About December 2014

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

November 2014 is the previous archive.

January 2015 is the next archive.

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

December 2014 Archives

December 7, 2014

The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (Elijah Anderson) AND Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Bryan Stevenson) BOTH 20% OFF

I heard the news a bit late, about the lack of an indictment of the policeNY_DN.jpg officer who, against NYPD protocols, used a choke-hold on and killed a non-threatening guy selling loose cigarettes in New York. As you surely know, the incident was caught on video tape and it was exceptionally baffling to wonder why this officer was not held accountable.  Was race involved in how the man was handled? Was race involved in how the case was handled? It is a large claim to make without evidence that it was due to race that this was so mishandled, but it isn't implausible to suggest so. 

On the heels of the decision in Ferguson, it has catapulted once again some very important issues onto the front burner of our national discourse.  

Ironically, I missed the breaking story earlier this week as we were away from the news media while we were selling books at a gathering which was exploring the nature of subtle (and not so subtle) racism in America, and how to create what our speaker called a "cosmopolitan canopy." 

What a week!

I can't tell you how my heart aches -- as yours does, too, I'm sure -- as I've listened to our speaker, Dr. Elijah Anderson, a renowned black sociologist, and read his most recent book, and heard the news about the Eric Garner trial, and followed all manner of conversations on line about Ferguson and now NYC and the general state of race relations.  On PBS over the weekend, Beth and I watched a tribute to Bruce Springsteen, and I cried as I listened to Jackson Browne's moving rendition of Bruce Springsteen's song about another case of ethnically-charged police violence American Skin (41 Shots.)

Lord have mercy.

And just this morning I suggested in a class I'm teaching about incarnation, Advent, and missions, that this season is less a countdown to the Big Day,Advent poster from High Calling.jpg but a season to inhabit, not unlike Lent, to allow God to work on our longings, desires, laments. As I tried to write in my essay at The High Calling blog, Advent allows us to intensify our longings for the restoration of all things as we anticipate not so much a celebration of the first coming of Christ, but of the second coming of Christ.  

Come Lord Jesus. 

***

Our speaker at our event was Dr. Elijah Anderson, who has taught sociologyelijah anderson.jpg for three decades at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania and, more recently, at Yale, and he walked us through some of his academic work and then illuminated racial dynamics in American cities. He told stories of how even middle class blacks who are often comfortable in mixed-race or largely white social settings carry great stress because of the inevitable "nigger moments" that they face.  Because of the history of racial injury in our country, even slight episodes of disrespect are freighted with great and sometimes debilitating emotion.  Of course we talked about Ferguson, and the clergy that had gathered for this event talked candidly among themselves about their own experiences of racial injustice.  It was sobering, but helpful.

Icosmo canopy.jpg want to tell you about how very important (and how very, very interesting) Dr. Anderson's book,The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (Norton; $17.95) really is. But first, a bit of a report about our book-selling efforts at the event in New Jersey.

We were selling books as we do each year at a clergy retreat for priests and church leaders of the Pennsylvania Diocese (the greater Philadelphia area) of the Episcopal Church.  This is not my own tradition -- what again is a warden or canon or deanery and which Rite are we using, and whose feast day is it today? -- and I guess it shows. (And I thought my evangelical friends had a lot of in-house jargon!  Ha!)  But these exceptionally thoughtful pastors working in the context of high church, liberal mainline Protestantism are good to Beth and me and we have a lot of fun. They let me tell them about books I love, and they often buy some of the ones I describe in my presentations up front. (Thanks, friends, for your rousing enthusiasm for my rousing books presentations! Nunc dimittis.)

From our "Book of the Year" (Steve Garber's Visions of Vocation: Commonlife together in christ.jpgvisions of vocation.jpggood shepherd bailey.jpg Grace for the Common Good) to the new Biblical studies work by the eminent New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey, Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament, to a lovely new book on spiritual formation by Ruth Haley Barton (Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community) they were receptive and generous in their book buying.

These priests ask good questions about serious resources, and tease me just enough to show we're welcomed. (And I tease them just enough to let them know I feel at home with them.) I told them about St. John Before Breakfast by my pal Brian Walsh. They loved that he does a morningSt. John Before jpgwe make the road McL.jpg Eucharistic service at the University of Toronto which he calls "Wine Before Breakfast" and bought all the copies we had. Not too surprisingly, they bought a bunch of Cathleen Falsani's edited collection of "rants and readings of the odd parts of the Bible" called Disquiet Time.  We pushed We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation, the latest Brian McLaren book designed for small groups to read the Bible through in a year; I am quite fond of it, and recommended it slow church.jpgto them. Of course I told them about our good time recently with Chris Smith, with one of the authors of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus and sold a number of that.

We just figured you'd like to know what these folks bought, and the kinds of things we'd promote at an event like that.  It was a good time, even though we had to pull an all-nighter to set everything up. It isn't every group that buys J. I Packer alongside Joan Chittister, Marcus Borg and Jamie Smith.

We are glad for friends there that worship well, serve their parishes, and are working to be sure their people grapple with the Bible, and the implicationsbible challenge cover.jpg of the Bible. One of their priests, Marek Zabriski, is nationally known for his effort to get parishes to read the Bible through in a year. His edited guide to reading the Bible through, accompanied by devotional-like readings, The Bible Challenge: Read the Bible in a Year (which is published by Forward Movement and which we carry, of course) is a year's worth of daily devotional readings, written by authors as prominent as Walter Brueggemann and Barbara Brown Taylor, which illumine the Biblical reading of the day.  There are guides to what to read (and why) and reflection questions for personal or small group use. His effort -- as documented in another book called Doing the Bible Better and the Transformation of the Episcopal Church -- is remarkable, and the book is a great tool for anyone wanting a moderate, balanced perspective on reading and inhabiting the Biblical story in a coherent, contemporary way. 

So, yes, we were with mainline Protestant clergy who were buying books about theology, the Bible, parish revitalization, spirituality, missional service, liturgy, and more.  It was a great time in the lovely book room.

And our speaker, the aforementioned Dr. Elijah Anderson, was gracious and kindly. His grandmother was a mid-wife (and knowingly named him after a Biblical prophet) and his parents worked on a plantation in the south, picking cotton in the years of Jim Crow and lynching and horrors big and small, until they moved North in the great migration.  Dr. Anderson himself came of agecode of the street.jpg as cities were burning after the killing of Martin King, and his own interest in people watching and trying to figure out how and why things were happening in the "iconic ghetto" grew into a life calling in urban sociology.  His early books include the scholarly ethnographies, A Place on the Corner, Street Wise, and the remarkable study of inner city Philadelphians, The Code of the Street. His work is considered classic ethnography -- serious sociology which is also, in the words of People magazine, "a people watcher's delight."

I have been reading his latest book and have been blown away by how very interesting, and useful it is. I so hope people come to study it - it offers really enlightening and nearly necessary information in these days of complicated conversations about racism, white privilege, police brutalities, and what is or isn't plausible about racial aggressions in modern North America.  It is called The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life and we highly, highly recommend it.

Pcosmo canopy.jpgages could be shared just reproducing the many, many rave reviews this important book has accrued, such as Ellis Cose (who wrote The End of Anger) who called it, simply, "An amazing achievement" or William Julius Wilson, the eminent urban sociologist from Harvard, who said it is "Vintage Elijah Anderson - original, creative, engaging, and thought provoking... a must-read."

It isn't every book about racial disunity and the glimmers of hope found in truly cosmopolitan settings that earns rave blurbs from authors as diverse as Cornel West and George Wills.  Have West and Wills ever agreed on anything? 

It may be true, what Randall Collins, president of the American Sociological Association, says, the Cosmopolitan Canopy is "the most important book on race relations in many years."

Two things you should know about this book.

Firstly, it isn't a rant against racism - not at all like, say, the new Cornel West title which is called Black Prophetic Rage, a book of interviews and up-to-date criticism of the current status quo in race relations and public theology. Agree with him or not, Brother West is always worth reading, and we commend it to you.

The Cosmopolitan Canopy is nuanced, and at times delightful.  One reviewer said that Anderson may be the nation's leading "people watcher" - and who doesn't enjoy that?  He is, here, attempting to offer a major reinterpretation of the racial dynamics in America, by introducing terms such as the "cosmopolitan canopy" by which he means islands of civility and cultural convergences existing amid the ghettos, suburbs and ethnic enclaves in which segregation is the norm.  Of course, he identifies "the racial fault lines that on occasion rend the 'canopy' and describes the ways in which it recovers."   His stories of racial injury, discrimination, harm, are painful - in part because they are so commonplace and believable.  (As the Springsteen songs puts it, "It ain't no secret...") Yet, white folks too often haven't talked with their black friends enough about this, or haven't immersed themselves in the literature.  So reading this sociological account could be very, very useful.

