About April 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in April 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2012 is the previous archive.

May 2012 is the next archive.

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

April 2012 Archives

April 2, 2012

Youth Ministry Books

What a privilege it was to get to set up a large book display at the 7th annual Youth Workers and Student Leaders event held at Messiah College, near us here in Central PA.  (By the way, you can earn a Masters in Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Messiah, from some folks I greatly respect.) Youth workers, volunteers, teens and college students browsed our books, asked good questions, and complimented us on the diversity of titles we stock.  We've been told that we have one of the best selections of youth ministry books---theoretical stuff and "how to" books, visionary resources and curriculum pieces, books on service projects and books on retreat planning, books and DVDs of Bible study and goofy resources for games, getting kids talking, and various sorts of experiential activities.  

We carry much of the classic backlist of major youth min monsters, Youth Specialties and Group.  We have Anabaptist resources from Mennonite and Brethren publishers and Roman Catholic titles (like the good stuff from St. Mary's Publishers.)  We have almost all the youth-related books done by Pilgrim Press and Westminster John Knox as well the ones from Presbyterian & Reformed. Abingdon does a lot and we stock 'em.  We love Barefoot Press, an edgy and thoughtful publishing venture of the Nazarene Publishing House, who are doing some of the very best youth books out these days.  Anyway, we try to represent a lot of different sorts of resources and trust that our display at Messiah illustrated the good work of many different presses, many different gifts from many corners within the Body of Christ.

It was great to listen to Mark Yaconelli, the keynote speaker this year, whose three books are very, very important and really useful.  But before I name them, let me set the stage.

 godbearing.jpgA good number of years ago, I made a prediction, and I've patted myself on the back a couple of times (hee-hee) when it came to pass.  When The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry by Kenda Creasy Dean & Ron Foster was published by the Upper Room in 2005, I said it was a watershed moment in the history of youth ministry publishing.  It was seminal, offering a new model, and a new emphasis, drawing on the new millennium revival of contemplative spirituality that had been sweeping the churches.  From Henri Nouwen to Richard Foster, Joyce Rupp to Dallas Willard, Richard Rohr and Ruth Haley Barton, harkening back to desert fathers and mystics like Brother Lawrence and A. W. Tozer, folks were yearning for deeper encounters with God.  It was only a matter of time until somebody seriously said that we should let the kids get in on it, too.


The Godbearing Life looked askance at the entertainment model, the approach that tries to be oh-so-relevant and high energy fun. (See the new book by PCA author, Brian Cosby, who just released Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Your Ministry From an Entertainment Culture (P&R; $12.99), for an even more crabby--and mostly right, I think---insistence that we can, to use Marva Dawn's famous formulation, "reach out with out dumbing down." Gospel-centered youth ministry, indeed!) 

Godbearing suggested that programs and curriculums and techniques and games and activities need to be toned down; kids in their fast-paced world---a social context that has only gotten faster, and much more virtual---need, mostly, for the church to provide a place to calm down.  To be quiet, unplugged, to know God in the gentle ways shown to us by the monastic traditions.  Godbearing Life wasn't interested in boring kids, but it also wasn't interested is stoking their energies, winning them over by sheer fun and enthusiasm; okay, maybe it wanted to bore them a little; the authors are from Princeton, after all. (Sorry, that was a joke.)  It was wonderfully counter-cultural, seriously theological, and, mostly, contemplative.  It was to usher in a new approach to youth ministry, inviting spiritual practices, quiet discipleship, and a radical perspective that seemed unlike the big, slick programs of the big slick churches (or the little frumpy churches trying to ape the big slick churches.)  It was nearly evangelical, embodying really good news that there are ancient ways that help us know the triune God. We can help kids slow down, grow in grace and mindfulness; we can learn the art of attentiveness.  We can see our ministry not about numbers or pizazz, but bearing witness to God's work, already active, in the world, and in the lives of our teens.



Well, this didn't change everything, but it changed a lot.  From Group Publishers, within a year, came youth labyrinths, and from Youth Specialties came great stuff about going deep.  Barefoot did remarkable, fabulous little books like Sacred Life: Spiritual Practices forsl.gif Everyday Living ($9.99)  Conservative evangelical Protestants inviting their Bible-quizzing kids to also light candles and pray using prayer beads or going the the Ignatian Examen? (Sacred Life, with a chapter by a good friend from here in York, was followed up by several more in their "Ancient Faith" series, small, cool volumes such as Sacred Time, Sacred Space, and Sacred Community.)

Well, that brings us to the Messiah Youth Ministry Conference, always a great, solid event. This year, as I noted, the remarkable
 Mark Yaconelli was their keynote speaker.  Mark had us all howling in laughter, just like his crazy dadio, the late, great Mike Yaconelli---would have, with wild stories of outrageous pranks and Kingdom trouble-making.  Mark is a great example of this next generation of spiritual leaders within youth ministry leaders and authors.  Yac 2.0 can be as zany as his dad, but speaks in ways that sound less specifically evangelical and more ecumenical.  His imaginative prayer experience could have been done at a Taize service or taken from an Upper Room prayer book.  His vision of listening deeply to the kids who hurt---and, according to Chap Clark's essential books like Hurt, that is an inordinate percentage of youth, including many, many church kids---was quite profound.  It wasn't that he didn't want to share the gospel with kids (he clearly, clearly does!) but the way into that is at first, and largely, incarnational, being in authentic, healing relationships, shown mostly by beholding.  Listening.  But who knew contemplative, Nouwen-esque spiritual work could be so darn fun?  It was a good day.

And, for the record, thanks to at Messiah who sat through my rambling workshops, presented on sheer adrenaline and the good grace of God's sustaining energy.  I had gotten virtually no sleep the night before, so my show and tell book time was half revival service and half infomercial.  I hope it was helpful.

Here are a couple of youth ministry books I'm excited about, including Mark Yaconelli's, and a few more that are pretty foundational.  Spread the word to those who you think might appreciate this.  We're glad the BookNotes tribe is so diverse, and so willing to share the news that there are solid books, interesting resources, good stuff, available from Hearts & Minds.  Any of these are 20% off. Just use the link shown below which takes you to the secure webpage order form. Thanks.

ac.gifAlmost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church  Kenda Creasy Dean (Oxford University Press) $24.95  I suppose almost everyone who pays attention to youth ministry and church-related publishing will know this is a heavy, academic, research-based indictment about the feeble views of religion that are articulated by most American churched teens.  We have championed it, and referred to it here. From conservative to mainline, Catholic to Jewish, Dean shows (drawing on Christian Smith's research) that congregations are failing at giving their kids a theological framework and vocabulary to know what in God's name we're supposed to believe.  Bleak.  Essential.

To say this is a wake up call is putting it mildly.  I was glad some ordinary lay volunteers seemed to have heard of it (good for them) and not surprised that a lot of folks had not.  If you're not buying it from us at our discounted price, get it from your church library, who ought to have it available.  Or your public library if your church doesn't have a resource room for sharing books. It is worth it.

theo turn.gifThe Theological Turn in Youth Ministry  Andrew Root & Kenda Creasy Dean  (IVP) $18.00  This is the Andrew Root who teaches at Luther Seminary and who wrote the important Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry (IVP; $17.00) and the wonderful Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church (Abingdon; $18.00. ) And, yes, this is the KCD who rocked us all with Godbearing Life.  And, yep who wrote the must-read Almost Christian.  This new one is spectacular, offering truly theological takes on various aspects of youth ministry culture.  It is not silly and it is not light.  It is amazingly astute, and of interest for anyone who (a) likes theology or (b) doesn't like theology because it is so often abstracted away from life.   There are chapters like "The Eschatological Significance of Church Camp" and one on "Hormonal Theology" and an amazing one on hermeneutics. I like the way the theology of the cross comes up time and again (Root is a Lutheran, you know) and it is good to have ruminations on important stuff like mission trips, confirmation mentors, and outdoor wilderness trips. (There isn't much really good stuff on outdoor education from a profound theological frame so some---you know who  you are!---should buy this just for this chapter.)  I named this a book of the year after it was released late in 2011.  There is nothing like it in print. 

cym.gifContemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus Mark Yaconelli (YS/Zondervan) $19.99  I love the preface of this by Anne Lamott.  Her son Sam, introduced to the world in the beautiful Operating Instructions, ends up being a kid with the good fortune of having Mark Y as a youth worker at his church in a formative year or so.  A conversation with Sam ends up in the book, so Anne glowed and commended the book, and the integrity of Mr. Y.  You can read more about Sam, by the way, in the brand new memoir he helped out with by his famous mom, Some Assembly Required which I'll review here later.  It is poignant and funny, Anne's first bone fide memoir, about becoming a grandmother.

More to the point for this post, though, you can read Mark's description of his contemplative model for doing the God-bearing life thing.  This is a truly wonderful book, very highly recommended.

dt.gifDowntime: Teaching Kids to Pray (Zondervan) $19.99  The first few chapters offer fabulously written overviews of the contemplative life, why youth need adults to help them into this sacred space, and how to live into the model of ministry he so wonderfully described in his previous book.  The second half is loaded with exercises, experiences, lessons, and tools for teaching historic practices that create transforming encounters with the Holy.  In some ways, this is like the great little paperback (another book that illustrated this movement of spirituality books for teens) Soul Shaping by Tony Jones (Zondervan; $19.99.)  I hardly can think of a more practical handbook to doing what so many of us talk about: actually doing the spiritual disciplines in a way that allows us to deepen our knowledge of God and be transformed into Christlikeness by God's very present Spirit.  Thanks to Jones, and certainly to Yaconelli, for guiding us in ways to not only embrace these spiritual disciplines (I don't really like to call them tools, and even less to refer to them as techniques) with teenagers.

wfl.gifWonder, Fear,& Longing: A Book of Prayers  Mark Yaconelli (Zondervan) $9.99  I have a very good friend who routinely uses this with middle school kids, and it certainly is accessible to high school youth.  This is a paperback collection of short devotions,  great stories, ruminations and parables on the divine presence, Biblical studies that point us to God in a way that names and honors and attends to our own longings, the need for wonder, our fears and hurts.  All of us -- including youth-- have these mystical longings, these desires to appreciate God's creation, an appreciation for quietude. This is really, real stuff, raw, sometimes, but good, and, I believe, beautiful.  It is a prayer book, a book of prayers, Biblically-based and imaginative, grounded and poetic, wonder-full, and yet very usable.  Love it.

omg.gifOMG: A Youth Ministry Handbook  edited by Kenda Creasy Dean (Abingdon) $26.00  This may be a bit pricey for a paperback, but it has become the definitive resource for creatively ruminating on the meaning of youth ministry in mainline denominational churches.  Others should learn from it, but the style and ethos of this multi-authored work is rooted in a realistic sort of faith perspective... I have a few friends who I really trust who work in or teach youth ministry and they all agree this is one of the best books they've seen on this topic.  If you don't do youth ministry yourself (and your still reading this) ask the youth pastor at your church if she or he knows this. They should.




sf.gifSticky Faith Teen Curriculum with DVD: 10 Lessons to Nurture Faith Beyond High School Kara Powell & Brad Griffin (YS/Zondervan) $19.99  We have been promoting books like You Lost Me and Derek Melleby and CPYU's College Transition Initiative and this new material is a godsend for those wanting to help senior high students deepen their faith in ways that will last. They need a faith that really sticks (get it?)  There are three books in this series, first, a basic book (for anyone, really, but perhaps aimed at parents and the everyday ways we can help pass onSticky-Faith.jpg a sticky faith. There is a youth worker's edition, obviously for those in congregational leadership, volunteers youth workers or Sunday school teachers or others who want the church to be more influential in the lives of their youth.  And then there is this one, the one that is the curriculum piece, designed to use with older youth.  Fabulous stuff, coming out of the significant studies being done out at Fuller Theological Seminary.  All three are tremendous.  Thanks to those at Messiah who purchased one or more of the set.  If you love using one of these, let us know if you want one of the others.  All three are unique and truly valuable.



world unb.gifA World Unbroken: Hope and Healing for a Shattered World  (Barefoot Ministries) $14.99 I love the create way this book explains the coherent unfolding drama of basic plot of the Bible; each chapter colorfully describes episodes of creation, brokenness, promise, presence, satisfaction, mission and hoped for restoration.  Authors include Scot McKnight, Ian Cron, Kara Powell, Chris Folmsbee, Mark Oestreicher and other creative women and men.  What a great book, with a very contemporary design and hip feel.





devo world unb.jpgA World Unbroken Creative Devotional Experience (Barefoot Ministries) $10.99  This very creative, edgy youth journal goes along with the Bible overview, helping kids process this vision of a world being restored to goodness and beauty.  There are spaces to doodle, pages for art, lots of good opportunities to dream big dreams, imagining how the big Biblical story of restoration could help inspire us to be agents of God's mission.

DVD A World Unbroken: Creative Media Experience (Barefoot Ministries) $59.99  Here is how they describe this supplemental resource for the World Unbroken project: This comprehensive DVD has seven animated short films that visually depict the story of God through the Bible. Also included on this DVD is a seven week curriculum that uses the videos as a discussion starter to journey deeper into the story of God.  By the way, besides the 7 short films, the group discussion questions there are tons of extras---t-shirt designs, behind the scenes footage, other cool stuff on the disc.

b a youth min.gifBuilding a Youth Ministry That Builds Disciples: A Small Book About a Big Idea Duffy Robbins (YS/Zondervan) $16.99  There is little doubt that Duffy, of Eastern University, has been one of the more influential and helpful youth ministry educators in our generation.  This new book brings to mind (again) the "sticky faith" idea: will our youth programs and relationships instill in youth not just a flash in the pan of enthusiasm for God or church, but a steady, serious, life-long devotion "that lasts beyond their years in the youth room."





what did I sign up for.gifDVD What Did I Sign Up For? Things Every Youth Ministry Volunteer Should Know Chris Folmsbee (YS/Zondervan) $31.99  If I were in charge of a youth ministry program, I'd buy this thing and pass it around so that everyone who helps out watches it. (Or, have a party and view the stuff together--even better!)  This training course includes four major sections of the classic stuff folks really do need to know, presented in a fairly no-nonsense sort of way.  It is nicely done, nothing outrageous, just tons of good info and some nice enouragement.  Here are the main units: Understanding Youth Work and Youth Ministry, Relationships and Partnerships, Developing Programs and Environments, and Administration and Logistics.


aj.gifThe Adolescent Journey: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Practical Youth Ministry  Amy Jacober (IVP)  $18.00  Okay, I'm going to admit--this may be designed to be used as a text book at some Christian college that teaches youth ministry, or maybe for a youth min class at seminary, if seminary teaches such things.  But I think we volunteers most need this stuff -- we who aren't specialists and need a good, one-volume course on adolescent psychology, faith development, and applied theology for their lives.  This is meaty, I know. It's why you should get it.  Kudos to IVP for giving such solid resources for those of us who want to learn as much as we can, to do our jobs well.  And for that great cover art.
 



ss.gifSacred Space: A Hands-On Guide to Creating Multisensory Worship Experiences for Youth Ministry  Dan Kimball  (Zondervan) $29.99  This is just what it sounds like, a handbook to how to create--with tons of models, plans, ideas, and examples---of creative liturgies, fun services, multi-sensory experiences that draw youth into worship.  This is a good resource to have on hand and to pull on on occasion, when planning a special event, to use during a retreat or lock in, or some other time when an extraordinary, experiential program is called for.  This includes a cool CD (but you'll have to buy some supplies to pull it all off.)

 
99.gif99 Thoughts for Smaller Church Youth Workers: Doing More With Less  Stephanie Caro (Group) $4.99  We stock most of these nifty, pocket-sized 99 books, and most are chock-full of ideas. Most churches, we are aware, are smallish.  We have lots of books for small churches, and several specifically for those are volunteer in their small church youth ministry.  Here's some encouragement and fun ideas...






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April 3, 2012

Leaving Egypt (DeGroat), Still (Winner), New Collected Poems (Berry) Some Assembly Required (Lamott)

I was pondering a bit today about gift-giving this time of year, and how appropriate books are to give.  The Christmas gift-giving season sees a spike in book sales and it seems that the happy holidays are great times to give books.  Often, though, we find stuff like how to crochet an outfit for your pet or books about your friends favorite sports team or rock star.  Cookbooks and jokebooks and colorful books about making your own party favors and (for the more serious set) books of history and current affairs are popular.

