About October 2013

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in October 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

September 2013 is the previous archive.

November 2013 is the next archive.

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

October 2013 Archives

October 2, 2013

It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) ON SALE NOW

It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God  ON SALE: 10% OFF.


Ssquare Halo Books logo.jpgQUARE HALO BOOKS

My friend Ned Bustard manages Square Halo Books, a boutique publishers in Lancaster, PA, that specializes in books about Christian faith and the arts.  The books he produces are always nicely designed - his day job is running his own graphic design firm - and are always a labor of love.  In 2007 they released what has become their most popular work, a fabulously diverse and rich anthology of essays about different aspects of art, and making art, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (Square Halo Books; $24.99 -- on sale for $22.50.) Besides lots of full-color art, it includes mature and insightful essays by visual artists, Christian art historians and critics, aIt-was-Good-cover.jpg few musicians (pop music producer Charlie Peacock, jazzman and theology professor Bill Edgar), various and sundry other cultural creatives as well as a few who work in ministry with artists (Tim Keller, pastor of the thriving Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of the arts district in Manhattan, written before he became as famous as he now is.) For what it is worth, it showcased the first chapter in a book by the esteemed founder of IAM, Makoto Fujimura, (his good chapter there is called "That Final Dance") and his art wonderfully graced the cover. We here at Hearts & Minds raved about it.  It remains one of the handful of must-read titles we include in any list or display of books about the arts.

I think Ned knew all along that there would be a sequel, one specifically exploring the role of music in God's world, IWG2, so to speak. Ned is a huge music fan with wide and passionate tastes -- it may be that I first met him at a concert or festival. Years and years in the making (an artful story in itself) we could not be more proud to announce that we now have It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory odouble good.jpgf God compiled and created by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books; $24.99.) With nearly 30 stellar chapters and 336 pages, it is a beautiful, beautiful resource, a worthy book to add to your shelf. If you work in the field of music - music teacher, choir director, aspiring rock star, high school band director, worship leader, concert promoter, record producer - you should buy several; you just should.  It is unquestionably now the best book in the field and you will want to share it with others, often. I predict there will be study groups and book clubs reading it together in rehearsal halls and choir lofts and recording studios and coffee shops and Christian education classrooms, wherever musicians gather to dream about their work. 


EXPERIENCE AMPLIFIED (OR: WHY THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT)

Allow me to begin my review with a rumination on one of the last chapters in the book, one on booking and promoting concerts called "Experience Amplified" by Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma.  Kirstin VG-R writes wonderfully - read her regularly by subscribing to catapult -- and in this chapter she tells of the remarkable work of Calvin College's Student Activities Office as it brings in thoughtful musicians, songwriters and bands to enhance the appreciation of (and discernment about) the popular arts among Calvin College students (and the wider Grand Rapids community who have enthusiastically affirmed their innovative work.) Like the other chapters in It Was Good: Making Musicconcert hall.jpg to the Glory of God, Ms VG-R was given a one-word title; in her case, "promotion", and she walks us through the vision, theology, and storied details of booking acts, promoting shows, finding appropriate venues, the complexities of ticket sales and hospitality and education and live concert production. In her vividly portrayed piece she draws us in telling about all the concert posters on the cinder block walls of their grotto-like offices -- I've seen those posters in that cluttered office noting advertisements for Dave Matthews, Andrew Bird, Lupe Fiasco, Emmylou Harris, Gungor, Iron and Wine, Mavis Staples, Sigur Ros, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Over the Rhine, Bruce Cockburn, fun., Jars of Clay, Aradhna, Kishi Bashi, Regina Spektor, and many, many more -- country to rap to soul to indie pop and more.  She notes that the decor is, actually, theological:

It's a messy witness, tacked to the walls with duct tape and poster putty, on  display for all to see and to discuss and to question. The motto of the Student Activities Office (SAO) is "changing the conversation about popular culture" andcalvin sao.jpg even the posters serve this purpose. But anyone can stick pieces of paper on the wall.  Beyond physical space is where the conversation really heats up, as live concerts draw people into the circle with all five senses.  Lights and speakers, instruments and microphones, musicians and fans converge in a big room for just a moment in time and each moment is precious enough to frame.

But it all begs bigger questions: Why should Christians spend time and money on such activities --and not just as observers, but as promoters? What, if anything, would make a concert venue run by Christians different from other venues? This chapter will use the Calvin College concert series as a case study for reflecting more deeply on the potential for concert venues informed and shaped by holistic Christian values.

Msoil and sun.jpguch of this amazing chapter is inspired by the leadership of SAO Director Ken Heffner, and Kirstin tells of his vision -- inspired largely by the wide-as-creation redemptive theology of Dutch Reformed public intellectual Abraham Kuyper. I know a bit of how this has worked for Heffner and his staff and student team, and know that for them there have been huge struggles -- not everyone in the religious community understands  the risks and blessings of the best popular art or the theological insights of common grace, and not everyone in the artistic community trusts or appreciates the conversations going on in places like Calvin College; some mainstream artists and managers and journalists, in fact, are unsure about their efforts to nurture Christian discourse, confusing their views with the censors of the religious right, perhaps. 

So, for instance, he ended up on the phone last year with one of the members of a world-famous band, literally while they were rehearsing at the famed NBC studios before their SNL gig talking through painful misunderstandings; his intentional and artist-savvy conversations about Calvin's distinctive worldview with top-tier artists and their management have sometimes gone late, late into the night and continued long after the artists have left the campus.  

They have worked hard to generate trust and wisdom about how to host artists, which to avoid and who to work with, who to nurture and what boundaries to be clear about. It has been difficult, yes -- with very few models at any other colleges being so intentional and discerning in this way.  

But there have also been great, great joys, some of them sowing seeds of gospel hope among musicians who are amazed that this small religious campus cares so very much about the arts, about popular culture, and about hosting and producing an excellent show in a quality venue. 

World famous, Grammy Award winning indie band Death Cab for Cutie last year made it a point to note that they could have played at other more lucrative halls, but knew that Heffner's team treats them well and -- fascinatingly -- their students pay attention, appreciating the artfulness of the show, engaging the music as if it is, well, a gift made possible by a good God; by some accounts, SAO audiences are the best of any crowds on a performer's entire tour. A rare culture of engagement in popular music has developed over time there, and even secular artists are caught up in moments of grace as audiences participate appropriately.

I SAY ALL THIS BECAUSE...

It seems to me that there are hundreds of faith-based and church-related colleges andIt was Good Making Music.jpg thousands of churches that host concerts, and yet very few have risen to this sort of conversation about the role of popular entertainment, seeking a coherent and faithful understanding of contemporary music, nor have many really been intentional about considering a set of uniquely Christian practices about appreciating music in all its many-splendored textures and tones and styles.  

The singular witness of Calvin's SAO series -- told so helpfully in Vander Giessen-Reitsma's chapter -- is vivid indication of just why It Was Good Making Music to the Glory of God is so very important. 

This book is a delight to read, a joy, thrilling even, if you are a music lover.  But, also, it is important.

ONE MORE TIME:  RESISTING SACRED/SECULAR DUALISMS TOWARDS A MORE FAITHFUL VIEW OF THE ARTS

And so, from this wonderfully-written chapter about this esteemed program near the end of the book we are reminded of a theme that most serious Christian artists intuit and need to learn to better articulate, a theme that arises quickly in both It Was Good books -- there is no necessary division between the so-called sacred and secular; church music is not necessarily more "spiritual" than a love song or hoedown, God is honored and gladdened by faithful music of any sort, not just congregational or sacred music. 

Good art, guided by the spirit and values and vision of the artist, pays homage, more or less allusively, to a way of seeing life, a way of believing about life and in that sense all art is fundamentally religious (of one religion or another.)  Art or music that is intentionally Christian can nonetheless be bad art, and goodness and truth and wondrous artfulness can be found in the most profane of work.  In God's good grace, we live in a world of color, texture, sound and rhythm, and we can, indeed, make all manner of music to God's greater glory.  

Such humane and God-glorifying song, again, can be a child's song about belly-buttonsmusic painting.jpg (as one of the great chapters here tells us) or a politically-charged bit of social criticism or it can be a liturgical chant or a passionate praise chorus.  All such songs (the kid's song or the liturgical piece) can be well-made, insightful, healthy and good, or can be poor, shallow, harmful, and bad. 


That kind of extraordinary reminder of a glorious whole-life Kingdom vision which affirms the presence of God in common grace throughout all of life and culture is only one of the great reasons to enjoy this marvelous, and marvelously thought-through collection.


GLIMPSES

Reading It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God you will catch glimpses of that "every square inch" / all-of-life-being-redeemed vision lived out, explained and explored as many solid folks bear witness to the role of the good gift of music in their lives. You will enjoy hearing a bit about producing The Civil Wars and a lot about counterpoint in Bach; you get a grand workshop on the history of jazz, another on the spirituality of the blues; and you'll learn about the hymn-writer who penned the beloved "In Christ Alone." 


You will enjoy hearing about music in the life of parents and children and you will consider the rigors of those who perform as a vocation.  There are chapters about what the Bible says about song and there are chapters about how to be more artfully engaged in appreciating music -- in church and in the rest of our lives, outside of the sanctuary doors.  Square Halo Books has done us a great service in enriching our lives by offering us this vivid conversation into which we are invited.  It is, in my humble view, one of the best books we've read in years --- in part because it helps us think about faith in such a down-to-Earth, practical way.  


As Bustard says in his excellent foreword,


We were made to sing to the glory of God. He deserves glory from us due to his majesty as well as his kindness to us. Some see an obligation to glorify God as a burden or limitation. But this is simply not the case. Living lives to the glory of God makes us more of who we are. It is the difference between merely existing in black and white and taking in all of life in full technicolor.


SO MANY STYLES

Iiwg-m_cd_cover.jpgn It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God, thoughtful Christian singer/song-writers in the Americana/pop vein talk about learning their craft, about how to write, about collaboration and touring, even as classically-trained church leaders ruminate on their work (see the brilliant chapter on rehearsal by the Music Director at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.)


Some chapters tend towards anecdotal entries that are interesting and entertaining such as Charlie Peacock's reflection on his amazing career, a truly remarkable interview with hip hop artist and producer Shai Linne, Diana Bauer's powerful telling of how music helped her in times of great sorrow -- one of the best in the book! --  and a wonderful interview with Keith Getty (composer of beloved contemporary hymns, most notably "In Christ Alone.") 


There are many more specialized chapters, focusing on Biblical study or a particular topic (collaboration, minor keys, participation, fame all of which are tremendous.) There are no tidy lines between genres, and there are pieces about music created for worship purposes -- like a learned chapter on singing the Psalms  --  and many on the musical work done for popular entertainment and performance.  Some seem to be written for musicians, although as a non-musician, some of these were among my very favorites.


For instance, I absolutely loved Vito Aiuto's chapter on songwriting and Sandra McCracken's splendid and homey piece on creativity and Drew Holcomb's reflections on touring.


Actually, there is a whole lot for non-musicians, for those of us who listen to recordings, take in live shows, or just sing at church or in the shower.  For instance, Katy Bowser's piece on children's music is absolutely excellent (the best I've even seen on this topic -- I hope you know we stock her Coal Train Railroad CDs and the lovely Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones CD.)  What a thoughtful, inspiring chapter, a so fun to read.