Dr. Anderson - even though he has accumulated his experiences of demeaning discrimination over his lifetime - seems relaxed, here.  Again, he is a people-watcher and he is telling the stories; again, it is urban ethnography and not very polemical.  He loves the city, and he loves trying to understand the social boundaries, constructs, institutions and social locations that help create a flourishing public space. As a skilled ethnographer, he is exceptionally perceptive.  And he relishes his task as storyteller and interpreter.

urban ethnography.jpg
Here's the second thing you should know: not only does Anderson enjoy cities and telling the stories of their inhabitants and their patterns of behavior, he particularly loves Philadelphia. The Cosmopolitan Canopy is a study of race relations in the city of Brotherly love, and a tribute to the unique public spaces in that city of neighborhoods.  Even if, like me, you do not know Philly all that well, you will love these chapters on different places in the metropolitan area that seem to invite greater civility and racial harmony.  Not unlike, say, James Howard Kunstler who tells of very specific suburban messes, bad city planning and ugly architecture, you don't have to really know or care much about the particular place he is describing: you get the picture. But the book is set in Philadelphia.

Doc Anderson takes readers through a walking tour of Center City, and that first chapter is sheer delight, learning how urban spaces do or don't facilitate multi-ethnic diversity and civility.  But then the real fun begins, as he then moves to the Reading Terminal (a true "cosmopolitan canopy" he says.) The Gallery Mall is a "ghetto downtown" and his look at Rittenhouse Square offers a study of the practice of civility.

You see, Anderson is not just lamenting the ghettos and the "white spaces" that dominate much American life, he is pointing towards what works, how to create more democratic and safe spaces that are civil and full of what he calls comity.

Anderson's survey of those he calls "ethnos" and "cosmos" is very, very illuminating. That is, there are those who chose to see themselves largely as part of a particularized racial enclave (this can be whites, blacks, or others, of course) and whose worldview is formed mostly by surrounding themselves mostly by people who are just like them.  And there are those who have a more cosmopolitan vision, who are truly multi-racial in their orientation, comfortable with diversity.  Of course there are those who have to switch sensibilities - urban blacks who live in black neighborhoods, are formed in black churches, and attend mostly black schools but who go to work in mostly white career tracks or white institutions.  Some resent and find this very difficult while others seem to relish this.

Don't you just wonder about all of this?

Anderson explains for us the emotional toil and drama of being "black middle class in public" and this part was especially interesting for me.  If most BookNotes readers are white, but who have black friends, it may be surprising to you how your black friends may relate in the predominantly white spaces, and how they may act in their own homes and neighborhoods.  All of this was very stimulating, if hard, at times - I thought I knew a lot about this stuff, and I feel, now, as if I've got so much more to learn!cosmo canopy.jpg

Even as Anderson documents features of a healthy civic society, and these places that are "cosmopolitan canopies" - thanks, Philadelphia! - he follows with a powerful chapter called "The Color Line and the Canopy." (You may know that "the color line" phrase comes from W.E.B. Du Bois.)  There is stuff about "provisional status" that you must read, and an excellent bit about how many black employees experience the mostly-white workplace. The Cosmopolitan Canopy ends with some powerful stories that invite all readers to ask if they are committed to civility and willing to resist those who are racist or rude or uncivil. 

He writes,

Under the cosmopolitan canopy, city dwellers learn new ways of interacting with people they do not know who are visibly different from their own group. They become more comfortable with diversity and discover new ways that people comfortable with diversity and discover new ways that people express themselves in public. These experiences may lead people to question and modify their negative presuppositions about others. Even if they do not want to know those others intimately they practice getting along with everyone. The canopy offers a taste of how inclusive and civil social relationships could become. That people find such pleasure in diversity is a positive sign of the possibilities of urban life in the twenty-first century.

I could say more about this fabulous book of social observation, and why BookNotes readers, especially, may find it useful. I am very eager to promote it, and glad to have had the chance to listen in to these conversations facilitated by Dr. Elijah Anderson and his good books.

The Pennsylvania  (Episcopal) Diocese is itself diverse - there is a white pastor of a church made up of Africans and those from the Caribbean where there are understandable regional tensions; there are clergy of every ethnic background who serve various kinds of parishioners from blue collar whitesmary oliver line - uses of sorrow.jpg to African American professionals (etcetera, etcetera - we live in such a colorfully diverse world, don't we?)  Some who serve are GLBT or in other ways seen as minorities. Women priests continue to struggle in some places with ugly discrimination and some live with great sadness and frustration for ways in which they've been mistreated. These clergy friends are candid with one another about their own sense of race relations within their collegial associations and in their own relationships, and within their churches. Was the gathering itself "white space" or "cosmopolitan"?  Again, you see, just having people of different hues or backgrounds in the same room doesn't make it civil or safe, let alone cosmopolitan.

I admire any organization that desires to embody God's will, and which attempts to be attentive to the implications of the gospel; these last days reminded me of the daunting task ahead if we are to be faithful and fruitful responding to the call of the gospel to be agents of reconciliation. Dr. Anderson and his talks about the social/racial dramas played out, day by day, especially among middle class blacks, college students, professionals, and others living in places like Philadelphia, helped focus our conversation in fresh ways. I suspect it could be helpful to you, too, wherever you live and work, no matter what your race or ethnicity or status.

In our book display we had dozens of other books on racial reconciliation, ethnic diversity, growing a multi-ethnic church. We have a lot of these kinds of resources for nearly any kind of church; give us a call if you'd like us to suggest some resources.

(By the way, if you write or call, knowing something of the racial make-up, the history and fruitfulness of previous conversations about this you may have had, and the theological tradition in which you stand would be helpful as we help you by suggesting a few good resources.)

For a very good overview of the changing face of North American ethnicities,living in color woodley.jpgmany colors.jpg I really recommend, by the way, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah (Moody Press; $14.99) and it was fun selling it to my Episcopalian friends. If you've followed BookNotes for long, you may know we are fond of Randy Woodley's lovely and challenging call to racial diversity in the Body of Christ, Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity (IVP; $18.00.) More Than Equals:more than equals.jpg Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice (IVP; $20.00) tells the story of one white guy and one black guy who became friends, partners in ministry, and the struggles they had at learning to work well together and move people towards "the beloved community." It remains a life-changing book for many.

 

***

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau; $28.00.)

In recent days I have had some difficult conversations with friends who doJM.jpg not seem to trust the uprising against the apparent sense of abuse felt by many people of color, especially when thinking about criminal justice, the police, and so forth. I do not know how you've talked about Ferguson, and if you are seeking a moderate, fair-minded, just approach - which is to say, not knee-jerk reactionary one way or the other, but seeking evidence, prudence, justice.  But if you have had these conversations, I am sure you have met people (maybe you yourself are one of them) who are suspicious of the claims that race is, without a doubt, a factor in many of the situations of police violence and what seem to be unjust verdicts and mishandling of evidence by the courts.

b-stevenson-0410_021_scrs.jpgAnd so, I beg you to purchase (as soon as you can!) and read this amazingly moving book, a book I've been saying is one of the most important books I have read in my entire life, the stunningly outrageous, very interesting, page-turning, and finally inspiring work by Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. I will say a bit more about this when we announce our "Best Books of 2014" at the end of the year, as this will be named. (You could check out his powerful TED talk, or his great NPR interview, too, or visit his Equal Justice Initiatives webpage at www.eji.org/.)  


For now, please read (or re-read) this review that I had published (in an slightly edited version) in Capitol Commentary, a weekly on-line publication of the Center for Public Justice, for whom I write a monthly book review column. I hope it inspires you to read the remarkable book.

For those who care to learn about the need for greater public justice, and how legal practices, lower court rulings and higher court appeals, and complex cultural attitudes about poverty and race in the United States too often subvert "liberty and justice for all" there is simply no more compelling way to be introduced to the painful realities of our land than to take up the study of racially-charged mass incarceration and the inequities of how poor people are treated by the criminal justice system. We can learn much from the experiences of those courageous lawyers who toil over legal details at low wages as they serve in legal aid clinics to help the under-represented get a fair hearing in court. 