But what about now, holy week, and the next phase of the liturgical calendar, that of Eastertide?  Lent certainly seems a bit more somber of a season, and even as we move through pondering the passion, ending up in joyful celebration, there is this intensity to it all. Death.  Life.

I could be wrong, but it sees the festival celebrating the risen Lord isn't quiet as mixed up with the sorts of sentimental stuff that we love in December ---going home for the holidays, and kissing under the mistletoe, and getting ready for some New Year's party.  For those who practice Easter, except for those confounding egg hunts, it is pretty clear what it is about.  Christ died.  Christ lives.  And, as Eugene Peterson might put it, we get it on it.

So what books can we give this time of year?  Well, it may be too late for a Lenten devotional (but one never knows; somebody may really appreciate reading this week about fasting and sadness and lament and passion; there is a reason many people appreciate Good Friday services, as it gives an opportunity to name our pain, to know that God, too, suffers.)

Here are a couple that are, if not forthrightly Lenten, and not celebratory, exactly, either, just are lovely good books for serious, enjoyable reading in this time after Winter but not yet Spring, this time of the end of Lent and the start of something else.

Leaving Egypt.jpgLeaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places  Chuck DeGroat (Square Inch/Faith Alive) $14.99  This book is special for a variety of reasons.  The "alligator-skin" suitcase feels neat, with a bit of texture, and the black and white picture of the suitcase before each chapter is a visual reminder as one moves through the pages that we really are on a journey, a journey away, a journey home.  It is handsome and a nicely made paperback. 

More importantly, it is wonderfully written.  It is not arcane or academic, but the author is obviously quite a scholar. But not only is it profoundly insightful about the human condition and what it takes to find deep change, it is--without a trace of being smarmy--very practical.  It is loaded with stories, some truly horrible, each that show the journey of a person stuck in Egypt-land, addicted, enslaved, fearful, oppressed.  Besides it being informed and thoughtful, well-written and full of stories, the author has a light touch (and a realistic one.)  This great book can be of immense benefit for anyone who is on a journey towards wholeness, seeking a break from the past, needing liberated from the Pharaohs that holds us back.  It wisely and winsomely and realistically points us to God's promised land.

I like this smart guy's Reformed worldview----he explains well how that which we are often enslaved by is, in fact, a good impulse, or a wonderful part of God's good creation.  He draws on Cornelius Plantinga's Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, for instance, to expose the way sin works and to talk about how the gospel can counter our idols.  And he is clearly experienced in sharing grace, in rejecting legalism, in calling out toxic faith views and habits and institutions.

It is interesting that DeGroat has taught a class for decades at Reformed Theological Seminary (in Orlando, Florida) and is also a therapist (hence the tons of stories that he lovingly shares.)  He quotes Gerald May and Parker Palmer along with the Heidelberg Catechism and John Calvin.  I love a book with great quotes and fasincating footnotes and this has 'em, from Walsh & Keesmaat (Colossians Remixed) to Michael Gorman to Kenneth Bailey.  He makes good use of many medieval mystics and of contemporary psychologists like Paul David Tripp and Dan Allender.  I love that a book can quote Puritan John Flavel and modern novelist Toni Morrison, Tim Keller and Walt Brueggemann.

If this were a longer review, I'd quote most of the fabulous introduction where DeGroat explains how he got the idea for this book---that the journey out of Egypt is, in fact, the story of all of us---from studying with British theologian Alister McGrath.

This time of year, with the Holy Week resonance with Jewish Passover, especially, we certainly can realize that this God-inspired, God-empowered, God-mandated move from captivity to freedom, is the essential journey of the Christian life.  As Steve Brown writes of it, "If you're trapped in "Egypt" and know there should be something far better, this book will change your life.  With profound biblical and theological insight, Chuck DeGroat has written a 'travel guide' for human and flawed travelers who want to be free."  We highly recommend it.

still_cover_web.jpgStill: A Mid-Faith Crisis Lauren F. Winner (HarperOne) $24.99  I gave this a brief, positive review when it first came out---my wife had zoomed through our advanced copy and was deeply touched by it, taken with its artful literary style, and the realistic story of loss and confusion and loneliness.  I had read parts, found it very moving, wondrously written, and a bit sad.  In that review I noted that Harper even had a Lenten reading guide available for download for those that wanted to read it's melancholy chapters bit by bit during Lent.

I want to suggest it again.  I know there are many people who are depressed.  Many people who have failed to live up to their best Christian ideals, many who suffer with disillusionment and even despair.  I think this book will help because it is honest about that stuff, well written, raw, real.  Lauren is one of the best in doing contemporary memoir and here she tells of her dark night of the soul after she left her husband.  Out of confidentiality or respect, I guess, she doesn't say much about the nature or failure of the marriage, but she does write about her inner life in the wake of that sorrow.  More, though, it is about something that happens to many of us, regardless of how we've fouled up or how badly life's hurts have hit us: we grow distant from God.  We think God has grown distant from us.  Our faith may or may not carry us through.  To use Chuck DeGroat's powerful analogy, we want to go back to Egypt.  Ms Winner has done a spectacular job writing a restrained, insightful, pathos-filled story of this part of her life, this leg of her journey.  Some of the writing is luminous, poetic, and at times it is plain.  She writes about the biggest matters, and always places her quest amidst the details---antidepressants cause her to put on weight; she wants to come across as a spiritual mentor and helpful older friend to some students, but loses her keys, so they have to rescue her; she fines great grace in going to a pie eating thing at her church; she goes to her mother's grave and sings hymns that her mother loved, but the Episcopal priest didn't allow them to be sung as the funeral liturgy.

I am sure that many will find Still to be thrilling to read, taking in the clever lines and interesting word choices, the flow of the paragraphs. Others will appreciate her candid discussions about her own spiritual practices, about prayer, about her journey through doubt and anguish. It seems like a good time to share it, now, in this week when we ponder Jesus' own sense of being forsaken.

new collected.jpgNew Collected Poems Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $30.00  Any collection of Berry's work is a cause for celebration, and this "new" collection of previous work is the most comprehensive volume done yet.  It is a big, handsome hardback with, as you can see, a great brownish design and a beautiful hawk on the cover--and, the photo on the back is new, for what it is worth. There is one new poem, ("The Country of Deja Vu"), a short little piece about reprinting his old work, which seems kind of funny.   

Included, then, in this anthology are all the poems found in these earlier books: The Broken Ground (1964), Findings (1969), Openings (1968), Farming: A Hand Book (1970), The Country of Marriage (1973), Clearing (1977), A Part (1980), The Wheel (1982), Entries (1984), Given (2005), Leavings (2010.)   As you may notice, a few poetry volumes are missing (the gift book Window Poems, for instance or Timbered Choir) but all the others are here.  There is an odd note indicating that a few might have been excised by Mr. Berry, but I can't tell which poems are missing.  Surely, most are there in these 489 pages.  It is the first time such a large, complete volume has been compiled.

Many prestigious literary voices have honored Mr. Berry's work, and many have explained why he is so important.   He himself has written about poetry (I adored the one he wrote about William Carols Williams of Rutherford.  And, of course, he is respected for his novels and essays which seamlessly explore his agrarian vision.  A few months back,  I told you about a recent collection of essays about him, a brilliant analysis called The Human Vision of Wendell Berry edited by Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.)  I hope you know just how esteemed he is. He was recently awarded the National Humanities Medal. Here is a bit from The New York Times Book Review,

Wendell Berry's poetry is a validation of his decision...to give up the literary life in New York and seek a deeper bond with his ancestral home, a hillside farm in Henry County, Kentucky, on the Ohio River. His straightforward search for a life connected to the soil, for marriage as a sacrament and family life, affirms a style that is resonant with the authentic...He can be said to have returned American poetry to a Wordsworthian clarity of purpose.

some assembly required.jpgSome Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son  Anne Lamott (Riverhead) $26.95  Well, not sure what this has to do with Lent, or Easter-time, exactly, but it is a new book that ought to be in some book lover's Easter basket.  If you want to give a gift that will be a good read, a fun and funny and troubling and inspiring book, the new one from this beloved zany writer---colorful is putting it mildly---could be just the ticket.  I know this isn't for everyone.  She uses some language.  Her theology is, uh, eccentric.  A few hardened secularists might find her too daffy in her love for Jesus.  Some conservative sisters and brothers will find her open-minded liberality just a bit much.  And the whole premise is about an unplanned pregnancy and a young couple that isn't married. Yet, she talks about her church, she talks about her fears and hopes, she talks about her foibles, she talks about her incredible love for her son, Sam, his girlfriend who he got pregnant, and the wonderful little boy that came to be.  And the whole shebang, the extended family, the new relatives, the ups and downs, etc. etc.

Just as the addicted, bohemian, world-famous novelist was in the process of becoming a Christian, years ago (narrated so wonderfully in Traveling Mercies) Lamott wrote a memoir about raising her young son, Sam. That great book was called, cleverly, Operating Instructions.  Well, that Sam is mostly grown up.  (By the way, I mentioned in my previous post, that he had made a small appearance in Mark Yaconelli's book Contemplative Youth Ministry because Mark had been the youth worker at Saint Andrew's Presbyterian Church, where Anne and Sam attended.)

Yes, this is a full on memoir, a year's worth of ruminations, day by day, as the late teenage pregnancy turns Sam and Amy into a young mom and dad of a baby named Jax, who comes into their lives and hearts like a storm, bringing a houseful of extended family, friends, trouble and grace.  Yes, there is trouble, and yes there is grace. And adventures.  What a funny, creative, crazy, new tale---one some her her fans hadn't quite expected.  If you like her loopy style and her liberal politics and her big, big heart, you'll dig this.  Sam himself has co-written a bit, and his voice is in there, too.  He isn't always happy.  Nobody is.  But there it is.

So maybe this is an Easter story, after all.   Despite broken, hard, situations, love wins.  Grace extended, goodness happens, and, in God's mercy, there can be new life.

 

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April 8, 2012

Selling Books at Q---and brand new books by Lyons, Merritt, Douthat & Stetzer

front-5.jpg For the next few days we'll be selling books at one of the coolest events we've ever done, at one of the classiest venues in country.  The website I've sometimes mentioned (and written for) The Q Ideas is run by Gabe Lyons, author of the excellent book, first published by Doubleday, now just out in an expanded edition in paperback The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World (Multnomah; $14.99.) His organization--mysteriously just called Q--- exists to inform, stimulate, encourage and network churches, Christian organizations, and leaders to be more creative in engaging the cultural and social issues of the day. They offer retreats with the likes of Eugene Peterson and storytelling workshops with Hollywood script writers; they bring together human rights organizations and network authors and activists, they participate in confabs on science and offer mentoring to humanitarian start-ups.  They befriend significant cultural leaders---Christian and not---offering behind the scenes spiritual guidance to gatekeepers, rising leaders, artists and social entrepreneurs.  And they keep their fantastic website updated, offering good pieces week by week.  (See there this week,  New York pastor Jon Tyson, and Steve Garber's great lecture on vocation.)

Their annual national event is rather like a faith-based TED conference, with some of the best thought leaders and Christian scholars, activists, and reformers doing pithy, Power-pointed presentations which are then discussed in lively conversation. (In this regard they seem to me, for those follow these things, like a somewhat more youthful and edgy Trinity Forum, or as I sometimes say, a Jubilee conference for grown-ups.)

That we get to offer a book display at Q is a privilege and (I assume Gabe is too busy running this gig to read me writing this) not a little bit daunting.  The stunning building itself---the federally-owned Andrew Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC---is enough to make us fret.  The remarkable line-up of speakers whose books we are providing creates in us an extraordinary amount of anxious energy (I still love hearing great lectures and sermons and interviews and I am still charmed meeting authors.)  And some fear and trembling.  Friends, please pray for us.

STREAMING TUESDAY MORNING
Better yet, after praying, plan to join us.  On Tuesday (April 9th) the programs of the first morning of the Q Gathering will be streaming live on-line, free. 

Go here: http://www.qideas.org/live/

Starting at 9:00 AM -10:30 AM EST you can hear Gabe Lyons, founder of Q, speaking brieflyandy c.jpg about "Ideas for the Common Good" and Andy Crouch, ruminating on the good and bad uses of power.  Andy's Culture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP; $25.00) remains one of my all time favorite books and is a must-read as foundational to appreciate Qsters. I can't tell you how important he is to follow (his latest project involved research into practices that enhance urban life called "This is Your City.")

Popular author and DC pastor Mark Batterson will speak about "Church & Place" (perhaps drawing from his new book The Circle Maker, drawing on the legend of Honi the Circle Maker, inviting us to learn how to pray through are dreams and fears.)  We have this new book (Zondervan; $19.99), a small paperback abridged edition (a sample, really; just $2.99) and a new DVD.

social animal.gifIt will be really entertaining, and edifying, I'm sure, to hear New York Times columnist and PBS pundit David Brooks comment on his important 2011 book, now out in paperback, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (Random House; $16.00) and, mostly, offer some glimpses of his next project, a book on humility.  We adored his Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive and hope you know them. We even stock a hardback edition called The Paradise Suite (Simon & Schuster; $28.00) that has both in one volume.  These include incisive observations about America's upper middle class and fabulously interesting social history.  Bobo's is the phrase he coined describing bourgeoisie bohemians, and his study of these liberal, wealthy communities that seem to hold to old hippie values but live in quaint upscale communities is genius.  And funny as anything.

Q likes to mix it up---offering speakers from various channels of social influence ("spheres" the Dutch Reformed folks in the line of Kuyper would call them.  There will be a speaker on Kuyper, by the way.)  And there is the constant, big question of how we apply these visionary ideas, making the move from good ideas to new practices.  So next, there will be a panel discussion about creative ways to think about reducing abortion, a goal both pro-lifers and pro-choicers claim to desire.  Q leader Rebekah Lyons will host a remarkable gathering of thoughtful folks, which will include Jenell Williams Paris, the author of the provocative The End of Sexual Identity (IVP; $15.00)

The last speaker of the first streaming segment features Jonathan Merritt, author of Green Like God and the just released A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars (FaithWords; $19.99), who will give a brief overview of his story, a story of being raised in the heart of the Christian right and the Southern Baptist establishment, his family's friendship with Jerry Falwell, and how, as a "next generation" evangelical, he struggled to affirm what was good about his conservative roots, and what was, perhaps, less than faithful. His work getting other religious conservatives to embrace Biblical concerns about justice for the poor and Earth-keeping and human rights, well, let us say it is a riveting read, and very very instructive for us all.
 
STREAMING TUESDAY NIGHT
You can join in again for a second free Q Gathering live streaming at 7:00PM until 8:45 PM, Tuesday night. Pray for good internet connection because you aren't going to want to miss this.

Tuesday night's schedule will start with worship music by the fantastic singer-songwriter, Sandra McCracken (she sings on the Indelible Grace CDs and sometimes with her husband, Derek Webb) followed by a must-hear message by Amy Sherman, whose book Kingdomkingdom calling.gif Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00) offers one of the best-developed cases for taking faith seriously as it informs our view of callings and careers, vocations and jobs, using our talents not just to "bring home the bacon" but as a central way most of us serve our neighbors and enhance the common good. We named it as one of the best books of the year in 2011, even though it had just released.  Not all of us, in fact most of us, can't be full time social reformers, cultural creatives, starting organizations and interesting initiatives.  But we can think more intentionally about how our workplace is in need of transformation, how our careers can be avenues of Christian service, how we can push for greater commitments to social responsibility in the marketplace.  Excellent.

Ross Douthat is up next, and is interviewed by the exceptionally astute think-tank dude, Michael Cromartie.  Ross is a conservative essayist and journalist and his insights into "Faith, Media and Politics" will only scratch the surface, but this interview will be great.  By the way, we are the first place in the nation to receive his brand new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press) $26.00  Readers of the deeper end of the conservative pools will know this well, as it has already garnered some pre-pub buzz, but it is most urgently to be considered by those who have affirmed the need for looser doctrine and less demanding expressions of faith, whether they are classic 20th century mainline folks or emerging 21st century post-evangelicals.  I'll describe it a bit more, below, but do take in the live conversation with Cromartie if you can.  It will be good.
  