The brilliant, profound work on the aesthetics of delight written by Bethany Brooks is fantastic. She is an accomplished classical pianist (who plays all over the world) who also is active in the roots music scene in Philly.  Oh yes, she also is a music director at City Church there.  Anyway, it is a very, very impressive chapter and musicians and music lovers should reflect upon.  It is one of the most important pieces centering the whole IWG project. 


Stephen Nichols' wonderful telling of the life of Johnny Cash becomes a bit of a morality tale about fame, and is a treat to read.


Jeremy Begbie is spot on when he says on the back-cover that "this book shows that it is still possible to write about music in a way that enriches our experience of it.  Above all, it will renew your gratitude to God for making such art possible."  


A REMEDY

It is interesting, isn't it, that music is around us so very much, but we often fail to attend to it with much focus, and we rarely discuss it together, reflecting on faithful expressions and fruitful understandings.  We get upset when pop stars do hare-brained stuff and we renounce this or that trend, or complain about music we didn't like in church. We turn the car radio up or down as the case may be. But, too rarely do we pursue the kinds of good conversations as given to us in this book.  Yes, this book is indeed a gift. The editor, the publisher, and the authors are to be commended for this labor of love.


It is notable when a book garners eloquent and passionate endorsements and this volume already is gathering just such glowing recommendations. Listen to rock and roller Dave Perkins, now Associate Director of the Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture program at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt:


Is it possible to fully elucidate the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, even physical experience of music making? Perhaps the best way to go about it is to gather a choir of voices. It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God offers a rich resource of perspectives, each working to share some aspect or moment in the experience of that mercurial characteristic of human being we call music and its place in the life of faith.


The book covers so much good ground that it is hard to describe -- I just want to offer this plea that you buy It Was Good: Making Music right away! (It will, of course, make a fabulous Christmas gift, as does the first IWG volume.) I hope that our readers will trust us on this one.


SEE MY LONGER REVIEW EXPLAINING EVERY CHAPTER 

I don't want to miss out on the joy of explaining some of what is to be found between these cool covers.  There truly are some amazingly interesting topics and some pretty stellar authors.


So, please bear with me as I give the shout outs.  I imagine them all lining up as after a show, hands clasped, bowing in unison before the encore.  I wanna be the emcee and call out with gusto "Ladies and gentleman, give it up one more time for...."


You can read the rest over at the Hearts & Minds website monthly column.


I give a short paragraph about each and every chapter, by whom it is written, what it is about, and why I liked it so. There isn't a bad one in the bunch, so we're going to clap long and hard for these folks, and by the end you'll be holding up little lighters shouting "Encore!"


BookNotes

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REVIEW: EXTENDED VERSION It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God compiled by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) ON SALE NOW

It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God  ON SALE: 10% OFF.


THIS IS THE LONGER VERSION OF THE REVIEW.  THANKS FOR READING.


Ssquare Halo Books logo.jpgQUARE HALO BOOKS

My friend Ned Bustard manages Square Halo Books, a boutique publishers in Lancaster, PA, that specializes in books about Christian faith and the arts.  The books he produces are always nicely designed - his day job is running his own graphic design firm - and are always a labor of love.  In 2007 they released what has become their most popular work, a fabulously diverse and rich anthology of essays about different aspects of art, and making art, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (Square Halo Books; $24.99 -- on sale for $22.50.) Besides lots of full-color art, it includes mature and insightful essays by visual artists, Christian art historians and critics, aIt-was-Good-cover.jpg few musicians (pop music producer Charlie Peacock, jazzman and theology professor Bill Edgar), various and sundry other cultural creatives as well as a few who work in ministry with artists (Tim Keller, pastor of the thriving Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of the arts district in Manhattan, written before he became as famous as he now is.) For what it is worth, it showcased the first chapter in a book by the esteemed founder of IAM, Makoto Fujimura, (his good chapter there is called "That Final Dance") and his art wonderfully graced the cover. We here at Hearts & Minds raved about it.  It remains one of the handful of must-read titles we include in any list or display of books about the arts.

I think Ned knew all along that there would be a sequel, one specifically exploring the role of music in God's world, IWG2, so to speak. Ned is a huge music fan with wide and passionate tastes -- it may be that I first met him at a concert or festival. Years and years in the making (an artful story in itself) we could not be more proud to announce that we now have It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory odouble good.jpgf God compiled and created by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books; $24.99.) With nearly 30 stellar chapters and 336 pages, it is a beautiful, beautiful resource, a worthy book to add to your shelf. If you work in the field of music - music teacher, choir director, aspiring rock star, high school band director, worship leader, concert promoter, record producer - you should buy several; you just should.  It is unquestionably now the best book in the field and you will want to share it with others, often. I predict there will be study groups and book clubs reading it together in rehearsal halls and choir lofts and recording studios and coffee shops and Christian education classrooms, wherever musicians gather to dream about their work. 


EXPERIENCE AMPLIFIED (OR: WHY THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT)

Allow me to begin my review with a rumination on one of the last chapters in the book, one on booking and promoting concerts called "Experience Amplified" by Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma.  Kirstin VG-R writes wonderfully - read her regularly by subscribing to catapult -- and in this chapter she tells of the remarkable work of Calvin College's Student Activities Office as it brings in thoughtful musicians, songwriters and bands to enhance the appreciation of (and discernment about) the popular arts among Calvin College students (and the wider Grand Rapids community who have enthusiastically affirmed their innovative work.) Like the other chapters in It Was Good: Making Musicconcert hall.jpg to the Glory of God, Ms VG-R was given a one-word title; in her case, "promotion", and she walks us through the vision, theology, and storied details of booking acts, promoting shows, finding appropriate venues, the complexities of ticket sales and hospitality and education and live concert production. In her vividly portrayed piece she draws us in telling about all the concert posters on the cinder block walls of their grotto-like offices -- I've seen those posters in that cluttered office noting advertisements for Dave Matthews, Andrew Bird, Lupe Fiasco, Emmylou Harris, Gungor, Iron and Wine, Mavis Staples, Sigur Ros, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Over the Rhine, Bruce Cockburn, fun., Jars of Clay, Aradhna, Kishi Bashi, Regina Spektor, and many, many more -- country to rap to soul to indie pop and more.  She notes that the decor is, actually, theological:

It's a messy witness, tacked to the walls with duct tape and poster putty, on  display for all to see and to discuss and to question. The motto of the Student Activities Office (SAO) is "changing the conversation about popular culture" andcalvin sao.jpg even the posters serve this purpose. But anyone can stick pieces of paper on the wall.  Beyond physical space is where the conversation really heats up, as live concerts draw people into the circle with all five senses.  Lights and speakers, instruments and microphones, musicians and fans converge in a big room for just a moment in time and each moment is precious enough to frame.

But it all begs bigger questions: Why should Christians spend time and money on such activities --and not just as observers, but as promoters? What, if anything, would make a concert venue run by Christians different from other venues? This chapter will use the Calvin College concert series as a case study for reflecting more deeply on the potential for concert venues informed and shaped by holistic Christian values.

Msoil and sun.jpguch of this amazing chapter is inspired by the leadership of SAO Director Ken Heffner, and Kirstin tells of his vision -- inspired largely by the wide-as-creation redemptive theology of Dutch Reformed public intellectual Abraham Kuyper. I know a bit of how this has worked for Heffner and his staff and student team, and know that for them there have been huge struggles -- not everyone in the religious community understands  the risks and blessings of the best popular art or the theological insights of common grace, and not everyone in the artistic community trusts or appreciates the conversations going on in places like Calvin College; some mainstream artists and managers and journalists, in fact, are unsure about their efforts to nurture Christian discourse, confusing their views with the censors of the religious right, perhaps. 

So, for instance, he ended up on the phone last year with one of the members of a world-famous band, literally while they were rehearsing at the famed NBC studios before their SNL gig talking through painful misunderstandings; his intentional and artist-savvy conversations about Calvin's distinctive worldview with top-tier artists and their management have sometimes gone late, late into the night and continued long after the artists have left the campus.  

They have worked hard to generate trust and wisdom about how to host artists, which to avoid and who to work with, who to nurture and what boundaries to be clear about. It has been difficult, yes -- with very few models at any other colleges being so intentional and discerning in this way.  

But there have also been great, great joys, some of them sowing seeds of gospel hope among musicians who are amazed that this small religious campus cares so very much about the arts, about popular culture, and about hosting and producing an excellent show in a quality venue. 

World famous, Grammy Award winning indie band Death Cab for Cutie last year made it a point to note that they could have played at other more lucrative halls, but knew that Heffner's team treats them well and -- fascinatingly -- their students pay attention, appreciating the artfulness of the show, engaging the music as if it is, well, a gift made possible by a good God; by some accounts, SAO audiences are the best of any crowds on a performer's entire tour. A rare culture of engagement in popular music has developed over time there, and even secular artists are caught up in moments of grace as audiences participate appropriately.

I SAY ALL THIS BECAUSE...

It seems to me that there are hundreds of faith-based and church-related colleges andIt was Good Making Music.jpg thousands of churches that host concerts, and yet very few have risen to this sort of conversation about the role of popular entertainment, seeking a coherent and faithful understanding of contemporary music, nor have many really been intentional about considering a set of uniquely Christian practices about appreciating music in all its many-splendored textures and tones and styles.  

The singular witness of Calvin's SAO series -- told so helpfully in Vander Giessen-Reitsma's chapter -- is vivid indication of just why It Was Good Making Music to the Glory of God is so very important. 

This book is a delight to read, a joy, thrilling even, if you are a music lover.  But, also, it is important.

ONE MORE TIME:  RESISTING SACRED/SECULAR DUALISMS TOWARDS A MORE FAITHFUL VIEW OF THE ARTS

And so, from this wonderfully-written chapter about this esteemed program near the end of the book we are reminded of a theme that most serious Christian artists intuit and need to learn to better articulate, a theme that arises quickly in both It Was Good books -- there is no necessary division between the so-called sacred and secular; church music is not necessarily more "spiritual" than a love song or hoedown, God is honored and gladdened by faithful music of any sort, not just congregational or sacred music. 

Good art, guided by the spirit and values and vision of the artist, pays homage, more or less allusively, to a way of seeing life, a way of believing about life and in that sense all art is fundamentally religious (of one religion or another.)  Art or music that is intentionally Christian can nonetheless be bad art, and goodness and truth and wondrous artfulness can be found in the most profane of work.  In God's good grace, we live in a world of color, texture, sound and rhythm, and we can, indeed, make all manner of music to God's greater glory.  

Such humane and God-glorifying song, again, can be a child's song about belly-buttonsmusic painting.jpg (as one of the great chapters here tells us) or a politically-charged bit of social criticism or it can be a liturgical chant or a passionate praise chorus.  All such songs (the kid's song or the liturgical piece) can be well-made, insightful, healthy and good, or can be poor, shallow, harmful, and bad. 


That kind of extraordinary reminder of a glorious whole-life Kingdom vision which affirms the presence of God in common grace throughout all of life and culture is only one of the great reasons to enjoy this marvelous, and marvelously thought-through collection.


GLIMPSES

Reading It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God you will catch glimpses of that "every square inch" / all-of-life-being-redeemed vision lived out, explained and explored as many solid folks bear witness to the role of the good gift of music in their lives. You will enjoy hearing a bit about producing The Civil Wars and a lot about counterpoint in Bach; you get a grand workshop on the history of jazz, another on the spirituality of the blues; and you'll learn about the hymn-writer who penned the beloved "In Christ Alone." 


