About September 2014

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in September 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2014 is the previous archive.

October 2014 is the next archive.

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

September 2014 Archives

September 3, 2014

OP-ED COLUMN SENT TO OUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER - Preemptive Love author Jeremy Courtney to speak at First Presbyterian Church, YORK

I thought my BookNotes review last week of Jeremy Courtney's book, Preemptive Love, just out in paperback, ended up pretty good, so I do hope you read it.  It's really a spectacular book, page-turning, informative and inspiring. 

And, we are hosting an event with Jeremy here in the area this Friday night. 

Here is an early (longer) draft of an op-ed column I sent to our local newspaper, which they chose not to run.  Somedays I rub my eyes at the silly stuff that gets in the paper, but I suppose I'm biased here. 

Hosting Jeremy is a great, great privilege and the event is going to be awesome, fun, even, amidst the horrific news of what is going on in Iraq these very days.  We are grateful that our church has partnered with us to bring this event to Central Pennsylvania.

Here's how I tell tried to tell local folks about it.

In recent weeks the story of the terror waged in Iraq by the army known as ISSI has exploded across the news and social media.  We have learned of religious hatred and political crisis.  Some of us despair of the reports of genocide while others rant against the political party that we think has been most irresponsible.  The situation is tragic. There is very little good news coming from the Middle East these days.

Cpreemptive love.jpgentral Pennsylvanians will have an opportunity to hear an aid worker just in from Iraq, the founder of a medical NGO there, Jeremy Courtney, who may be one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown named Courtney's book, Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time, about his work with sick children in Iraq, one of the Best Books of 2013. The first Friday of September (9/5/14) we will be the first bookstore to officially launch the new paperback edition of Preemptive Love with a guest appearance by the author himself.

The historic sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in downtown York is a perfect venue to host Mr. Courtney and his family, whose work in Iraq invites racial and ethnic reconciliation by way of collaborating in the dramatic effort to do much-needed pediatric heart surgeries. A binding 1967 document of the Presbyterian Church (USA), called a "confession," insists that peacemaking is part of the high calling of followers of Christ, and First Presbyterian has long attempted to serve as agents of reconciliation. In the tense days of race riots in York, First Presbyterian merged with Faith Presbyterian, bringing together as a signpost of inter-racial unity a primarily black church and a primarily white one. In the hot heat of the 1980s Cold War, FPC hosted meetings of the nuclear freeze campaign, insistingfpc.jpg that treaties for bi-lateral disarmament were necessary and in keeping with a faithful politics. We hosted Russian clerics in a time when that was not popular (indeed, an international religious service was picketed by out-of-town hawks.) Drawing on our Confession of 1967, we use the word "reconciliation" a lot.

Like most churches, the congregation has developed partnerships with ministries in other lands, even sent our own health care teams overseas. We've hosted classes on peacemaking, understanding Islam, explored racial concerns, and have taken other initiatives to explore how the gospel leads to wise and fruitful relationship-building for the common good.

Ahh, but none of us have done the sort of audacious ministry as has Mr. Courtney, whose work has earned him an Islamic fatwa, or death threat, and has landed him in foreign jails.  


By helping Arab kids get life-saving heart surgery in Israel, where they met, perhaps for thePLC logo.jpg first time, real Jews, who showed themselves to be kind and good. As Mr. Courtney explains in his book, Preemptive Love: Pursing Peace One Heart at a Time, these medical miracles did just what the religious extremists who opposed them feared: kids and their families learned to love their enemies!  The standard-fare demonization of enemies can't stand when it is undermined by preemptive love.

Courtney's PLC organization experienced further obstacles and agony in helping save lives of countless children in the Kurdish region of Iraq when it became clear that the only hospital in the region able to serve them was in Turkey (interestingly, a Johns Hopkins affiliate.) Those who know the anguish of the people of Kurdistan know that the Turks have committed their own genocide against them and have repressed them for centuries. Can love win in the effort to overcome such long-standing mistrust and animosity? Can a legacy of violence and abuse be overturned? 

Courtney thinks that the power of love can do what our bombs cannot: by building trust, families and village can be transformed.

child with chest scar.jpgOf the children his Preemptive Love Coalition has served and whose lives were saved by multi-ethnic, inter-faith cooperation, he says "they will carry the scars on their chests into law school and parliament and tell a new story of a new Iraq..." 

Perhaps we, too, can play a part, telling a new story, even here.

* * *

Medical missions are always complicated in the developing world when infrastructure is problematic, funds lacking, and procedures untried. When the needs include pediatric heart surgery, in a war zone, amongst people groups who are hostile to Western ideals, the mission is extraordinarily fraught.  And yet, this young Texan continues to believe that love can overcome the worst of odds. He has been betrayed and threatened, and yet, his Preemptive Love Coalition is finding success.  As he quickly says, he and his wife and teammates have been shown hospitality and grace by new Iraqi friends and global colleagues. Together, they are learning to do the heart-mending operations in Iraq, building local capacities and infrastructure. The backlog of kids needing heart surgery is immense (Iraq has one of the highest amounts of childhood heart defects in the world, apparently thanks to the enhanced radiation warheads used in the first Gulf War and the horrific gassing of the Kurds by the brutal "Chemical Allie" serving the dictator Saddam Hussein.)  And they are doing something about it, in trainings they call The Remedy.

The war, the embargo, the limited worldviews, the radiation and the poison gas have all conspired to create one of the most urgent health crises in the world. Jeremy Courtney has become a hero in the efforts helping to end the backlog of kids awaiting life-saving surgery.  While some still threaten him and his team, many more are joining the Coalition, coming to believe that their motto --  "Love first, ask questions later" -- is not only the need in Iraq, butPreemtive Love poster.jpg perhaps, a way into a new way of life for us all.


You are invited to hear Mr. Courtney as he talks about his book Preemptive Love and his organization, The Preemptive Love Coalition, September 5th at 7:00 pm at First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Queen & Market in York.  There will be a reception afterword, with light (Middle Eastern) refreshments and a time for autographing books. There is free parking behind the church. 

The LA Times said, "this is the best news to come out of Iraq in a long time." 

We can experience it right here in Central PA.


stack of preemptive love books.jpg

If you want an autographed copy of the book, we may be able to get you one.  Just tell us if you want the hardback or paperback, and to whom you want it inscribed. If we have books left over Friday night, we'll get one for you, and ship it, happily.   Use the link to the order form, shown below, or give us a call. As they might say in Arabic speaking Iraq:  Shukran Jazeelan


Preemptive Love:
Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time

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order here
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inquire here
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                   Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333

September 9, 2014

In-Store Author Appearance: Beverly Lewis promotes her new book, The River (And, yes, I give a shout-out to Springsteen and more.)

The River author Beverly Lewis (Bethany Publishing House) $15.99 BookNotes sale price 20% off; $12.79.the river banner.jpg

Although we've shouted it out on Facebook and Twitter, we thought we should share here for those that were wondering that our "Evening with Author and Activist Jeremy Courtney" went very well. Jeremy and his wife Jessica, who features prominently in Jeremy's book Preemptive Love: Nurturing Peace One Heart at a Time, did a great job sharing with us about their brave work as peacemakers in Iraq, forging creative collaborations with Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Muslims, Jews and others... all focused on the audacious goal of finding a structural remedy to the backlog of tens of thousands of sick Iraqi kids who need heart surgery to save their lives.  The conversation moved from dramatic stories and pictures of medical staff working in pediatric surgery theaters to broader themes of peacemaking in such a tense and violent context. 

Through stories and slides, pictures and even a live song (Jeremy hails from Texas so his love for folkie blues music is strong) they humanized the people and cultures of what was once the land of Babylon. Yes there is awful stuff going on, but there is also goodness and beauty.  Their stories were so good, and I thought of them when I read this powerful, splendid short piece at the High Calling blog by our friend Denis Haack called "The Power of Storytelling: From Understanding Ideas to Indwelling Them."  

Iraq was, of course, once known as Babylon to whom Jeremiah wrote a famous letter (Jeremiah 29:7) from which we have the famous Biblical command to "seek the peace of the city." Perhaps storytelling is part of that.

We had some lovely refreshments that Beth called "a Pennsylvania Dutch interpretation of Iraqi snacks" -- Hadgi Bada, pistachio cookies, cardamom tea and stuffed dates were all fun to share. 

Our local newspaper, the York Daily Record, did a front page story the next day, too.

We have some autographed Preemptive Love paperbacks left, and ourpreemptive love.jpg on-line price here at BookNotes has been 20% off. They usually sell for $15.00; our sale price is just $12.00.  Let us know if we can send one. Just use the order form which is secure for credit card digits, or give us a call.