We have long appreciated Rev. Joel Hunter whose book is bluntly called A New Kind of Conservative (Regal; $19.99) and tells his story of being fired shortly after being hired by the Christian Coalition for trying to shift that right wing political group to a more balanced, Biblical agenda (concern for the poor? the environment? peacemaking? Uh, not so much, they told him.)  Hunter is also speaking Tuesday evening.  His talk, "Government is Not the Enemy" illustrates a "third way" between the left and the right, it seems, and should be fruitful for the conversations happening later that evening, and into Wednesday.  

There will be plenty of speakers from various viewpoints throughout the event, from Jim public faith ipage.gif Wallis of Sojourners to Gideon Strauss of the Center for Public Justice,  Mitch Hescox of EEN to Chai Ling, a hero of the Tiananmen Square uprising and author of the page-turner A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters (Tyndale; $22.99.)  From the high-end fashion industry to inner-city education, practitioners making a difference will give brief testimony. Vibrant Christian authors on various topics are there, like artist like Daniel. A. Siedell whose rigorous book God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art (Baker; $25.00) we love to promote. Top shelf theologians like Miroslav Volf, James K.A. Smith, and Anthony Bradley will present, as will cultural critics like Sherry Turkle of MIT (whose recent book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other [Basic Books; $28.95] is urgent and fascinating!) Italone together.gif will be great to see the ever-eloquent Os Guinness (and, once again, promote his Case for Civility [HarperOne; $23.95]) and hear about his forthcoming IVP book on American freedom,  and to hear NPR journalist Barbara Bradley Hagerty (who has a fabulously smart book on faith and science, through the lens of neurology, The Fingerprints of God (Riverhead; $17.00.)  We will hear from, and promote the books of  environmentalist Nancy Sleeth (her practical and clever new book is called Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest for a Slower, Simpler More Sustainable Life (Tyndale; $14.95) and Bread for the World Executive David Beckman (Exodus from Hunger (WJK; $15.00) and immigration advocate Jenny Hwang-Yang of World Relief (Welcoming the Stranger; IVP; $15.00).  Those who curated this amazing array of speakers---and I haven't mentioned them all---are genius and so very helpful to us all.  I'm serious, we'll will have a display of books written by some of the finest thinkers and social reformers in the land.

Do visit the streaming presentations Tuesday morning and Tuesday evening --- again, you can sign up by clicking here.

OR AT LEAST BUY SOME BOOKS


We invite you to look at the speakers list for each day and if you see any authors whose books you may want to buy, let us know.  We'll offer to our readers the BookNotes 20% discount on any Q authors this week, while supplies last.

Here are four titles that may be particularly germane, each brand new, by authors who we will see at the Q DC Gathering.  They are important titles, I am sure.

next c paper.jpgThe Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World  Gabe Lyons (Multnomah) $14.99  This is the brand new paperback edition, with a new chapter added (on civility, lessons learned from last years Q event where they hosted the controversial "Ground Zero Imam" Feisal Abdul Rauf, who Gabe has befriended.  This struggle to build bridges and offer a faith that is more generous and less divisive is hard for those of us who have deep convictions (it is easy to be civil if one doesn't hold firm believes.)  It is a great chapter, added to the other six characteristics of "next Christians" and those who want to be counted among God's agents of restoration.

There is a good discussion guide in the back, too.  In good Q fashion, it is hoped that this will be discussed together, used as a springboard for conversation, reflection, and new action.  I know I've talked a lot about this book this past year, quoting from it in many presentations I've done, and showing it at nearly every book display we've done.  The paperback is even better, and I hope you buy it from us.


faith of our own.jpgA Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars  Jonathan Merritt (FaithWords) $19.99  I mentioned this above, noting that it is at once a fabulous story of one man's journey to a more wholistic, culturally engaged, and less partisan faith, but it is also a call to conservatives and liberals to distance themselves from their ideologies and to be more truly Biblical, following the reign of Jesus wherever that may lead.  He's pretty sure it won't lead to the political extremes, unless being courageously moderate and imaginatively counter-cultural is itself, these days, an extreme position.  It is radical, but graciously so.  It is wild, but joyful.  It is prophetic, but heart-broken, not mean. And wise. And hopeful. And really interesting.   As Sammy Rodriguez (President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) puts it Merritt wants to "reconcile sanctification with service without embracing the extremes."

I think the CNN religion editor Dan Gilgoff gets it right when he suggests just how important his work is: "The story of Merritt's exit from a hard-edged political movement to a more centrists, more complex political place is a potent and timely symbol of the journeys of many young American evangelicals."   

Or, as Ed Stetzer (whose brand new book I describe below) puts it, "If you want to understand the shifts among many younger Christians, this book is a must read."   You may have seen Jonathan's essays and op-ed pieces in USA Today or seen him interviewed on TV.  He shows up on line a lot, and remains an active, energetic writer and pundit.  He's an important guy. I'm glad to call him a friend.

I really like what Gabe himself writes of his friend's book: "After a wearisome decade where younger Christians welcomed the downfall of the Religious Right, Merritt charts the way forward---helping us image a new, constructive way to advance the common good in the public square. A Faith of Our Own provides a roadmap for how Christians can engage the future."

Here is a recent piece he wrote in the Huffington Post, replying to criticisms by the Family Research Council of an earlier piece he had written.  It documents the unseemly way some churches are linked to partisan political advocacy, replying to their odd claim that such things don't happen in their circles.  

Thanks to our unsung sales rep, by the way, who helped us get this book before any other store in the country.  Because of our connection with Q this week, we can sell it early.

bad religion cover.jpgBad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics  Ross Douthat (Free Press) $26.00  I trust you know that the Free Press is one of the nation's most respected public affairs publishers, indicating that this is a serious book that will be discussed in somber tones on the important talk shows.  Formerly a senior editor at The Atlantic, the author is the youngest columnist for The New York Times op-ed page, and author of several important books. Blurbs are from excellent, nuanced, careful writers and critics, such as Timothy Keller,  Alan Jacobs, the upbeat, popular Jesuit James Martin, and "crunchy con" author Rod Dreher.   We got the book in yesterday---the first place in the country, I believe---so I can do no better than to share these stellar blurbs.  Wow, if they are even partially right, this is going to be a book that you should consider.

"Not only is Ross Douthat's account of orthodox Christianity's decline provocative, but his critique of today's ascendant heresies is compelling. This volume is a sustained proof of Chesterton's thesis that when people turn from God, 'they don't believe in nothing--they believe in anything.' Everyone who is interested in why the church is faring as it is in U.S. culture today needs to get this book."
--Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City



"Bad Religion is superb: sharply critical of the amazing variety of American religious pathologies, but fair; blunt in diagnosis, but just; telling a dark tale, but telling it hopefully. For those trying to understand the last half-century or more of American religion, and to strive for a better future, it is an indispensable book."
--Alan Jacobs, author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis

"Ross Douthat's thoughtful, articulate, wide-ranging, sometimes contrarian and always provocative new book asks a tough question: Why has Christianity been so misunderstood, and so misused, in the past few decades? From those who (foolishly) watered down the most basic Christian beliefs, to those who (falsely) promised worldly success to the followers of Jesus, the values of orthodoxy (literally, "right belief") have often been blithely set aside. With an impressive command of both history and contemporary social trends, Douthat shows not only how we ended up with a Christianity of our own making, but also how we can reclaim an adherence to the teachings of the real Jesus--not just the convenient one."
--James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

"Bad Religion is nothing short of prophetic. In a time of religious, political, and cultural upheaval, Ross Douthat tells the American faithful--liberals, conservatives, and everybody in between--not what we want to hear, but what we desperately need to hear. With this provocative and challenging work that no thoughtful Christian can afford to ignore, Douthat assures his place in the first rank of his generation's public intellectuals."
--Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons and senior editor of The American Conservative

SubversiveKingdom-2.jpgSubversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation Ed Stetzer (Broadman Holman) $14.99  A few weeks ago I did a list of books about the missional church, about energetic new, culturally-savvy, future-facing church plants and "fresh expressions" of congregational life.  I don't think I listed any of Stetzer's many book on congregational life and Kingdom-driven church planting, but I could have.  He is energetic, upbeat, inspiration, and very wise, solid about how do to do this important stuff.  He has been a fan of Q since it's inception, and it is great that he will be there again this year.  His brand spanking new book---it releases next week, and a few stores have just received them---is about this whole Kingdom vision, missional, risk-taking sort of radical discipleship.  It revisits and updates teaching he gave in his very first book, a small paperback we have sold for years, Compelled by Love: The Most Excellent Way to Missional Living (New Hope; $14.99)   It looks great, and we are happy to offer it now.  If you need some help getting your juices flowing and rekindling your fire for faith in action, this could be just the ticket. 

Q GROUP STUDIES

Q Group DVD.jpgHere is another way to get into the Q spirit, even if you cannot be at the gathering.  We have, in the past, promoted the great DVDs and study books (which include articles to read and discuss).  These are grouped around themes, are presentations drawn from previous Q events, and are exactly the sort of culturally-engaged, big-picture, thoughtful faith-based stuff that we simply must be doing in our fellowships and churches if we are going to form people who are conversant and propelled to be involved in the world in distinctively Christian ways.

Here is a link to an older BookNotes page about these Q Group Studies and see our listing of the last batch of Q DVDs.  We have them listed, at sale prices, too.  We'd be happy to ship some to you, eager to keep this conversation going.  If you know any small group facilitator,  campus minister, social activist, or Christian leader who might find these helpful, do forward this along.  I'm surprised at how few church folks know about these kinds of resources and we are eager to promote them.  Thanks for your work in networking, evangelizing, sharing and promoting our efforts here.

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April 14, 2012

The spectacular Love Does by Bob Goff (Nelson; regularly $15.99) On Sale -- 20% off

Love_Does_240_360_Book.625.cover_-196x300.jpgAlmost anybody who has heard Bob Goff speak can skip this, and just order his new book, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World (Nelson; $15.99) right away. We have the link to our order form down below--and a good discount, too.  You know all about this Goff guy.  The first place we showed it off---just yesterday---one customer bought five.  It is that kind of a book, written by that kind of a guy.  His great humor, extraordinary life of whimsy and grace, his nearly unbelievable stories of capers around the world---freeing slaves, helping young couples find true love, forgiving a sad lady who hit his jeep, helping his kids talk peace with world leaders---are great to listen to, fun to read about, and unbelievably inspiring.  As Bill Hybels has put it, "If this book does not make your heart beat faster, book the next flight to the Mayo Clinic."  If you've heard Goff speak, you know.  He's a skin in the game, palms up, God-is-good kind of visionary.  As Donald Miller writes in the introduction, Bob will "wreck your American Dream and help you find your actual dream. You simply cannot live the same once you know him."

If you buy this book---as I'm begging you to!---you will get to know him. Bob Goff is, I'm quite sure, as he appears; the real deal, as they say.  He is transparent, honest, energetic, optimistic, full of the love of God, illustrated by his being an active (and do I mean active) follower of King Jesus.  As he puts it, he likes to "leak Jesus" on others, and once he compliments you, affirming you for doing that (whether it is true or not) you want to rise to the occasion.  You want to be awesome.  You want to allow God to spill out into everything.  You want to live large, make a difference, take risks, have fun, and get busy leaving faint fingerprints of the holy on the things you touch.  You, too, want to leak Jesus.

I first met Goff at a Christian Legal Society annual affair a couple of years ago, a big event where he was, or so I thought, going to give a standard talk about an orphanage he started in Uganda.  I thank God for these great missions of mercy, and we have supported such anti-hunger programs for all of our adult lives (and before. My mom had us "trick or treat for UNICEF" in the mid-60s.  So yeah.) I must admit, though, I wasn't on the edge of my seat at the banquet, waiting to hear another sob story about poor kids and another nice testimony of somebody doing routine mission work far, far away. 



And then he started excitingly telling about the lady that ran a red-light hitting and blowing upBob-Goff-Web.jpg his jeep, watching it burst into flames (how cool is that? he exclaimed) and how he cared for her afterwards.  His academic past was less than stellar and his legal calling was sketchy, since he hardly passed his entrance exams.  The story about how he badgered the Dean of the law school to let him in anyway (told hilariously in the chapter "Get Your Books") had me in stitches, and eager to be more audacious in my endeavors.  Hearing him explain how he has his law office on some faux island at Disneyland that you have to get to by a little boat---he is not making this up: he showed slides of his meeting with an important African diplomat on Tom Sawyer Island---had us texting friends asking if they had heard of this guy.  Could he be for real?  That zany, and that successful, and that adept at advancing God's reign and glory through his uniquely Christian way of thinking about vocation and calling, profession and professionalism? Can an old Young Life nut who just loves everybody really pull off these whimsical spiritual stunts (which he calls capers) and make a serious difference in a broken world of serious evil and injustice?  If he's just a postmodern clown, okay, that's attractive and entertaining, but he seems also to be truly interested in changing the world, reforming legal institutions, working in the third world, literally saving lives.  Can funny stories change things?

Look.  Jesus rose from the dead, right?  Knocked that stone right away from that grave, right?  In a strange world like that, where a servant King whose regal crown was one of thorns, where a Messiah takes the city through riding not a warhorse, but on a donkey , well, in that kind of an upside down world, maybe a Bob Goffian sense of goofiness really is the new normal.  Maybe we don't change the world through power, but through kindness and mercy, joy and goodness.  Maybe Dostoyevsky was a bit wrong: beauty won't save the world, whimsy will.

Bob Goff does more than tell incredibly interesting, exceptionally entertaining and truly inspiring stories---like how he loaned his house to a kid he didn't know who wanted to propose to his girl in a smashing way, or the one about pranking a best friend by checking into his honeymoon suite, or a great telling of a particularly fruitful game of Bigger and Better, or a funny remembrance of a childhood episode of being shot by his pal with a bb gun---he tells stories about profound structural reform in some of the most unjust places on the planet.

Which is to say, in Love Does, you will cry a bit.  Mostly tears of laughter, tears of hilarity.  Maybe you'll even wet your pants.  But there will also be quiet tears of gratitude that God in his mercy has raised up a man like this, to do good work like this.

Like what?  Like getting child soldiers out of jail to get fair trails, like meeting world leaders to create space for international conversations of reconciliation, like getting laws passed to prevent ritual maiming of children, like fighting in the front lines in the battle against sexual trafficking.  Through his upbeat and graciously relational style---he's obviously an off-the- charts extrovert, whatever Myers-Briggs letters indicate such buoyant, funny, courageous types---he has been able to finagle laws being passed in certain African countries.  As he told us at Jubilee in Pittsburgh 2011 (see my report, here) he has liberated children from hellish prisons.  He has helped consult with those making legislative initiatives in Uganda where he is now a diplomat.  And, by the way, he's quick to report (in the chapter "Just Say Yes") that this official designation gives him diplomatic immunity.  He can speed without fear of tickets.  In fact, he notes, he could probably kill you and get away with it.  Just sayin.

So, Goff mixes whimsy and courage, silliness with the sacred, daring and joyful capers with daring and important political reform.  And, although it is not terribly gratuitous, he even tells a fart story.

Love Does is a collection of really funny stories, each one entertaining and fascinating--- some are so outrageous you will wonder. Really? He did that? Is he maybe exaggerating a teensy bit?  And each chapter brings home a certain lesson, a moral to the story, a principle of Christian living. (So as not to be missed, each chapter starts with the two sentence lesson as an epigram.) I must say, or I guess I think I should, that some of these are a bit simple; most of this stuff isn't rocket science, really.  But through Goff's energetic storytelling, Christian living becomes a whole new adventure; the phrase "taking it up a notch" hardly begins to explain this wild ride of a read.  Skip the basic Christian growth books that say life can be an adventure when serving Christ, that we can have passion and purpose.  Most of them have no idea. 