It is in such a world that even stalwart conservatives like the late Charles Colson have spoken out against the death penalty: in our terribly broken legal systems, even what some might see as a legitimate task of the statestevenson.jpg cannot be adjudicated justly.  And it is into just such a situation that Bryan Stevenson has served in the deep American south, fighting unjust incarceration, and what are often poorly handled legal cases involving poor, usually black, often uneducated citizens who have been degraded and sometimes abused in U.S. prisons. His Equal Justice Initiative is an extraordinary organization, and those that have heard him speak -- at gatherings such as Jubilee or Q or The Justice Conference -- have long awaited this fuller telling of his heroic tale. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is one of the most powerful, painful, informative and inspiring books that I have ever read. It has been worth the wait for Stevenson to find time (amidst a grueling schedule of life-and-death advocacy) to pen this must-read memoir.

In this volume, we come to learn the excruciating details of several key cases on which Stevenson worked.  We learn about the most egregious miscarriages of justice, the most brutalizing treatment of people in prison, and it is revealed how - in Alabama, particularly - bad laws and ugly practices have continued on with little reform or safeguards that have been instituted in most other states.  In some cases Alabama is one of the few places in the country where certain choices (like putting young teens in with adult prisoners, where rape and abuse is common) are still permitted. This book documents outrage after outrage, and you will be troubled. This is an expose that needs to be read; written in Stevenson's first-person narrative, it is nothing short of riveting.

JM.jpgSome of the racial inequity regarding mass incarceration and extreme punishment has been documented in Michelle Alexander's rightly famous The New Jim Crow so it will come as no surprise to read her glowing endorsement: "Bryan Stevenson is one my personal heroes, perhaps the most inspiring and influential crusader for justice alive today, and Just Mercy is extraordinary." Desmond Tutu says that Stevenson is "America's young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction."  Southern Baptist bestseller, lawyer John Grisham says, "Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God's work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope."

Throughout some of these stories, ironically, Stevenson is working -- against compromised prosecutors, judges complicit in gross negligence and sometimes overt, disturbing racism -- in the very town made popular by the filming of To Kill a Mockingbird. When Time magazine last month asked Mr. Stevenson about the obvious comparison with Atticus Finch, he was quick to note that Finch lost the famous fictional case. He realizes deep in his bones that lives of real people are at stake; he dare not resign himself to lose. He dare not rest in the popularity of his TED talks or NPR interviews.  He simply must win more of these cases, prevent children from prison abuse, staying the gruesome execution of the innocent, offering presence and hope to the families of criminals and victims alike.

You will be hooked on this stunning story within the first few pages, and by the end of the first dozen pages, you will be feeling things you may not have felt in a long while, on the edge of your seat, wanting to know how this young man from a poor village in rural Maryland, who attended a small Christian college in Philadelphia, who was so unsure of himself at Harvard Law School, ended up staring down crass injustice with little assistance and no money in the dangerous South. You will be reminded of the awful last chapter of Dubois' Soul of Black Folk ("Of the Coming of John") and you will know that intimidation and even the fear of lynching remains a reality for many of our fellow citizens here in America. Your heart will break when you watch as Bryan visits in very poor homes with family whose loved ones have been abused by the legal system, who say to him, "These people have broken our hearts."

How can it be that "these people" remain supportive of intransigent, structural injustice, upheld by prosecutors, judges, prison officials (some who appear gruff and abusive, some who appear kind and ashamed of the outcomes of their work)? Why do not more cry out from within the legal system?  What can citizens do?  What might Christian lawyers and legal scholars do? This is the epic stuff of great literature, a grand story that will engage you, inspire you. As Rev. Tutu writes, "It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation."

As usual, we've listed the regular retail prices, but will deduct 20% off for BookNotes readers -- just click on the Hearts & Minds website order form page at the link below (it is secure) to send us an order. Fill out the form, and we'll take it from there. Thanks for reading our reviews, for caring about good books, for supporting our efforts.  We are grateful.

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December 10, 2014

Re-run, Encore: Reviews of The Cosmopolitan Canopy, Just Mercy, Forgive Us, Some of My Best Friends Are Black, Bloodlines, Living in Color and more... HEARTS & MINDS recommends BOOKS ON RACE - ON SALE 20% OFF

In BookNotes a few days ago I shared with you about our work serving an Episcopalian clergy retreat;martin-luther-king-pic.jpgfor those that enjoy knowing about our work, and to give a thank-you shout-out to those who hosted us, we talked a bit about books we highlighted there, and some of what sold.


And then I told you about their speaker, urban sociologist and "people watcher" Dr. Elijah Anderson, and his useful book on building safe spaces for true multi-ethnic conversation, exploring how some cities are able to develop "cosmopolitan canopies" and how people of color navigate these different sorts of cultural spaces. The book is called The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (Norton; $17.95 -- sale price, $14.35) and we told you about it.


Then I highlighted what I have been saying is one of the most important, and truly thrilling books I've ever read, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau; $28.00 -- sale price $22.40) by Eastern University alum and Harvard Law School grad, Bryan Stevenson. What a book!


I rarely do this, but wanted to re-post those two reviews, since some people may not have seen them.  The books are so good, and so timely, I just had to share them again.


I've taken the liberty of collating a few other reviews that I've done on books about race and sharing links of other lists I've made on this topic in the last year or so.  


I hope you have some of these kinds of resources in your personal library, for your own reflection, for sharing with others, for using as tools in your church or fellowship as you continue to have important, hard conversations about these vital matters.  These are "things that matter" and we are grateful for the opportunity to serve you as you read and learn and share.



cosmo canopy.jpgThe Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life  Elijah Anderson (Norton)  $17.95 -- our sale price, $14.35


...our speaker, Dr. Elijah Anderson, was gracious and kindly. His grandmother was a mid-wife (and knowingly named him after a Biblical prophet) and his parents worked on a plantation in the south, picking cotton in the years of Jim Crow and lynching and horrors big and small, until they moved North in the great migration.  Dr. Anderson himself came of age as cities were burning after the killing of Martin King, and his own interest in people watching and trying to figure out how and why things were happening in the "iconic ghetto" grew into a life calling in urban sociology.  His early books include the scholarly ethnographies, A Place on the Corner, Street Wise, and the remarkable study of inner city Philadelphians, The Code of the Street. His work is considered classic ethnography -- serious sociology which is also, in the words of People magazine, "a people watcher's delight."

I have been reading his latest book The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life and have been blown away by how very interesting, and useful it is. I so hope people come to study it -- it offers really enlightening and even necessary information in these days of complicated conversations about racism, white privilege, police brutalities, and what is or isn't plausible about racial aggressions in modern North America.  I've read a lot of books about how races interact, what minority folks do or don't tend to do, or say, in "white spaces" and the like.  Maybe you have, too.  But there is data in here that is very important, really enlightening, and interesting to read.  

Many pages could be shared just reproducing the many, many rave reviews this important book has accrued, such as Ellis Cose (who wrote The End of Anger: A New Generations's Take on Race and Rage) who called it, simply, "An amazing achievement."

Or, William Julius Wilson, the eminent urban sociologist from Harvard, who said it is "Vintage Elijah Anderson - original, creative, engaging, and thought provoking... a must-read."

It isn't every book about racial disunity and the glimmers of hope found in truly cosmopolitan settings that earns rave blurbs from authors as diverse as Cornel West and George Wills.  Have West and Wills ever agreed on anything else?  They both commend this book.

It may even be true, what Randall Collins, president of the American Sociological Association, says: "The Cosmopolitan Canopy is the most important book on race relations in many years."

Two things you should know about this book.

Firstly, it isn't a rant against racism - not at all like, say, the new Cornel West title which is called Black Prophetic Fire a book of interviews with Christa Buschendorf and up-to-date criticism of the current status quo in race relations and public theology. Agree with him or not, Brother West is always worth reading, and we commend it to you.

The Cosmopolitan Canopy, however, is nuanced, and at times quite delightful.  One reviewer said that Anderson may be the nation's leading "people watcher" - and who doesn't enjoy that?  He is, here, attempting to offer a major reinterpretation of the racial dynamics in America, by introducing terms such as the "cosmopolitan canopy" by which he means islands of civility and cultural convergences existing amid the ghettos, suburbs and ethnic enclaves in which segregation is the norm.  Of course, he identifies "the racial fault lines that on occasion rend the 'canopy' and describes the ways in which it recovers."   His stories of racial injury, discrimination, harm, are painful - in part because they are so commonplace and believable.  (As the Springsteen song [I had mentioned American Skin: 41 Shots in the earlier version of this review] puts it, "It ain't no secret...") Yet, white folks too often haven't talked with their black friends enough about this, or haven't immersed themselves in the literature.   So reading this sociological account could be very, very useful.