Jeremy left Central PA and headed in to mid-town Manhattan to tape an episode of of the talk show with Mike Huckabee; I hope the Preemptive Love Coalition lets their followers know when it will air. Then he was off to London to offer a briefing with members of Parliament.  Pretty great, eh?

And so, thanks for caring about the things we do here at Hearts & Minds.  I know some of you prayed for us, and others pre-ordered the paperback. And some of you helped spread the word to others who might want to order from us, or who might even be able to attend.  I know some of our friends and followers have contacts in our area.


On the heels of that, I'm going to ask you to share some new information today, too, if it seem right.  Is there somebody to whom you could forward this?

We are hosting an autographing reception to meet and greet New YorkBL head shot.jpg Times best-selling author Beverly Lewis, this Thursday (September 11, 2014) here at the shop, starting at 7:00 pm.  There is free parking available at several lots nearby, and on the street in front of the store.

Her new book is called The River.

We have enjoyed sponsoring a Beverly Lewis event before, and were delighted with how many different sorts of folks enjoy her Amish-themed fiction.

As I said at the Jeremy Courtney gig as I was announcing it - and I'm sure a few of my super intellectual and sophisticated friends maybe thought I was reaching a bit to connect the events - it seems to me that the heart of most of Lewis' easy-to-read, breezy books are, in fact, of enduring, classic stuff: identity (who are we? to what community do we belong?), hospitality (how do we relate to others? who's in and who's not?) and can we get along despite our differences?  And what does it mean to know God's grace and do right?

From Romeo and Juliet to the profound work of Chaim Potok to Preemptive Love (and, just to show off, I'll add Exclusion and Embrace the heady, award-winning theological work of Miroslav Volf written in the context of the Serbian-Croation war and Bosnian genocide) this is familiar and fearful, yet vital territory.  If part of the gospel is about showing hospitality to "the other" and serving "the stranger" and working towards reconciliation, certainly learning about those who have had to cope with forgiveness after being excluded, shunned or betrayed, can only be an asset to our discipleship. 

Even if it comes to us in a fun, stirring story.

AThe River cover Lewis.jpgnd so, we can suggest that although Beverly Lewis is a genre writer and some may find her work a bit obvious with the Christian messages and sentimental lessons learned, we are very proud to host her, glad for her support of our shop, and eager to have you tell those who might enjoy it, inviting them to swing by Thursday evening to meet her. She has an obvious care for her fans, and a heart to share the gospel through her storytelling and writing. Of course you may not know anyone nearby, but you can buy an autographed copy, here on line of almost any of her work -- we've got it all.  We have plenty of her adult and kid's books, and we can easily have her autograph some for you or yours. (If you want them inscribed to a person, just be sure to tell us the name, hopefully before Thursday evening!)

Beverly Lewis was born in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, but now lives (where she occasionally writes with her husband David) in Colorado.  Her own mother's dramatic story of leaving the Old Order Mennonite tradition is told in her most famous book The Shunning which has sold more than one million copies and was made into a Hallmark Channel movie. (In 2007 her similarly popular novel The Brethren was honored with a Christy Award.)

Here is a wonderful, enchanting video of Beverly briefly talking about her young years and her early love for writing, keeping a journal, doing short stories, and some of the early inspirations of her creative fiction.  It is very nice.

row of Bev Lewis books.jpg

Beverly Lewis has written over 25 adult novels, 6 lovely picture books, over 50 youth books, a cookbook, and more...

the river banner.jpg

The River is her newest novel, just released last week. Beverly is doing a 25-stop tour to promote the new book and to have the opportunity to meet her fans and readers.

We are pleased to host Beverly in part because she is so gracious, and because so many of our local customers appreciate her books.  (One local Presbyterian leader is related to her, and vouches that some of the landmarks and descriptions of the homestead in The Shunning are spot on accurate!)

But I myself am drawn to this new story for a couple of reasons. Let me explain.

Interestingly, a friend who is herself a sophisticated author of non-fiction religious books offered a question just the other day at her facebook page: are there rivers in America that we might consider holy or sacred? (What does that mean, I asked, as I speculated about the iconic and mythic role of the Mississippi in Americana roots music, which gave rise to gospel, blues, and rock and roll, not to mention the title track from Paul Simon's Graceland.)

Two things worth sharing: scores of people immediately shared stories of their favorite rivers and why they are spiritually attracted to them, revealing their own sense of place. This all was quite lovely and reminded me not only of SPRINGSTEEN_RIVER_5X5_site-500x500.jpgWendell Berry and his novels that include a vivid sense of (rural) place, but it also, oddly, brought to mind that powerful short story of a song, "The River," by brother Bruce Springsteen. I can hardly listen (especially to the more raw, acoustic versions) of that song without being overcome with anguish. The river may have some deep, good attraction for many, and maybe even some redemptive meaning in the Springsteen story, but it ain't easy, that's for sure; at the end "the river is dry" he it continues to haunt him.

One of my favorite nature writers, Kathleen Dean Moore has a book called Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water whichriverwalking-reflections-on-moving-water-kathleen-dean-moore-paperback-cover-art.jpg exquisitely explores the deep beauty of bodies of water and those who appreciate them. I can hardly think of rivers without thinking of that wondrous book. But, again, this excellent writer and serious thinker is aware of the foreboding nature of moving water.

Around here, rivers are dangerous (especially our own mighty Susquehanna with sink holes and weird currents and deadly low-head dams.) Some around here who enjoy boating and swimming in rivers travel the tributaries of the Susquehanna, and love the many streams around these parts, including the namesake river alluded to in this tragic Beverly Lewis tale, the Conostoga. The Conostoga River winds its way through Lancaster County like a snake, twisting and curving in geologically surprising ways. 

The deadliness of the river in The River novel is not due to exceptionallyc creek.jpg bad currents or particularly bad water features, though.  No, it came from human error. We learn in the first few pages that the protagonist, Tilly, who has long ago left the Plain life for modern English ways, is haunted by a catastrophic accident in which her younger sister drowned, years ago, while playing in the river.

No need to explain it all, but the plot of this, not unlike many others in this genre, explores the tensions of broken relationships and complex ethical dilemmas as two sisters - both no longer in meaningful relationships with their Lancaster county Amish parents and siblings - feel compelled to return home to an anniversary celebration of their parent's marriage.  Their father is sick and they surely cannot remain aloof much longer.  But there is this unresolved sadness and responsibility for what happened at the river. As it asks even on the back cover, "Can they face the future in the light of a past they can't undo?"

Aamish buggy.jpgmish folks with their rejection of modern technologies and Anabaptist commitments and old order ways are - it seems dumb to even say it - quite human. They are not caricatures.  Any fiction that tells a story from within a subculture - Iraqi Muslims, Jewish New Yorkers,  duck hunting rednecks down South, hipster atheists in Pamish-clothes-sm.jpgortland -- can run the risk of devolving into stereotype, and good storytelling will be careful.  Lewis runs this risk, of course, in this sort of writing that isn't attempting extraordinary nuance. But there are rich aspects of typical Amish life, and she plumbs them well.  From "letting it all loose" during the infamous rumspringa seasons to the difficulties of offering forgiveness (see Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zecher's Amish Grace and the sequel, The Amish Way) there are fairly universal human emotions at play, and to write stories about those who are, or are no longer, within this close-knit subculture is certainly fascinating. 

The River is not only about the consequences of this tragic loss of a littleThe River cover Lewis.jpg one, and the large matter of regret,  but is also about mended fences, reconciliation, learning to love across differences. Is the river a symbol of danger? Is it a symbol of the flow of healing that can wash over us?  Or maybe it is not a metaphor for much, just a huge geographic fact in the background of this story set in a particular geographic region.

Anyway, I suspect you know about, and have opinions about, this mass marketed genre of Amish fiction.  If you are a brainy type and want to know more, we heartily recommend Valerie Weaver-Zercher's important semi-scholarly work, Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels (Johns Hopkins University Press; $24.95.) It studies the development of the genre and wonders about the appeal. Her thesis is fascinating and her study - of everything from the book cover designs to the plots themselves, to the small sisterhood of popular authors in this field - is well worth reading for anyone interested in the interplay of religion in American commercial fiction.

All of which is to say I'm in the middle of this brand new book by Mrs. Lewis don't want to spoil anything, but am eagerly awaiting her visit with us here at Hearts & Minds.  If you want us to ask her anything for you, or want any books -- early Christmas presents for mom or grandmother, perhaps? -- just let us know.