You will enjoy hearing about music in the life of parents and children and you will consider the rigors of those who perform as a vocation.  There are chapters about what the Bible says about song and there are chapters about how to be more artfully engaged in appreciating music -- in church and in the rest of our lives, outside of the sanctuary doors.  Square Halo Books has done us a great service in enriching our lives by offering us this vivid conversation into which we are invited.  It is, in my humble view, one of the best books we've read in years --- in part because it helps us think about faith in such a down-to-Earth, practical way.  


As Bustard says in his excellent foreword,


We were made to sing to the glory of God. He deserves glory from us due to his majesty as well as his kindness to us. Some see an obligation to glorify God as a burden or limitation. But this is simply not the case. Living lives to the glory of God makes us more of who we are. It is the difference between merely existing in black and white and taking in all of life in full technicolor.


SO MANY STYLES

Iiwg-m_cd_cover.jpgn It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God, thoughtful Christian singer/song-writers in the Americana/pop vein talk about learning their craft, about how to write, about collaboration and touring, even as classically-trained church leaders ruminate on their work (see the brilliant chapter on rehearsal by the Music Director at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.)


Some chapters tend towards anecdotal entries that are interesting and entertaining such as Charlie Peacock's reflection on his amazing career, a truly remarkable interview with hip hop artist and producer Shai Linne, Diana Bauer's powerful telling of how music helped her in times of great sorrow -- one of the best in the book! --  and a wonderful interview with Keith Getty (composer of beloved contemporary hymns, most notably "In Christ Alone.") 


There are many more specialized chapters, focusing on Biblical study or a particular topic (collaboration, minor keys, participation, fame all of which are tremendous.) There are no tidy lines between genres, and there are pieces about music created for worship purposes -- like a learned chapter on singing the Psalms  --  and many on the musical work done for popular entertainment and performance.  Some seem to be written for musicians, although as a non-musician, some of these were among my very favorites.


For instance, I absolutely loved Vito Aiuto's chapter on songwriting and Sandra McCracken's splendid and homey piece on creativity and Drew Holcomb's reflections on touring.


Actually, there is a whole lot for non-musicians, for those of us who listen to recordings, take in live shows, or just sing at church or in the shower.  For instance, Katy Bowser's piece on children's music is absolutely excellent (the best I've even seen on this topic -- I hope you know we stock her Coal Train Railroad CDs and the lovely Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones CD.)  What a thoughtful, inspiring chapter, a so fun to read.


The brilliant, profound work on the aesthetics of delight written by Bethany Brooks is fantastic. She is an accomplished classical pianist (who plays all over the world) who also is active in the roots music scene in Philly.  Oh yes, she also is a music director at City Church there.  Anyway, it is a very, very impressive chapter and musicians and music lovers should reflect upon.  It is one of the most important pieces centering the whole IWG project. 


Stephen Nichols' wonderful telling of the life of Johnny Cash becomes a bit of a morality tale about fame, and is a treat to read.


Jeremy Begbie is spot on when he says on the back-cover that "this book shows that it is still possible to write about music in a way that enriches our experience of it.  Above all, it will renew your gratitude to God for making such art possible."  


A REMEDY

It is interesting, isn't it, that music is around us so very much, but we often fail to attend to it with much focus, and we rarely discuss it together, reflecting on faithful expressions and fruitful understandings.  We get upset when pop stars do hare-brained stuff and we renounce this or that trend, or complain about music we didn't like in church. We turn the car radio up or down as the case may be. But, too rarely do we pursue the kinds of good conversations as given to us in this book.  Yes, this book is indeed a gift. The editor, the publisher, and the authors are to be commended for this labor of love.


It is notable when a book garners eloquent and passionate endorsements and this volume already is gathering just such glowing recommendations. Listen to rock and roller Dave Perkins, now Associate Director of the Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture program at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt:


Is it possible to fully elucidate the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, even physical experience of music making? Perhaps the best way to go about it is to gather a choir of voices. It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God offers a rich resource of perspectives, each working to share some aspect or moment in the experience of that mercurial characteristic of human being we call music and its place in the life of faith.


The book covers so much good ground that it is hard to describe -- I just want to offer this plea that you buy It Was Good: Making Music right away! (It will, of course, make a fabulous Christmas gift, as does the first IWG volume.) I hope that our readers will trust us on this one.


FREE MUSIC

As an added bonus, there is a complimentary link where for free you can go toiwg-m_cd_cover.jpg Noisetrade and download an 18 track album of songs by many of the artists in the book.  Yep, you get to hear Drew Holcomb and Joy Ike, Charlie Peacock and Sandra McCraken, The Welcome Wagon and Coal Train Railroad.  There are worship songs from strong church composers, a modern classical piece, acoustic singer-songwriter solo songs and a fabulous jazz piece with Bill Edgar playing piano, John Patitucci on bass and the incredibly  Ruth Naomi Floyd on vocals.  18 songs in all -- what a great bonus for those who buy the book. 


Well, I don't want to miss out on the joy of explaining some of what is to be found between these cool covers.  There truly are some amazingly interesting topics and some pretty stellar authors.


So, please bear with me as I give the shout outs.  I imagine them all lining up as after a show, hands clasped, bowing in unison before the encore.  I wanna be the emcee and call out with gusto "Ladies and gentleman, give it up one more time for...."


We were imagining all the grand authors lined up at the edge of the stage for a communal bow. (I don't know who these folks are below, but you get the picture.)  They've got their arms around each other's waists, some are sweating under the stage lights.  A few are holding back a little, a few are grinning ear to ear.  They are all very glad your here.  They do indeed what God to get the glory.


So, here they are, folks, in mostly alphabetical order...


group bow.jpg

Let's hear it for:


Vito Aiuto.  He's friends with Sufjan, who makes a brief appearance in this chapter, is a gentle hipster pastor in Brooklyn, and front man for the quirky neo-folk / quasi-worship band cleverly called Welcome Wagon.  He gives us here a truly great chapter on songwriting and it would be excellent for any writer.  It is, without a doubt, one of the top essays in the entire book.  The first bit about sitting down and doing the work is tremendous -- funny, informed, and challenging. And he mentions Robbie Robertson and Paul Simon.  His quotes from Annie Dillard are so good. He tells people to read books. His candor about his own discovery of poetry, his guitar playing, his preaching and Sunday evening habits makes it real.  I love this chapter!


Diana Bauer.  This brought me to tears.  She tells of great sorrows in her life, reminds us -- as if she has to -- that most of us living East of Eden share similar sorrows, and she tells how music has helped her through stress and trouble, grief and sadness. She names mostly hymns which touched me deeply, but I'd add other musicians -- from Bill Mallonee to Jackson Browne to Switchfoot to the Indigo Girls  -- who have led me to process and cope with my deepest losses and regrets. This is one of the great chapters in the book and I sincerely commend it to you.


Bethany Brooks. Ladies and gentleman, give it up for the gal with the most footnotes!  And, man, is she sharp.  This is a true centerpiece of the book, coming in early, on the theology (and discipline) of delight, the essential aesthetic moment that is art and music.  There are various books and resources to explore this essential stuff, and I think her work here is excellent, a fine, needed, relatively short contribution and should become very often discussed. 


Paul Buckley.  The aforementioned must-read piece on the need to sing the Psalms. Some very helpful suggestions, and a guide to recently published Psalters. Very impressive; by the way, he used to be a reporter and has won writing awards. And he's studied Psalms with the best.


Mark Chambers.  Don't let this scare you off, with the transcriptions of lines of score. Yes,  he's a classical buff, and he explains some odd-ball avante garde stuff.  Hey, you want to be a life-long learner don't you?  In this exceptionally rich chapter, he teaches us how to listen. Very helpful.


William Edgar. He was in the first It Was Good, is a published theologian and scholar of culture and the arts, and a friend to this whole project.  His chapter is on jazz, perhaps from a book we pray he will someday publish.  This is very, very good stuff, for novices or aficionados.  He's a cat, so you gotta read this!


Julius Fischer. Apparently he serves in a small urban church, is a Beatles fan, and tells of playing a hymn with accordion and banjo, and I'm telling ya, this short chapter is everything I love about this cool book.  His advise to local church worship leaders --  leave the casserole for the pot luck -- is priceless.  His church is fortunate to have such a diverse, creative, musician but who also understands what worship is about.


Ruth Naomi Floyd.  Wow. Ruth is renowned as a very cool jazz singer in Philly, and she graces this book with her deep African-American insights about the blues.  I am pretty sure I recommended her to Ned as he was searching for excellent authors, and I'm glad she is here.  I admire her faith, her character, and her amazing concerts and records.  Let the people say Amen!


Jan & Mark Foreman. I'm not kidding you -- this is worth the price of the book if you are a parent, a grandparent, or know any parents.  You may know Mark Foreman's excellent book Wholly Jesus (I hope you do) but you most likely know of their famous sons, the rock and roll stars of the band Switchfoot.  This is a chapter about how to parent kids to be creative, telling how they raised their now-famous sons to be lovers of culture, discerning about the world, and aspiring to excellence.  That Jan is a children's art teacher and Mark a pastor who loves to sing doesn't hurt.  Still, this is inspiring for anyone and a truly wonderful, rich chapter.


David Fuentes. This guy does a close reading of a couple of popular songs, wondering about lyric and music, and his insight is as good as it gets.  It was so good I had to turn to the back to ask who is this guy? Man, he's good!   He teaches at Calvin College,  which, well, explains a lot.  Perhaps he hangs around with the aforementioned Ken Heffner. This is a very useful chapter, especially if you work with youth or lead discernment groups or like to talk about evaluating pop songs that you enjoy. Nice!


Keith Getty.  What a gift this man has given to us, writing so many wonderful contemporary hymns.  This chapter comes to us in a fabulous interview format and it is very, very interesting.  What a privilege to get to listen in on this as he describes his calling and career in this fine piece. If you don't know the hymnody of the Getty's, do check out their work.


Steve Guthrie. Certainly this is one of the most significant scholars represented in It Was Good -- Dr. Guthrie is a theology prof who earned his PhD from University of St. Andrews and served as a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Theology and Imagination and the Arts there.  He has written an amazing book on the Holy Spirit (Creator Spirit) and co-edited with Jeremy Begbie the very scholarly collection Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Theology and Music published by Eerdmans.)  The maestro could have phoned this in, or written his piece in his sleep, but he obviously didn't. A brilliant contribution on harmony entitled "The Ratio of Redemption." I thought maybe it was a typo, but it's Latin.  Excellent.


Drew Holcomb.  Holcomb loves music, loves live shows, and comes from a family that graciously encouraged his desire to be a troubadour. Now he plays with guys like the Avett Brothers and his pals in NeedtoBreath. If you want to know what it is like being a traveling musician, this is a great inside look; he's a fine writer and this is a lovely chapter.  If you are a road warrior yourself, as a musician or maybe even in another career that has you away from home a lot, you should read this as there is much wisdom about maintaining relationships and a faithful spiritual life from this young man.  One person said this was one of the best chapters in the book!  By the way, one of his songs was used in an Emmy-Award winning TV commercial for the  NBA and Sports Illustrated said it was the best sports commercial ever made.  So there ya go.  Give him some extra applause and buy some of his merch.  He's the real deal.


