how their church conflict effected the youth.

At the end of each of these creatively-written narratives about a particular congregation's ministry and their contribution to human flourishing, there is a section called Engaging VocationCare Practices and another inviting reflection on "Ethnographic Listening."   It is a really provocative and fun and a useful resource, especially for mainline or progressive congregations and those interested in how congregations reflect on their own sense of call.  The creation of Greenhouses of Hope was supported by the Calling Congregations initiative funded by the Fund for Theological Education.

congregational connections.gifCongregational Connections: Uniting Six Generations in the Church  Carroll Anne Sheppard & Nancy Burton Dilliplane (Xlibris) $21.99  This is a brand, spanking new book and it is nearly one of a kind.  Much of the research drawing on the work of Howe & Strauss (Generations; The Fourth Turning, Millennials Rising) and other generational cohort theory appropriated for the church is a bit dated and is often done using language and vocabulary and congregational models presuming an evangelical reader. (Think of One Church Four Generations by Gary MacIntosh, for instance, The Millennials by Thomas Rainer or Generation iY by Tim Elmore.)  Carroll and Nancy are Episcopalian leaders (one a priest, the other a licensed preacher) from Philadelphia and out of their interest and pastoral work they researched this well.  And they draw out the largest picture I've yet seen about the distinctives of six generations as they live and serve together in a liturgical parish. I like their inter-generational approach. This is short and incisive, has discussion questions that are very useful and is a fine survey of generational theory that can be used with a vestry, adult education class, or in any setting eager to learn and grow. Congratulations to these friends for making this nice contribution to the health of God's church.

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