Dr. Anderson - even though he has accumulated his own experiences of demeaning discrimination over his lifetime - seems relaxed, here.  He is a congenial people-watcher and he is telling the stories and making connections;  The Cosmopolitan Canopy  is popular sociology and not terribly polemical.  He loves the city, and he loves trying to understand the social boundaries, constructs, institutions, and social locations that help create a flourishing public space. As a skilled ethnographer, he is exceptionally perceptive.  And he relishes his task as storyteller and interpreter.

Here's the second thing you should know: not only does Anderson enjoy cities and telling the stories of their inhabitants and their patterns of behavior, he particularly loves Philadelphia. The Cosmopolitan Canopy is a study of race relations in the city of Brotherly love, and a tribute to the unique public spaces in that city of neighborhoods.  Even if, like me, you do not know Philly all that well, you will love these chapters on different places in the metropolitan area that seem to invite greater civility and racial harmony.  Not unlike, say, James Howard Kunstler who (in The Geography of Nowhere or Home from Nowhere) tells of very specific suburban messes, bad city planning and ugly American architecture, you don't have to really know or care much about the particular place he is describing: you get the picture. But Cosmo Canopy is set in Philadelphia.

Doc Anderson takes readers through a walking tour of Center City, and that first chapter is sheer delight, learning how urban spaces do or don't facilitate multi-ethnic diversity and civility.  But then the real fun begins, as he then moves to the Reading Terminal (a true "cosmopolitan canopy" he says.) The Gallery Mall is a "ghetto downtown" and his look at Rittenhouse Square offers a study of the practice of civility.


You see, Anderson is not just lamenting the ghettos and the "white spaces" that dominate much American life, he is pointing towards what works, how to create more democratic and safe spaces that are civil and full of what he calls comity.

Anderson's survey of those he calls "ethnos" and "cosmos" is very, very illuminating. That is, there are those who chose to see themselves largely as part of a particularized racial enclave (this can be whites, blacks, or others, of course) and whose worldview is formed mostly by surrounding themselves mostly by people who are just like them.  And there are those who have a more cosmopolitan vision, who are truly multi-racial in their orientation, comfortable with diversity.  Of course there are those who have to switch sensibilities - urban blacks who live in black neighborhoods, are formed in black churches, and attend mostly black schools but who go to work in mostly white career tracks or white institutions.  Some resent and find this very difficult while others seem to relish this.

Don't you just wonder about all of this?

Anderson explains for us the emotional toil and drama of being "black middle class in public" and this part was especially interesting for me.  If most BookNotes readers are white, but who have black friends, it may be surprising to you how your black friends may relate in the predominantly white spaces, and how they may act in their own homes and neighborhoods.  All of this was very stimulating, if hard, at times - I thought I knew a lot about this stuff, and I feel, now, as if I've got so much more to learn!

Even as Anderson documents features of a healthy civic society, and these places that are "cosmopolitan canopies" -- thanks, Philadelphia! -- he follows with a powerful chapter called "The Color Line and the Canopy." (You may know that "the color line" phrase comes from W.E.B. Du Bois.) There is stuff about "provisional status" that you must read, and an excellent bit about how many black employees experience the mostly-white workplace. The Cosmopolitan Canopy ends with some powerful stories that invite all readers to ask if they are committed to civility and willing to resist those who are racist or rude or uncivil. 

He writes,

Under the cosmopolitan canopy, city dwellers learn new ways of interacting with people they do not know who are visibly different from their own group. They become more comfortable with diversity and discover new ways that people comfortable with diversity and discover new ways that people express themselves in public. These experiences may lead people to question and modify their negative presuppositions about others. Even if they do not want to know those others intimately they practice getting along with everyone. The canopy offers a taste of how inclusive and civil social relationships could become. That people find such pleasure in diversity is a positive sign of the possibilities of urban life in the twenty-first century.


JM.jpgJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau) $28.00 -- our sale price $22.40

In recent days I have had some difficult conversations with friends who do 
not seem to trust the concerns and perceptions of the uprising against the apparent sense of abuse felt by many people of color, especially when thinking about criminal justice, the police, and so forth. I do not know how you've talked about Ferguson or the NYPD/Garner case, and if you are seeking a moderate, fair-minded, just approach - which is to say, not knee-jerk reactionary one way or the other, but seeking evidence, prudence, justice.  But if you have had these conversations, I am sure you have met people (maybe you yourself are one of them) who are suspicious of the claims that race is, without a doubt, a factor in many of the situations of police violence and what seem to be unjust verdicts and mishandling of evidence by the courts.

I myself have often said -- despite my passion for racial reconciliation and public justice -- that it is unwise to jump too quickly to accusations about motivations, especially when we don't know all the facts of any given incident.  Although we dare not be naive about the prevalence of racial animus in our land, and must continue to struggle with the legacy of racial injury upon which this nation was built, it is nonetheless wrong to declare that racism is involved if we do not know that.  Fair enough?

But we do need to know about the patterns of institutional racism, the ways in which things tend to go wrong, even in our good land.  To be ill-informed about how (for instance) our courts and criminal justice systems has been tainted by racism is irresponsible, in my view (especially if one is sharing opinions about it.) We simply must know the facts on the ground.

And so, I beg you to purchase (as soon as you can!) and read this amazingly moving book, a book I've been saying is one of the most important books I have read in my entire life, the stunningly outrageous, very interesting, page-turning, and finally inspiring work by Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. I will say a bit more about this when we announce our "Best Books of 2014" at the end of the year, as this will be named. 

Here is a video of a 20-minute talk we heard Bryan give at the Q gathering in Washington DC a few years ago, an event at which I spoke, and Beth and I sold books.)

Here is a review of Just Mercy that I had published (in an slightly edited version) in Capitol Commentary, a weekly on-line publication of the Center for Public Justice, for whom I write a monthly book review column. I hope it inspires you to read the remarkable book.

For those who care to learn about the need for greater public justice, and how legal practices, lower court rulings and higher court appeals, and complex cultural attitudes about poverty and race in the United States too often subvert "liberty and justice for all" there is simply no more compelling way to be introduced to the painful realities of our land than to take up the study of racially-charged mass incarceration and the inequities of how poor people are treated by the criminal justice system. We can learn much from the experiences of those courageous lawyers who toil over legal details at low wages as they serve in legal aid clinics to help the under-represented get a fair hearing in court. 

It is in such a world that even stalwart conservatives like the late Charles Colson have spoken out against the death penalty: in our terribly broken legal systems, even what some might see as a legitimate task of the state cannot be adjudicated justly.  And it is into just such a situation that Bryan Stevenson has served in the deep American south, fighting unjust incarceration, and what are often poorly handled legal cases involving poor, usually black, often uneducated citizens who have been degraded and sometimes abused in U.S. prisons. His Equal Justice Initiative is an extraordinary organization, and those that have heard him speak -- at gatherings such as Jubilee or Q or The Justice Conference -- have long awaited this fuller telling of his heroic tale. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is one of the most powerful, painful, informative and inspiring books that I have ever read. It has been worth the wait for Stevenson to find time (amidst a grueling schedule of life-and-death advocacy) to pen this must-read memoir.

In this volume, we come to learn the excruciating details of several key cases on which Stevenson worked.  We learn about the most egregious miscarriages of justice, the most brutalizing treatment of people in prison, and it is revealed how - in Alabama, particularly - bad laws and ugly practices have continued on with little reform or safeguards that have been instituted in most other states.  In some cases Alabama is one of the few places in the country where certain choices (like putting young teens in with adult prisoners, where rape and abuse is common) are still permitted. This book documents outrage after outrage, and you will be troubled. This is an expose that needs to be read; written in Stevenson's first-person narrative, it is nothing short of riveting.

Some of the racial inequity regarding mass incarceration and extreme punishment has been documented in Michelle Alexander's rightly famous The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness so it will come as no surprise to read her glowing endorsement: "Bryan Stevenson is one my personal heroes, perhaps the most inspiring and influential crusader for justice alive today, and Just Mercy is extraordinary." 

Desmond Tutu says that Stevenson is "America's young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction." 

Southern Baptist bestseller, lawyer John Grisham says, "Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God's work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope."

Throughout some of these stories, ironically, Stevenson is working -- against compromised prosecutors, judges complicit in gross negligence and sometimes overt, disturbing racism -- in the very town made popular by the filming of To Kill a Mockingbird. When Time magazine last month asked Mr. Stevenson about the obvious comparison with Atticus Finch, he was quick to note that Finch lost the famous fictional case. He realizes deep in his bones that lives of real people are at stake; he dare not resign himself to lose. He dare not rest in the popularity of his TED talks or NPR interviews.  He simply must win more of these cases, prevent children from prison abuse, staying the gruesome execution of the innocent, offering presence and hope to the families of criminals and victims alike.