Joy Ike.  Joy Ike!  I just love this young lady whose name has been shortened from her family's traditional African name; she is as professional and serious as they come, her commitment leavened, through, by her joyful and Christ-like demeanor. She knows she is called to this work of being a pop music maker and performer and she does it well.  Hailing from Pittsburgh, nurtured through the Jubilee conference where she serves in the worship band, getting radio airplay, critical acclaim and mainstream invitations to play at places like Lillith Fare, she is a woman of great grace and maturity and we respect her a lot.  But what would she write about, I asked Ned, when he invited her to write.  Vocation. Yes!  This is perfect for her. It is great to have a working artist ruminating on this foundational Christian truth and what it means to know you are called to this particular work.


Tom Jennings.  As Music Director of the prestigious and important Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, I admit to wondering if this would be all that interesting or relevant for those in less influential life locations.  He's a highly regarded classical and jazz musician, and prominent in many ways. Ends up, this was one of my very favorite chapters, which I read twice.  It is about rehearsal -- and so much more.  Wonderful stories, good use of Scripture, theologically mature, and a great lover of his calling as musician -- in the recital hall and the sanctuary.  Of course, we all have to head to the woodshed, as they say, if we are going to get good at what we do (although he doesn't use that down-home phrase.) This chapter will make you appreciate rehearsal and practice and collaboration and experimentation and trust and... well, you have to read it!


Shai Linne.  If you haven't heard of this guy, you need to know of his important work.  He is a hip hop artist, working in the streets and recording studios, guiding, producing, teaching -- all to help proclaim the doctrines of God's amazing grace to a broken world. This is done in a fast-paced interview format, and it really works -- as a rapper, he is obviously good with words and quick on his feet.  Fascinating.  Again, I was surprised at how insightful this conversation was, and how good it was to listen in. Very highly recommended (even if you aren't a fan of the genre.) 


Sandra McCracken.  This was one of the first chapters I turned to when I first saw the manuscript, mostly because I so esteem Sandra's work, from her role in Indelible Grace to her spectacular solo projects.  Oh yeah, I thought maybe she'd drop some bit about her hubby Derek Webb.  And, again, what perhaps started as cheap voyeurism or fandom on my part ended up being a great reading experience -- I will turn to this chapter again, I am sure. Her topic is creativity and it is a wonderful rumination, good for musicians and artists of all kinds, but it is an excellent chapter about being human, finding a life, staying sane, honoring God in the rhythms and seasons of our days.  Her title is "Fingerprints and Plumbers" and it is well worth reading.


Brian Moss.  What a good call to have this wise and important worship leader in here, although it is curious.  It is a short piece, inviting us -- at the start of the book -- to appreciate silence. Moss does some good teaching about our longings for silence, reminding us of the Biblical mandates to keep silence, and invites readers to close the book and experience the lack of creative music-making.  Very impressive.  I'd invite you to give him a round of applause but, uh, maybe that wouldn't be right.


Stephen Nichols.  Now this was a surprising chapter.  It was to be on fame and I figure that anyone in the performing arts -- or in business or in ministry, even --  may struggle with this.  And it is exactly that.  By way of the true story of one Johnny Cash.  Nichols is a great biographer (his latest is on Bonhoeffer, by the way) but he loves popular culture and has a good book himself on the history of blues music. This was a fabulous way to end this fine book.  Yeah!


Brad O'Donnell.  As an impromptu writer and public speaker I sometimes worry about not having time to re-write my work.  After reading this wonderful chapter, I want to think more, and do more, in refining, which is O'Donnell's good theme.  He uses the Bible well, makes great points, and then tells lots of great little stories -- he studied jazz at the University of Miami Music School where he met Pat Metheny, he cites John Updike and includes a small bit of an interview with Hemingway  (yes "that" Hemingway.) He draws on insights by Jon Foreman and evaluates other award-winning musicians (including several Dove Award-winners such as Chris Tomlinson.) What a great chapter, interesting and wise and important for all of us. 


John Patitucci.  Again, what an amazing thing, to have a Grammy-Award winning jazz bassist, a serious man of faith, offering solid insights here.  Way to go Ned Bustard, way to go Square Halo.  And many thanks to the famous Mr. Patitucci for agreeing to do this good work, writing, teaching, explaining, sharing insight about improvisation.  How cool that he opens with Proverbs 27:17--  and calls us all to lives of interrelationship and trust and risk and playfulness.  John Patitucci is certainly one of the most renowned musicians in the book, and yet it is also one of the most carefully explicating the Biblical text.  So cool.


Charlie Peacock.  Charlie is an old friend of Ned & Leslie Bustard -- a mentor and supporter in many ways -- and it is no surprise he agreed to revisit his story as young rebel rock star, early pioneer of innovative Christian rock and pop, his being signed to Island Records (at the same time as his label-mates U-too-know-who released Joshua Tree, causing him to get lost by the label) and his journey towards a more public sort of work, guiding and producing some of the most significant rock acts of our time and founding The Art House.  He does not draw undue attention to his help with the likes of Switchfoot or The Civil Wars or the Lone Bellow but his story of working out his calling is well told and fabulously interesting for those who have followed his long and impressive career.  I like this kind of stuff, and found it to be tremendously enjoyable to listen in to the tale that, by the way, is surely not yet over.  


Doug Plank.  I said everybody was standing on the stage together, taking a big communal bow.  Each author and artist in this book make a unique contribution, yet they hold together in some broad Square Halo vision, taking in both world and church.  This is one of those -- citing Irish rockers U2 and Reformed Scotsman Carl Trueman -- writing about our world's deep brokenness and the need to honor and attend to that, even in our worship.  Plank oversees the worship ministry of a church here in central Pennsylvania and says he loves Tolkien. It makes sense that he is such a reader of JRR's powerful vision; he is a good thinker, and yet simply calls us to sing from time to time in the minor key.  I wish more pastors and church musicians pondered this.


Hiram Ring.  I hope you know this young singer-songwriter, and I am glad he is in this collection (and on the Noisetrade piece.)  It is a chapter I trust you will enjoy and I know you will benefit from reading it.  He was born of missionary parents in Africa, so is what they now call "third culture kids." His music isn't "world beat" but his themes and topics, coming from his experience and passions, are clearly global.  His chapter is called "language" and his love for words, and his passion for translation and his missionary heart is evident.  An educational and challenging chapter!


Michael Roe.  Formerly of the pioneer rock and roll band the inestimable 77s, and then of Lost Dogs fame, Roe is one of the best guitar players I've ever come across, and his solo work -- recordings and live shows -- are breathtakingly good.  He's gritty and raw and a bit grizzled from years on the road.  His faith and passion shine through in these two interviews well-conducted by fanboy Bustard.  I have to admit, this was the second or third chapter I read, as I just had to see where the conversation would lead.  It was not exactly explosive, but it was fabulous -- his bit about his jangled rock 'n roll  "nerves" and his love for Mozart and Segovia spoke right to me!  What he got at, though, was collaboration, and it was wonderful.  Kudos, Ned and Mike.  Good collaboration.


Michelle Stearns.  Give it up, folks, for Chelle Stearns!  Or, better, don't clap for her -- clap for yourselves.  She writes about participation, about being amateurs, about the joy of doing music, one and all.  I was almost scared to read this -- don't ask me why, but I don't like to dance and I don't want to have to sing along -- but, wowie, I loved it. A very strong chapter which was a joy to read, a treat to think about, and a righteous reminder.  Rock on.


Gregg Strawbridge.  Strawbridge is a heavy-weight thinker, Reformed as the day is long, and appropriately -- as the best of the Reformed vision would have it -- down to Earth.  His church grows their own grapes so they can make their own communion wine.  His study here is on church music and why the Bible insists on us using a variety of instruments.   Before he gets there, he can't help but tells us a bit about his own background of loving music  --  what fun! -- and then he does the in-depth, high-quality Bible study that a book like this calls for.  A Christian philosophy of aesthetics that can shape a view of music, that can lead us to certain musical practices is the under-girding project of some of these chapters, and no Christian philosophy or worldview worth its salt can avoid the exegetical work.  Kudos for this strong chapter about Scripture.


Greg Wilbur.  Dig this.  Wilbur, in his chapter "Throw Back the Clock" teaches us wisely in theological frame, about counterpoint.  He writes of those who misunderstand this musical feature in older music, "(these attitudes) fail to recognize the intent, purpose, and structure behind sixteenth and seventeenth century counterpoint or why it fell out of favor in the Age of the Enlightenment. In fact, the demise of counterpoint in the history of music is more an indication of shifting theological worldviews than musical tastes."  This ends up being a bit about Bach, and you simply have to read it -- I had no idea.  Got my money's worth right here in these 8 dense pages.


Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma.  For sheer wordsmithyness, I think this is one of the very strongest chapters, and because she is my friend, and I've followed the project she writes about -- the Calvin College SAO concert series and their mission of cultural discernment -- I have to say it was my favorite chapter in the book.  There is such a robust view of culture, such an (underlying, undeveloped, but palpable) aesthetic theory, such a vision of God's Kingdom coming, even in the popular arts as we learn to think redemptively about entertainment and contemporary live performances. Buy the book, read this chapter, and praise the Lord that some Christians who are booking bands would rather have thoughtful, Biblically-literate excellent, soul-provoking music by the unchurched likes of Lupe Fiasco or the Indigo Girls or The Head and the Heart or Andrew Bird rather than a warmed over, overly pious, derivative prima donna Christian rock star any day.  It was a stroke of genius to include the Calvin College story here -- it needs to be understood and appreciated as few Christian colleges dare to be as intentional and thoughtful about this --  and it fills out the book with broad Christian vision and with solid, practical detail, about hosting shows and learning the Christ-like art of genuine hospitality (for artists and audiences.)  Three big cheers.  And, I'd shout, "Encore!"  More, KVGR, more!


And, certainly, we can cry "encore" for Square Halo Books, too.  May their generative output -- classy, fun, righteous, and seriously meeting a need in the publishing marketplace for evangelical reflection on and exhibits of the arts -- continue.  God bless them!  And God bless you if you buy books like this, keeping artful, indie publishing alive and well.



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October 12, 2013

5 New Books on Pain and Suffering -- from theologian Tim Keller to peacemaker Jeremy Courtney to "The Dave Test."

I was unloading, as I sometimes do, about the hard stuff in my life, grief and a general dismay at the state of the world, with my friend Brian Walsh.  His campus ministry faith community and the writings that come out of it (Wine Before Breakfast and Remixing the Empire) have a keen sensibility about the brokenness of this world and often hold a posture of lament in solidarity with those who suffer. I don't know anybody who has taken Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination and its call to weep subversive tears so seriously.  This comes through in Brian's co-authored books such as Truth Is Stranger Than It Used tokicking at the darknes.jpg Be and Beyond Homelessness and clearly in his wonderful study of the Canadian poet/rock star Bruce Cockburn, Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination. In that book, Walsh shows us some harsh material that Cockburn sings about.  But he reminds us that Cockburn sings that "Joy Will Find a Way." We can believe the singer because he understands the hard stuff "out on the rim of the broken wheel."

Anyway, Brian replied to me citing a song I love, from one of Cockburn's fellow musicians and producers, Colin Linden, who sings that it is a "sad, sad, sad, beautiful world." 

"Three sads and one beautiful," Brian wrote.not the way.jpg 

Yep, for most of us, this is so, or nearly so.