Few of us do, really: this is a vibrant, effective,  grace-filled, and Christ-like kind of adventure I swear I've never witnessed before.  I have not been so viscerally enthused and motivated and excited by an author since perhaps the first time I ever heard Tony Campolo at his best.  "It's Friiiiiidaaaaay, but Sunday's comin'" Tony used to preach. "The Kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our Lord" he would shout.  The crowds would be on their feet, shouting along, "and He shall reign for ever and ever and ever."  Hallelujah!!  Oh yeah, with Campolo, we were fired up and ready to make a difference --- and many truly did, signing up for urban living with Mission Year or adopting a Compassion International child, taking mission trips to Haiti or working for peace, rejecting materialism, thinking afresh about our callings and careers, wondering how to be most faithful in our work and public lives as well as in our "quietude" as he used to say.

Many BookNotes readers can recall that first time you heard Campolo and his funny, rousing sermons.  Oh, did he make us laugh.  And he spoke hard truth.  Tony is a world-changing, cultural-shaping, poverty-fighting, white professor who preaches like a historic black preacher, and some of his talks became legendary.
Goff at J 12.jpgBob Goff is equally energetic, and his stories are as funny as any Tony ever told. Perhaps some are more goofy; some are just sheer nuttiness (jumping into the bay dressed in a tux in order to greet some kayakers) and you can't help but enjoy reading about them.  Love Does is a fun read, you could give it to teens, easily.  But, as with Tony and some of his fantastic stories, you can just know that a sovereign God is behind them (or at least some of them.)  I'm talking miracles of the first order, crazy stuff you just can hardly believe. Coincidences, as they say.  God is alive and well and his winsome followers like Goff are leaking his love all over the place, and the Spirit is blessing it in mighty ways.  When love does, good things happen.

I said a while ago to a small group of clergy that this book will no doubt be declared as one of the best Christian books of the year.  If for no other reason, the stories are a hoot and the shenanigans he gets himself into so interesting, that it will be used by storytellers and preachers for sermon illustrations, to help us make our points.  These stories are made for re-telling, and we commend them to anyone who wants to be a more interesting communicator.  Buy the book for the great stories.

Love_Does_240_360_Book.625.cover_-196x300.jpgBut, as I have suggested, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff is more than just a collection of funny stories and audacious examples of stepping out in faith.  There are lessons to be learned, ideas with which to struggle, principles of the Christ-life that need to be explicated, grappled with, embraced and embodied.  There is good stuff to learn here about discipleship.  Stuff we have to practice, habits of the heart to nurture (generosity, hospitality, trust, humor, kindness, freedom) and stuff we get to do.

You should buy the book for the whole package, the adventures and the principles, the stories and the lessons, but the bottom line comes through over and over and over.  The title says it all: true love causes us to get involved, to actually express our caring, to show our love, to do things for others.  You know the famous verse from the epistle of James: faith without works is dead.  Sweet Mr. Goff and his beloved Sweet Maria, don't have to cite the verse, really.  Their lives, in little and big ways, in how they love their neighbors, how they help their friends, how they work for justice, how they get involved in global ministries, are a witness to the truth.  No, faith that doesn't do much isn't real faith.  And love that doesn't reach out, well, it isn't real love, I guess.  You learn this from the Goffs' lives and from his compelling call to us all: just do it.

Love isn't sentimental.  It sometimes picks fights.  (Yep, he has some good stories about that) and it almost always involves taking risks.  The risks Goff takes are recorded here for us to be encouraged by.  En-couraged.  I don't know if it is true to say this, but, in Goff fashion, I'll just say it anyway and hope I'm not too off-base: to be en-couraged means to be given courage.  This book will put some wind in your sails, some guts in your gusto, it will make you want to be a more courageous person.  I'm not kidding.  It is one of the best books of the year, by a man who has shown encouragement to many, whose parables of whimsy just might change your life.  And the world.  We would be pleased if you ordered some from us, at the link below.

A big PS:  I should have said this earlier, but if you don't know, Goff plays a significant role ina-million-miles-in-a-thousand-years.jpg another great book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller (Nelson; $15.99.) In that book (I hope you know, since we love it so) indie film-maker Steve Taylor shows up to make a movie inspired by Miller's meandering thoughts about religion-less faith, Blue Like Jazz (Nelson; $15.99.)  Alas, to make a movie about a memoir supposes that the memoirist has some sort of life story, something good going on, a trajectory, a tale to tell.  Miller realized (by studying how to make a film script, as he explains in Million Miles) that he needed to get his life aligned with the larger story of God, a purpose-driven life with something big and meaty unfolding in some Biblically-shaped, coherent plot.  He needed to find himself a mentor, the kind of life-changing, one-of-a-kind, Jesus-leaking character that a character like Miller could take.  Goff is his man.  If you've read Million Miles in a Thousand Years then you know that Miller talks about Goff----his annual New Year's Day parade that one cannot watch, but must be in, his orphanage in Uganda, where he gets Miller to pick up a shovel and plant a commemorative tree.  Goff not only tells a better story than Donald Miller's bohemian ruminations, but he invites him into that story.  Through Miller's memoir, we learn that a good mentor does that.  In more traditional terms, although neither Miller nor Goff use these exact words, a faith leader does evangelism and disciple-making, helps get folks converted to Jesus and equips them to live into the new way of His kingdom. 

The amusing and powerful references to Goff in Miller's book made me wonder---is that guy for real, or a literary device, maybe.  Could there really be such a zany and helpful mentor, who takes his kids out of school to meet world leaders and takes Donald Miller to the war zones of central Africa?  Who pulls pranks and can be seen beside his friends on the Ugandan Supreme Court, as they try on Mickey Mouse ears on Tom Sawyer Island?  Who calls his engagement with Scripture not "Bible studies" but "Bible doings"?



Yes, that man does exist. 

Some of us have been drawn into his orbit. Now he has written his own book.  May Love Does en-courage many, as his life story unfolds in this book, warts and jokes and failures and passions and all, inviting us all to "get to the do part of our faith."

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April 16, 2012

Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination by Brian Walsh (Brazos Press; $18.99) A two-part reflection.

My friend Brian Walsh will be doing a presentation drawing on his recent book on the singer-songwriter, rock guitarist and road warrior Bruce Cockburn at the renowned Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing this week.  Later, Mr. Cockburn will be performing, preceded by an interview with Walsh.  In honor of this remarkable bit of interaction and collaboration, and with a big hat tip to all involved at Calvin College, I offer this long rumination on the music of Bruce Cockburn, the writing of Brian Walsh, and this new book that explores how Cockburn's work can inspire a more fruitful, faithful Christian imagination.  It's a great book and means a lot to me, as you will see. 

kicking at the darknes.jpgWhen Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination by Brian J. Walsh (Brazos; $18.99) hit the bookstore shelves in late fall I did a brief review, suggesting it was a book I adored, had read (in an early manuscript version) and that I would write about more thoroughly.  

When we were doing our Hearts & Minds Best Books of 2011 announcements, we awarded it as one of the year's best.

In fact, I said it was one of the year's books that made me the happiest.  I had hoped others might find that intriguing, and that BookNotes readers would order it.  Some did, but others, I'm afraid, didn't realize just how important this remarkable book really is.  I'm not alone, though, in insisting that this is a book that is well worth your hard-earned coin.  I smile in agreement when Brian McLaren says "I savored every page of this book."   And I agree with Marva Dawn's enthusiastic assertion: "You need to read this book!"

Here is my heart-felt two part longer review of Kicking at the Darkness by Brian Walsh.  The first essay is a rambling bit of my own story, why I found Cockburn so important decades ago, and how Walsh has been a writer whose Biblical insights about worldview and the prophetic imagination have influenced me greatly.  Granted, my remarks are a bit impressionistic and, insofar as it is just a little bit of my little story, it may not be that interesting to you. 

Still, I hope you give it a read---you may better understand why I write about many of the themes we pursue here, the sorts of books we commend, the authors we most appreciate.  The confluence of evangelical faith, a reformational worldview, how Christian discipleship demands cultural engagement, our interest in the arts, and the really important influence of pop music form the backdrop as I tell about Bruce Cockburn.  I've said for decades that Cockburn is in my top two or three all-time favorite recording artists, so I hope you'll read my odd little overview.

Part Two is a bit more focused, describing the structure and themes of the book.  In my first essay, actually, I end with three reasons why you should read Kicking at the Darkness.  If this intrigues you, or you are willing to trust me, order it from us asap.  If you want a bit more explanation of where Walsh goes with all this, read my summary in Part Two.  I am (relatively) brief, there, and it is no substitute for taking in Walsh's insight, good writing, powerful Bible lessons, and his seriously imaginative take on Cockburn's seriously imaginative artistic vision.  Enjoy.

CAUGHT TAKING A DIVE

Two songs taken together on the 1976 release In the Falling Dark, the title track and "Gavin'sinthefallingdark.gif Woodpile" nearly knocked me to my knees. Sure, In the Falling Dark had glorious praise songs ("Lord of the Starfields", "Starfields"), sweet stuff about pregnancy ("Little Seahorse") and a light little song with some prophetic edge insinuating that the cities of this world are somewhat like Babel ("Laughter"--ha, ha, ha) and the lovely view of heaven described as a "Festival of Friends."  But the slower "Woodpile" song is a hard, acoustic story about mercury poisoning and the "curse of these modern times."  I listened to it coupled with the vision of the whole creation groaning in "Falling Dark" which described the glory all around, and our ignorant lack of appropriate response.  He sings that we are all caught "taking a dive."

That was a dumb expression a friend of mine used for when we did nonviolent direct action protests of prophetic civil disobedience (against nuclear weapons builders) and Cockburn's use of it as I faced possible jail time just made me weep.  Is that phrase "taking a dive" heroic, a summons to get arrested in protest, as we used the term?  No.  It is full of remorse, joining in brokenness, the brokenness of Romans 8, where the whole fouled up world is longing for redemption, if only we humans would get right with God.  We are "caught" taking a dive, missing it all, blowing it, giving in and giving up. It is owning up to the sorrow of our situation--even the beasts cry "such a waste!"  Years later--way out on the rim of the galaxy, as Cockburn put it then in a song of lament, where "the gifts of the Lord lie torn" ---we realized Bruce was, as Bono put it, a 'postmodern psalmist.'  He brought joy and tears together, like the Psalms.  

Nobody has done this in our time like Bruce Cockburn and his music has been an influential soundtrack for Beth and I since our marriage in 1976, the year we discovered Cockburn.  Allow me to tell you a bit about it.

***

It was the mid-70s, and I was listening daily to Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Dylan, The Band,Running_on_Empty.jpg early Elton John, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Dan Fogelberg, Roberta Flack, and the occasional prog rock or jazz record.   And there was some of that new energy of punk.  And a bit of soul and R&B.  (Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, War.)  Since the 60s I'd been moved by good tunes; pop music moved my feet just a bit but, more, it allowed my heart to be touched.  My earlier girlfriends, my best guy friends, and my then new wife Beth all could attest that I'd talk about music til the wee hours if I could. From "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to the genius of the White album, from Harry Chapin to John Prine to Joan Baez to CSN to Gordon Lightfoot.  My faith, my politics, and my whole worldview were shaped by John Lennon, James Taylor, and the wooly stuff from the Dead to the Allman Brothers.  Bob Marley was young and interesting.  I likedJoni_hissing.jpg eccentric stuff like The Incredible String Band and It's A Beautiful Day, the soul of Van Morrison, the lefty activism of Graham Nash. I heard Pete Seeger a time or two at anti-nuke protests and tried to listen to old Woody Guthrie.  I would eventually be an early fan of a young band from Dublin, who fused passion and politics and prayer, but that would be years later, long before the brilliance of Arcade Fire or Radiohead.

Few of the contemporary Christian music pioneers that that I listened to in the late 70s ever fully captured my heart.  Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill and early Talbot brothers stood out, beside our friend James Ward, but if secular pop groups sang mostly about lost love and romance, why did CCM singers only sing about faith and worship? Why no Christian songs about justice, about ecology, about friendship, about travel, about sex, about loneliness, about race relations?  I don't know which was more frustrating, songs with no reference to God or songs about God with no reference to real life.

(This did begin to change, in part due to great songwriters like Mark Heard and Mike Roe and Glenmark heard victims.jpg Kaiser, for instance.  And, eventually, the spectacular work of Bill Mallonee and VOL, which is a whole other story.)  It would take years before CCM stars wrote anything about the needs of the poor, and even then there was nary a song about injustice or the causes of poverty.  Much has been written about the insular tone and limited vision of the evangelical awakening in the last quarter of the 20th century and our bookstore---carrying books on science and film and business and global injustice and such has attempted to witness against the sacred-secular dualism that was both the downfall of, and reinforced by, the evangelical CCM industry.)

This ground has been well covered (Charlie Peacock's book At the Crossroads, now out of print, is very important and a great read) and I don't recall it to bash the Jesus movement years or the talented recording artists that we enjoyed in those years, such as Keith Green, Phil Keaggy, or Amy Grant who, despite being an icon of the 80s and 90s CCM sub-culture was, in fact, a bit out of the box and a very fine lyricist. But it does frame some of the context for Cockburn's early appeal for many of us.  Fast forward several decades or so and other kids stuck in the CCM world found similar weaknesses, and their memoirs are wonderful to read for those of us who follow that sub-culture.  See, for instance, Sects, Love, and Rock and Roll: My Life on Record by Joel Henge Hartse (Wipf & Stock; $23.00.  Or, get the tremendously written report by Spin writer, Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock by Andrew Beaujon (Da Capo; $16.95)

I remind you of the less than full-orbed (and often less than artistically mature) CCM music of those years--and my fierce devotion to more substantial artists like Jackson Browne---so that you might get just a hint of the absolute thrill, the deep joy, the jaw-dropping, too-good-to-believe discovery of one Bruce Cockburn, an exceptionally literate Canadian folkie (he joywillfindaway.gifknew Neil Young from up in Alberta, somebody said) turned bluesy rocker.  Even then, after only a few hippy-folk albums under his belt, he was considered one of the great guitarists around.  It was being circulated at the time that evangelical rocker Phil Keaggy was considered---by Jimi Hendrix, at least---to be the world's best electric guitar player.  Keaggy was later quoted as saying that he couldn't hold a candle to Cockburn.  A drop-out of Berklee School of Music where he studied jazz, Cockburn could do extraordinary finger picking, could find new chords and tunings that made the guitar gods gently weep, and could barrel house with blues like nobodies business. 

And then he started singing about Jesus.

Excuse me while I collect myself.  The lump in my throat as I write that has led to tears in my eyes, as I consider the goodness of God to touch the lives of artists who can so touch our lives.  For evangelical Christians like myself who believe there is simply nothing more important than a proper understanding of the Christ-exalting life of Kingdom discipleship, finding that Cockburn had become a Christian was only matched by the night my best friend Ken Heffner and I listened with grins and tears and high-fives and praises to God to the soul-stirring Slow Train Coming that testified to Mr. Dylan's undeniable conversion to Yeshua.  I will never forget that night, and I will never forget the first Cockburn album I ever heard, bought from a budget bin at a Pittsburgh record shop.

Which brings me to this: if you care about thoughtful pop music that is clearly the work of an artist on a spiritual journey, a great singer-songwriter, who has earned Juno after Juno (the Canadian music industry's equivalent to a Grammy) who is esteemed by some of the finest contemporary musicians on the planet---U2, for instance, The Band, Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, Barenaked Ladies, Buddy Miller, Joe Henry,  Eric Clapton--you owe it to yourself to listen to Bruce Cockburn.  His earliest stuff is impressive, mostly acoustic, although even his later louder records--the middle, political period, when he started doing artsy spoken word stuff, too---include gentle anything.gifballads.  He has worked with jazz violinists, wild trumpeters, gospel singers like The Blind Boys of Alabama, politico folk-singer Ani DiFranco, and slide guitar master Bonnie Raitt.  He has released hot live albums with raging bands and, a year or so ago, Slice of Life, which is a double live album of his solo performances. Anything, Anytime, Anywhere is a compilation of single hits he had out, from 1979-2002.  Here is a complete discography, and it is fun to see his expansive career, the interesting titles and the often obscure artwork on the jackets.  (Don't forget to come back here, though!)

Cockburn's producer of recent years, Colin Linden, himself stood-in with The Band, traveling with that legendary group for a while.  His slide guitar and rootsy Hammond B3 can be raucous or soulful, and has served Cockburn wonderfully.  Over the course of Cockburn's career there have been some truly sweet songs, some avante garde extended jams, some blazing electric guitar solos (his prophetic, vulgar cry against the vulgarities of the injustices of the International Monetary Fund, "They Call It Democracy" comes to mind, especially from the live recording) and some exceptionally sweet slide guitar ("The Whole Night Sky" features some heart-wrenching playing by Bonnie Raitt as well and is one of my favorites, as he sings gorgeously about shedding tears.) 