You will be hooked on this stunning story within the first few pages, and by the end of the first dozen pages, you will be feeling things you may not have felt in a long while, on the edge of your seat, wanting to know how this young man from a poor village in rural Maryland, who attended a small Christian college in Philadelphia, who was so unsure of himself at Harvard Law School, ended up staring down crass injustice with little assistance and no money in the dangerous South. You will be reminded of the awful last chapter of Dubois' Soul of Black Folk ("Of the Coming of John") and you will know that intimidation and even the fear of lynching remains a reality for many of our fellow citizens here in America. Your heart will break when you watch as Bryan visits in very poor homes with family whose loved ones have been abused by the legal system, who say to him, "These people have broken our hearts."

How can it be that "these people" remain supportive of intransigent, structural injustice, upheld by prosecutors, judges, prison officials (some who appear gruff and abusive, some who appear kind and ashamed of the outcomes of their work)? Why do not more cry out from within the legal system?  What can citizens do?  What might Christian lawyers and legal scholars do? This is the epic stuff of great literature, a grand story that will engage you, inspire you. As Rev. Tutu writes, "It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation."

forgive us banner.jpg

I have given announcements and brief presentations about Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith by Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson, Soong-Chan Rah (Zondervan) at probably half a dozen events this fall, and have tried to be an avid supporter of it. I know three of the four authors (and have met the other) and even helped a tiny bit with some copy editing of this book. I was sent an advanced manuscript so I could offer a blurb, which is included alongside authors, pastors, leaders from across the spectrum of churches and faith traditions. (My little claim to fame -- ha!)  We think this book is educational, important, and the prayers and laments are, in fact, useful and healing.  Please consider how you might use this book.  We haven't sold nearly as many as we would have wished -- I'm aware that it looks at some hard stuff but it really is good to read; repentance can lead new joy and sturdy hope.  As I say in my review blurb, it will help you be a "son or daughter of Issachar" (see 2 Chronicles 12:32.) Don't shy away, please.

Here is a review that I did of this that first appeared in Capitol Commentary from CPJ for whom I've been writing a monthly column, mostly on nurturing faithful citizenship.  I had this on facebook, too, so you may have seen it.

forgive us .jpgForgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson, Soong-Chan Rah (Zondervan) regular price $22.99 -- our sale price $18.39

Perhaps you have seen that Facebook cartoon showing an indigenous First Nations person musing, "Speaking of bringing deadly diseases to our shores..." The cartoon intends to remind us, in the midst of the fear over the Ebola crisis, that white Europeans have wreaked havoc on local populations in the past, and that the horrific impact was only matched by the gross malfeasance. It is appalling to think about the intentional genocidal decimation of whole populations and the later abuses in North America such as the Trail of Tears, the sins of Kit Carson, the dubious treaties signed and broken, and the injustices of Native American schools and reservation policies.

Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith documents such abuses in overwhelming detail that might be disturbing to the tenderhearted. For many readers of Capital Commentary, though, spending time with its four good authors exploring the history of some very heavy stuff will be a significant experience. This is an important book for our organization.

Forgive Us brings together four esteemed evangelical social justice activists and scholars (two who are trained as historians), each telling the sordid tale of a particular group's abuse and how the Christian church has been complicit in it. The authors in turn teach us about how US churchgoers have hurt native peoples, people of color, women, the GLBTQ communities, immigrants, Jews and Muslims, and in one powerful chapter, the creation itself. These informative chapters bring together important facts about how the church has been harmful.  As a reader, you will most certainly exclaim more than once "Why haven't we talked about this before? Why did I not know this?" Perhaps it will drive you to your knees.

The authors are convinced of the Biblical truth that confession and repentance precede outbreaks of gospel good news and that understanding and naming past cultural sins is an essential contemporary spiritual practice. From its earliest days, the Center for Public Justice has called for confession of social injustice, rejecting the hubris of civil-religious pride that would resist admitting to national sin. Learning more - for the first time, or as a refresher - about these complex and harmful past policies, whose implications reverberate in the present, will make us better neighbors, better citizens, and more sensitive to language, feelings, and experiences of others in the public square.  It may help us truly become more caring and just people, appropriately transformed by at least some of the burdens of history that have implicated us.

This feisty quartet of scholar-activists has given us a great and difficult gift. They are all loyal church leaders, desiring above all that Christ be glorified and that God's message be heard afresh. Indeed, one of the motivations for this book has been their profound personal sadness that too often the watching world realizes (better than many in the church) that the history of Christianity in North America has included great shortcomings like these. This move towards confession will hopefully be noticed by those estranged from the dominant expressions of Christianity and could bear fruit among those who carry within them wounds and worries about the church's integrity. It might help the public know whether Christian social and political movements such as CPJ care enough about them and their concerns. For these practical reasons, reading and discussing and living out the suggestions found in Forgive Us could be a very important activity.

One thing should be made clear: the Bible teaches, and these authors remind us, that although social sin hurts our neighbors, our land, our culture, and even ourselves, it is first an affront against a Holy God. In Christ alone, through faith alone, by God's grace alone, we can be forgiven and restored. Confession is an essential step, a response to God's Spirit working among us, bringing to clarity our sin against God and others. This book includes a litany of confession after each chapter, and these liturgical aids could be useful in one's personal devotions, in small prayer groups or fellowship meetings, or in more formal worship services. These poetic prayers are reminders of the heart of this book: the profoundly religious call to repent. Naming and confessing our sins, seeking absolution and healing from God, and being open to new opportunities to rebuild trust before those whom we have harmed could be, oddly, a great joy and blessing.  Read Forgive Us: Confessions of a Comprised Faith and thank the Holy One for grace and for these authors, scholars and prophets and pastors that they are, who serve us well by inviting us into this spiritual practice so necessary for a public faith worthy of the name Christian.

some of my best friends.jpgSome of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America Tanner Colby (Penguin) regular price, $16.00 -- our sale price $12.80 


This is not about the Jim Crow years, the civil rights struggle or the brave movement of those who followed King's activism.  Rather, it is what race relations were like in more recent years -- with institutionalized racism prevalent and de facto segregation common in many place, but all the kids learning about the "I Have a Dream" speech in school.  We a just love the diversity vision, but how many are actually experiencing it?  It promised in the promo literature to be written with "boundless curiousity and a biting sense of humor."  Since the author had written books on both John Belusi and Chris Farley, I expected it to be interesting and a bit funny.  It wasn't really funny, but, still -- what a book!


This just came out in paperback and it tells an amazing story of a white guy who realized that he had no black friends.  Raised in the white flight world of Alabama in the 70s, he realized he wanted to do something about his insular background. This book not only tells the general story of Colby learning about racial matters in the US, but describes in detail the situation of suburban Birmingham schools, his move to Kansas City and learning of the racist housing policies in that troubled town, the impact of "affirmative action" type protocols in the advertising world of Madison Avenue professionals, and the dramatic story of the efforts of a Catholic Church in a parish in Louisiana. This memoir really explores some unexpected aspects of our culture -- both black and white. Many serious reviewers have commended this for being thoughtful and insightful.  


Timothy Nafuali says, 


In weaving together the personal narratives (including his own) of the Children of White Flight and the Children of the Dream, Tanner Colby has crafted a powerful piece of social commentary and contemporary history. Hugely readable, quirky, and incredibly smart, Some of My Best Friends Are Black present four unforgettable smaller stories to tell the big story of race in today's America.