When I was first becoming a Presbyterian, and learning about Calvinism and amazing grace, many in my circles talked about our sinfulness (rightly so; without an awareness of our great need, what good is the gospel of Christ?)  But even then, I protested: in a sinful world, people are not just sinners, they are, inevitably, sinned against.  As Cornelius Plantinga puts it, in the best book on this topic of sin, we have "vandalized shalom" and things are Not The Way It's Supposed to Be.  In a good world now frayed, we are wrong, rebels, but we are wronged, too.  We hurt (and I mean that in both meanings.) So, yes, our doctrine of sin leads us to give an account of the various ways things are haywire.  Sometimes pain and sorrow is of our own doing, sometimes it is just because of the way of the world.  Who knows why there are tsunamis and terrorists and cancers and car-wrecks?  Why do we shed tears at this, but maybe not at that?  I tend not to think about it much, really, but carry the weight of it with me always.  Don't you?

I can hardly wait -- speaking of such things -- to tell you that my dear friend Steve Garber has a new book coming in the winter; I will surely tell you more sometime in the New Year.  In some ways it is a sequel to Fabric of Faithfulness, and, among other things, it asks a question something like this: "Can we really know the world, and still love it?"  That is, knowing the sad, sad, sad world, can we still say (as Colin Linden sings) that it is beautiful? Can we take up vocations with Christ-like care, knowing what we know, carrying what we carry? I don't recall that Steve cites him, but in his own words and way, he invites us to live into the vocation to which Henri Nouwen calls us, to be "wounded healers."  To care deeply over the long haul of our lives we must learn to love what God loves, even as God does, especially as we come to know more and more that the world is terribly broken.

It's a sad, sad, sad, beautiful world.  And joy will find a way.

So, here are five brand new books that take up this matter, each in their own genre and style.
Each really deserves its own lengthy review, but I will be brief.  Buy these books and share them. We have them at 20% off the listed prices, to make it more affordable for you. You will not regret having these.  If you don't need them now, you will soon enough.

Wwalking with god through pain Keller.jpgalking with God Through Pain and Suffering   Timothy Keller (Dutton) $26.95  This is a truly amazing book, perhaps one of the very best of its kind. Not unlike, say, Philip Yancey or Gerald Sittser, Keller draws on wide sources, but is rooted in robust, theologically conservative, evangelical ground.  I assume you know that he is a widely respected, urban and urbane Reformed church planter, now head of staff of a large network of sophisticated parishes in New York City, and is renowned for his thoughtful books and clear, meaty teaching.  (The New York Times suggested that he was this generation's C. S. Lewis, who, by the way, wrote widely on "the problem of pain" and his own observations of grief.)  I wasn't sure this would necessarily make the book fresh and really useful -- some books in this field are theologically sound but rather dry, abstract, even, and I feared this could be the case -- might it be too academic and bloodless, proper but without passion?  Once I started the book I was immediately drawn in and any concerns I had were put to rest. 

I am happy to report that Keller the apologist and Keller the Bible scholar and Keller the pastor are all here.  In fact, the book is nicely sequential, starting with several more abstract and "big picture" chapters responding to what he calls, from Ernest Becker, "the rumble of panic" called "Understanding the Furnace" (in which he explores the cultures of suffering, the challenges suffering presents to the religious and the secular worldview, and other of the deeper matters surrounding the problem of evil.) The book then moves into its center piece, a unit called "Facing the Furnace" (which offers mostly conventional, but very profound Biblical and theological guidance for understanding suffering.) This insightful portion is then followed up by a third very pastoral section called "Walking with God in the Furnace" which shows a variety of responses, several ways of coping, different sorts of spiritualities that can help those in anguish. Rev. Keller suggests that those in seasons of suffering might want to read this section first.  

So, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is a amazingly thoughtful, very good book; it is sharp, orthodox, caring, offering a nice balance of lucid apologetics and crisp argument and tender Biblical insight alongside real-life stories that are both powerful and persuasive. I didn't know of the personal suffering born by the Keller family, by the way, and knowing this from a few passing portions reminds me that this book emerges from his own walk with God through his own fiery furnaces, making it a very good addition to the library in this field, and a must-read for any Keller fans.  I will be revisiting this often, I am sure.

Uundone.jpgndone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together  Laura Sumner Truax (IVP/Cresendo) $15.00  When my friend who is an editor at IVP tells me a book is really good, I know it will be so, and this book, not surprisingly, was fantastic.  Well written, passionate, raw, at times funny, and a truly great read, Undone is for anyone who feels like they've blown it, gone through hard times (especially if those detours were of their own making) and who may really need an invitation to own up to their own failings.  Ms Truax was the perfect Christian young woman, or at least gave the appearance of being so, and we learn much, eventually, about her pretending and her shallowness of faith and piety.  The book begins, though, in a riveting way, telling of the harsh day that her divorce was finalized.  She knew the failure of the religiously-laden marriage was much her fault, and she knew she had to admit she was falling apart.  Wow, have you been there?  If not, you know those who have been?  This horrible sense of falling part is not to be glamorized, and she does not write about it in that way.  Still, she calls this first chapter "my best worst day of my life."

Can hitting rock bottom be freeing somehow -- not in a cheap and sentimental way, but in a profound and authentic manner that really does allow one to grapple with the realities of one's own messy life?  What do we do when life starts to fall apart, when one is coming undone?  And should one even encourage such a journey, towards admitting to ones own failures?  This narrative is bristling, full of life and energy and sadness and sin, and it is hopeful beyond imagining.  Kudos to the author for her vulnerability, exposing her story.  (Do you recall the memoir I raved about this summer called Sober Mercies by Heather Kopp, about a respectable Christian author who was an alcoholic? That book was more straight memoir, while this includes more Christian teaching and explication of how this all helps us in our discipleship and faithfulness; reading about the shame of being Undone reminded me of that brave book.)  

Although they at first felt a bit like a digression, I realized that Laura Sumner Truaz's many Bible ruminations were actually quite central to her story, that seeing the great sins and failings and weirdnesses of many Bible characters, can be freeing and redemptive.  She has a great knack for weaving in and out of Bible stories, relating them to our own sorry lives, and taking great courage from it all.  It is, as I've said, a great, helpful book -- for the hurting, or, perhaps more, for those of us who want to create fellowships that are congenial to the broken and hurting.  There are many books out now about being "authentic" but this one, well, it feels authentic.  As one urban minister writes, "I have marked up this book from start to finish with highlights and exclamation marks. Truaz courageously sheds her mask and invites us to do the same."

If you, or anyone you know, have given up on faith (or even given up on church) because of the false piety or the failings of the so-called formulas for success, this story of a failed leader, now a pastor of the urban LaSalle Street Church in Chicago, a faith community known for its care for the confused and hurting, then this book is for you.  She knows, as they say, what it's like when life hits the fan.  Her community relishes the frightening, liberating move of shedding our pretenses, of owning who we really are, wounds and foibles, hurts and sins, and all. Undone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together tells her story, and theirs, and I think you will love it.  Kudos to IVP for offering this kind of honest, helpful story.

Tlong awakening bmk.jpghe Long Awakening: A Memoir  Lindsey O'Connor (Revell) $17.99  You know how we love memoir.  When a story is very well told, if it is even slightly moral, we are grateful -- a good lesson disguised in a literate telling and powerful narration of a life -- a beautiful and artful example of how one makes meaning of one's own days, is a gift indeed.  And this book is, indeed, a great gift.  As a memoir, it isn't directly about the question of theodicy, nor does it directly offer advise about how to cope with life's hardships.  It is profound and moving, though, and I wanted to share it in this list, now.

The story is complicated, but can be summarized simply: Lindsey O'Connor had unexpected complications during the birth of her fifth child, and ended up in a coma for nearly two months.  The book begins strikingly with her opening her eyes -- she was hooked up to tubes and could hardly move, and could not speak -- trying to recall what was going on.  She had no idea as she gazed into the face of her husband.  Her family is valiant in keeping watch (even as they care for a new baby) and as the story unfolds, we learn of the many subsequent surgeries, further health complications, repeated hospitalizations she went through. What obstacles this family endured, what fears and hardships! There are many useful books about those who have health complications, but this is extraordinary (both because of the unusual nature of the story, and the well crafted telling.)  The Long Awakening is beautifully, creatively, written, and O'Connor's tale is stunningly complex, as she narrates her own inner consciousness (or lack of it, as the case may be) and tells -- based on notes and interviews she pieced together later -- the experiences of the family and friends that journeyed with her in her ailments.  Listen to what esteemed writer Patricia Raybon (I hope you know her wonderful book My First White Friend) says of it: "Brilliant and renewing. A spectacular work of reflection, remembering, reconciling, and recovering. Memoir writing at its finest."

This is an intimate story, lyrical, honest, scary at times. There is illness, danger, medicine, science, doubt, faith, friendship, anguish and hope... a glimpse into the hard lives some endure, and the brave and good way they emerge towards wholeness.

I know this isn't helpful, really, to say, but I must put it in writing, for the record: I was blown away by the incredibly beautiful epilogue, the few final pages that are themselves, nearly worth the price of the book.  What excellent writing by such a good, good writer, who gently frames her own struggles by other, equally moving stories.  As John Biewen (of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University) writes, The Long Awakening "glimmers with a keen understanding of what matters."  Yes!

Tdave test.jpghe Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times  Frederick W. Schmidt (Abingdon) $16.99  What is the Dave Test?  Dave was the brother of esteemed Episcopalian writer (he holds the Rueben Job Chair of Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) who, as he was dying of cancer, asked searingly honest questions of his famous brother.  As it says on the back cover: "Life is raw.  So is the language of this book."  Yes, when life is tattered at its edges and you are faced with seemingly impossible decisions, the Dave Test allows you to become the best, most honest self for you, your friends, and your family. Instead of resorting to stain-glassed language or offering false hope, do yourself a favor and pick up this book - and take the Dave Test.

Mike Stavlund (whose breathtaking book, A Force of Will, about the loss of his young daughter which I mentioned when it first came out) writes,



We've all been both victims and perpetrators of it -- the hurtful bit of spiritual sunshine that is foisted upon a suffering soul. In The Dave Test, Fred Schmidt shows us a better way to be: honest, empathetic, vulnerable, earnest, earthy, substantial, and refreshingly uncertain. It is a beautiful vision for a helpful life.  

When everything falls apart for those we love, what do we say? What do we do? Well, before you do anything dumb, see if it passes the 10 questions of "The Dave Test."  

Walter Brueggemann, who wrote the forward, says,

I read this book with great attentiveness because it rings true. More than than, I read it with great attentiveness because I also have a brother, Ed. Ed lives with kidney failure, and his doctors have given him a limited time for his life.  Ed, moreover, is, like Dave, no bull-shitter. He can  spot a phony a mile away. He is rooted in faith, but he is totally impatient with phonies. For me every reference to Dave sounded like Ed and I can see myself in Fred's place. But then, every reader who pays attention will make something of a like identity as stand-in for Fred with some Dave who is at risk.

He continues,

This book will be cherished.  Because all of us, like Fred and Dave, face loss. We are never ready, I imagine...

Fred and Dave are characters you will want to know (unless you are in denial or unable to face such raw realism and nuanced faith.)  Schmidt says at the end, "I am utterly dependent upon the One who loves us both and am grateful in ways that escape expression. But, oh, how I miss him."

Ppreemptive love.jpgreemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time  Jeremy Courtney (Howard) $24.00
One cannot write as I am trying to do in this column, listing a few new books that are about suffering and hardship and the problem of evil in the world, without naming the sorrows brought about by poverty, injustice, and war.  There are many, many (thanks be to God) good books that tell of the good work some are doing to alleviate the misery of the human race. Evangelical Christians, especially, these days, have taken up the calling of being agents of change in the broken world, and publishers who have not previously released books about social justice and cultural renewal are now doing so, often with great effect.  I have written before how there is a new renaissance among younger evangelicals, and their stories are being told by many good publishers willing to risk controversy to share this good Kingdom news.