By the way, I was struck by the importance of the river in The River (which may be why I get paid the big bucks -- tee-hee) and wrote most of the above before I noticed, just a bit ago, an "author's note" as an afterword on pages 315 - 316 of the book.  

She writes, 

The Conestoga River captured my attention one October afternoon two years ago -- it seemed to call to my heart. I was preparing for the final shoot of the long day, the last segment of my documentary, "Glimpses of Lancaster County with Beverly Lewis" [which you can see at her website.] We were set up right near the historic Hunsecker's Mill Bridge, and I had walked down the grassy slope to review what I'd planned to say, inching my way toward the wide river. There, as I stared at the rushing water, Tilly's story presented itself to me, as did little Anna's drowning. In that moment I knew I had to write The River, with all of its heartrending yet redemptive threads.

I will long remember the surge of emotions, the power of the story. And the way the river seemed to demand top billing in my lineup of Eden Valley characters. 



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

September 12, 2014

CD REVIEW: Winnowing by Bill Mallonee ON SALE - $15.00

Our tears they speak a language that's uniquely all their own... "Dover Beach (Out in the Cold)" on Winnowing Bill Mallonee & The Darkling Planes

In his splendid theological study of literature, Frederick Buechner uses as the title a famous linespeak what we feel Buechner.jpg from Shakespeare's King Lear: Speak What We Feel, Not What We Ought to Say. In another book -- I mentioned it in my BookNotes list of books about evangelism last month -- Buechner's title is golden: Tell It Like It Is: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, Fairy Tale.  He explores the characteristics of these genres and shows how the gospel story itself can be described in these enduring forms.

Music can help us "speak what we feel" perhaps more viscerally than novels.  As I wrote a few days ago about Beverly Lewis' lovely visit to our store to speak of her new Amish novel The River (Bethany House; $15.99) -- which has some dark currents sweeping through it -- I did some free association to link it to Bruce Springsteen's anguished song "The River."  Talk about speaking what we feel, about redemption somehow coming in the form of tragedy. "Is a dream a lie if it doesn't comes true, or is it something worse?"  Most, but not all, evangelical "Christian fiction" ties things up pretty nicely, almost unable to host Springsteen's question (even though the Bible offers these very sorts of questions!)  Now, I'm glad there is reconciliation at the end of Lewis' The River and - spoiler! - that a modern bit of technology, a pacemaker, is involved.) This is helpful and inspiring and has its place in one's reading diet.

But some of our best artists know that the life is hard, and they help us cope, not with easy answers about the human condition.  I hardly need to say it, but that life can be a trail of tears is also true for people of faith (perhaps especially so for people who have tasted glory and trust God's promises and seek real joy.) Need I really say that it is good to be honest about our doubts? Does your throat not quiver when you sing that line "I'm prone to wander, Lord, I feel it"?  We don't need to valorize or romanticize our pain or foolishness, but it does help to give voice to our disappointments and troubles, to read books and listen to artists that walk the dark side of the street, who tell it like it is. They help us speak not what we "ought" but allow us to berumours of glory memoir.jpgkicking at the darknes.jpg honest about our own fears and foibles, living as we do in a very broken world.

Brian Walsh has written brilliantly about this - see his meditation on Bruce Cockburn's "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" alongside Psalm 137 in his "Wine Before Breakfast" sermon.  Perhaps you should read this, first, a short meditation on "Exile, Song, and Rage." In fact, you could read his whole book about the prophetic imagination of Cockburn in his remarkably generative study Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos; $19.00) which I describe in detail, in a long review, here.  

(Big aside: Cockburn's hefty auto-biography called Rumours of Glory: A Memoir is coming out from HarperOne ($28.99) the first week of November, and we are taking pre-orders for it, at 20% off. It is sure to be provocative.  There will also be a commemorative boxed set selling for something like $150.00 which includes all the songs Bruce mentions in the book, in order, making it a 9 disc soundtrack.  The admittedly pricy boxed set also includes 16 previously unreleased or rare tracks, a 90 page booklet, photographs, and a full live concert DVD film during his "Slice O Life" tour. We'll have it on sale, too. Send us a note for more info.)

Which brings me to my review of the harrowing new Bill Mallonee album.  Almost.

Look. I am a huge, huge U2 fan. We carried Boy and the others when we first opened in '82, U2 Songs of Innocence.jpgright, alongside Petra and Amy Grant (and, yes, all of Bruce Cockburn's catalog) and we took great joy in introducing many folks to the boys from Dublin's early work, and continued to stock all they've done. I am still just blown away by nearly every album - yes, I love Rattle and Hum and yes, I am even moved by some of the hyper-irony of the electro-weirdness of the Zoo TV years.  I saw them in Philly during the Joshua Tree tour when Springsteen showed up.  And I can't tell you how many times I've just wept and wept listening to that sad list of names at the end of "Walk On."  Haven't you? How can you not?

Bwinnowing cover.jpgut I just can't write about the new iphone Songs of Innocence release because I am absorbed in listening over and over to what has become my favorite album of the year -- the incredibly poignant release by the tell it like it is, speak what we feel, gospel as tragedy Americana/rootsy graveling desert beauty of Bill Mallonee and his new record Winnowing created with his musical partner and wife, Murriah Rose, singing together as the Darkling Planes.

To distract me from a new U2 album is quite a feat. And Bill and Mariah do so, mister. 

I find it hard to review music. I can explain books, but it is difficult to capture the aural experience of music, those wailing Rickenbacker guitar solos, those acoustic chords that bring to mind "All Along the Watchtower" but aren't that, that crisp moment when a syllable is hit in falsetto, that whispered one-two-three-four that launches so quickly the next track, that time when the loud harmonica merges with the wailing electric guitar, and we don't quite know which instrument is which.  

We shouldn't separate the lyrics from the music, the timbre of the vocals, the whine, and thebill Mallonee from Winnowing cover.jpg shout and the whispers, the instruments, the arrangements, the production and engineering;  as we talk about records, we must remember that the words are part of songs. But how to tell you about it, entice you to listen? For those that don't know Bill's large body of work (50 + albums, most now available as downloads, some as real CDs, this new one even available in vinyl) I think the closest comparison to put you in the ball park of the sound is Neil Young, with moments of Jackson Browne at his best, maybe Tom Petty. (And, oh, how Bill's voice ends each time in the chorus of "Got Some Explainin' to Do" sounds so much like Neil!) The fuzzy guitars, the distortion that is so gripping, the high and lonesome beauty given a rock and roll edge. it is very, very moving for those that appreciate that school of alt-rock.  You can hear tons of his songs for free at his Bandcamp site which I show below.

My own tastes include artists in this very orbit: Robbie Robertson (and the entire catalog of The Band) and CSNY and Mark Knopfler, Jackson, and Americana stuff, channeled nowadays by the likes of The Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers.  And did I mention Rattle and Hum? I appreciate smart, writerly indie bands from The Head and the Heart to The National, The Airborne Toxic Event, and older school passionate singer-songwriters like Peirce Pettis, Phil Maideria, country-ish Buddy Miller. Bill is louder and rougher than Iron and Wine and Fleet Foxes, but I had to mention them. Can you relate?

bill mallonee hand tattoo.png

If you like rowdy, electric finger-picking, fuzzy, jangly, Byrds-like soaring guitars, and vocals that can at time nearly be called Dylan-esque, you should pick up Bill Mallonee. Founder and front man of the stunning Vigilantes of Love, they were hot in the glory days of the Athens, Georgia music scene, preaching the gospel in harsh, acoustic songs with punk energy, allusive, dark lyrics, deep in the club scene that gave us REM and the Indigo Girls, drawing insight about faith and songwriting from the likes of the late great Mark Heard.

REM's Peter Buck co-produced a critically acclaimed album, Buddy and Julie Miller joined in occasionally, the world-class alt-country legend Emmy Lou Harris did background vocals. Paste Magazine declared him to be one of the top 50 songwriters of all time. VOL days long behind him, his output continued for a decade or two of being on the road, putting out downloadable, low-fi, self-produced mostly acoustic WPA series all with artwork cuffed from the old Works Projects Administration (renamed in 1939, Bill might tell ya, as the WPA) of FDR.

Bill has always had this sense of being rooted in the past. From songs about the dust bowl toaudible sigh cover.jpg songs inspired by Jack Kerouac, from allusions to miners or farmers (one great album, just for instance, is called Victory Garden) or historical incidents ("Andersonville" about the horrific southern civil war POW camp still sometimes shows up in his live shows) or several utterly romantic songs about the WW II-era romance of his parents, he, more than nearly any folk/rock performer I know, can be called rooted (even if his roots too often have him on the road; in a line on Winnowing he says "once I mistook her for my home.") Just look at that album cover from Audible Sigh, that historic train wreck.  