Here is a link to a list of books I put together after the exciting "Living in Color" conference at Genevaliving in color woodley.jpg College in 2013.  This really does include some of our classic, go-to resources, and a few other fun titles we threw in.  This is a good list, I think. Please, please, copy this, forward it, spread the word. And thanks to those good friends at Geneva and other Christian colleges who are working hard to bring evangelical and Reformed faith to bear on the issues of life, and to give voice to concerns of minority staff and students. 

http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/booknotes/sale_great_resources_for_livin/




Here is a link to a BookNotes blog post I was proud of, a listing of some of the many books we havefree ellis.jpg and recommend on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the famous March on Washington and the history of the civil rights struggle. What lessons we can learn from those who were faithful in working for justice so many years ago.  I wrote this the week of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary, thinking it would be timely for our customers who wanted to read up on this extraordinary event in American history.  I was sad we didn't sell any of these that week.  

http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/booknotes/great_books_about_martin_luthe/




Here is a long column I did in the fall of 2011, a major review of Bloodlines: Race,bloodlines.jpg

Cross, and Christian published by Crossway.   This an important book by a conservative, passionate evangelical leader, Rev. John Piper (with a foreword by Timothy Keller.)  I not only ruminate on Piper's grace-filled, gospel-centered, exceptionally rigorous Biblical orientation, and how that names racism as sin, but list 10  strengths of this intense book.

http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/booknotes/bloodlines_race_cross_and_the/





Here is a review I wrote a long time ago, sharing (in light of a few good books ofbeing white.jpg worldview studies) about a title called Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multi-ethnic World by Paula Harris & Doug Schaupp, and a very creatively written, deeply moving, feisty anthology about inter-racial friendships, Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendships edited by Emily Bernard.  The formatting of my piece may be a bit odd, and I apologize -- it is worth knowing about these books, though, so thanks for your patience with some errors in the fonts. Gotta figure out how to correct some of our old archived stuff.  We do still have these books, by the way.

http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/reviews/worldviews_race_and_interracia/


As is sometimes my approach, I sometimes rattle off a handful of titles that are important, name-dropping for your sake so you know key authors, and books we esteem and stock.  In the middle of the review of the intense Calvinistic Baptist John Piper, I do this little rant:


Do you know the very insightful sociological study Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in themany colors.jpg Cafeteria and Other Conversations on Race (Basic Books) by Beverly Daniel Tatum? Or the heavy anti-racism classic recently updated and reissued by Joseph Barndt, Becoming the Anti-Racist Church: Journey Toward Wholeness (Fortress)?  I really hope you know the excellent recent title Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah (Moody Press.) I really appreciate the neo-Calvinist worldviewish perspective of foreign language scholar David Smith who wrote Learning from the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity (Eerdmans) as it brings a somewhat scholarly, hospitable bit of research tocultural_intelligence_cover.jpg the conversation. Even more scholarly is the extraordinary and highlymore than equals.jpglearning from the stranger b-N.jpg reviewed (if dense) work The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings of Duke that came out last year on Yale University Press. (Which just was announced -- December 2014 -- to have won the prestigious and generous Grawemeyer Award in Religion Prize offered by Louisville Theological Seminary.) More practically, I hope every church leader or youth worker, especially, has practical educational resources like Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ To Engage Our Multicultural Worldleading a healthy multi-ethnic church.jpg by David Livermore (Baker), or the practical books on increasing and navigating congregational diversity such as One New People by Manuelrace matters.jpg Ortiz (IVP.)  Do you know the progressive theologian and Episcopalian church diversity trainer, Eric Law? UCC conference minister Lorene Beth Bowers?  Or the books by Curtis DeYoung? Or Brenda Salter McNeil? Mark DeYmaz? Soong-Chan Rah? Howard Thurman? Shelby Steele? Cornel West? John Perkins, of course?  



There are so many good leaders working on this topic, so many fine books, and we have many.  Why not make a commitment to read something new in this field, find a group, get a partner, form a start a class.  Maybe make a donation of a few to your local church or library. Let's get the word out about these helpful gifts of shalom. Let's do the work. 

Read for the Kingdom!



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December 13, 2014

Fifteen Great Gift Books -- Fabulous, Fantastic, Fun, For-Sure. 20% OFF (while supplies last.)

Here are some great gift ideas, some not the sort of thing we typically review, nor titles that we havegold gift wrap.jpg tons of.  If you want 'em, order quickly.  These are awesome, for sure.


We show the regular retail price, but we'll deduct 20% OFF those prices, at least as long as we have these in stock. We can gift wrap for free, too, if you'd like -- just add a note to the bottom of our order form page.  Easy.


Our order form page is certified secure, by the way, so you are safe entering credit card digits.  If you'd rather, we can just send you an invoice, and you can pay later by check, as we explain at the order form page.


Just see below for the links to get to our order form page, or give us a phone call, if you'd like. During the holidays we are here 10 - 8 Monday through Friday, and 10 - 6 on Saturday.


We're closed on Sunday, of course, but every other day, we reply to inquiries, orders, or  emails pretty promptly.  If you don't hear back from us within a few hours or so, you might want to give us a ring, or email me at read@heartsandmindsbooks.com  We want to make your shopping with us enjoyable and confident, even if we're a little clunky and old fashioned.


As old fashioned as anyone who believes books still make really great Christmas presents! 



history of the book.jpgThe History of the Book in 100 Books: The Complete Story, for Egypt to e-book  Roderick Cave & Sara Ayad (Firefly) $35.00  This is a weighty, well-made book, with sturdy binding and glossy paper, over 360 pages, slightly over-sized.  It should be well made, too, because -- as you can tell from the title -- it literally is a book about books. You may know the "100 items" craze (we have one on the Civil War, a new one on WWI) where 100 items are explored as significant examples of key markers, transitions, or signifiers of important points in history.  Here you have museum-quality photographs of key books, both in how they developed from cave paintings, Egyptian cuneiform tablets, Burmese palm leaves, up to parchment scrolls to actual books.  Here you will see and learn much about, obviously, the Book of Kells, Gutenberg, the controversies about Bible translations, the rise of all manner of printing and publication through the modern era and into the digitization age.  This is a great, great overview of the rise of the book, but it is also a fascinating collection of dozens of book reviews.  Do you know the first modern study of anatomy? Much about Johnson's Dictionary? A "literary oddity that entranced Europe? Tristam Shandy! One of the very first children's books published (does the name Newbery ring a bell?) Do you know who the first celebrity chef was? Or much about the publishing history of Diary of a Young Girl?


And what is the future of the book, from manga to e-books to the question "what is a book?"  The History of the Book looks at all this and more. It is a treasure trove and joy to behold, a fabulously detailed book for any book lover and would make a truly awesome gift.  


one hundred portraits moser.jpgOne Hundred Portraits: Engraved by Barry Moser  Barry Moser, with a Foreword by Ann Patchett (David Godine) $35.00  Godine remains one of the most reliably prestigious book publishers around, and this gift book, slightly oversized, brings together the exceptionally artful engravings of one who has been called "probably the most important book illustrator working in America today." (And, hooray, I recall that Ned Bustard's Square Halo Books has a paperback collection of essays by Gregory Wolfe, Intruding Upon the Timeless, that is nicely illustrated with Moser's work.) In this magnificent new book you see Moser's portrayal of writers, poets, theologians, scholars, leaders (and a number of people I've never heard of.) You'll be thrilled to see full page (or sometimes half page) portraits of important figures such as Milton, Dickens, Twain, Auden, Frederick Douglas, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, T.S. Eliott, Herman Melville, Alexander Pope, Martin Luther King, and a must-see, wild woodcut of Chaucer -- and so many more. In his own afterward he writes about his philosophy of portraiture, a bit about why he selected the visages he did, and grouped them a bit for our own background information. And how many books get an introduction by novelist, book-lover, and book seller, Ann Patchett? Very, very nice, lovely, striking, artful.

 


terrapin.jpgTerrapin And Other Poems Wendell Berry, illustrated by Tom Pohrt (Counterpoint) $25.00 Tom Pohrt spent years gathering those poems of Wendell Berry that he imagined children might enjoy and appreciate.  These are not written as children's books, and aren't new, but they are pleasantly set, one on a page with a large type font, making it look a bit like a very classy kid's picture book.  As it says on the dust jacket flap, "Over the past several years a dialogue has evolved in which the poet has come to advise the illustrator on the natural history of the animals and plants seen so intimately in the poems.  Then came the august book designer David Bullen, who has been designing the books of Berry for more than thirty years."


The resulting volume of twenty-one poems includes dozens of watercolors in what amounts to a visual meditation on poems they work to illustrate.  Again, the publishers believe this is "a consummate example of the3 collaborative effort that is fine bookmaking, the perfect gift for children, grandchildren, or any love of the book as a physical object."  And, of course, for any lover of good poetry, and any fan of the esteemed Kentucky farmer, naturalist, and storyteller. 


written in wood.jpgWritten in Wood: Three Wordless Graphic Narrative  George A. Walker, with an introduction by Tom Smart (Firefly) $29.95  This is an amazing undertaking, and we stock it as an example of what graphic novels can do, how visual art can itself form a story, and how woodcut art is so very, very powerful.  Each of these is moving, and I think if you know anyone who enjoys graphic novels, these wordless ones will really captivate them.


George Walker is a renowned woodcut artists and this contains his telling of three wordless stories.  The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson explores the death of the iconic Canadian artists who went missing in the summer of 1917. Book of Hours tells the mundane yet meaningful way in which the people int he World Trade Center spent their last hours before the tragic events of the attack on 9/11.  Conrad Black relates a story of a famous and notorious media baron.  All three of these stories are themselves worth "reading" (viewing?) repeatedly, and the artwork shows how versatile the medium is, and how talented Mr Walker truly is.  Cool, huh?