Jeremy Courtney is just such a young follower of Jesus and his faith motivated him and his wife (and two children) several years ago to move to Iraq, working at first with a relief and development agency there.  They lived without much electrical power in their home, they had marriage hardships, their work was fulfilling but difficult and frustrating.  And, then, in an encounter which truly changed the course of their lives, Jeremy met a man who tenaciously asked him to help find a doctor for his young nephew's heart problems.

This encounter did indeed change Courtney -- moving him (eventually) to learn to trust, to "love first and ask questions later."  He eventually developed a philosophy of countering the injustices of the world which he has come to call "preemptive love" and the emergence of this profound missional vision is part of the story of this book.  The Preemptive Love Coalition is also the name of the organization he eventually co-founded, a ministry that -- yes, you guessed it -- helps heal the hurt hearts of Iraqi children.

You see, the wars there (starting at least with the genocidal gassing of Kurdish villages by Saddam Hussein and certainly including the enhanced radiation weapons US forces used in wars there) have caused parts of that region to become one of the most toxic places on Earth. Did you know that there is an epidemic of heart disease among Iraqi children?  And, you will not be surprised to know, they have no trained heart surgeons or places to do sophisticated heart surgery on children in the whole country.  For any number of reasons, the regimes there have not funded the medical infrastructure (and there was the devastating sanctions of previous decades) so there has been a brain-drain, as well -- there just are not doctors or hospitals or researchers capable to do the sorts of life-saving heart work so very badly needed. The rate of congenital heart problems in Iraq is soaring and the Preemptive Love Coalition is working to end the backlog of kids waiting for surgery.

Courtney recounts taking by commercial airline sheaves of paperwork to nearby Jordon in a paper chase that was destined to save lives -- but only a few lives. Which precious child's heart could be repaired?  Only a few fortunate ones where chosen while hundreds if not thousands who had need were sent home.  Village doctors would (with uncanny gifts and knowledge) put their heads on the chests of the little ones, listening carefully for the holes in their hearts.  More advanced medical care just didn't exist.

Preemptive Love is a heckuva book -- thrilling, exciting, exasperating, tragic, comic, honest. I could write for pages about the episodes, from the first meeting with the tenacious uncle in the lobby of a Baghdad hotel to the vivid narrative of the horrific poison gas bombing of Halabja on March 16th 1988 to his telling of "The Iranian Bard and His Beautiful Shoes" to the stories of betrayal, hostility among the Turks, and the ongoing brave work bringing health care to families  of children in a volatile war zone.  And the price it has cost them, emotionally and spiritually, struggles and consequences about which they hint.  This really is an amazing story, and an amazing book.

There are fine and inspiring books of people who cope with hardships by trying to rise above it all.  There are fine and inspiring books that pull at our heart strings as they tell of serving the poor, stories of mission and ministry.  They sometimes feel like an info-mercial, and they are good for just such purposes.  

Mr. Courtney's book, though, is in a different league, I think, as it covers mission and history,preemptive quote.jpg personal memoir and adventure, political insight and a broader vision of the common good than do some commendable specific mission stories. And the Preemptive Love Coalition has at its core this very, very important truth: that to be God's agents of reconciliation, we simply must undo some of the wrongs we have caused or have been complicate.  We must not only seek to heal the wounded politics of war, we must serve the victims.  And even our enemies will be forgiving if we offer to help their dying children.  This book is a moving memoir telling of dramatic medical missionary work, but it is more: it offers a rare and profound vision of peacemaking.

Muslim, Christian, Arab, Kurdish, Turkish, Iraqi, Iranian, Western, terrorist, revolutionary, imperialist -- the hostilities are thicker than Turkish coffee and yet Jeremy has walked among them all.  Offering to heal the broken hearts of those with a history, those with legacies of betrayal and persecution, by literally fixing the holes in the hearts of their children, seems to be a universally effective means of offering what I might call penance.  He does not use that word, and perhaps I am over-reaching, but it seems clear to me that if we are to be peacemakers  -- to be called 'children of God' as Jesus Himself promises -- we must insert ourselves in incarnational ways among the victims of our "warring madness" as the old hymn puts it.  Medical missions offered for sick children is an ideal and fruitful means of grace.  As he simply writes, "Surgeries speak."  This is more, though, than a feel-good story of helping sick kids.  This is a profound example of new strategies for the doing God's reconciling work among the nations.

The writing is simple and story-driven. It is not highbrow literature or allusive memoir. We learn frankly about the ups and downs of a young man from Texas starting an internationally renowned Middle Eastern ministry. We watch him navigate intense matters (of immense cultural, linguistic, religious, and diplomatic complexity) often, it seems, by the seat of his pants. The story is powerful and surprising and the book is remarkably good.  One U.S. Senator, himself Jewish, writes that this is "a beautiful and inspiring book about the power of love in a time of war and the capacity of personal interactions to break through, build trust, and save lives."  

Listen to Shane Claiborne (who spent some time in Iraq himself, you will recall) who writes:

Jeremy Courtney is doing some of the most redemptive work on the planet, providing lifesaving surgeries for Iraqi children. From TED talks, to mega-churches, to Congress to the UN, Jeremy's message that "violence unmakes the world, and love remakes it" has been transforming hearts and minds. Now that message is in your hands. Share it with the world.

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October 21, 2013

Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible by Lisa Nichols Hickman - ON SALE

One of the places in our shop where the books are most bulging off the shelves is in the side room, which houses our section called Biblical Studies. We love books about the Book and hope you do too.  From my Sisyphus-like effort to read almost everything of Walter Brueggemann to our enthusiasm for older works (like, just for instance, the hard-to-find, four-volume early 20th century set Promise and Deliverance, by S.G. De Graff, translated by reformational philosopher Evan Runner, which we stock now in new paperbacks) to the latest in serious scholarship, to the easy to read introductions and overviews, we believe these sorts of resources can energize and help individual readers, small groups and Bible study fellowships, preachers and teachers.  


I hope you read at least one book about some aspect of the Bible every year. It's a fine goal.


Just last week I started a fascinating book, The Full Right of Sons by Kathryn E. Stegall, which is afull rights of sons.png study about the full equality of women in the Bible, written by an astute lay scholar in the Reformed Presbyterian church.  She is deeply rooted in her conservative Calvinist tradition which -- not incidentally -- does not ordain women.  In this new work (done through Dog Ear Publishing; $14.99)  Stegall shares a bit of memoir (there is an old-fashioned picture of her mother on the cover and heirloom family pictures throughout) and a bit of theological rumination.  But mostly, it is careful, studious, and in many ways remarkable evangelical exegesis.  Just when I thought I had covered all the main Scriptural texts arguments about our adoption in Christ, and what the confers within the Body of Christ, I am taken aback by this fresh, honest, honorable approach.  That the book carries endorsements by passionate Reformed thinkers like John Armstrong and RP pastors like Bruce Hemphill and experienced Biblical counselors like Bonnie Piper (and opens with a wise excerpt from the Westminster Confession) is an indication of its conservative scruples.  It is surprising in many ways, and it is very good. Anyway, it is a rare book, and we have it.


Also, again, just for example, we've been telling folks about the brilliant work of Kenneth E. Bailey for years and his last one is a thick study of 1 Corthinians, but more.  It is, as the title suggests, a major work of understanding Paul in his Middle Eastern, first century Greco-Roman/Jewish context: it is called Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes  (IVP Academic; $30.00) and it has gotten rave reviews.  Also, to learn about the culture of that wild city, I've enjoyed A Week in the Life of Corinth by Ben Witherington III (IVP: $16.00) which uses narrative fiction to explore what was going on there.    


Tim Keller just released his popular level commentary Judges For You (The Good Book Company; $22.99) which matches his Galatians For You ($22.99.)  As the British publisher puts it on the cover of each: "This is to read, pointing you to God's greatest rescue. This is for you to feed, helping you meditate on God's Word day by day. This is to lead, equipping you to teach others."


And we've just got the very impressive-looking latest release in the "Interpretation Resources for the

violence in scripture.jpg Use of Scripture in the Church" (Westminster/John Knox.) This new one is a big hardback exploring judiciously Violence in Scripture by Jerome F.D. Creach ($35.00.) Creach is an Old Testament prof at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA.)  He wrote the Joshua commentary in the Interpretation commentary series.  I have read a lot in this topic, and hope that this one will be useful.  I have heard from a Godly scholar that I trust that it is quite good.


I have already raved about the recent book (which is truly one of the best reading experiences I've had all year) on the Psalms by N.T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential (HarperOne; $22.95.)  Tom hit a home run with this, and it is fantastic. You really should have it, and I say why, here.




We are, of course, taking pre-orders for his long (long) awaited magisterial work on Paul that ispauline perspectives.jpgpaul-and-the-faithfulness-of-god.jpg coming out November 1st. As you probably know, it is the fourth in the extraordinary Fortress Press "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series and is his academic life's work. Agree with it all or not, it is a landmark series, and this is the mature summation of decades of research.  It is called Paul and the Faithfulness of God and is a two-volume paperback (1700 pages, selling for $89.00.)  Further, there is a supplemental volume being released the same day entitled Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul: 1978- 2013 which includes Wright's important and often auspicious essays, many which have been published in academic journals or anthologies of others work, and some that were delivered as papers or sermons but were never published. It is itself over 800 pages!  It regularly sells for $69.00.


While our most typical BookNotes discount is a generous 20% off, we are offering a 30% off discount on these on Paul by N.T. Wright.  We realize they are hefty and most pastors and those following this kind of work have limited book budgets.  We hope this helps.  We are grateful that you want to support our work, and look forward to any orders you'd like to send for these.  We believe we will have them to ship out before the street date.

Jmessiah-origin.jpgust to show you the real diversity of the kinds of resources we have, we are very proud to announce that we now have the excellent graphic novel (that is, a classy, bound comic book) called Messiah: Origin by Mark Arey, Kai Carpenter, and Matt Dorff (Zondervan; $19.99.)  If you follow these things, and were looking forward to it, you may know that it was fist announced as The Last Adam, which I thought was way cool.  Alas, I guess the marketing division felt that not enough people would know what that meant.  And they might have been right, which, well, sort of proves my point about needing to buy and read and share these kinds of books that can deepen our Biblical literacy. 


Anyway, this is really well informed and excellently created within this genre. You may recall how we promoted the breathtakingly good Book of Revelation graphic edition that they did last year.  I'm sure you know somebody who might warm up to reading about Jesus in this very contemporary style.





****

Of all the many, many Biblical study resources we stock, the many I've perused and used this past year, there is one that I am truly most excited to tell you about.  I could go on and on about it, and in fact, I already have.  The author and her editor were kind enough to invite me to do a foreword to this book, and I have posted it at the monthly columns section of our website.  I am pretty proud of it, myself, the first time I've ever done such a thing.


But the book itself is why I'm really excited as it is creative, unique, and very, very well done.  Here is a shorter review; I'm trying hard not to write too much, even though I could -- there is so much to like about it, and a lot to tell. I think you should  consider buying it. 


I'll share my longer review (the foreword to it) that explains and extolls its virtues tomorrow, so look for that, too.  For now, let me tell you about a book that I believe could  profoundly affect your relationship with the Bible and, more importantly, your relationship with the God of the Bible.