A few albums were nearly travelogues, offering poetic impressions drawn from his journeys in Nepal, publicizing land-mines in Mozambique, playing with local musicians as he researched desertification in Mali, liberation-theology anthems written in Central America, alongside journalistic songs about dusty roads and village chickens while staying with refugees in Guatemala. "Dust and diesel, rises like incense from the road" he sings in a truly wonderful travelogue as he rumbles through rural Nicaragua. An older song artfully describes watching an old lady sleeping on a Japanese train---"head bobbing almost imperceptively"---and a concert favorite powerfully describes ridingbreakfast.gif a bike through "the Tibetan side of town." Indeed, a 2004 album captured his global citizenship and world travels with the title Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu

Yes, Bruce continued to sing about Jesus, with Biblical images and spiritual themes---often mixed with songs about erotic desire, or about political injustice.  We first started carrying the author Brennan Manning before he was very popular because Cockburn cited his "Shipwrecked at the Stable Door" chapter from a Manning book which was then entitled Lamb & Lion (but is now out as The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus) in a song Cockburn wrote with that title.  If Cockburn was reading this guy, we wanted in on it, and we soon became Brennan fans, too.  But he was never preachy like most CCM rockers and was never embedded in a fundamentalist subculture.  In fact, some of the most indicting words against the Christian right come from Cockburn, in songs like "Gospel of Bondage" from his 1988 album---a powerful favorite---called Big Circumstance

An active humanitarian, it is ironic that one of Cockburn's most well-known songs is "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (from Stealing Fire) which channeled his rage against US-backed helicopters spraying bullets on refugee children in counter-insurgency warfare in the mid-80s.  It is a passionate song, with the understandable line, after singing about the horror he had witnessed "If I had a rocket launcher, some son-of-a-bitch would die."  It is a song he used to apologize for, that he told me once he didn't fully affirm---it is the artists job to report authentic feelings, he said, and, like it or not, this is how he felt as he witnessed for peace.  Even pacifists, maybe especially pacifists, sometimes cry out in rage, and Cockburn gave voice to the feelings many of us felt as we worked in the 80s and 90s to stop US-backed injustice in places like Central America and South Africa.  "Rocket Launcher" and "They Call It Democracy", "Where the Death Squad Lives" and the drum-based chant about First Nation's people's land rights, "Stolen Land" are quite different than the C.S. Lewis-inspired images of "Wondering Where the Lions Are" which he sang on SNL in 1980, yet there was a serious social vision in his earliest albums, and there have been upbeat and pleasant tunes even in his most politically-charged releases.

I recall visiting new friends at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto in what must have been 1980.  Cockburn had moved to the rough and tumble city--the following year he'd be seen on a gritty album cover smoking in an urban café, on a release called Inner City Front---and his brand new album was said to be influenced by reggae, by the sounds of his experiences in the city, by some hard times in his life.  It was called Humans and hearing the needle drop in Toronto, near Younge Street, meant the world to me.  To this day, this  album---with "Rumors of Glory" and "What I Did on My Fall Vacation" and "Grim Travelers inhumans.gif Dawn Skies" ("little boys and girls from the Red Army underground, they'd blow away Karl Marx if he had the nerve to come around")---is still one of my favorite records of all time.  With clever lines about "fascist architecture" and Bergman films and allusions to T.S. Elliott; there were harsh lines like "gray-suited businessmen pissing against the wall" and the slo-mo horror of watching a car crash in Tokyo, and I knew I was in deep.  This is incarnational stuff, the Word turned flesh, some heavy mix of poetry and passion, gospel and culture, clarity and distortion that I simply had never encountered before.

Cockburn's lament over a broken marriage ("What About the Bond?") which cries out "What about the bond/ sealed in the loving presence of the Father?" was the first song I ever heard about Christian divorce, perhaps still the only one I know of that doesn't bog down in cheap sentiment. As I wrote earlier, Cockburn was refreshing as a poet and singer because he was filled with faith, even hope, but was gritty and real, tragic, even.  He blamed himself for many of his troubles, deeply and importantly, in a great tune called "Fascist Architecture." Cockburn stands almost in a class by himself, writing smart songs like this, stuff even the Talking Heads couldn't imagine in those years. His insight and lyrical style could hold up against the best singer-songwriters of the day.  And yes, God was in all of this.  Rumors of Glory, indeed.

One simple example: in the travelogue song "How I Spent My Fall Vacation", the first line is "Sun went down, looking like the eye of God" and after all manner of adventure and ponderous thoughts---"will I end up like Bernie in his dream/displaced person in some foreign border town?") and the last line is "while the eye of God blazes at us like the sun."  The slight reversal in imagery so struck me and I'm still taken by its cleverness, and how it frames our comings and goings.  One of the leaders of the famous Greenbelt festival told me recently that Cockburn's first line of his first song was that, and it won him over instantly.  Amen!

w of w tour.jpgOver the next decades, Cockburn would continue to bless us with artful tellings of amazing grace amidst ambiguity and pain, doubt and searching, alienation and struggle, horror and good humor. He would testify about "grass growing up through cement" and invite us to find the risen Christ in "this prison camp world."  He would do an acoustic Christmas album that included some stunning songs, played provocatively in a minor key, before current hipsters learned to capture the angst of Advent. He would whistle, he would moan, he would protest, he would move back to the country (doing a few lovely country-tinged albums with producer T-Bone Burnett, Nothing But a Burning Light and Dart to the Heart), take up serious biking, tour endlessly, would do an album of delightful instrumentals.  He would re-work crowd pleasers like "Wondering Where the Lions Are" with scat singing in falsetto, rework his earliest "Jesusy" songs even as he'd often sound like a mystic Unitarian.  He would play a resonator guitar, raise up the plight of native peoples, and sing about sex and pleasure in ways that pointed us to the Divine moment in it all, all while reporting from various humanitarian projects he was involved with, sometimes through Canadian relief agencies.  There are only a few artists whose life-time of work I continue to follow, and who continue to challenge and impress and delight.  Cockburn is at the top of the list.  

I wish I could describe the sonic complexity and diversity of his 30 some recordings, but wordssmallsourceofcomfort.gif fail.  His lyrics usually match his passionate playing, and his musicianship continues to be entertaining, if sometimes demanding. (From his earliest work he has shown serious jazz influences, sometimes world-beat tinges, and in Small Source of Comfort, his most recent, some neo-classical overtones, even using a string section for the first time ever.) I think this newest one may be my least favorite since his first few folkie ones, but even a mediocre Cockburn album, with a few misses, is better then most.

Cockburn's broad Christian worldview remains evident, although it seems that his faith is less evangelical than it once was, not that it was ever very traditionally pious.  In the new century, he continued to push us to think about global affairs and the direction of our pubic life, about faithful responses to the beauty and the sorrow and the complexities of the human condition, perhaps unmatched in all of rock music. He railed against the destruction of the rain forest, laughed at death--he has a morbid sense of humor--- named his fears, celebrated his hope, such as it was.  One album, with a gruesome song or two, (and a few beautiful ones) is called, tellingly, You've Never Seen Everything.

Cockburn does relish the unusual, so it doesn't surprise that he sings about seeing a pile of skulls in a memorial to the killing fields in Cambodia.  But he is also a funny chap and for a while closed his concerts with the "Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the satirical crucifixion scene from the goofy Life of Brian.  Or then, again, the one about his own death, an upbeat rocker "Tie Me At the Crossroads" which I always enjoyed.  Morbid, maybe, but he never seems depressed, even though his lyrics reflect an honest appraisal, even if tongue is in cheek. 

Cockburn helped me think about the cold war--we laughed with him as he describes a guy in his "commie fur hat" and took comfort when such a politically experienced thinker could still sing songs of hope and joy.  ("Joy Will Find a Way" was an early song on an album by that name.)  Indeed, the lovely "Wondering Where the Lions Are" is, in fact, a song about the horrific "lions" of nuclear weapons; "Sun's up, looks okay, the world survives into another day" literally kept me from growing too cynical in my years working against nuclear weapons and our evil willingness to commit mass murder with them.

I do not think it is fair to say Cockburn was trendy, but he has helped us enter into the issues of the day, often with prescience.  He would sing about the destruction of the rainforest ("inject a billion burgers worth of beef"), Eastern bloc dreariness; create tunes that captured the spookiness of places of great sorrow (like the killing fields of Cambodia) and helped us see the beauty of nature.  ("Lord of the Starfields" was a song of praise on 1976 In The Falling Dark, a song whose poetry still strikes me as deeply worshipful and yet wonderfully suited to a pop song.)  "Silver Wheels" from that same early album narrated a road trip noticing and worrying about the advertising that bombards our field of vision which is more relevant now than ever.  Years later, though, he'd remind us that we could see the mystery of the divine, even in a junkyard.  And did I mention he is still disgusted with the Christian right?  He was and he is. (Yet, when the situation calls for it, he responds with decency and even patriotism, as in "Each One Lost" a poignant song on the most recent album (Small Source of Comfort) about witnessing a flag ceremony in Afghanistan where the bodies of two dead soldiers were being brought across the tarmac.)

In the years after our own radioactive mess and political irresponsibility here in central Pennsylvania at the Three Mile Island reactor, Bruce helped us lament the horrible nuke disaster in Chernobyl.  His bluesy cry about the Soviet style cover-up there, "Radium Rain" (from Big Circumstance) includes one of the longest guitar solos in the expansive Cockburn catalog.  I have said before how moved I was hearing Brian Walsh read Colossians 1 with that searing musicianship in the background, at CCOs Jubilee conference one year, and how it remains for me to this day one of the most memorable liturgical experiences of my life.

BRIAN J. WALSH
Brian Walsh reading the Bible perfectly timed over Bruce Cockburn's guitar solo, relating Old Testament prophecies to Cockburn's assessment of 20th century energy policy and technological illusions?  For those who know Walsh's remarkable work this is no surprise.  Walsh has himself given us a body of work, books about a Christian worldview such as The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview (IVP; $16.00) or how that worldview might fruitfully engage postmodern thought and culture in the excellent Truth Is Stranger C reMixed.jpgThan It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age, (IVP; $22.00) (both co-authored by J. Richard Middleton) or how a serious postmodern study of a Biblical book like Colossians might help us change the world (Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, co-authored with his wife, Sylvia Keesmaat, a New Testament scholar of considerable renown, published by IVP; $23.00.) His work co-authored with Stephen Bouma-Prediger, a deep study of our "culture of displacement" (Beyond Homelessness Eerdmans; $27.00), is demanding but one of the more profound examples of Christian scholarly cultural criticism written in recent decades. What an audacious book, naming so much of the malaise and dysfunction of our time.  I've reviewed each of these before and commend them all for your serious study and edification.

If you've read any of these books you already know thatWalsh on outdoor chair.jpg Walsh is a serious Cockburn fan.  He has long been a student of Cockburn's work, paying particular attention to his allusive lyrics, using his lyrics to help unlock insights from the Bible (and using the Bible to help us appreciate some of Cockburn's not-so-hidden meanings.)  Walsh hasn't written a book where he hasn't quoted Cockburn and he has even taught college courses on the "prophetic imagination" of the radical, Christian poet.

I have appreciated this about Walsh (I'm a devout Cockburn fan, after all) and, I must say, it has helped me enjoy Cockburn's music that much more.  Sure, when I was in high school and college I'd ramble on about all kinds of theories about all kinds of music. (Was Paul dead?  Was Jackson Browne sending out coded messages about the gospel? What did Dylan mean by that?  Why did the Doobie's sing about Jesus? Why were there gospel singers in that song "The Weight" and why did Van quote all those romantic British poets?  What's with Paul Simon's references to Jesus?  Heck I even researched in sophomoric fashion the mystical incantations of Tales of Topographic Oceans by Yes. ) But Walsh doesn't speculate like an immature, curious fan, he engages Cockburn's lyrics with serious insight, offering helpful music criticism, rich, intellectually credible and fruitful.  A good critic can help us understand and appreciate the imaginative vision of an artist, and Walsh has done so, helping us both understand and more greatly enjoy the artistry of Bruce Cockburn, postmodern psalmist.

THE BOOK
kicking at the darknes.jpgAnd, now, he has done so in a whole big book, Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos Press; $18.99.)  I had the great privilege of helping read through some of it and cannot believe that I have an endorsing blurb on the back (next to wonderful recommendations by Brian McLaren, who has quoted Cockburn a time or two himself) and New Testament scholar Richard Hays.  I already noted that there is a great endorsement by Marva Dawn who I once teased about not really liking rock 'n roll which I now publicly take back.  As a bit of a blurb-meister, this is one of my proudest moments,

Here is what I most sincerely said:

I've been listening to Cockburn for more than three decades and reading Walsh for almost that long, and I can hardly imagine surviving these times, let alone believing that joy will find a way, without the artistry and insight of both.  This is an extraordinarily ambitious project, years in the making, and there is profound insight on every page.  I recommend it with great enthusiasm and immense gratitude. 
One does not have to like every Cockburn song or album, let alone agree with every view he seems to express, to appreciate his exceptional gift as songwriter and musician and to be aided by his observations, rendered in song.  And one need not agree with every line in every Brian Walsh book to appreciate his preacherly gospel call to be faithful to the Biblical narrative, and to reject worldly accommodation to the idols of modernity.

In other words, whether you love Cockburn and/or Brian Walsh or not, this book is profitable, interesting, important, and I commend it to you.

Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination is a very good book.  You should read it.  Here are three reasons why.

THREE REASONS TO READ THIS BOOK
1.  Firstly, it is, indeed, a great introduction to the thought and insight of one of the great artists of our time.  If you care at all about pop music or contemporary poetry, you should know Cockburn.  You may not want to immerse yourself in his huge body of music, but reading this book (hopefully with some of his tunes playing in the background) is a good way to explore his world, to be touched by his lyrics, to be challenged by his take on life and times.  I'm a fan of reading about authors and their work---I routinely recommend books about Wendell Berry or Abraham Kuyper or Martin Luther King (not just their primary sources, which, obviously should be read as well) and am happy to say that reading about them can help you understand and thereby more richly appreciate their real work.  So reading Kicking at the Darkness is perhaps the best way to come to value Cockburn's work, learning about it and plumbing its meaning and framing it as it ought to be framed.  Cockburn himself, by the way, has met with Brian a time or two, and has maybe been bemused by Walsh's theologically readings of his music.  I've heard Cockburn talk about his song writing at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing several years ago where he seemed exceptionally humble about and, yes a bit bemused by, the serious attention some of us give to his work. Yet, in a personal email to Brian after reading the manuscript, Bruce exclaimed how very good it was to be so wonderfully understood.  Cheers!
 
There is no resource like this that attends to the substance of Cockburn's work, and it is a great way to learn about an esteemed contemporary artist. 

2.  Secondly, this is a good way to more deeply understand the Bible itself.  Walsh is, if anything, a Bible reader, a Bible scholar, a Bible teacher--- I happen to know how worn his own Bible is, how well used it is -- you wouldn't believe the scribbles and notes and fingerprints and pages falling out.  If this interaction with a modern poet and the ancient prophetic text illumines the poet, that is great, but if it illuminates God's own Word, that is even better.  And I think it does: to hear the Biblical text through the ears of Walsh listening to the songs of Cockburn, pulls out insights, applies new wisdom, underscores certain verses, that we just might not get otherwise. I agree with an old song by Cockburn, "Maybe the Poet" (about Ginsberg somebody speculated, or maybe about Ernesto Cardenel?) which shouts "you need him and you know it."  Yep, listening in on the conversation---Cockburn's lyrics lined up with Isaiah and Jeremiah and James and Jesus and Paul---well, the Bible comes alive! And it comes alive in contemporary power, not sentimentally, but with grit and guts. Kicking at the Darkness is not exactly a Bible study (like the Walsh/Keesmaat Colossians book, or the creative Biblical monologues in Beyond Homelessness) but it comes close.  You simply don't read Walsh, or talk to Walsh, without the Bible coming into things.  Read this book about pop music and learn the Word.  I dare you.