Art & Prayer by Verdon.jpgArt & Prayer: The Beauty of Turning to God Timothy Verdon (Mount Tabor Books/Paraclete Press) $32.50  First, I want to say kudos to Paraclete Press for bringing such wonderful books to the marketplace, and for making them with nearly monastic care, beauty, quality.  Their rich ecumenical context and their own monastic lifestyle makes them one of the most interesting publishers these days, and one of our favorites.  I can hardly think of a book they've published in the last decade that we haven't stocked.


This one is magisterial, and we are glad they offer it here at such a reasonable price.  It is a heavy, well bound book, made with glossy paper, and vibrant, classical artwork. Monsignor Verdon explores the essential interactions between prayer and the imagination, and although this book seems to be a book of art history -- and it is; we stock it in our art section -- it is mostly a profound rumination on the nature of prayer. The first chapter is entitled "Prayer, life, art" and it then has mature chapters on spaces of prayer, liturgical prayer, the prayer of pleading, lectio divina, contemplative prayer, and a moving chapter on "the hour of death." This is all lavishly illustrated, and the artwork is not only illustration, but a springboard for deeper reflection and application.   Notice the subtitle: the beauty of turning to God.


Father Verdon is one of the world's most respected art historians, is Academic Director of the Mount Tabor Centre in Barga Italy.  He earned his PhD at Yale, although for most of the last 50 years he has lived in Florence where he directed the Diocesan Office of Sacred Art and Church Cultural Heritage and the Cathedral Foundation Museum there. 





sacred pause hackenberg.jpgSacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-weary Christian Rachel G. Hackenberg (Paraclete) $21.00  Leave it to Paraclete to once again give us a splendid, rich, wonderfully made small book of prayerful meditation, illustrated with good graphic design and full color photography and artwork.  Hackenberg is a UCC pastor and the writer of the popular Writing to God, so you can expect a vivid, colorful, aesthetic experience.  Here, she invites us to "reconsider and re-engage" with the words we typically use to describe our faith.  As Bruce Epperly notes, "This book will awaken you to a sensational faith, encompassing all your senses and enabling you to experience the holiness of God in the quotidian adventures of life." Yes, this is inviting us to leave behind stagnant faith and tired expressions, but it is light-hearted and joyful, too. From grammar lessons to poetry, stuff on letters and helpfully playful definitions, this is upbeat, making you glad to be reading and pondering and doing such good stuff.  She draws on Microstyle by Chris Johnson, Finally Comes the Poet by Walt Brueggemann, and so many more artists, poets, scholars, pray-ers.  Handsome, unusual, nice.



Consider the Birds- A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible.jpgConsider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible Debbie Blue (Abingdon) $16.99  This has been out a year or two, and we've carried it to various events, pressed it in to the hands of anybody that (a) likes birds, (b) likes Bible ruminations, (c) likes good sermons, creative, interesting, compelling, and (d) if they just love really good writing, a great, surprising book to enjoy.  Blue is a great wordsmith, a really honest pastor, a preacher at the edgy House of Mercy, an emergent church in Minnesota. Lauren Winner said it was "the best book I've read all year" which speaks volumes. It has fancy french folds, giving the paperback a very handsome feel, it has woodcuts throughout, making it a tremendously nice book, a great gift. You should buy two, one for you to keep, and one to give away.  And be sure to tell whoever you give it to where they got it, since, they, too, will then want to order more to give away.  It's that nice.





glory of the tree.jpgThe Glory of the Tree Noel Kingsbury, photography by Andrea Jones (Firefly) $39.95  I have long been taken with trees, and love good photography of these glorious creatures. Some books art a bit too artful, some a bit too tedious, some more poetry than science, others just wooden lists.  (Sorry.) This one gets it right --  beautifully written, nicely designed, arranged showing ninety-one of the world's greatest tree species; it describes their botany and origin, and of course, for each picture it explains the location, size, characteristics, and the potential age (which itself is great fun and mind-boggling!)  I love this large book, glad for the vibrant color and the great photography. 


Dr. Noel Kingsbury, a Welshman, is recognized internationally as a leading innovator in horticulture and has written widely on landscape and plant ecology; Jones is one of the world's foremost garden photographers.  Her work has appeared in all the obvious popular nature magazines as well as scholarly journals.  She lives in Scotland.




human age ackerman.jpgThe Human Age: The World Shaped by Us Diana Ackerman (Norton) $27.95 This is by, quite frankly, one of the most important living nonfiction writers, a gracious and vital author, one that has achieved the sort of acclaim that only comes to the finest thinkers and wordsmiths. Her work here has blurbs on the back from luminaries such as Siddhartha Hukherjee (who won the Pulitzer for The Emperor of All Maladies), the notableTerry Tempest Williams, the Pulitzer-Prize winner Jonathan Weiner (who says she writes with "brilliance, zest, and high style. We need to hear this voice of affirmation. It is important. It matters.") Another Pulitzer finalist says "with this stirringly vivid, darkbright manifesto, Ackerman summons us to the wager of sheer possibility: life against death, delight still (if only barely) trouncing despair."  You may have heard of her luminous book A Natural History of the Senses or her lovely The Moon by Whalelight and that she was highly rewarded a few years ago for the book that has been compared to "Schindler's List", about the Warsaw Zoo's saving people from the Nazis, The Zookeeper's Wife. 


readers-bible-blog.jpgESV Readers Bible  (Crossway)  hardback, with slipcase:  $29.99;  brown/walnut Portfolio design ingenesis page from Readers Bible ESV.jpg TruTone faux leather: $44.99;  black TrueTone faux leather: $44.99  We have so many BIbles, and so many are made with striking, nice covers, attractive fonts, and many have useful notes, helpful, insightful commentary, making Bible buying these days an art in itself. We could name many, but this new edition is worth crowing about.


This truly is a "readers" version -- it offers a single column page (just like any other book, without two columns or notes or distracting cross references) and has the poetic sections off set in verse form, but, most importantly, it has no verse numbers!  It really does look great on the page, like an ordinary book, allowing for an ease and coherence of reading that is perhaps unsurpassed. There are chapter numbers (printed in a beautiful red ink in a nice font) giving at least some customary guidance; the lack of verse numbers, though, makes for an extraordinary experience. This is a great translation, too (based on the old RSV, actually) and is increasingly popular, especially in Reformed churches. It has been made very accurate, nicely readable, and just reverent/classy enough.  This edition of the ESV, though, stands out.  It comes in three cover designs, a hardback, or two kinds of TrueTone imitation leather. Kudos to Crossway for producing yet another very well made Bible, and for the extra effort put into this fine project and the resulting truly exquisite Bible design.


title pending.jpgTitle Pending: Things I Think About When I Make Stuff Justin McRoberts (Justin McRoberts) $8.99  Funny, I thought "title pending" was literal, just what Justin was calling this project as he was working on it. Little did I know it was really the name of the book. Ha.  McRoberts is fun, funny, and also really serious, as a follower of Christ, as a husband, father, pastor, friend, and as an agent of the reign and commonwealth of God; he is dedicated to being a good singer-songwriter, videographer and all around cultural creative. He's an artist and he don't look back, if you get my drift.


You may know how we've pushed his wonderful, wonderful CMYK, a book of stories, letters, graphic art, pictures of installation art, song lyrics (and a CD to go with it all.) We still love selling that book, and enjoy explaining it to folks -- the cool design, the artwork commissioned for it, and the song lyrics and letters that form the core of the book, as each letter and essay offers backstory and context for the song. Justin McRoberts, as you might tell, is a very creative guy.  His vision of faith is robust and broad -- and his musical tastes and aesthetic influences are mature and diverse, too: here he quotes artists and thinkers from Dylan and Rage Again the Machine, to Van Gogh and author Scott Belskey and his helpful book Making Ideas Happen.  This brand new little book tells you how he does it.


Yes, this is a wonderful guidebook for anyone wanting to be a bit more creative in their lives, who wants permission and courage to think deeply, blow some fuses, make stuff happen.  It is, most obviously, a commentary on the creative process, offering examples of how an artist and activist like McBob does his creative best.  His master class about reading David Sedaris and ripping off Tom Petty is, well, it is pretty great. I'm not a musician or very creative at all, but I really liked it, I guess. As a bit of a writer, I guess it's what I, do, too: steal shamelessly. 