Wwriting in the margins.jpgriting in the Margins: Connection with God on the Pages of Your Bible  Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon) $16.99  Yep, this is just as it sounds.  It is a book about writing in your Bible.


Actually, it is a book about meeting God as you read, as you pick up your pen and open your heart, and allow your study to move beyond paying close attention to the text (always a good first step) to paying close attention to your life.  This book, better than any other Bible study resource I have seen, invites you to creatively and playfully actually engage the text, and meet God there.  In the margins.  In the connections.  In the confusions.


(And, dare I say, if there aren't confusions, you must be reading a different Bible than the rest of us.) 

So bring it on -- your life, your messes, your questions, your insights, you hopes and dreams.  The promises you sense God speaking to you; the challenges and rebukes, too.  Write it all out there, on the very pages of your very Holy Bible. 


Rev. Hickman, inspired by the Word of God, invites you to write words.  God's Word, your words, it will be an amazing alchemy, and the Spirit will show up.  She all but promises it, and after reading her incredible stories (well, not in-credible, really, when you think about it, but amazing) of others who have had transforming spiritual encounters with the Divine Author by not just reading the Word, but interacting with it, processing it, ruminating and engaging it, well, you will be eager to see what God will show you as you get out your own colored pens and pencils and get busy.


Here is how author Lisa Hickman puts it:


The invitation of this book is, at its simplest, to pick up a pen and write in the blank spaces ofpen-and-paper-890x342.jpg your BIble.


It is an invitation to look at the blank spaces of your biblical text and see in the margin around its border an opportunity for a life-giving, transforming, creative conversation between you and the eternal God.

And, importantly and powerfully, she continues,


To have a conversation in the blank spaces holds a particular challenge. You must be comfortable with the wide-open space -- not just on the margin on the page but also of the invitation to sit still for an extended period of time, thereby creating the space for a real conversation.


Or, maybe you do not need to be comfortable with the blank spaces. Maybe  yo just need to be willing to become comfortable with the stillness. Or you need to be willing to brave the discomfort; I keep finding that some of the most fruitful spiritual experiences of my life come when I am willing to brave the discomfort.


Allow me to observe five quick things that make this book so very, very good.


WELL INFORMED/RELIABLE

First, Lisa Nichols Hickman is an excellent pastor, a sharp thinker, a real book lover and widely readlisa hickman photo.jpg, and it all comes through quite nicely in this enjoyable, stimulating, very interesting book.  As a student she attended the CCO's Jubilee conference and has deep in her vision a wholistic understanding of faith and the relevance of the in-breaking of God's Kingdom in Christ.  She eventually studied at Princeton Seminary, and as a pastor, she has the opportunity to regularly learn from the aforementioned Ken Bailey, who happens to go to her church in Western PA.  Again, Lisa is a serious thinker, a lover of words, and understands the Scriptures well, so when she starts asking us to mark up the pages and underline stuff and get all into it, she isn't being silly or shallow.  The book stands upon the solid architecture of the author's pastoral experience and her proper understanding of the authority of Scripture and how the Triune God speaks through the Word.


GREAT STORIES

Secondly, Writing in the Margins is loaded with stories, sidebars, examples, and testimonies of those who have written in the margins, connected the dots, processed passages with line and color, symbols and codes.  Their well-told stories are not only a delight to read, they are themselves very insightful.  Too many folks traffic in cliches and "Christianese" when they talk about their faith, and this book seems honest and real, as devout followers of Jesus grapple with the words, and listen for The Word.  I am sure you'll be inspired and moved by it.

CLASSY CITATIONS & QUOTES

Thirdly, Lisa, as I said, is a good reader herself, and she cites some wonderful folks.  From memoirist Mary Karr to theologian Frederick Buechner, from Pulitzer Prize winning literary light Annie Dillard to (of course, come to think of it) the old school bookman himself Mortimer Adler, she brings just enough helpers along to make this a gem of a read. She is a good writer herself, and not every book about spiritual formation or lectio devino or Biblical scholarship is this classy.

WONDERFULLY DESIGNED

I almost put this first: Writing in the Margins book is lovely in its design. From the wonderful cover to the fantastic sidebars to the doodles and designs that are all over the margins, this book practices what it preaches, shows us how to do it by being itself marked up and creatively presented. I suspect you have not often seen a book like this before.  Kudos to the folks at Abingdon for a upbeat and clever way to make the point, giving us a work of art in this paperback.

PROPHETIC SOCIAL VISION

Number five: Writing... has a bit of a prophetic, social edge to it:  Hickman thinks you find God, I guess by way of a metaphor, on the margins of the page.  On the edges.  Okay, you could meet God by writing in a tablet or journal, too, but there is something special going on when you are writing right on the same page as Holy Writ.  But revisit that image of meeting God in the margins, along the edges.  There is this profound reminder here that, as she explains, the God of the Bible is a God of the marginal.  From the Levitical laws of gleaning and leaving margins in the field for the poor to Hebrew prophets insisting that true spirituality must include advocacy for the oppressed, to Jesus' own relationships with the nobodies and outcasts, it is true that the God of the Bible is a God of the margins.  Deal with it. Literally.  Write on the margins, and see if God has something to say.

As Hickman puts it, "God's best work occurs in the margins. If we have the courage to step into thabible and writing.jpgt wide-open space, God will meet  us there."


I could list five more things I like about this book, but some of them will be mentioned in my own passionate piece from it that I'll post tomorrow.


Now, just know this: if you are a long time Bible reader, but maybe the text is growing stale for you, this book can help.  In one of the very moving testimonies which is a full page side-bar, Renee Aukeman Prymus tells of her colorful, now duct-taped, compact Bible which she had as a youth -- it went everywhere with her, on overseas missions trips and other profound life adventures.  She wonders why the flame has gone dim, why she doesn't enjoy her BIble as much as she once did. You may feel God's own prompting yourself when you read her story, and these final words: 


As I look through those pages, I stand in awe at my younger self. I was dedicated, devoted,and diligent in my studies, my prayers, and my relationship with God. I know that person is still inside me, still dedicated and devoted. Maybe I can discover her again. 


Next to Exodus 14:13-14, where Moses tells the people not to be afraid in the face of the Egyptians, I wrote "prescription for unexpected life." Somehow, moving back  into the margins might help me live into that adventure.


There are really fun things in this book such as an awesome footnote link to a Lapham's Quarterly article by the popular genius Maria Popova, documenting complaints and snarky notes scribbled by disgruntled monks on medieval manuscripts, a truly moving (and surprising) listing of some of the great things in the margins of street preacher and fundamentalist Bible scholar Dr. H.A. Ironside, and lots of very cool quotes -- inspiring ones about church music found in the Bible of J.S. Bach to the one famous bit of marginalia in the Bible of Abraham Lincoln, to a great line by feisty historian Studs Turkel.  


Oh yes, you will learn a lot in this handsome, curious book. You will learn how to be a better reader, an active one, engaged and involved in the text.


But, more importantly, you will experience a new (or revive an old) habit: using underlinings and stars and explanation points and your own heart-felt words and sighs, written out on the page, enabling you to meet God -- smack dab in the middle of the margins, where Word meets world.


writing in the margins.jpg 


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October 23, 2013

My Introduction to Writing in the Margins by Lisa Nichols Hickman

I hope you saw our review of this lovely, recent book at the BookNotes blog.  You can read it here.  In that post I noted that I had the great privilege of being asked to write a foreword to it.  I enjoyed an early version of the manuscript quite a lot, and I respect the author, Lisa Nichols Hickman, a lot.

(Lisa's husband, by the way, is an old friend from years ago with the CCO.) She is a Presbyterian (USA) pastor in New Wilmington, PA. It was a great joy to try to write a foreword that would help frame the book with ideas drawn from it. It's a harder task than I realized, but I hope you'll enjoy reading my essay. 

Thanks to Abingdon Press for allowing me to do this.  It was a great joy, and I hope it inspires you to want to buy Lisa's book.  This is a slightly edited version of what appeared in Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible. © 2013 by Abingdon Press. Used by permission.

writing in the margins.jpg

You have picked up this book.  Now you've got to pick up your pen. This is a book that you will underline, dog-ear and mark up.  It is, as they say in this digital age, interactive.  You will enjoy it, you will learn interesting things about a lot, and you will be inspired.  But, I assure you, if you do interact with it as it invites you to, enjoying the sidebars and pull quotes, and especially the exercises and reflection questions, you will live differently as a result. You will start doing this with your Bible. Soon, your whole life will become interactive.

It starts with a holy longing. Or at least curiosity. You've got the book in your hands so you are part way there. But there is some work to be done; if you are curious, you've got to participate. This is experiential education. Get on those safety goggles, friends, this could get dangerous.

Sociologists and cultural critics (and educators, booksellers, pastors, and all sorts of book lovers) have spilled much ink in recent years about the effect of the internet on our reading habits. Nicholas Carr has famously asked, in his must-read book The Shallows, "is google making us dumb?"  He documents a scary thesis: the interactive and short-form style of on-line reading has eroded our ability to sustain serious thought, to focus, to think deeply about the printed page (electronic or otherwise.)  Perhaps it is emblematic of this problem that the device we use to get to our fast-paced, hot-wired snippets of reading is called a browser.  Good readers - and, more importantly, those who value thoughtful interaction with books and the beauty and ideas they carry - know that we have to do more in our study (and more in our lives) that just browse. To put it simply, we have to pay attention. Lisa Hickman is subversive in this info-glut, zippy age because she invites us to settle down.  She invites us to focus. She asks us to care enough to take our learning seriously by refusing to be passive, starting with the printed page and, as the habit is learned, in our very lives.

Close, engaged reading, with pen in hand, paying attention to the words on the page - in any book, although her focus is on Scripture - demands that we do at least two things, and Rev. Hickman wisely helps us learn both.  

Firstly, we must resist distraction.  We have to pay attention to the text.  In story after inspirational story, Lisa tells of people she knows who have done this.  From a college student involved in a summer beach ministry (and working at a yogurt shop called Peace, Love, and Yogurt - how cool is that?) to a seasoned social activist, to one of the heroes of the book, a middle-aged friend in her congregation who was dying of cancer, she inspires us to learn how to read the Bible carefully.  I am sure it will help you see the words on the page with careful attentiveness.  As you've surely already deduced, she helps you learn to do this by the simple art of using that pen.  Underline, circle, star, highlight  - and write in the margins!  If you are nervous about this practice, she explains that it is "consecration, not desecration."  She does a fantastic spin on the famous call to read the Bible with the newspaper in the other hand; she says to read the Bible with your pen in the other hand.  

But the second thing, after using pen or pencil as a tool to help you focus and to see the text in all its strange and glorious wonder, is this: Lisa teaches us to make connections.  She tells us, as she looks at the well-worn Bibles of the people in her book, that they have drawn lines and arrows, circled words and then pointed to other words they scribbled; sometimes there are symbols or dates or exclamation points.  They are, almost literally, connecting the dots. Hickman calls them "sacred connections."

And here is the amazing part, something this book will help you with: by writing our own thoughts, feelings, frustrations and hopes next to the Holy text, we discern the connections between God's Word and our lives.  By commending this practice, Hickman shows that Biblical faith is a living faith.  That is, we who are called to be God's people are invited to know God, to listen to God speak, to relate timeless truths from the Bible to the complexities and messiness of our real lives.  She swipes a line from the feisty radical historian, Studs Turkel, who often told people to write in the margins of the books they read - even to question and disagree! - and to thereby enter into what he called a "raucous conversation" with the author.  When the book is as grand and vital as the Bible, and the authors include an array of women and men from several cultures and distant centuries, this midrash of interaction is going to be raucous indeed.  By inviting us to write in the margins of our Bibles, Lisa helps us enter into this dialogue not only with its inspired truths; ultimately we are in conversation with the Triune God of the universe.