This may not be the old-timey roots music with a lot of banjos or Appalachian fiddles, but the sound and tone and lyrical allusions are often from other very American decades, from hardscrabble people and places from the heartland. (The way he often says, about somebody, "kid" or "mister," sounds like some wiser blue-collar elder talk, doesn't it?) Again, think of the Steinbeck vision of Woody Guthrie, more fiery then Springsteen's Dakota, maybe more like his Seeger Sessions.


In this new record, set clearly in his high desert home in New Mexico, Mallonee mentions horses, a pick-ax, pistols under waistcoats, a skeleton key, a boxer (who "grabs all the prize money - and a few other things") and somebody with "an ace of diamonds up the sleeve" which somehow perfectly creates the feel and mood of this song cycle about being down and out, tumbling down out West, smack in the middle of (as the second song puts it) "Those Locust Years."

"There's nothing left in Oklahoma," he sings in "Tap Your Heart On Your Shoulder," "on your right hand or your left/ we took God's good green earth and turned it into sand." Yeah, so that's it, a whole lot of remorse, for the loner who has to move on, and, it seems, for the whole cosmos which is scarred, somehow, and what approaches despair.  But yet, this song is a plea to "tap your heart on its shoulder and see if she's still awake."  Listen to that line a coupla times if you don't have time for a spiritual retreat or money for a shrink! 

Bill's not giving up, and in this jaded, secular age, he is nearly an evangelist, worth more to un-churched ears then a dozen slick worship bands with goatees and nicely torn jeans and big amps.

The first song is sublime, and, like nearly all of his tunes these days, insists on a lot of harsh reality, but with glimmers of light. The song is subtitled "Out in the Cold" and that is the theme.  It is his life, these days, road-weary, world-weary, tired but sober, feeling under-rated, left out, yet committed to finding hope where one can. ("No, I am not a scoffer withholding my thanks," he sings, believably, "My purse? It is empty but my heart overflows its banks.") The proper title of this wonderful opener is "Dover Beach" and is inspired by the famous Matthew Arnold poem about the restlessness brought on as the waves of meaning receded in the modern world.

I can show you where my heart was broke there on Dover Beach

Truth receding like a wave/too farther out of reach

Love may bring the tide back in/hard to live, easy to preach


Mr. Mallonee's raw song-writing and passionate performance isn't exactly depressing although he does confess much, a practice that many of us might be well be instructed to own up to, as well.  He sings,

Every conviction that I lived by, every truth that I was taught,

Every sermon that I sat through; well, it was all for naught.

I was always pretty bad at carryin' my cross


Abill mallonee and murriah in concert.jpgnother slow, sad song achingly, but yet somehow beautifully sung, offers the chorus, like a litany of confession -- "Now You Know."  Perhaps it is more than you want to know.  Or perhaps it can serve as your own confession, too.  "I can feel it all disintegrate/like paper in the flame."  This is a line, by the way, following an allusion to the pride of warriors - Caesar on his steed, crossing his rubicon.

After speaking of the "sadness of this place" ("Deserts speak in whispers but she rarely shows her face/ They say that you get used to it, ah, but I've not found that the case") he sings, "No matter where I sing these songs/the devil's always at my sleeve." Now you know.

Speaking, literally, of the devil, one brilliant song - for those that know his work, it almost reminds me of "Bolt Action" or some of the louder ones from the Blister Soul-era  - is called "Got Some Explainin' to Do (Gotta Give the Devil His Due.)" The stanzas (without too much gruesomeness, thankfully) highlight examples of brokenness and sin in the world: "No matter what the disguise is, well ya gotta give the devil his due. But whoever he is, has got some explain' to do."  That's for darn sure.

He gets as preachy as he does on this CD at the end of this song, countering the works of the devil with this cry:

Time for banishing darkness

Time for doing what is right

Time for loving the planet

Time for stepping into the light.


Winnowing isn't all lament and remorse, though. There is a lovely song about what I'm sure is a real tavern, somewhere out there, called the Dew-Drop Inn. "Store-front glass & red brick, non-descript with a few old ghosts roamin' round."  But there, "every one's yer friend and everybody's got a story unsung."  There's some sad stuff there, too ("Sam's tending bar, brother, he's seen it all, seen the good die young" and their the community can realize "Some dreams get born but, most get beaten' out /And some folks forget how to dream at all.") But, yet, "Stories got told and drinks were poured and for a moment? It was Heaven here..." 

As in many of his songs, there is this narrative of the broken and ordinary redeemed byBill and Murriah.jpg community, even if of misfits, and then also his own personal sense of being loved. The sub-title and refrain here is "I love you just because." Is it sung to his wife and band partner Murriah Rose or to the loners and oddballs hanging out at the Dew Drop?  Maybe both.

Similarly, in a beautiful, passionate song, "In the New Dark Age" he sings -- lamenting the loss of a culture of love and hope and change -- "the only lamp burning bright/is you." Murriah? Jesus? You and me? I don't know.  He sings the words briskly, building the case, singing, "the game was declared over, love was escorted out, there was hardly a shout/I'll take the crimson & clover." (Don't you love that reference to the flower-power, Tommy James hit?) Dark as it may sound, this is a rowdy, fun song, Beatle-esque, trippy with organ and what almost sounds like backwards electronic stuff, like it would fit on his wonderful Locket Full of Moonlight album or VOL's Summershine, two of my own all time favorite CDs.

He says, wrongly, I think, "in the new dark age, no one puts up a fight."  Ahh, but he does, doesn't he? -- even if he will go down swinging. Mallonee's art testifies, bears witness to his fight. This record makes you want to join him there, makes us want to be that light burning bright. Is it a plea to his remaining fans? An altar call?  "All the dominoes fell/we sent under a spell/and all hell. broke. lose." It is a lament, but also an invitation to be the light, I swear it is.

"Hall Full of Mirrors/Room Full of Woe" sounds ominous enough, but, I'm telling you, it is an encouraging song, great melodies, great ringing guitar riffs, evocative lyrics.  It's one of the more upbeat tunes, despite the use of the word "woe" -- and well-produced (Bill and Murriah as the Darkling Planes play everything) and it is splendid. The acoustic guitar at the end trails out with chords from "All Along the Watchtower" that just seals the thing, turning it into an anthem.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Several reviewers have highlighted the gorgeous "Blame it on the Desert (Whisperin')" which is surely one of the album's centerpieces.  In bouncy, countrified boogey he sings,

What the mystic knows

What the Good Book does proclaim

You only ever own

What you give away

Blame it on the spirit

Blame it on the red wine

But then again,

Blame it on the desert whisperin'


Mr. Mallonee then sweetly sings a quick line, "the mantra of the asphalt/road-side diner, communion table" and reminds us of the Christ-like instruction "take only what you need/leave what you are able." We are naturally led to think of the wine of Eucharist, of grace, of gospel.  Or, then again, maybe it is just the desert whisperin' -- which the Bible itself says is God's own Word, eh?  (Calvin Seerveld, referring to the lines in Psalm 19 which tells us that the creation speaks, calls it "God's glossalia.") Yes, Bill has heard, and brings to us, The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God, the God of the desert whisperin'.

When Bill sings "what the Good Book does proclaim" it makes me grin, brings me a joy each time.  Not only is "the Good Book" an old, rural colloquialism, the "does" just nails it.  Who talks like this - Abraham Lincoln? Woody Guthrie? Your great grandma?  Yet, it isn't affectation.  Bill is firmly situated in the current century - there are lines about duo-jets and the 1%.  But he's also "betting the farm, babe" on some kind of old wisdom, some deep truth gleaned from his desert, dust-bowl (locust) years. 

The last song may be an allegory, or may serve that way - I suppose he didn't quite mean it as such, but, then again, who knows? The first line is, with his keen ability to create the image of a place, about a town in Oklahoma called Dalhart. It sounds just like dull heart.

"If I ever make it out of Dalhart/to a place where I can stand tall/a horse would do quite nicely/but if I have to...I'm gonna crawl." 

This is one hell of a post-modern Pilgrims Progress, from Dover Beach to making it out of the dull heart of Dalhart.