3.  This may not at first seem important to many folks, maybe not even all BookNotes readers, but I cannot overstate just how important this truly is: reading Walsh's examination of, engagement with, living into, the vision of Bruce Cockburn is a great (great!) example of wise and fruitful literary criticism.  We all are bombarded daily with texts, with images, with sounds and sights.  How do we see?  How to make sense of it all?  Take in and discern and apply?  How do we interpret?  Whether it is a video game or a literary novel or The Hunger Games blockbusters, Seinfeld re-runs or the latest indie rock show, a TV preacher or a BookNotes book review, what will you make of it?  How have you learned to evaluate and discern wisely?  

Walsh is curious, and a rare reviewer: he is generously critical, happy and heavy, open and discerning.  That is, he doesn't just dismiss insight and truth that comes from unlikely sources (he is famous for using pop culture, movies and music in his sermons and campus ministry at the University of Toronto) so he starts with a hermeneutic of generous hope.  But he's no fool and he does not suffer fools too gladly, either; that is, he discerns well the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, the deeper idols that shape and deform even the best stories.  So while he is open to truly hear and be touched by all manner of  things, he holds up all things, as 1 John 4 instructs, to the discerning eye of the faithful Biblical test.  I'd like to say he models and shows us how to be "in the world but not of it."  You could say he has a pretty active "crap detector" as Hemingway (according to Neil Postman, at least) once called it.

So, to say it again: first, you need to read this book because it will introduce you to an important musician and critical acclaimed lyricist who happens to be a Biblically-literate thinker.  Secondly, Walsh uses Cockburn's religious faith and imagery to do extraordinary Bible study, so you will not only learn about Cockburn, you will learn something new about the Bible, and the God who stands behind it.  What a good gift this book is, helping the Word get cracked open before us.

And, thirdly, you will learn how to be engaged and thoughtful about the body of work of a serious artist, how to take even odd lines and perplexing metaphors and see how they might point us to redemptive insights about the meaning of our lives under the sun.  We all need help learning to discern the voices and ideologies around us, and following the careful explorations of Walsh on Cockburn as they both try to understand the modern world is a good exercise in cultural exegesis.  You will be wiser for it as the book models a helpful, important practice.

Walsh has given us in Kicking at the Darkness a supreme example of a thoughtful Christian reading of what for some will be controversial texts (songs about left wing revolutionaries, about sex, about rejection of churchy dogma, about greed and injustice, about death and fear and love.)  Rather than avoiding these heavy topics, Walsh helps us be open, to have our own hearts opened in order to see the good in the art.  He realizes that the offering of artists must be firstly considered as art.  His creative appraisal and appropriation of the art of Bruce Cockburn is a great example of how to help us flourish--for the glory of God and the common good.

You see, I belabor this for you, our friends and customers, because I think we all need to know how to do this---this art of interpretation, this way of nurturing the gift of cultural discernment--- so, even if rock music isn't your thing, and the wild and wooly worlds of Cockburn and Walsh aren't your own, even if these songs aren't that appealing to you, I'd still invite you to consider it.  Spending a few weeks pondering this uniquely reformational Christian take on an important and acclaimed recording and performing artist of our time can only help deepen and mature your own practices of cultural engagement.  Perhaps you will disagree with Walsh's interpretations and how he appropriates Cockburn's take on life. (For the record, I agree with almost all of Brian's insights; I think maybe there was one interpretation which I thought was over-reaching.)  Perhaps you will disapprove of his use of the Bible in his project of "seeing" Cockburn Christianly.  That's okay.  As Bruce says, and as Brian quotes approvingly in the introduction, we are all "stumblers."  We have reason to agree with Cockburn's reminder that "love rules" so there is freedom and grace.  Right? 

Freedom and grace,  politics and poetry, rock and roll.  Bruce Cockburn means the world to me and if you've wondered---as I'm told some people do---how in the world we ended up creating a Christian bookstore like Hearts & Minds, such as it is,  you should know that much of it got dreamed up to a Bruce Cockburn soundtrack.  Indeed, there were a few key moments in my life, some risks I took, some faithful steps I tried to pursue, that ended up shaping the man I've become, that may not have occurred where it not for how Cockburn pointed me to "the glittering joker dancing in the dragon's jaw."  There have been decisive moments for me with Bruce's music (and even a bit of correspondence) that helped Beth and I and our closest friends as we took up the vocation of social change and cultural renewal and Christian hope in history---as Bruce put it,  "waiting for a miracle."

KICK AT THE DARKNESS TIL IT BLEEDS DAYLIGHT
It may be popularized because Bono cited it (in his song "God Part 2" on Rattle and Hum, where he literally sings a line saying he heard a singer on the radio, that singer being Bruce Cockburn) but that line from "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" is powerful:  we've got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight.  That is, Beth and I would say if we had the energy, on a good day, part of our understanding of our calling, part of why we sell the books we do. What the books we sell to you might help you do.



I could wax eloquent about Brian's friendship, too, and we are grateful for that.  But the point is to point BookNotes readers to Cockburn, who points, in his artful, suggestive way, to something Bigger.  A gull-shaped shaped ship, perhaps, from the gorgeous song "All the Diamonds of This World" that carries us to sea.  Or a Big Circumstance that, to this listener, and to Walsh's, too, sounds like a Biblical sense of providence.  Such a vision invites us into a subversive "feast of fools"---Cockburn got the line from theologian Harvie Cox--- even as we live "out on the rim of the galaxy (where) "the gifts of the Lord lie torn - way out on the rim of the broken wheel."   Even as we believe it still is, as Bruce tells us, "a world of wonders."  Walsh helps us see how Cockburn sees, and that is, I'm sure, mostly a very good thing.

PART TWO
Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian kicking at the darknes.jpg Imagination by Brian J. Walsh (Brazos Press) $18.99

I have shared my passion for the artistic musicianship and provocative lyrical content of Bruce Cockburn, one of the most respected and awarded folk-rock-pop singers working today.  I have shared that his music has brought pleasure and joy and spiritual insight to us for years, literally helping us find the courage to start our bookstore 30 years ago. There are very few pop artists working intentionally within the Christian tradition (U2 obviously comes to mind) that are as sophisticated lyrically and musically consistently as creative as any of the best recording artists of the rock era, so Cockburn means a lot to us.

I listed three reasons why you should buy the recent book by Brian Walsh, a Canadian author whose five previous books have all cited Cockburn.  Walsh's incredible new book, and his worldviewish and socially-engaged interpretation of Cockburn's (mostly) serious work, stands not only as a good way to appreciate Cockburn, but will surely help you understand your Bible better, and will serve as an example of how to be discerning, artful, prophetic, as we interpret contemporary cultural artifacts.  Whether you know or like Cockburn or not, this is, in a postmodern nod to C.S. Lewis, a great "experiment in criticism."

One of the chief contributions that Brian offers is a theme that should be clear from the title: this is a book about the imagination.

Back when Walsh helped put the discussion about weltanschauung --worldviews--on the map of evangelicals, he taught us that worldviews are visions of and for life.  That is, unlike others from Francis Schaeffer to his friend James Sire (not to mention the plethora of right-wing fundamentalists who started using the term), Walsh and his early co-author Richard Middleton, did not see worldviews as primarily abstract sets of ideas, a collection of static dogmas, hardly even "presuppositions."  He has from the beginning (in The Transforming Vision; IVP; $18.00) described worldview formation as a lived vision of the meaning of the story (or stories) we inhabit and how they inform our way of life, our implicit answers to life's biggest questions.  Our practices cycle back and shape how we see, and how we live.  Worldviews are most fundamentally matters of the heart, and matters of the imagination.

This was clear (and for those who want the heavy background, it comes in part from Dutch Kuyperian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd (or see here) who wrote in the middle of the 20th century powerful critiques of the autonomy of reason, the idolatrous ideologies of Enlightenment notions of truth, themes later picked up by postmodern critics and folk like Stanley Hauerwas, Lesslie Newbegin, and even Alasdair MacIntyre.)  When Walsh and Middleton wrote Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Christian Faith in a Postmodern Age (IVP; $22.00) it was the first and most singularly helpful book amid a batch of evangelical critics who failed to appreciate the deep challenge of deconstruction to the idols of Western rationalism.  While D.A. Carson and others gripped about relativism and such, Walsh & Middleton said "good riddance" to modernity's rationalist faith--to cite a Cockburn song they often used in workshops and speaking--because "The Candy Man's Gone." (from Thethetroublewithnormal.gif Trouble with Normal.) If faith in progress through science and secularized Reason and economic growth ever was a worthy savior, by the time we began to see what Os Guinness called "the striptease of humanism" and felt the dis-ease of cultural disintegration, early signs of the downsides of globalization, the ecological crisis and the like, it was time for Christians to offer a clear "no" to capitalism and progress.  Informed by Christian thinkers like the Dutch economist Bob Goudzwaard and Canadian social justice activist Gerry Vandezande, careful reformed thinkers like Richard Mouw and even aesthetic theorist Calvin Seerveld, Walsh became increasingly clear about denouncing our accommodation with the story of, values of, and truncated ways of living as we do in the standard consumerist North American way of life.

By the time they started reading Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, they were reminding us of the Biblical themes of exile, the role of lament in the Hebrew Scriptures, grappling with the "texts of terror" and wondering how the subversive ways of Jesus the servant King counter the violence supposed by many traditional Christians.  Walsh and Middleton (and Brian's wife Sylvia) are all scholars and teachers, but they were realizing that the best way to nurture a counter-cultural perspective among their students was to not just intone "no dualisms" and "creation-fall-redemption" to illustrate the wholistic redemptive plan of God to heal the entire cosmos, nor to do merely leftist or postmodern cultural criticism, but to find ways (a la Brueggemann) to enhance the prophetic imagination.gifimagination. I don't know if Brian would say this, but it seems that The Prophetic Imagination and The Hopeful Imagination, extraordinary, dense studies by Brueggemann, and his generative work on the Psalms (especially the Psalms of lament) funded a shift, a powerful, prophetic edge that has, I might note, gotten him into some trouble.  Brian is a sweetheart of a guy, a good friend to many and a kind, gracious fellow, but he does speak his mind.  And he despises the ways the church has failed to offer critique to the idols of the land, the way we can't even imagine that things might be, as Bruggey taught us to say, otherwise.  To awaken us from our slumber, we have to be aroused; apathy must be eroded by pathos.  We need prophetic art to break us open.


And so, Walsh has increasingly used music and movies and poetry (he is even taken to267px-Bruce_Cockburn_2007.jpg writing in free verse) to talk about a Christ-shaped imagination, helping us  envision and embody a story that is shaped by the story of God.  Yes we need the poets to help us really "see" and dream a uniquely Christian worldview, lived in community in ways that says both "yes" and "no" to the practices and values of our age.  And no poet/artist has influenced--or been used by--Walsh as much as Bruce Cockburn.  When I said in my back-cover blurb that this book was years in the making, I know it is so.  It comes from Walsh's years of pondering and practicing, teaching and training, denouncing and dancing. (I will never forget how he dragged this lead-footed wall flower onto the dance floor when a cover band struck up "Brown Eyed Girl" but I digress.)  Kicking at the Darkness is a book about what some might call a Christian worldview, or what might better be described as the nurturing of a radically faith-filled imagination.  It is about dreams and dancing and denunciation.

In fact, it seems to me that anyone who follows the conversations about worldview would love worldview naugle.gif this book, whether you care much about Cockburn or not.  I'm thinking of those who have read or knows about the excellent, if weighty, Worldview: A History of a Concept by David  Naugle (Eerdmans; $30.00), the helpful, brief, Naming the Elephant by James Sire (IVP; $16.00), the fascinating Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff (University of Chicago Press), the often-cited Creation Regained by Albert Wolters (Eerdmans; $14.00) or Nancy Pearcey and J. Mark Bertrand, who are equally important contributors to this area.  I always appreciate Walsh's fresh descriptions of how worldviews work, how stories shape us, and the relationship between the big worldview questions and the imagination and he says it well, again, freshly, in this new book.  By the way, speaking of Brian's     renown on these very themes, I hope you know that the first portion    nt and pog.gif of  N.T. Wright's historic The New Testament and the People of God (Fortress; $38.00) comes largely from Walsh's influence; it is not inconsequential that it is dedicated to him!  Ends up the good former Bishop, by the way, besides a debt to Walsh, is quite the Cockburn fan himself. 

***

I think the beautiful Preface and the first two chapters of Kicking at the Darkness are worth the price of the book.  In the first introductory chapter, "God, Friendship and Art", Brian tells of the power and passion of Cockburn's music and how enjoying and studying it has been so fruitful for him and his friends and students. (Another narration of this experience of the importance of music that is more heart-rending and revealing can be found in the moving introduction to the study Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective by Robert Vegacs where Walsh tells of gathering around friends in their hospital room as a newborn was dying, and how a U2 concert proved such a life-giving blessing.)  In this first good chapter of Kicking... he has a section "On Worldviews" and explains "The Aesthetics of Generosity."  Excellent!

The second chapter is called "Ecstatic Wonderings and Dangerous Kicking: Imagination and Method" which sounds both allusive and a bit academic.  Yes, there is this concern for methodology, but it isn't dry.  He begins to explore Bruce's music right from the start, even as he describes his process, what he's doing, what he is hoping to accomplish, how he plumbs the interaction of Bible, Bruce, and his own reading of both.  This is rich stuff, interesting not only to Cockburn fans, but instructive for anyone doing any sort of cultural exegesis.   He explains his "interpretive assumptions" and while one needn't know how to spell hermeneutics, it is a crash course, a quick crash course that is balanced and insightful, wise and fair.  What a fun way to learn, to be exposed to the art of interpretation, and to ponder how to most appropriately engage the arts.

dancinginthedragonsjaws.gifHis illuminating discussions in this chapter of songs like "Dancin' in the Dragon's Jaw" and "Creation Dream" and "Hills of Morning" are splendid, and it is good to start with perhaps Cockburn's most popular album.  (He played one of these songs on SNL in 1980---Bob Newhart was the host--- and they remain standards.) Brian opens up their meanings, helps us realize the method of his madness, relating theology and art, Bible and culture, faith and social discourse. 

From this strong beginning, Walsh digs a bit deeper, but the book does not proceed methodically through Cockburn's canon, chronologically.  Rather, each chapter chooses a theme, a metaphor or image that Brian discerns in Cockburn's music, and draws from the breath of his catalog to play with the songs around the chapter's theme.  For instance, he has an amazingly interesting chapter on Cockburn's "windows."  Who knew---even those of us who pay attention to Bruce's lyrics, and discuss them at length--that there was so much about windows?  And what a generative metaphor this is, for seeing, for vision, for light, for perspective.  Walsh draws on more than a dozen songs (including Beth's all-time favorite, "All the Diamonds") and outlines several different sorts of window songs.  This is very insightful about Cockburn's journey, but, importantly, it offers ways to think about faith and formation and Christian engagement as we look at life. 

feat129.jpgNext, Walsh uses his exceptional insight about the Biblical teaching about creation, but not so much the ways in which creation is under threat by the unsustainable visions which lack any sense of faithful stewardship these days, the idol-driven assault which he explored with co-author Steve Bouma-Prediger in the important Beyond Homelessness (Eerdmans; $27.00.) He explores Cockburn's insights about the creation under threat in a later chapter, a chapter that I would call a "must read." Space does not permit us to even list the songs he covers here in this early chapter about the joy of creation and the "world of wonder" which we are given as gift (or the creative way he uses excerpts of Lewis' The Magicians Nephew.)  But it is a lovely, lovely chapter, and Brian's own poetic rumination at the end is itself a gift of playful rhetoric and artful retelling. 

And so it goes, theme by theme, chapter by chapter.  Here are a few that come next.  (Do  you know the song allusions? No matter--this is great stuff!)