In Writing in the Margins you will find all sorts of interesting stuff about writing, books, about the history of marginalia -it's a pretty cool word, isn't it? - and what we can learn by being willing to write in our Bibles. Do you know what Elvis wrote in his Bible? Did you know that hundreds of years ago printers figured out a "golden ratio of page design" that helps the eye settle on the text?  You know what normal margins are, but did you know the center ones are called gutters?  

She doesn't over-work the image, but you can take it from there - sometimes we find God's truth in the gutter, deep in the center of dark hardship where there is little margin and where perhaps God even feels absent. Hickman does not advise us to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that we most like, scribbling up only the sweet stuff.  God is a real conversation partner, and the history of redemption unfolds in the full drama of Scripture through thick and thin.  As you make connections between the true stories, poems, prayers, politics, songs, and letters that make up the Bible and the true stuff of your own life - by writing in the margins pieces of your story, the thick and thin of your life - you will, she promises, come to know God's grace in Christ Jesus, the living Word of the words.

Jesus, we all know (or do we?) raised a ruckus in his own holy life.  He embraced those on the margins of society, insisted that his own ministry was an inauguration of the ancient Hebrew Year of Jubilee - as described in (get this) Leviticus.  Lisa starts this study of writing in the margins of the Bible in Leviticus, with a rumination of how God commanded the Israelites to leave margin in their rows of crops, a public agricultural policy that made room for the homeless and poor; those on the margins. It's a good place to start a book, since it is where Jesus started. His very first sermon (recorded in Luke 4, a passage marked up in my own Bible) cites a prophetic text from Isaiah that alludes to Leviticus 25.  Jesus, the Lord of the marginalized, preaches about margins, declaring Himself to be the one to bring Jubilee shalom to the people of Israel.  They liked that, Luke tells us, until Jesus preaches a bit more, suggesting that there are others - non-Jews and enemies! - who get in on God's redemptive regime.  He makes some connections, drawing on the margins of Israel's story, and at that point, they wanted to kill him.  

What might you write in the margins of this amazing passage? There are connections between the identity and mission of Jesus with the Older Testament law and prophets.  There is good news, indeed, but it may be troubling.  Outsiders - those on the margins of society and of our own lives - are included?  Grace is bigger than we thought?  God cares about the world, about land and prisoners, about justice, about restoring all aspects of culture?  And we are recruited to be involved in it all?  Holy things happen when we inhabit these margins, when we allow the echoes and resonances to come to the fore, and to come alive in our lives.  You will experience God in fresh and holy ways, through the Bible itself, as you enter the conversation, writing, scribbling, interacting.  

Maybe this practice will be hard for those of us who think that Christian truths are abstract, religious ideals from a gilded-edged Book that are just there.  We simply must agree with them and try hard to live them.  This is, you will soon figure out, not the view of the Bible that the Bible itself teaches.  Scripture comes to us as a story, which points to a living relationship with a living Lord; it is not static and it must be embodied anew in each generation, in each life.  

Perhaps this practice will come more naturally to those who have grown up digital, interacting with video games and hand held devices.  Choose Your Own Adventure books were popular a few years back and the generation raised to actually enter stories - to help live out the story - might get this high-def way of engaging the Scriptures.

Younger or older, rationalist or experientially-inclined, this is a book for us all.  It will help us read our Bibles more playfully, even as it teaches us to take it more reflectively; it will deepen our relationship with God, and cause us to take our lives more seriously.  As we write in the margins we are entering into a holy space, and as we find God there, we will be slowly shaped into the image of the Christ who embraced those on the margins. This is not magic, and it is not a simple technique.  It is a way of life, including habits of reading well, seeking God, and learning to listen.  Interacting with the Word of the Lord through Scripture in this scribbling way lays bare our own lives - over time we are transformed, so that we might be faithful agents of God's reign in the world.  

Any book that can help us do this, that can help us make sacred connections between the Word and the world, that can train us to enter this redemptive project of God's rescue of the world, is well worth having.  More, it is worth interacting with. Write in the margins of Writing in the Margins, and soon you will be writing in the one-inch margins of your Bible.  And who knows what will come next? I am sure it will be a holy adventure.


BookNotes


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October 29, 2013

WORLD SERIES BOOK BONANZA: 25% OFF BASEBALL BOOKS -- GOOD UNTIL OCTOBER 31, 2013

Okay, I know.  Not all of us are sports fans.  But you know people who are, and wouldn't they love a cool book about their national pastime?  Doesn't God care about sports? According to my facebook feed, God cares about sports quite a lot. At least God's friends do.

So here ya go.  A quickie, fun, just-the-best books about baseball list, on sale, while supplies last, good until the end of the month. (We show the regular retail price, and will deduct the 25% off for you.) No Halloweeny stuff, here.  It's World Series time!  Nine innings?  Here's nine books.

Rrivals.jpgivals! The Ten Greatest American Sports Rivalries of the 20th Century  Richard O. Davies (Wiley-Blackwell) $24.95 The cover has a scrappy picture of two baseball players fighting, and that speaks volumes of this fun and feisty book.  The Red Sox and the Yankees? The Tar Heels and the Blue Devils?  Arnie and Jack, Ali and Frazier.  This is deeply researched and entertaining, and, as one reviewer puts it "an insightful look at the cultural and athletic underpinnings of ten entrenched American sports rivalries."  Admittedly not just about baseball, this helps us understand the history and nature of organized sports, a bit about the ethics of competition, and certainly the details of these contentious rivalries. Great for any fan!




Tjuju.jpghe Juju Rules: Or, How to Win Ballgames from Your Couch: A Memoir of a Fan Obsessed  Hart Seely $13.95  This guy is a beloved sports humorist, having written for everything from National Lampoon to the New Yorker.  He's the editor of O Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto, so there's that.  But more importantly, he is a huge baseball fanatic.  Tony La Russa says "Clearly Hart comes to the classic fanatic level, and this chronicle of his life as a devoted fan is entertaining -- and universal." Well, I don't know about the universal part, but it is hilarious -- him yelling at the TV, pacing the floor, "harnessing the juju energy to  influence the outcome of games.  And it works!"  You know the Robert DiNiro character in The Silver Linings Playbook?  He mighta read this. The Philadelphia Daily News calls it "the wittiest baseball book since Ball Four."


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to stir a movement.jpgo Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball  Jeremy Affeldt (Beacon Hill) $21.99 I promoted this a bit this summer and shared how thrilled I was to read the memoir and Christian testimony of a major league pitcher who is honest, down to Earth, truly interesting and who is leveraging his fame and fortune for social justice.  Everybody knows about the scourge of modern slavery, but few of us really do anythingJeremyAffeldt1-920x590.jpg about it.

Jeremy  Affeldt is using his voice to demolish the barriers that stand between people, and invites us all to make a difference.  Not to mention that he's been in two World Series and is one of the best left-handed relievers ever to play the game.  I've not read a sports bio that is quite like this.  Way to go, JA.

Inintentional walk.jpgtentional Walk: An Inside Look at the Faith That Drives the St. Louis Cardinals  Rob Rains (Nelson) $15.99  As it says on the back cover "baseball is for a season, but faith is for a lifetime."  Some of these good guys are outspoken about the Lordship of Christ, others carry a quiet faith, and these interviews are sure to interest anyone curious about it all. What a season this team had in 2012, when reports of the players integrity became an important part of their backstory.

And what a season they've had this year!  Included are interviews with, or testimonies of, manager Mike Matheny, third baseman David Freese, pitchers Adam Wainwright, Jason Motte and Trevor Rosenthal, and a whole host of others -- including support staff, even a renowned broadcaster. Plus, it's a cool title for a book about discipleship among ballplayers.





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baseball as a road to god.jpgaseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game  John Sexton with Thomas Oliphant and Peter Schwartz (Gotham) $27.50  This is a deep and thoughtful book, based on and telling about the wildly popular "Baseball as a Road to God" seminar that the author (President of New York University) has lead both at the university, and elsewhere, for years.  Few people know the sport, its legends and villains "its near irresistible appeal, its breathtaking  moments of drama" as well as Sexton and his associates.  He also is interested in religious perception, spirituality and faith. Bill Moyers says, "In the church of baseball, John Sexton is one of the preeminent theologians."  Not too many scholars of the sport also know Aquinas, Tillich and Tolkien, but this guy does. Mature, illuminating, delightful.





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baseball, boys, bad words.jpgaseball, Boys, and Bad Words: A True Story of Little League, Laughter, and Life  Andy Andrews (Nelson) $12.99 This is a small-sized, full-color, gift-book type title where beloved storyteller Andrews narrates his 11th summer, in 1970, with a group of friends who began a Little League season they would never forget. In a funny tale that carries the smell of well-worn gloves, freshly cut grass and brand new uniforms, you'll learn about their season with a new coach.  And that's where it gets interesting. Nice pictures, graphics, quotes, too. Very sweet.






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the game.jpghe Game: One Man, Nine Innings, A Love Affair With Baseball Robert Benson (Tarcher) $12.99  I love this writer, admire him and trust him, and read almost anything he does -- from gardening to fixed hour prayer to what we can learn from the Benedictines about being in community.  He's a measured, caring writer, and you may recall I not long ago raved about his very moving book about his aged mother, Moving Miss Peggy.  Anyway, this is one that is always worth mentioning when one is search for classy, caring prose about this slow, beautiful sport. Everybody rightly mentions George Will and his amazing book on baseball, but this one is similarly thoughtful, and fun, too.



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best am sports writing 2013.jpghe Best American Sports Writing - 2013  edited by J. R. Moehringer  (Mariner) $14.95  Okay, it isn't  just about baseball, but we carry most of this great annual series -- from the best comics to the best essays to the best infographics to the best short stories. A lovely gift for anyone who loves good writing or who wants to get up to speed on a topic or genre.  Here you have some stunning writers, ruminating on some amazing athletes and waxing wonderful on some remarkable aspects of our fascination with games.  Those who follow this sort of journalism will know some of the writers, and some are truly wonderful wordsmiths. Enjoy!







Rrun home.JPGun Home and Take a Bow: Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals  Ethan Bryan (Samzidat Creative) $14.99  Okay, I'll admit it.  I put together this list mostly so I can tell you once again about my good friend Ethan's good, good book. I really do admire it, and I admire him, and this is a perfect book to read now as the leaves are changing and the season is over.  Yeah, it is about the Royals.  But also his kids.  And his faith community.  And his calling. And his parents.  And it mentions me.  And it shares a lot of lovely lessons about life. And it is well written. And it has a fantastic, hand-drawn cover. So there; it is true -- this is a great little indie sleeper that ought to be better known. There is even more to be found in this sequence of chapters, and it truly deserves an extended review.  You can read what I wrote about it here, and then order a few. If you know anybody with a soft spot in their heart for a losing team, or for their deep love for the game that they once played, this book is awesome.  It really is a world series winner.


BookNotes

SPECIAL
DISCOUNT
ANY ITEM MENTIONED

25% off
while supplies last
until October 31, 2013
after that, all items 20% off
order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want

inquire here
if you have questions or need more information
just ask us what you want to know

                   Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333
                                                            read@heartsandmindsbooks.com