It is the journey of many of us, I suspect. He sings, obtusely, of what may be the "hound of heaven" (the poet's phrase he has used on other albums) singing  "whatever keeps tugging at your sleeve/this old flesh and blood has gotta find a reason to believe."  Maybe this is your experience; Something tugging at your sleeve, Christ-haunted, restless, yet not giving up on the search. Give Winnowing repeated listens, and something will break open.  Maybe, with a little luck, even what the mystics know, what the Good Book does proclaim.

Thank you for reading my feeble effort to explain this artist's gifts to us, this music that means so much to me.  Because others have said it more eloquently and with better insight, if you're interested, see these two excellent reviews from Wood Between the Worlds and from Lay It Down. Both are well worth reading.

Here is one of his many interviews, describing his history with VOL, his solo work, his concerns about the commodification of art, etc etc. Worth a read if you want his take on the not so recent past.

We stock his last two similarly great, jangly, alt-country rock CDs as well, The Power and the Glory (2011) and Amber Waves (2012.)  Order them all from us, on sale, for $15.00 each.  As Bill would say, "thank you, ladies and gents."

And, if you order all three, we will throw in as a special bonus, an old Mark Heard CD that is sure to please. Bill would dig this promo, too, I'm sure.

If you want to see his many, many downloadable projects, visit his amazing bandcamp cite, here. But buy these three from us, please! $15.00 each.

power and the glory CD Bill M.jpgamber waves CD Bill M.jpgwinnowing cover.jpg


Bill Mallonee CDs

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September 21, 2014

12 Brand New Books, Briefly described. ALL ON SALE for Hearts & Minds' BookNotes readers

Here are some fairly short, if not quite pithy annotations of some great new books. Most are brandkeep-calm-and-smell-all-the-new-books.png new and I've only skimmed them, enough to say that they all deserve more then pith, even more than brevity. I'm too busy, though, for much more, now, but these are so good, I just had to tell you that we have them here in stock, on sale for BookNotes readers.  

We show the regular retail price, but will deduct the discount when you order.  As we say at our order form page, we can send you a bill so you can pay later by check, if you'd like, or you can use credit cards. Your digits are safe as our order from page is certified secure.

So here ya go.  We are awaiting your reply.

TThe Bible Tells Me So- Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read it .jpghe Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read it Peter Enns (HarperOne) $25.99  Not too many professional Bible scholars have such deep history in places like an evangelical Christian college and Westminster Theological Seminary, where Enns was edged out having taught there for 14 years, as well as the more mainstream Jewish and liberal Protestant scholars at Harvard Divinity School where he was profoundly tutored about what to do "when the Bible doesn't behave." And none are as witty and entertaining as Enns as he walks us through the Bible's big problems (Canaanite genocide, just for instance) and how to best understand them all.  Rachel Held Evans says it is a "game-changer" and Brian McLaren says it is "super-enjoyable, highly informative, disarmingly honest, and downright liberating." Tony Campolo writes, "I, as an old-fashioned evangelical have some problems with what he has written, I think that many other readers will find answers to some of the most perplexing questions that they have about the Bible." 

I love that he starts with a useful excerpt from C.S. Lewis (from Reflections on the Psalms on how to read the Bible.) It's a small thing, perhaps, but I also loved the cleverly written acknowledgments, and his own story, "My Life, In Brief, and Such as it Is." If his Bible teaching thing doesn't pan out, maybe he could moonlight as a stand up comic.  He's told us he already failed at baseball.  Agree or not, he's right that we simply have to come up with better ways to read the Scriptures, and to be read by them. This is an upbeat books about a life-or-death matter, and we recommend it.

Sshrink.jpghrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture Tim Shuttle (Zondervan) $16.99 Listen to what Stanley Hauerwas of Duke says of this brand new book: "Church growth strategies are the death gurgle of a church that has lost its way. Suttle helps us see how God in our time is making us leaner and meaner. I hope this book will be widely read."  Who writes a book blurb like that, wanting us to be "leaner and meaner"?  Ha!  Intriguing, eh?  

You may know we are bringing C. Christopher Smith (author of the fantastic Slow Church to D-town November 5th -- more on that later) but here is what Smith says of this new book: "Shrink is one of the wisest and most significant evangelical books that I've read in the last decade; it is essential reading for every pastor and church leader!"  Wow, that's quite an endorsement for a significant author and cultural critic. You may have heard the phrase "good to great." Shuttle maintains that "great may not always be good."  You may know that, or maybe this is a new idea.  Surely you know that there is often some kind of tension between quantity and quality, and that church shouldn't be mostly about numbers.  I bet you need this book!

Tsacred year banner.jpghe Sacred Year Michael Yankoski (Nelson) $15.99  All right, I'll admit it, I was drawn to this because of the cover.  Yankoski is an energetic speaker and his book about living with the homeless -- Under the Overpass -- is fantastic: clear, passionate and inspiring. He received his MA at Regent in British Columbia and is a novitiate Oblate of St. Benedict, which is pretty cool. Here is what it says on the lovely front cover: "Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived my Life."

This memoir of a year's experiment just may be the most fascinating, and insightful, book about spiritual practices I've ever seen.  Dear Phyllis Tickle says "This book is a joy to the soul and a delight to the heart. It is destined to become a classic within the genre of contemporary spiritual and religious writing." 

TThe Making of An Ordinary Saint- My Journey.jpghe Making of An Ordinary Saint: My Journey From Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines Nathan Foster (Baker) $14.99  We know Nathan is a storyteller -- he wrote a captivating, raw book about the growing distance he felt from his famous father (Richard Foster) and the subsequent disillusionment about Christianity he faced as a troubled young adult, and how he wisely challenged his dad to hike a bunch of Colorado mountains with him, in a last-ditch effort to restore their relationship. (That was the very nice Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet.) I heard the two of them do a splendid, entertaining tag-team talk at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing last spring, and have been waiting for this book ever since.  In a way, this is a second generation Celebration of Discipline as the hip, young son tells of his own frustrations (and restorative glories) of practicing the classic spiritual disciplines. Ruth Haley Barton says it is "Delightful.... simply delightful" and Eugene Peterson says "Read this book and find yourself a new companion as you follow Jesus." Yeah, that's it. He is a honest, ordinary, reliable companion.  Richard Forster, by the way, offers a nice foreword and good reflections throughout. 

PPresence and Encounter- The Sacramental Possibilities.jpgresence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life David G. Benner (Foreword by Richard Rohr)  (Brazos Press) $15.99  I am really drawn to these kinds of books, about the spirituality of the ordinary, the mystical embedded in the mundane, practicing the presence of God and so forth.  Some are truly luminous, beautifully done and so very helpful. I am sure that this book -- inspired by the author's early confrontation with the "I-Thou" worldview of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber -- will help us realize that attentive presence is what allows for real encounters to occur. As it says in the advanced promo: "Drawing on over thirty-five years of experience integrating psychology and spirituality, Benner examines the transformational possibilities of spiritual presence and encounter in fresh, exciting, and practical ways."  There are end-of-chapter reflection exercises for individuals or groups, and these are profound and experiential (that is, not just discussion-based study questions.) This is a bit deep, and may be important for those longing for greater discernment about God's presence in their daily lives.

Yes or No: How Your Everyday Decisions Will Forever Shape Your Life Jeff Shinabarger (Cook)yes or no.jpg $15.99 I hope you recall how we raved about Shinabarger's previous book about a more simple -- and creatively generous -- lifestyle (called More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generousity.) In a way this new one, Yes or No, travels similar territory, invites us to think our deepest motivations and how we can be more of who we really want to be. This is more than a simplistic self help book, but it is exceptionally practical. There are good chapters here, explaining how to assess our natural decision-making styles, gaining tools to define our own philosophy of choice, and even how to engage a team or group with targeted discussion questions.  This really is fascinating.

Check out www.yesornobook.com and come back and order this from us.  After you ponder the decision, of course.  It could shape your life forever, after all.  Ha-ha. But, I don't think I'm kidding -- Jeff makes a strong case about how decisions have huge implications, and how to make them well.  Do consider this; I trust this guy a lot, and admire his energy and insight, his storytelling and his clear teaching.  I am sure there are those who would benefit greatly from this visionary, but wise assistance.

RRed Brown Yellow Black White.jpged Brown Yellow Black White: Who's More Precious in God's Sight? A Call for Diversity in Christian Missions and Ministry Leroy Barber with Velma Maia Thomas (Jericho) $26.99  I have been with Leroy on several occasions and just love him -- he's real, funny, dynamic, caring, and a true leader, bringing together folks to care about racial justice, wholistic ministry, urban renewal and more. He told riveting short stories of urban youth and how Mission Year communities work for renewal in their lives and in their neighborhoods in the creative small book,New Neighbor, and then wrote a more general book which I adored called Every Day Missions. (If you haven't used that in your small group or book club, it works really well.) 