At Home in the Darkness, but Hungry for Dawn
Into a World of Dancers
Humans (This is a study of one pivotal album, the 1980 release, Humans.)
Broken Wheel
Betrayal and Shame

What Do You Do With the Darkness?  This is mostly a recapitulation, a poetic targum, a homily offered in the spirit of Cockburn's own candor about brokenness and the reality of pain and dislocation in the fallen world.  It is beautiful, and worth the price of the book. 
Justice and Jesus
Waiting for a Miracle 

In the glorious last few pages, Walsh summarizes---he's an evangelist at heart, it seems, so there is some sermonizing going on here---and throws in line after line from Bruce's lyrics.  Most have been discussed carefully in the book so readers will appreciate what they have evoked in Walsh and, if they know the songs, what they have evoked in their own listening.  He leaves behind the quotation marks (assiduously used throughout) and allows the art to enter his own prose.

Despair is a doorway to hope.  Hope transcends sentimental optimism because it refuses to avert its gaze from the darkness, refuses to repress that ache in the spirit we know as despair.  Engaging the work of Bruce Cockburn, we have seen that this is a broken-wheeled world.  We have seen the extremes of what humans can be. And we have heard a call to justice, to love, to fulfilling our calling as humans, creative, redemptive dancers in this dance of creation.

Where are we? In a world of wonders, called forth by love.

Who are we? We are angel beasts, rumors of glory, called to image the creator God of love.

What's wrong?  We live in the falling dark, a world of betrayal, idolatry, and ideology, hooked on avarice.

What's the remedy?  We're given love and love must be returned. That love took on flesh in this glittery joker, dancing in the dragon's jaws.

In a culture of captivated imaginations we need liberation.  In a culture of dehydrated imaginations we need fresh water. In a culture that has lost its imagination we need new dreams. Bruce Cockburn's art awakens such an imagination. And it is a Christian imagination.

Jesus, thank you, joyous Son.


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April 21, 2012

Food, Faith and Feasting: Books about faith and food.


I have often been struck that in the days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead his800px-Caravaggio.emmaus.750pix.jpg biographers wrote about several meals.  The famous epiphany during the breaking of bread, of course [shown here as imagined by Caravaggio] but also a middle eastern breakfast of fish on beach.  This reminds me once again that the resurrection was bodily---a theme developed by authors like Brian Walsh who I reviewed in the long piece over at the April column and, of course, by N.T. Wright, among many others. Dualism between the so-called sacred and secular realms, or, worse, sly, modern versions of the heresy gnosticism, will not do. Matter matters ("God quite likes it," C.S. Lewis has wryly noted, "He made it.") and this new creation that has broken into the old order includes human, creaturily stuff like preparing and eating (and, I suppose, cleaning up after) meals.  I hope your Easter feast last week was in some way a reminder of and witness to the goodness of a creation that is now being redeemed by the Risen Lord.

Not only does this common human experience of eating together show up in the  living the r.gif post-resurrection Bible narratives in a way that reminds us of the down-to-Earth bodily nature of the resurrection life, but it may say something about the importance of food and meals, too.  Jesus surely did a lot of other things, but meals are notably mentioned.  And they seem revelatory.  Eugene Peterson explores this for us magnificently in a wonderful little book which I often commend this time of year called Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life (NavPress; $16.99.)

And so, our church is doing an adult education class which started on Easter morning about the relationship of food and faith.  (And we did some old fashioned egg poaching in the church kitchen in that first class session, too! )  We are using a curriculum called "Just Eating: Practicing Our Faith at the Table"  published by the Presbyterian Hunger Program of the PC(USA.) 

Just as being a foodie is sort of trendy right now and the Food Channel has created a whole new genre of rock star---the celebrate chef---so thinking theologically about food and eating is also au courant.  It isn't new, of course, but there have been some great books released in recent years.

I've highlighted some of them here before but thought it would be fun---for my friends at church and in the spirit of what the creeds have taught us to insist upon, "the bodily resurrection"---to do a food list.  You can order these at the discounted prices by using the order form below.

Some of these titles were previously annotated in a chapter in a book to which I contributed called Eat Well: A Road Map, edited by Kirsten Vander-Geissen-Reistma (*cino; $8.00.)  It is a splendid little volume, a companion to their equally nice little book, Doing Justice: A Roadmap (where I also did a chapter which was another bibliography.) There are short stories and essays, and a truly great piece by Sylvia Keesmaat, another by a favorite writer, Denise Frame Harlan. The editor, Kirsten, also edits the online zine catapult and is herself a fabulous cook and a fabulous writer, so her contributions in the book are délicieux.

***

making peace with the land.gifThis Sunday school class is just one example of a larger trend in our culture, a good and healthy interest in sustainable agriculture, organic food, how animals are treated, how land is farmed, buying local, and caring about nutrition and fresh food, creatively and aesthetically prepared. I will review it in great detail later, but I just finished a truly spectacular paperback, Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation by Fred Banson and Norman Wirzba (IVP; $15.00) which offers an excellent overview of how the Bible teaches that the reconciliation Christ brings includes not just our renewed relationship with God and each other, but with the creation itself.  Forgive my pun, but such is the soil from which any discussion of eating and food can grow -- we can envision more meaningful meals because of what Christ has done in restoring His good creation.  It isn't surprising that a common Scriptural metaphor for the new creation is a banquet, or a feast.  Nice, huh? 
      

We've celebrated this trend and have offered books along these lines for years.  Although I suppose some Christian bookstores don't have sections on creation-care or even cookbooks, I sure can't imagine why.  There is a lot in the Bible about food and feasting, about farming and famine.  We simply must allow our faith to inform our principles and practices in this side of life.  After all, as the Apostle Paul says, we are to "eat to the glory of God."  Edith Schaeffer hinted at this years ago in a lovely book The Hidden Art of Homemaking  (Tyndale Publishing; $12.99.) which invited us to consider the importance of beauty in ordinary life (and she had a chapter on food!) We still stock it.  She may have been an early voice helping evangelicals, at least, see that home-making and cooking and sustaining a household with creativity is serious, spiritual business, a human art, to be offered in hospitality to our loved ones, neighbors, and even strangers.  

So, we have long been interested in this matter of food and eating, not only because of the "daily spirituality" that it evokes but because of our interest in food systems, matters which I explored while learning about world hunger and poverty decades ago.  Even now, those who pick our tomatoes continue to struggle for justice.  (And, yes, the Presbyterian food curriculum has a unit on hunger, as well it should.)

To remind us of this reality--that we can enjoy the goodness of food, but must be aware thatculturallyapp1.jpg there are those who have little food, and that even those who help us get our food themselves cannot afford much of it--- here is a prayer prayed at a grocery store protest in a recent campaign to get that grocer to work with a union of migrant workers--not unlike the famous United Farm Workers founded by Cesar Chavez.  Here is another article about the Immokalee Farm Workers and how some faith leaders have affirmed their desire for food justice.  I am deeply moved by this, and sad that some conservative Christians have made light of it, or disapproved.  Perhaps they've never actually talked to a hungry person before, or met a migrant worker family.  Or read Isaiah or Amos or James.  But I digress. 

Maybe this list will be of some help to enhance your understanding of the urgency and joy and irony of this recent foodie movement.  (The irony being that so many cannot afford these very good gifts of raw milk cheese or high end vinegar or even fresh produce, for that matter.) The first part of the list brings specifically Christian insights to the goodness of food, even in a fallen world, while the second half includes more general concerns by fine social critics, chefs, food writers and farmers and they help us take steps towards reforming our own shopping and eating habits, and perhaps bring just reforms to the food system.  Enjoy!

f and f.gifFood & Faith: Justice, Joy and Daily Bread edited by Michael Schut (Living the Good News) $14.95  If one were to buy one book on this essential topic, this may be our first recommendation.  A lovely companion to Schut's ecumenically-minded,  Simpler Living, Compassionate Life, this collection includes essays or excerpts by Wendell Berrry, Thomas Moore, John Robbins, Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser and so many more.  It includes readings on the celebration of food, health and diet, politics and economics.  It has some lovely reflections on the spirituality of food, essays on agriculture and land use, family farms and sustainable, local economies.  It  looks a bit at world hunger, and ends with stories of hope, suggestive of ways to renew our eating attitudes and habits.  There is a fabulous study guide in the back, making this a fabulous resource for book clubs or small group reflection.

spirit of food ingram.gifThe Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Towards God edited by Leslie Leyland Fields (Wipf & Stock) $30.00  What a stunning and great book.  Here is a link to a review I did of this--I do hope you saw it as this book really means a lot to us. ( I wrote the review after returning from the funeral of my aunt whose story I briefly tell in my reflection on the book's importance.) I said it there, but will say it again: this book is spectacular, just spectacular---the lovely, inspired content and the excellent, artful writing!  It is mostly about cooking and eating (rather than growing crops and reforming food systems) but it does explore many, many aspects of growing, eating, cooking, enjoying, and sharing food.  I won't recount all that I said about this, but there are some fantastic pieces in here that are very very well written, and recipes, too.  No wonder I named it the book of the year two years ago.  One of my all time favorite book, with chapters by some dear friends (and some famous folks, like Robert Farrar Capon and Wendell Berry.)

supper of the lamb ingram.gifThe Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection Robert Farrar Capon (Modern Library) $14.95  This book is so insightful and beloved, it has been cited in a Reformed theology class, and in gourmet foods cooking classes, and is regularly anthologized in great writing about food. Capon is feisty Episcopal  priest and an excellent wordsmith (a prolific author) and a great cook, too, making this book a true classic. This recently re-issued paperback edition is very nice.  As The New York Times Book Review said, it is "as awesomely funny, wise, beautiful, moving, preposterous a book as this reviewer has come across in years...It is a love letter to a world that "will always be more delicious than it is useful."  Capon uses this narrative of cooking a leg of lamb meal for a group of friends as a platform to wax eloquently on everything from the kind of knives one must have in the kitchen to the sheer, God-given wonder of an onion.  Glorious.

sharing-food-christian-practices-for-enjoyment-shannon-l-jung-paperback-cover-art.jpgSharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment          L. Shannon Jung (Fortress) $15.00  This is a solid and thoughtful theological guide to a more abundant life---starting with the life-giving and life-sustaining gift from God called food.  Sharing Food reminds us of the crisis of world hunger, and yet is itself a feast of faithfulness, with---as one reviewer put it---"luscious lines and savory stories, both dished up with joy."  Of course we need mindfulness of the economics and politics of food, but also we are shown why and how to be more attentive to the daily joys of shared, common meals.  As you might guess, the author explores how Christian Eucharistic table theology helps illuminate our daily use and abuse of food in the human community.  The best book of its kind, a sustained, Christian teaching on the theology of food.  Good study questions make it ideal for an adult Sunday school class or Bible study group.



food and faith wirzba.gifFood and Faith: A Theology of Eating  Norman Wirzba (Cambridge University Press) $24.99 What an amazing book!  This is a recently released, major theology of eating--a long overdue masterpiece, but it is pretty dense.  You've heard of "slow food?"  This is slow reading!  And that is a compliment, of course, but it is demanding theology, most likely the best substantial work on this topic yet done.  I think his Living the Sabbath Life: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight (Brazos; $20.00) might also be really useful to approach this topi;, although it is morally serious, it is not quite as dense as the new one.  Unlike most books on sabbath, it explores the lifestyle of non-consumeristic, normative, sustainable living, rejecting the go-go-go of consumerism and the American way, taking sabbath principles into how we think and live, how we think about education, about agriculture, the ways we shop and eat and play.  So while he does teach about sabbath, it is about jubilee and freedom and alternative living more than just spirituality and rest. Obviously, it is an important foundation for his new Cambridge volume which is more precisely on food.

eating and drinking.gifEating and Drinking  Elizabeth Groppe (Fortress) $15.00  This little book is a serious study, despite it's slender size and chatty style, exploring the ways in which profoundly construed Christian theology might shape our daily experience of meals.  This "compass" book takes its place next to others in the series, serious books, briefly written, on work, play, shopping and parenting.  Groppe is an Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University (although the whole series is edited by David Jensen at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.)  There is an alarmingly bad sentence about her experience of coffee, but once I got over that, and realized she had some sort of sacramental view of creation, I realized that this more contemplative consideration was well worth reading.  All five of these rigorous, small books are provocative and timely, written by authors deeply aware of the need for serious social criticism.  Impressive.

Good Eating Stephen H. Webb (Brazos) $21.99  The first in the highly regarded "Christian Practice of Everyday Life" series, Webb asks distinctively theological questions about food, vegetarianism, animal rights, fasting and more.  Historical insight,  helpful ponderings and thoughtful reflections rooted in Biblical study.  As we know more and more about the ugliness of factory farming and such, this is a serious, good study at the ethics of eating.

year-of-plenty.jpgThe Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living by Craig Goodwin (SparkHouse) $12.95  For a fun and very readable memoir, I'd really, really recommend this, which I have happily promoted before, giving it a rave review!  This is the story of a Presbyterian pastor (a Fuller grad) and his family trying to grow their own stuff and buy local for a year.  He cites lots of interesting authors, narrating his own study and journey into increasing faithfulness in this side of life. I love that he describes books by Ron Sider, Wendell Berry, Scott Sabin, Richard Mouw and of course essential titles like The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen and the beautifully done literary memoir of local farming by Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.) Because it is overtly Christian and intends to be somewhat educational, it is a perfect choice for faith-based reading groups, adult ed classes and the like.  Craig Goodwin writes a popular blog that focuses on food, faith, and justice in the rich agricultural region of the Inland Northwest. His family's story has been featured on NPR, PBS, and in The New York Times. He is a Presbyterian pastor, a farmers' market manager, a master food preserver, and a fire chaplain and his book is a real gift to us all.  Buy a few and spread the news.

a meal with j.gifA Meal With Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community and Mission Around the Table  Tim Chester (Crossway) $14.99  This is a fantastic book, a six-chapter study which takes a serious, happy look at Jesus and his meals, bringing his table fellowship into the conversation about hospitality, dining, feasting and such.  This is obviously more a small group Bible study sort of book (it would make a great class or sermon series) than a reflection on localism, free range beef, or the health benefits of eating well, but it will appeal to anyone who understand that "food connects" (as he puts it.) This is getting rave reviews from those, like in the Gospel Coalition, who have used it. Chester himself is an urban church planter and knows how eating together can be foundation for very significant ministry.  We are thrilled to see such a sound, evangelical work on this fun and fruitful topic.  Highly recommended.

Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation John Koenig (Morehouse) $15  Koenig has thought long (and published before) on the implications of a eucharistic worldview. Here, he offers local congregations a very practical book about outreach, sharing meals, and other related food concerns.  Very useful.

theotherjournal.jpgThe Other Journal: The Food and Flourishing Issue  (Wipf & Stock) $18.95  The Other Journal is a remarkable, curious, fascinating, theological journal that focuses on all sorts of issues---and they occasionally republish their special editions in bookish form.  This one has poems and theology, essays and stories, from authors such as Comment magazine editor Alissa Wilkinson, Stephen Webb, Norman Wirzba, poet John Leax, Elizabeth Antus I(who does a very interesting study of the important work on eating disorders by Geneen Roth.)  What an amazing collection.



bringing it.gifBringing It To The Table: On Food and Faming Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $14.95  I've reviewed this one before as well, but it simply has to be noted again.  I'm sure most Hearts & Minds fans know of our affection for Mr. Berry and his astute social criticism of modernity, consumerism, and ideologies of mechanized progress.  He is an agrarian essayist and a Christian farmer whose largest legacy may be his body of wonderful fiction where his heart's themes are given storied character.  What a great way to read him by enjoying this collection of various pieces he has done on farming, the joys of eating, and the community of those who understand the connections between field and table.  There are some splendid portions of novels, here, too, making this a lovely, multi-dimensional way in to this vital topic.  Includes a nice introduction by Michael Pollen.


Making Supper Safe: One Man's Quest to Learn the Truth About Food Safety  Ben Hewittmaking supper safe.gif (Rodale) $24.99  You may know this author for his splendid book The Town That Food Saved.  Like that one, this is full of characters, strong on story-telling, and a stunning achievement in doing muck-racking expose journalism without making us overly depressed or cynical.  He is, as one reviewer in The Atlantic wrote, "an amiable skeptic and a storyteller of rare skill who seems incapable of crafting a dull sentence."  We understand that it is stressful to think about factory farms and pesticides and a bit disappointing to learn even more about the dangers of the pseudo-foods we often enjoy. Still, if this is a wake-up call, it isn't that hard to swallow.  It offers a better way.  I moves from a critique of the mega-corporations and broken food system to a more wholesome and sustainable and joyful way to buy and eat our daily bread.  As farmer Joel Salatin says, "read this before your next bite!"  (Speaking of Joel Salatin, who you may recall from being featured in Pollen's Omnivore's Dilemma and in the documentary "Food, Inc."  his long-awaited book came out in October 2011.  I mention it below.