In this new RBYBW, Barber examines racial issues, especiallleroy-barber.jpgy within US ministries, and the implications of our racial dysfunctions upon who ends up taking up mission projects, domestically and globally. I think this may end up being a much-discussed, very significant book as it brings some things together about multi-cultural diversity and racism and missions that no other book has yet done. If you are in any para-church organization or mission agency, especially, it is simply a must-read -- the sooner, the better, too.  As Jim Wallis says, "It is the start of a much-needed conversation on diversity in missions leadership from a man who has lived out these ideas in his own life in an exemplary way."  Ground-breaking, yes, but with practical, action-oriented solutions. Let's spread the word on this so the those who need to grapple with it learn about it.

LLoving Our Enemies Jim Forest.jpgoving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment Jim Forest (Orbis) $20.00  Those of us who have been involved in peacemaking ministries or anti-war activism know well the name of this author; he was an international leader of Fellowship of Reconciliation, a long-standing, vivid activist and advocate for nonviolent resistance, and wrote what some still think are the best biographies of both Dorothy Day (All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day) and Thomas Merton (Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton.) I met Forest years ago, and admire his courage and depth and ecumenicity. He is now an Orthodox Christian (and has written a few good books on icons, too), living in the Netherlands. I am sure this will be very, very moving, insightful, a mixture of deep spirituality, Biblical study, and a bit of savvy public theology.  Rowan Williams says it is "a statement of the gospel challenge and the gospel hope so clear that it is frightening; this is real, this is possible, this cannot be written off..."  Even if one isn't drawn to the bigger social issues of the day, all of us must learn to forgive, after all, and this certainly is a very helpful guide. 

OOccupied Territories- The Revolution of Love From Bethlehem.jpgccupied Territories: The Revolution of Love From Bethlehem to the Ends of the Earth Garth Hewitt (IVP) $16.00  This surely deserves a more substantive review, but for now you may know that Hewitt was a British evangelical folk/rock singer, doing thoughtful, engaging Christian music with friends of his such as the late Mark Heard and other socially conscience faith-based troubadours. (Has he ever played with Bruce Cockburn? I wonder.) Hewitt has worked for the Micah Trust traveling all over the world as a storyteller and advocate for just solutions to some of the world's most grueling problems, and has written widely, and beautifully, including liturgical resources for peace and justice.  I have a friend who knows him well, who worked on this manuscript a bit, and who assures me it is one of the best books in many a year! 

If you were inspired by our program last month with Jeremy Courtney and his book Preemptive Love, or have any interest in the tragedies unfolding in the Middle East, this would be a very useful, very poignant, very important follow-up.  Highly recommended. A beautiful cover design too -- this is a very special book.

Ooverrated banner.jpgverrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? Eugene Cho (Cook) $15.99  I could hardly put this down, and could hardly stop grinning, so glad to hear an evangelical leader say this mature, wise, honest stuff about the recent rhetoric about changing the world, transforming the culture, serving the poor, et cetera, et cetera. (And, might I add, honest about his own foibles and lifestyle, motivations and family life.) The subtitle -- Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? -- says it all, but you will want to be warned that the author (who not only is a pastor but the visionary founder of One Day's Wages) does in fact, want to change the world. His organization works to alleviate extreme global poverty and Cho does want to recruit us to make choices in our own lives to be more giving and active, more Christ-centered and faithful in our service to others.  There's a cool foreword by Donald Miller, too, but listen to these blurbs on the back, with which I heartily concur:

I read every word and pondered what I read. Overrated challenged and chastised me, inspired and energized me. I highly recommend it.    Lynne Hybels

Eugene Cho shatters all our hipster coffee-shop talk of justice and dares you to dive into the trenches and do something real with your life.    Shane Claiborne

I encourage all believers to read Overrated.      John Perkins


Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today Mark Labberton (IVP) $16.00  This compact hardback is a gem -- a small book elegantly written and exceptionally thoughtful and deeply moving about "first things." It is not a rehash of the doctrine of vocation and calling, nor is it particularly about the interface of faith and the work-world as are many books with the word "called" or "calling" in the title.  This really is about how to live as followers of Jesus, written by a hero of many, a long-standing Presbyterian pastor (at the storied and vital First Presbyterian Church (USA) in Berkley, CA), active ministry leader (having served with the John Stott Ministries and more recently as a Fellow of the International Justice Mission) and who is now the President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Blurbs on the back are from very respected writers, Andy Crouch, Soong-Chan Rah, Gary Haugen, Ruth Haley Barton, who all rave, recommending it to one and all.   

As Andy Crouch puts it, "Too often we settle for a 'calling' that is really just sanctified individualism, paddling in the shallows of the self. This book pursues the deeper questions of flourishing, sacrifice, community and transformation that are the heart of the Christian life." 

TThe Pilgrim's Regress Wade Annotated Edition .jpghe Pilgrim's Regress - Wade Annotated Edition C.S. Lewis; edited and introduced by David C. Downing (Eerdmans) $25.00 Wow! C.S. Lewis fans have been wishing for a volume like this for decades, and when word was out that this was in the making, it has been eagerly anticipated. It is a needed book, and will help enhance many a perplexed reader.

As Alan Jacobs (author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis) says, "Among all of C.S. Lewis's books, the one most in need of annotation is The Pilgrim's Regress, which fairly bristles with allusions to writers and ideas, some ancient, some recent, some famous, some obscure. It takes a learned and discerning scholar to tease out all these references. Fortunately, David Downing is just such a scholar, and this book is an outstanding contribution to Lewis studies."

Lewis's allegory, a nod to Pilgrim's Progress, of course, is the first book Lewis wrote after becoming a Christian and some appreciate it as a personal window into his own journey "from cynical atheist to joyous believer" (as Devin Brown puts it.) Brown continues, "It is no exaggeration to say that David Downing's superb annotations allow those of us who do not share Lewis's vast philosophical, literary, and linguistic background to understand and enjoy this classic work in a way that was not possible before. A must for all Lewis fans."

Lewis himself, it is interesting to note, wrote later in his life of the "needless obscurity" of this early fiction about important ideas.  Later, he added notes and a new preface; Dr. Downing happily uses these, and has done even more, explaining it all, making it accessible, clarifying and opening it up for us all.  

As the preface tells us,

This edition of The Pilgrim's Regress, produced in collaboration with the Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College, contains nearly five hundred page notes, including definitions of unusual terms, translations from a half-dozen foreign languages, identifications of key characters, and cross-references to other works by C.S. Lewis.... Lewis's own handwritten notes in an early edition of Pilgrim's Regress are set in boldface in this edition...

In a fascinating introduction Downing invites us to revisit "Lewis's inaugural work of prose fiction and to see it with new eyes." 

He writes,

Apart from its intellectual acuity and spiritual perceptivity, Regress also reveals the imaginative vitality and sparkling prose that would eventually make Lewis an author of worldwide renown. Despite its limitations, which Lewis himself recognized, The Pilgrims Regress remains a seminal text for readers of Lewis -- a rollicking satire on modern cultural fads, a vivid account of contemporary spiritual dangers, and an illuminating tale for a whole new generation of pilgrims.

Three cheerios for this large project, this good work, for David Downing's dedication, and for Eerdmans' lovely new slightly over-sized, hardback edition at such a reasonable price.  By the way, Eerdmans has also re-issued the excellent collection of Lewis essays (often over-looked) Christian Reflections in a paperback with new cover art, matching this new edition of Pilgrim's Regress.  They look nice together...



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September 27, 2014

10 Great New Books Briefly Explained - ON SALE - 20% OFF

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Thanks for caring about Hearts & Minds, a cluttered, book-loving, indie, brick-and-mortar retail store with a handful of friendly staff in Dallastown, PA. We are glad for your on-line business and hope you are happy that this BookNotes blog ends up in your inbox (if you have subscribed, that is. Please do if you haven't.) 

We continually get new items in, and only a few get listed here.  We wish we could convey our enthusiasm for these wonderful resources that fill our shop. For now, here's a quick look at a handful.

We do hope that if you find something of interest here that you will send the orders our way.  That's only fair, eh? We're at your service and remain very, very grateful.  Happy reading.

Mercy & Melons: Praying the Alphabet: Thanking God for All Good Gifts from A to Z  Lisamercy & Melons.jpg Nichols Hickman (Abingdon) $15.99  You may recall how we raved and promoted Lisa Hickman's earlier book Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible (Abingdon; $16.99)(for which I had the great privilege of penning the forward, by the way.) We knew she was a colorful writer and a good, if a bit unconventional, artisan of generative Bible study, but I was still unexpected for the wonderfully creative lines that flow from her pen, here.  Yes, the very "praying the alphabet" format, and the lovely design itself, are fantastic, a rare idea and beautiful execution that is almost certainly not duplicated elsewhere.  But the writing -- what a joy to behold! Wow.

I haven't been going through it A to Z, actually, but dipping in at my heart's content, and the serendipity has been wonderful.  Hickman weaves together in each devotional essay a theological theme and a more mundane topic, although in her hands, the sacred and seemingly secular are not at odds, making it sometimes  hard to tell which topic is supposed to be the theological one.  She writes about "Down Comforters and Doubt" and "Grasshoppers and Glory" and "Imagination and Icicles" and "Justice and Jello."  Z is a wonderful entry -- "Zin and Zinnias" (do you know where Zin is in the Bible?) Her prose about the ordinary stuff of life is fantastic, and her linking these topics/items with theological themes or phrases is just brilliant.  I could tell you which I've most loved most so far, but you will have to discover these yourself. If you like things that come together, clever word-play, connecting the cosmic dots, you will love this.  "Soap and Sanctification" as a guide to prayer?  Indeed.  

Rev. Lisa Nichols Hickman is an adjunct teacher in the Religion Department at Westminster College and is a pastor at new Wilmington Presbyterian Church. She writes regularly for Faith and Leadership on line magazine, as well as its "Call and Response" blog. If you are drawn to this, you should buy two copies of Mercy & Melons, one for yourself, and another one which you will surely want to share almost as soon as you start reading it.  

Dwell: Life With God for the World  Barry D. Jones (IVP/Forge) $16.00  This certainly deserves adwell.jpg longer review than I want to give it here, and I am confident that it will be receiving a Hearts & Minds year's end "Best Book of 2014" award -- it is certainly that good.  And that important.  With a great foreword by Michael Frost, this wonder book makes the case that with all of our talk about being missional, we are often missing the need for being intentional about our inner formation (or, conversely, with those who are most interested about our interior lives and spirituality, often unhinge these from the missional project of God's redemptive work in the world.) So we often get it wrong, imbalanced at best. This is age old stuff -- I've written before about my own fascination with authors like Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer who have written profoundly about the relationship between what Betty O'Connor used to call "the journey inward and the journey outward."  Yes, Psalm 24:1 reminds us that all of the Earth is the Lord's and the "fullness thereof." This implies that God shows up everywhere, and that our redemption is -- as the popular Acton Institute DVD puts it For the Life of the World. This is a book that made me think about holy worldiness, about incarnational spirituality, about mystical earthiness, about what another author calls "missional spirituality."  It is so, so good!

That FLOW DVD, by the way, has become our biggest selling item of the year!  This Dwell book is a fantastic follow up, inviting us to "dwell" as we incarnate the ways of God in God's world. It is very well written, offers fresh insights and important wisdom about the nexus of living with God, in the world, with creative, valuable content.   Perhaps soon I will outline the ten great chapters, beautiful, good stuff, but for now, please know this is a wonderful book about spirituality, Christian living, Kingdom vision, and how we can incarnate in stories, practices and disciplines "an approach to Christian formation and discipleship that doesn't neglect our individual person-hood but sets it in a missional context." Not either/or but both/and, and that doesn't even do this justice.  Hooray.  

Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth Mike Cosper - foreword by TimStories We Tell.jpg Keller (Crossway) $15.99  I will be brief: I adored this book, so enjoyed it, thought it was one of the very best books exploring pop culture that I've read in a long while.  Some (like the must read Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by William D. Romanowski) are broad and lay the Biblical basis for thinking faithfully about the popular arts.  Others examine certain films or trends within pop culture -- I hope you know David Dark's extraordinary Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons which is my favorite example of this.) This new one, though, Stories We Tell, has an exceptionally clear and well balanced framework, is both pious and open-minded, celebrating the imagination God has given us and our disposition to tell and enjoy stories.  Ponder the subtitle a bit -- this so rich. But it also spends most of its time looking at TV shows, past and present, and is as up to date as any book like this, including some ruminations on current reality shows.  The cover -- that retro look with an old TV and a cheesy Jesus statue -- is maybe supposed to appeal to the hip or ironic, but please know that this is a truly earnest, insightful, joy-filled and very helpful book that is very current.  Given how much time people spend watching TV and movies, I think this is a very important resource to have around.

Mike Cosper has already given us a fantastic book on worship (Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel) which shows his familiarity with narrative theology -- the short-hand of talking about creation/fall/redemption/restoration -- which also reveals how he enjoys pop music and the arts. His love for TV and movies is truly evident here, which is part of the goodness of this book.  He not only gets the broad, worldview-ish critical engagement piece, but he enjoys the stories that come at us, the higher-powered more intellectual ones and lower-brow, silly stuff, too.  Author Karen Swallow Prior (whose own thoughtful memoir about reading called Booked is a personal fav) calls it charitable, wise, and generous. Yes it is! You should read this book!  You should give it to anybody you know who likes TV and film, or anybody who really has a bone to pick with the artists in pop culture.  His gospel-centered grid, his good, Biblical wisdom, and his passion for stories makes him a great author for this vital topic.

Sslowing-time-cover-bookmark.jpglowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door Barbara Mahany (Abingdon) $15.99  The important industry journal Publishers Weekly said this was one of the top 10 books of the fall (in the "religion" category) and that made me eager to see it.  Abingdon has been doing some very lush, well-written, interesting books of late (think of Debbie Blue's breathtaking Birds of the Bible or the two books, mentioned above, by Lisa Nichols Hickman, or the wonderfully little book on prayer called The Book of Not So Common Prayer by Linda McCullough Moore; I think editor Lil Copan and wordsmith Lauren Winner have something to do this glorious output.)

Anyway, this is truly an original work, offering litanies and prayers, poems and observations, essays and recipes, reflection ideas and action steps (and even some lines in italics running along the bottom edge of the back, a curious design feature) all nicely arranged by the season of the year. This really is a book one can live with through a year.  Barbara Mahany is a devout Catholic, a very good writer, with a large capacity, it seems, to see stuff; to attend. Rabbi Evan Moffic says, that she "writes with the eyes of a sculptor and the ear of a poet." Mahany has been a writer for the Chicago Tribune  -- often talking about her family and their making a way in the world that is sane and good -- and this shows her journalistic chops quite nicely.  "Bracingly honest and heart-achingly daring, she explores the sacred mysteries with a voice that is recognizable and clear."  Slow down, realize the beauty and wonder of the ordinary, take heart.  This is "balm for the hurried heart." And it has seasonal recipes!

From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian's Discovery of the Global Christian Story Mark A. Noll From Every Tribe and Nation- A Historian's Discovery.jpg(Baker Academic) $19.99  I have raved about this unfolding series of books before; this new one is the third in the "Turning South" series, which tells the stories of "Christian scholars in an age of world Christianity." First up was Journey Towards Justice, the fabulous memoir/argument by Nicholas Wolterstorff who told passionately of how he came to take up his work as a political philosopher, inspired by meeting suffering Christians in Palestine and South Africa. Next was Reading a Different Story: A Christian Scholar's Journey from America to Africa a wonderful, slim book by literature professor Susan VanZanten who wrote wonderfully about her coming to appreciate the stories of the developing world. This new one shows how this leading historian, by offering his own personal account, has come to do his work, and particularly his recent work on the global Christian story.  Rave, rave, reviews grace the back, from Richard Mouw, George Marsden, Philip Jenkins and Robert Louis Wilken. Who knew that Noll was such a good storyteller -- he tells of his own boyhood growing up Baptist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, his early love of baseball, and, now, to his groundbreaking work on global faith. 

Philip Jenkins says of it, "Yes, I'm prejudiced. I know that any new book by Mark Noll is undoubtedly a cause for excitement, both for myself and anyone interesting in the history of Christianity. I am especially delighted in From Every Tribe and Nation, which takes the literature on world Christianity to a whole new level."  

True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World David Skeel (IVP/Veritas)True Paradox- How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World .jpg $15.00  I admire this legal scholar, a Presbyterian professor of Corporate law at University of Pennsylvania Law School. (Not too shabby, eh?) who has often engaged in thoughtful forums on campuses, nicely representing Biblical notions of goodness, justice, tolerance, and truth.  He's a very impressive guy.