Food, Inc: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer---and What You Can Do About It  edited by Karl Weber (Public Affairs) $14.95  What a feast of a book this is, with chapters by Eric Schlosser, Michael Ppollan, Marion Nestle, Anna Lappe, Joel Salatin, and more.  It is a "participant guide and companion to the acclaimed film.

food rebs.gifFood Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin' Mamas  Mark Winne (Beacon Press) We are glad this just came out in paperback as it, too, is a must-read if one is to grow in more profound awareness of this new trend, how to resist the deformation that agribusiness has caused, and ways people are forming genuine alternatives.  Here is a great video clip of Winne speaking about his new book and how we can be empowered to be more involved in the matters of our lives.  Helps us fight back in the age of industrial food systems.   Very inspiring!

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty  Mark Winne (Beacon Press) $16.00 Winne is a must-know author, a fine and passionate writer who explores how the recent foodie interest in farmer's markets, organics and sustainable co-ops and such tends to fail the poor--many who most need more viable options for food purchases--remain "under-served."  This new healthy trend makes us glad, but this major gaffe must be addressed, and Winne shows us how.  Excellent.

fair f.gifFair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable, Food System by Oran Hesterman (Public Affairs.) I briefly reviewed this in Capitol Commentary (the weekly of the Center for Public Justice) and couldn't say enough about it.  This is a spectacular new hardback that studies the problems of our food system and offers the sorts of alternatives that Winne describes.  Yet, this is more thorough, more systematic, more behind the scenes examples not just what "smart cookin' mamas" are doing, but how major business executives are attending to their supply chains, learning about the global economy, and working for helpful changes that will offer better food to more people and cause justice to be seen in the local farming communities that supply the food. This is amazingly hopeful and shows in powerful ways how to move towards solutions and new just ways of working the food system. Dr. Hesterman is himself a scientist (agronomist) and has years of valuable experience from which we can be inspired and informed.  He knows who is doing what and how to create more sustainable businesses. Here is a trailer for the book.  Learn about his Fair Food Network, here.

Growing at the Speed of Life: A Year in the Life of My First Kitchen Garden  Graham Kerr (Perigree) $18.00   I trust that you saw my rave review of this last year.  Kerr, you may recall, was the "Galloping Gourmet" and pre-figured the current phenomenon of the rock star TV chef.  He got drunk on the air, was remarkably wasteful, and, when that proved disastrous, he found a relationship with Christ, changed his eating and cooking and writing, and now does responsible, wonderful work on food and nutrition.  This is his first "field to table" book, learning to garden and cook what he grows.  Very nice, full of stories of gardening and of cooking, including recipes.  What a great example of a life transformed, offering new ways to life joyfully, faithfully, simply.

Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and afolks this aint.gif Better World Joel Salatin (Center Street) $25.99  I just raved about this last year, and named it as one of the Best Books of 2011.  What a fun and funny author, a religious man who has done organic and natural farming for years. A truly interesting man by a hero of contemporary farming---offering up righteous ecological concern and better flavor, too.

The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table  Tracie McMillan (Scribner) $25.00  Many of the books on this list expose the dangers of our industrialized American way of eating, laying bare the stupidness of our food system and warning of the dangers of toxic pesticides and harmful practices.  This book does this an more, reporting from those who work "at the bottom of the food chain" from migrant laborers to restaurant staff to grocery store produce workers. There is courage and compassion here and some great writing.  We have always known that justice for farmers, food workers, and consumers are related, and now we can feel it in our bones.  What a book!

Starting From Scratch: Memoirs of a Wandering Cook Patty Kirk (Nelson) $22.99  Kirk is a recent Christian memoirist, and this thoughtful survey of her growing up in a food-loving, if  culinarily diverse, family, is a splendid read.  Her passionate life of longing comes to us alongside food stories, recipes for the foods that shaped her experiences, from the fried okra she ate with her Arkansas grandparents to the hors d'ouvres of her parents' 1960s suburban cocktail parties.  Kirk has traveled a bit, so we learn of curries and stir-fries and such.  Reading this helps us experience food---and life, she hopes---in a more immediate way, even as she speculates on the social and spiritual significance of food's pleasures and providence.  

Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table  Ruth Reichl (Random House)comfort me apples.gif $14.95  I cannot tell you how I enjoyed this spicy memoir of a famous food critics early years, leaving a hippie whole-foods commune for a job doing restaurant reviews for Gourmet magazine.  She travels all over he world, her marriage comes undone, she meets everyone from M.F.K. Fischer to Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, and tells it with tender eloquence and splendid detail.  

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food Judith Jones (Knopf) $24.95  Jones was undoubtedly the most important cookbook editor of our time, and her friendships with everyone from Julia Childs to James Beard--and her many years in one of the most prestigious publishing houses afforded her opportunity to work with some of our era's most esteemed authors, makes her a very important figure in food culture.  Here, she passionately decries the trends of mediocre home cooking, set among fabulous and sometimes surprisingly eccentric stories.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life Barbara Kingsolver (HarperOne) $15.99 animal veg min.gif  What a wondeful book, excellently told, a full-length memoir by the respected novelist and essayist, about her family's experiment in eating only food that they grow themselves on their Appalachian farm.  One of the most popular books of recent years, a bell-weather in many ways!

Stations of the Banquet: Faith Foundations for Food Justice Cathy C. Campbell (Liturgical Press) $19.95  A fairly serious theological study, the subtitle helps us understand the Scripture-based nature of this work: "Faith Foundations for Food Justice."  Offers various virtues that emerge from Biblical "table etiquette" which helps us work for food security in a hungry world.

The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature Leon R. Kass (University of Chicago Press) $19 A stimulating, serious treatise on the anthropology and ethics of eating by a renowned Roman Catholic ethicist.  A broad-ranging philosophical inquiry, what one scholar called "an intellectual feast." This will make you think!

Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Michael Pollan  (Penguin) $16.00  One of the most talked about books in years, this gloriously describes in great writerly detail, three classic sorts of American meals, tracing where the food comes from, how it is prepared and the social impact of the meal itself.  Called "An Eater's Manifesto" by one reviewer, this is an outstanding study of the moral implications of our food choices.  The good sequel is entitled In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (The Penguin Press; $21.95) in which hefood rules.gif takes on the commercial food industry and what he calls the nutritionism establishment as well. Next, he did the very small but helpful Food Rules: An Eater's Manuel which is available as a paperback or a colorful, illustrated hardback (Penguin; $11.00 or $23.95.) Mr. Pollan is a philosopher at heart, who has written thoughtfully about the relationship of nature and culture (see, for instance, his Second Nature about gardening or the popular Botany of Desire.)

The Meat You Eat: How Corporate Farming Has Endangered America's Food Supply  Ken Midkiff (St. Martin's Griffin) $13.95.  This troubling expose--with a helpful forward by Wendell Berry---won a "Best Book" award from the San Francisco Chronicle.  Although bleak in it's documentation of modern livestock farming, it offers hopeful alternative actions consumers can take.

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green) $20.  Katz has written on the flavors and nutrition found in "live-culture foods" and reports here on the political culture of food activism.  From bread clubs to the raw milk underground, grassroots activists come to life as they expose the dangers of commercial-produced food.  Fascinating.

Hopes Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet Frances Moore Lappe & Anna Lappe (Tarcher) $14.95  Lappe's 1970s bestseller, Diet for a Small Planet nearly defined an era, and introduced whole grains and social justice to North American readers, helping us realize the relationships between our eating and global issues. This inspiring book further explores global connections with exceptional care.  Includes some recipes from ecological culinary pioneers like Alice Waters and Mollie Katzen.

Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution Jennifer Cockrall-King (Prometheus Books) $21.00  Bill McKibben notes that "All over the world I've watched urban dwellers begin to figure out that they can start growing food, too.  It's one of the loveliest trends on earth, and Jennifer Cockrall-King does a fine job of captures its tremendous growth."  From community gardens to backyard bees, this small-scale urban farming story is fascinating.

The Real Food Revival: Aisle by Aisle, Morsel by Morsel Sherrie Brooks Vinton & Ann Clark Espuelas (Tarcher) $15.95  This really is an A-to-Z guide for understanding and navigating the jargon about and the hidden dangers of the industrial food system.  This really does help you take practical steps to learn how to find real food, to resist the chemical junk, and to resist the hazards of GMO foods, toxic residues and other sorts of "pink slime." Very helpful.

organic.gifOrganic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe  Maria Rodale (Rodale Press) $14.99  Even if the subtitle is a bit overstated, this is a masterpiece breakthrough book, drawing on updated health data and riveting reporting about the dangers of pesticides and herbicides.  With Monsanto continuing to push "roundup ready" crops, it is more urgent then ever to understand which are the most deadly chemicals and which in which foods they are most commonly found. Very important.

Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating Jane Goodall  (Warner) $14.99 The renowned conservationist here offers a guide to various food issues, global concerns, the dangers of abusing our land and seas, and how to support family farms, etc.  Inspiring anecdotes, global insights, practical guidance.  

A Cafecito Story: A Story of Love, Coffee, Birds & Hope  Julia Alvarez (Chelsea Green) $10  There are more thorough studies of coffee culture and the fair-trade movement within the global economy.  This, though--complete with two color ink and striking wood-cut illustrations, is a short story inspired by the coffee farm owned by world-renowned novelist Julia Alvarez..  This was inspired by the classic tale and the exquisite edition (with woodcuts) of environmental sustainability and personal responsibility, The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono,

CandyFreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America Steve Almond (Harcourt) $13 One of my all time favorite books, this is a gonzo memoir of a road-trip to visit the best (and most likely failing) independent candy makers in the country.  Hilariously written, a tribute to locally produced and spectacularly tasty candy, by a great writer with a very serious jones for the sweet stuff.  As fun and interesting as this is, it ends up with a lot to say about local, indie companies, supporting local businesses and the importance of keeping things like heirloom seeds around.  Except he isn't talking about seeds, but Mallo Cups and Chick-O-Stick.  You'll enjoy this, I promise!

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April 26, 2012

3 great cookbooks: More-with-Less, Extending the Table, and Simply in Season ON SALE

After my big post last week listing books about food, eating, the joys of God's creational giftsspinach.jpg and the sorrows of a hungry world, I got a few great suggestions from customers, asking me to list a few titles about agriculture.  With Wendell Berry gaining in national prominence---I want to  be prideful a moment and say that we stocked him since the day we opened 29 years ago, a few then-recent books like The Unsettling of America and The Memory of Old Jack---that certainly is a theme many care about. (If you haven't, see the video of Mr. Berry's prestigious Jefferson Award speech a few days ago here, or read it, here.)  More on Berry, land use, and farming later.

Most of us, though, come to the table not as farmers or growers, but just folk who want to eat.blueberry-frozen-yogurt-2.jpg  Sometimes we do it quickly, some of us admire the "slow food" movement.  Most of us want to be more careful about toxic stuff, realize the importance of the organic movement, and at least want to be good stewards of God's gifts of food and nutrients.  We want to learn to cook more wisely, and eat more responsibly, even if we aren't going to go, as the appropriate animal metaphor has it, hog-wild.

Here are three great cookbooks that we think are nearly essentials, all in what is called the "world community cookbook" series.  We've used the first one for decades and given find it makes a lovely shower or wedding gift.  The second is fabulous to grow a bit into greater global awareness, and the third, as you will see, couldn't be more fitting, giving the theology and insight described in some of the books in last weeks list.  All three of these are released by the Mennonite Publishing House (Herald Press) and come in sturdy, colorful, hardback editions, with a covered comb binding.  (That is, they are spiral-bound to lay open nicely, but the wires of the spiral binding don't show, but are covered up by the hardback cover.  Is there a name for that, anyone? Anyone?)

more with less cookbook.jpgMore-With-Less Cookbook (updated edition)  Doris Janzen Longacre (Herald Press) $24.99  This is not only a fabulous cookbook that has helped thousands of families establish a climate of joy and concern for others at mealtime, it can help you improve your nutrition and save money, too.  It outlines three ways to eat more-with-less and invites us to consider the global implications of our dietary choices.  There are sidebars with stories, pictures, prayers and verses, making this truly a distinctively Christian cookbook, solid with great recipes, and wholesome, faithful ideas scattered through-out.  We have some friends that have literally worn out several of these, as they are truly that useful---with simple, helpful stuff about complimentary proteins and ways to create meals that respect what is now called "sustainable agriculture."  As it says on the back, these recipes are "kind to your wallet, your waistline, and the larger world."  Three cheers for the Mennonite Central Committee and their good work bringing global concerns to the table in such a refreshing, pleasant way.  500 recipes!



extending the.jpgExtending the Table: Recipes and Stories from Argentina to Zambia Joetta Handrich Schlabach  (Herald Press) $24.99  After the success of More-With-Less, a cry was heard demanding a sequel.  Folks so loved the enjoyable first simple-living type cookbook, and the little stories and factoids that nicely decorated it, that another soon followed.  The uniqueness of this one is that the recipes were sent in from development workers and missionaries and local folks from all over the world.  The title of this says it all---as human family, we can "extend the table" to offer hospitality to all, and to learn from other parts of the globe.  God bless the Mennonite Central Committee, again, for bringing these fabulous, easy to cook, and nicely accessible recipes from all over God's good world.  One of the nice things about this, by the way, is they avoided recipes that include hard to find ingredients, expensive, luxury items, or things that ordinary folk in ordinary towns would find impossible to locate.  That is, this is a nice, usable, day-to-day cookbook that offers inexpensive, joyful dishes, and a happy reminder of the needs of those in other parts of the planet, a guide to international cuisine that isn't too demanding or extravagant.

s-i-s ckbk.jpgSimply in Season (expanded edition) Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert (Herald Press) $24.99   Oh my, what a fine resource this is, a cookbook that came out a bit before everyone started lamenting the crazy environmental impact of importing tasteless strawberries or cardboard-like veggies (etc. etc.) and calling for cooking with some sense of the limits built into God's creation by buying more locally.  These are recipes, they say, "that celebrate fresh, local foods in the spirit of More-With-Less."  Again, this "world community cookbook" is a beauty to behold, colorful and interesting, but not one of those fussy ones that are mostly pictures of food that are created to win design awards; this is one that is really made to be used in the kitchen. It is sturdy, handsome and inspiring, but, mostly, filled with great ideas and good recipes arranged for good eating season-by-season. Whether you are support a CSA or do backyard gardening, whether you want to be a "locovore" or not, this, as one reviewer put it, "will allow you to drift along with the current of a different stream."  Wonderfully done.


exodus from hunger.jpgExodus From Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger  David Beckman (Westminster/John Knox) $15.00  Speaking of good looking covers that have an upbeat and helpful reminder about some pretty ugly stuff, this recent book by one of our heroes---Beckmann is a former World Bank guy, Lutheran clergyman, and Director of Bread for the World---is a must-have resource for anyone who cares about global justice.  We have met David on several occasions and have promoted the citizen organizing efforts of Bread for years.  We recently heard him at the Q gathering in DC where he was upbeat about the possibilities of seeing huge successes in the anti-hunger movement in our lifetime. 

Global poverty and unjust food systems and complicated things like third world debt and cash cropping and all manner of frustrating issues on every inhabited continent make this a great, multi-faceted struggle.  With God's help, God's work can be done, starvation can be minimized, and the poor can be given new opportunities.  Beckmann knows as much about this as nearly anyone around, and he offers his sober considerations as an way to help us understand, to care, to be involved. The subtitle is important: "We Are Called to Change The Politics of Hunger" and this inspiring book tells us how.  Learn more about their citizen lobbying efforts (and what you can do!) on everything from foreign aid to the Farm Bill at Bread for the World's excellent webpage.  Read this book, start a study club, share it with your Bible study group.  A very, very important resource, up-to-date and inspiring.  You will be a different sort of citizen once you learn what this book has to teach.  And with the above mentioned cookbooks, you can eat better, too.

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