I admit, though, that I was afraid this might be rather dense, too detailed, arcane, even.  Alas, what a delight -- this is an exceptionally well written, clear-headed, yet almost anguished plea to not "dumb down" the questions of meaning and faith, appealing to all sorts of thoughtful readers.  Not only does Skeel relish paradoxes, he notes that the complexity of reality is something for which we simply must give an authentic account. And here's the kicker: both traditional older-school apologetics -- defending the truth, making cases that demand verdicts, proving the reliability of the Bible and such -- and the outspoken new atheists, each have a view of truth and reality that is, well, finally unrealistic. That is, complexity and paradox are truly part of our experience. Could it be that this itself is a signal of transcendence, that the gospel itself points us towards a vision/story/worldview that helps us live into this curious aspect of our existence? 

We need not deny the complexities of life.  As it says on the back cover, "they can lead us to the possibility that the existence of God could make sense of it all."  Rave reviews on the back are from evangelical historian Mark Noll, Catholic social and policy activist John J. Dilulio, and a former editorial board member of the New York Times. Winsome, smart, profound, this is a very fine, approach book about life's biggest mysteries, and how best to respond to our complex world. And thank goodness for this small Veritas Forum imprint of thoughtful books coming from IVP.  Kudos!

Lean On Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community Anne Marie Millerlean-on-me-anne-jackson-marie-miller.jpg (Nelson) $15.99  Some of us know Anne Marie Miller as the former Anne Jackson, who wrote the funny, fabulous, helpful book on the epidemic of church leader's burn-out called Mad Church Disease and the engaging, even horrific at times, yet wonderful collection of stories (and art pieces) of things people feel they couldn't share in church, Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace. This book seems to be the natural follow up to these two, and posits -- in her beautiful, winsome, engaging style -- that real community is the antidote to burnout and shame, exhaustion and loneliness. In other words, in religious institutions where "mad church disease" is so prevalent, and yet where we are discouraged from talking about our brokenness, fears, or foibles, we simply have to re-doubled our efforts to seek grace-filled, Christ-centered, life-giving friendships. It says on the back cover, "we live in a world and a generation where the world 'community' is often discussed. But how genuine and authentic are your relationships, really? Miller noticed an important tension all of us must recognize in order to have life-giving friendships. "We desperately want to belong yet as the same time, we yearn for independence."  Yeah, there's that.  I am very glad that Anne has attempted to tackle this.  She's gonna tell it like it is, I'm sure.

There is little doubt in my mind that "community" is one of the most urgent topics of our day.  Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christine Pohl (Eerdmans; $20.00) is the serious gold standard in this category, but it may be a bit too heady for some to wade through. Life Together (HarperOne; $14.99) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written under the threat of Hitler's Nazi repression, of course, has been a standard go-to book for decades, and remains a Hearts & Minds bestseller --a vital quote from it ends Miller's good book. Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community is a nice starter book on this meaty topic, with a useful reader's guide at the end making it ideal for book clubs, Sunday school classes, campus Bible study groups, church staff meeting reading, and the like. I believe it will help many deepen their relationships, form more intentional, supportive small groups, and to arrange our lives together in our churches and neighborhoods to be more open and honest about our deep need for others. 

Or-di-nar-y  Michael Horton (Zondervan) $15.99   This is a wonderful little book, thoughtful, gospel-ordinary horton.jpgcentered, mature. It's a book decrying the hip new trend of being over-the-top passionate, extraordinary, world-changing, transformational, emerging, missional, big and bold, radical,  celebrating instead the rhythms of the ordinary life of discipleship, and the ordinary means of grace. Offering "ordinary and content" in part two  instead of "radical and restless" is a useful rubric, and it works well, bringing grace and truth to those of us a bit too hyped up on making a difference.  Mark Galli notes that "Horton's Ordinary is, well, extraordinary."  And indeed, it is. As a confessional Presbyterian, especially, I'm fond of this approach (even though it would be reasonable to worry if such a message might create luke-warm faith or cultural accommodation.  Horton does not think so, and I suspect he is right.)

But, okay, let me get this wee little thing off my chest: the orange cover seems meant to evoke Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt and yet he doesn't mention it.  Gracious of him, perhaps, but the cover sort of seems to imply something and alluding like this seems a bit snarky.  And, the cool dictionary-definition-graphic on the cover, with the word spelled in a nifty eye-catching way (and which shows the definition as "1. Sustainable faith in a radical restless world") seems a minor capitulation to the hipster marketing thing that drives so much of the "we can change the world" schtick pop evangelicalism. I suppose it doesn't matter much, but wanted to share this minor observation that even in the packaging of this book, the good marketing team had to give it some minimalist zip.  Which is to say, I guess, that ordinary need not mean bland or boring or routine.

More importantly, this is a wonderful reminder of what it means to be faithful and mature, not gunning for unrealistic expectations and setting ourselves up for disillusionment. That he brings older faith traditions to bear is commendable and good (and, for what it is worth, for the few people who notice such things, he cites Mercersberg's Nevin against revivalist Finney, draws on Jamie Smith, and seems to agree much with Kendra Creasy Dean who worries about congregations not teaching their youth.

I especially recommend Horton's Or-di-nar-y to those whose faith seems to be a little faddish or those whose faith seems over-the-top emotionall without corresponding inner growth and time spent in the local church;  also, I think it would be very useful for more mainline pastors or leaders who have long called for less sensational faith expressions in favor of the low-key long haul, but maybe need to understand the (newer) radical evangelicalism of our day.  By the way, after Horton's compelling treatment, recall how we've promoted the sleeper of a little book called The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People by Matthew B. Redmond (Kalos Press; $10.95) which I liked very, very much.

The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the World of C.S. Lewis edited by JohnThe Romantic Rationalist- God, Life, and Imagination in the World of C.S. jpg Piper & David Mathis (Crossway) $17.99  This is a great collection of papers that were presented at one of the legendary "Desiring God" conferences run out of John Piper's ministry.  Those who have followed Piper's "Christian hedonism" know that much of his doctrine of joy comes from Lewis, who he has studied carefully for nearly a lifetime. It wasn't surprising to know that Lewis and his writing was the theme of last years conference.  The first chapter tells us more about Piper's appreciation for the Oxford don, and it is quite nice. The book is very useful, and the chapters are lively, passionate, concise.

Louis Markos says that this "paints a well-rounded, sharply observed portrait that balances criticism with a deep love and appreciation for the works and witness of Lewis." Michael Ward calls it "altogether an interesting, lively and thought-provoking read." With authors like Piper, Philip Ryken, Douglas Wilson, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Randy Alcorn. you can be assured this is thoughtful, evangelical, insightful. 

Alcorn, for instance, is trying to show how Lewis' view of the new creation -- this world renewed, like a paradise restored --  is similar to Al Wolter's in Creation Regained and I suspect I will return to it often. (Piper has a similiar chapter, too, about the sanctification of the things of earth, drawing on CS and St Paul.) One chapter explores Lewis' view of the Scriptures, another part explores his view of hell, another draws on his use of the imagination, suggesting its importance for ongoing theological work. Throughout there is this sense of he was both romanticist and rationalist (oh yes!)  I hope you read Lewis, and about Lewis, a bit each year.

I like the title, don't you?  

C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian Gregory S. Cootsona (Westminster/John Knox) $16.00C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian Gregory S. jpg Allow me to sneak in another new Lewis title, too, that just arrived last week: this one is written by a pastor of Adult Discipleship and College Ministries at Bidwell Presbyterian (USA) Church in Chico, CA, although he had previously served at the prestigious Faith Avenue Presbyterian Church. In this new paperback he shows us how Lewis can be a good guide for us in our own "ups and downs" as we cope with the hardships of our own faith journey.  Lewis felt the absence of God in his life, he wrestled with grief, with doubt, and he knew temptation.  Why haven't we unpacked this more?

Lewis biographer James Como exclaims that "Greg Cootsona's book is as distinctive a contribution to writing on Lewis as any I know. With no claim toward breaking new ground, the author nevertheless brings a perspective so fresh that even a veteran reader of the master will be instructed..."  

Mark Labberton of Fuller Theological Seminary says "Greg Cootsona's treatment of C.S. Lewis reflects the passion and thoroughness of a devotee who savors the insights of a long-term mentor. He relishes handing on morsels of Lewis's imagination and insight, while he also analyzes and measures Lewis's enduring value. Reading this book will enhance your experience of the feast that is C.S. Lewis but will also fortify the heard and imagination for the "crisis" that all true faith must engage."



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