But, like other such books (think, maybe of Lewis Hyde's The Gift or The War of Art  by Steven Pressfield or Ed Catmul's Creativity Inc) Title Pending is not just a handbook for artists and singer-songwriters, and it is more than a rumination on the creative process.  It is a brief guide to living deeply, daring to do what we should, giving it a good shot, being faithful in little things, and maybe some bigger, cool stuff, too. He uses a mountain climbing and hiking metaphor throughout the book (and has a section on cliches, too -- ha) and these insights, although directed to artists or those wanting to be more creative, are useful and applicable for anybody wanting to life a more abundant, purposeful, joy-filled, honest life.  I'm not just saying this because I'm a fan, because Justin shows up at places I respect (Calvin College Festival of Faith and Music, Jubilee, Q and the like) or because he is a fine friend. I say it because it is exactly so: this little book is a must-read for creative types and artists, and it is also really nice for anyone who wants their very life to be a work in progress, perhaps as St. Paul put implied, a living canvas.


small victories.jpgSmall Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace  Anne Lamott (Riverhead) $22.95  This is a wonderful collection of this fine writer's best pieces on grief, coping with harder times, finding (spicy) grace amidst the brokenness of our screwy lives and oh-so-hurting hurting world.  Most essays are gathered from other other collections, although one or two had only appeared in magazines, and there is maybe one new one.  We so enjoyed hearing Anne at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing last spring, and had even asked to host here at the shop, thinking she might appear at a small indie bookstore. (Improbable, we knew.)  She's been out promoting this book a bit, and it deserves acclaim. It reveals her big spirit, her kind heart, her eccentric faith and her deep awareness of God and mercy and hope, and the joy of baby steps on the right road towards recovery.  The jacket is especially handsome, the heft of the book is considerable (even though a handy size, like her other recent ones) and even the ink is colored on very nice creamy paper.  This is clearly created to be a keepsake or gift book, and it is a nearly perfect design. 



Miracles.jpgMiracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life Eric Metaxas (Dutton) $27.95  I have been waiting for this amazing book, published by this old, prestigious publisher, to fly off our shelves, and although we've promoted it at BookNotes already, I wanted to remind you of it again, now. This is a hefty, handsome hardback, a solid, thoughtful gift. You know Mr. Metaxas is a zesty writer, a serious, deft, thinker, a great communicator. He graduated from Yale with honors and he worked for VeggieTales for a while (honing his wit and good humor there, no doubt.) He came to fame by writing a biography of William Wilberforce (which became the wonderful film, Amazing Grace, which has helped catapult the new abolitionist movement against trafficking and modern day slavery.) He hit his stride with the big bio, Bonhoeffer, which is doubtlessly the most popular and widely read (and widely discussed) book on the German theologian and martyr, ever.  Metaxas has edited a great collection of essays (Life, God, and Other Small Topics...), an anthology of shorter biographies (Seven Men) and some clever books on apologetics for skeptics and seekers. He's even written some lovely children's books. He is way talented, energetic, productive, and we should be glad somebody with this calibre of smarts and this level of energy is on the side of the angles.


To wit: he has been studying the claims of miracles for a while, and, like C.S. Lewis before him (you know Miracles, by the Oxford don) he wonders if, at the most basic philosophical level, things that don't match up with ordinary scientifically proven processes really do happen.  And if so, what in the world do we call them? What is the natural? The super-natural? And how do we give an account of the weirdo stuff that happens out there?  Even if we tend to be suspicious of many of the claims of the miraculous, it is hard to deny that, as a famous playwright once had a curious King say, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."


Just check out some of these rave reviews of Miracles: 


"Metaxas provides a compass for our intellect and inspires our journeys with profound miracle stories -- with his attuned humor shining throughout."   Makoto Fujimoro, artist and cultural leader                                                             


"In his inimitably entertaining way, Eric Metaxas shows us that it is okay to believe in a world in which God still speaks and shows up in the cosmos and the lives of people just like you.  By opening this book, you'll embark upon a divine conspiracy."   Gregory Thornbury, President, The King's College


"Metaxas's Miracles mixes storytelling with logic and inspiring beauty with profound mystery. It's an intoxicating combination."    Patricia Heaton, Emmy-Awarding Winning actress


"If you are a skeptic, read this book with an open mind and you might just discover that miracles are real. If you're already a believer, be ready to be inspired."    Kristen Powers, The Daily Beast

  


"As a secular reader, I come to such books with a certain resistance. Metaxas won me over instantly by meeting me where I live. His intellectual honesty, coupled with an openhearted wonder at the sheer breadth of human experience, is irresistible."    Christopher Noel, author, Impossible Visits

                                                                                                                                                                                       

                                 


when holidays hurt.jpgWhen Holidays Hurt: Finding Hidden Hope Amid Pain and Loss  Bo Stern (Nelson) $12.99  Every year we feature a book or two or three about this topic, and many respond by buying multiple copies; there is a real need for books likes this, and as we move through the longing and anticipating of Advent, it is a good time for all of us to be aware of the deepest "hopes and fears of all the years." But sometimes, rather then experiencing quiet Advent longing and anticipation of redeeming hope that gives us room to mourn and space to be honest and raw, we end up with false faces, too much cheer, movies about romance, mistletoe, joy, joy, joy, joy.  How in the world are we to cope with this cheeriness when our hearts are heavy from grief or loss? What resources are there for those who hurt?  This book is arranged as a devotional, so the reader can reflect a little bit each day -- not a bad idea! -- but it also unfolds as the author tells her story of her husband being diagnosed with ALS, the pain of his impending death, and the struggle to connect the joy of the season with the suffering within their own family.  You should be aware of this small, handsome hardback, and perhaps consider sharing it with somebody you know who needs some hope about coping the next few weeks.


my true love gave to me.jpgMy True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Days of Christmas Illustrated by Scot McKowen (Firefly) $19.95 Perhaps you just need a little stocking stuffer, a handsome book without too much serious content, a nice gift, nicely made. Or something to kick off a new tradition of keeping Christmas alive for twelve more days, towards Epiphany!  This is our favorite book with the odd lyrics, lyrics that are in fact full or religious symbolism. This is one of those nice clothbound books, rich, without a dust jacket, and great illustrations, more for adults than kids. Certainly you have a true love, no? This is really sweet.


Here is one of the spreads, showing the type on one page, and the artwork on the facing page. Nice, eh?

seven swans a-swimming pages.jpg 




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December 14, 2014

God in the Sink: Essays From Toad Hall by Margie L. Haack (Kalos Press) ON SALE - 20% OFF

God in the Sink: Essays From Toad Hall by Margie L. Haack (Kalos Press) regular price $11.99  ON SALE   20% OFF our discounted price $11.56

god in sink.jpgTwo years ago our biggest selling book was a lovely,exact place.jpg wonderfully-written, nuanced telling of a tale of girlhood in rural poverty, the memoir The Exact Place (Kalos Press; $13.95 -- our sale price, $11.16) by our friend Margie Haack.  It is a great, gentle story, enjoyable and profound, describing how her life was, and how her girlhood story unfolded amidst rural poverty and a less than ideal home life.  We still recommend it often, and hope you know it.

Margie and her husband Denis have been heroes of ours, mostly for just being thoughtful and charming and winsome and honest and for showing such support and care for us.  They are solidly evangelical in the historic faith, but with the rare gift of living it out with beauty and grace and culturally savvy, low-key but caring about things that matter.

For decades they've had a ministry which has been at least two-fold: offering hospitality in a big old house in Minnesota (although they had a pad in the 1970s in urban Albuquerque which attracted all kinds of disaffected youth, young adults asking big questions about life and faith, etcetera and etcetera) and speaking, writing, and publishing resources to help Christian folks be more open to what their good friend Steve Garber calls "common grace for the common good." 

Which is to say, they have a ministry of hospitality and they review movies and rock albums, TV shows and documentaries, and the occasional social or political trend, with incisive commentary, Biblical reflections, good journalism and very helpful discussion questions.  They long to see ordinary church folks and evangelical fellowships and campus ministries and faith leaders learn to appreciate the popular arts and learn to be discerning about the worldviews and visions, the good and the bad, coming to us from cultural creatives.  From small groups Bible studies to discussion salons to Sunday school classes, many people use their web pages and their publications.

I am not the only one to have suggested that their Ransom Fellowship (which publishes Critique journal) and their home that they nicely named Toad Hall are perhaps something like a North American version of the Swiss L'Abri (except for the real North American L'Abri's, of course, here and here.)

I suppose there are plenty of reasons this isn't exactly so, but I sometimes describe them as a postmodern or 21st century Edith and Francis Schaeffer. (And now that we have Edith Schaeffer's 1977 book A Way of Seeing back in stock, after being out of print for so many years, we think it is nice to bring them up.)

Anyway, be that as it may, we like them a lot, and they have been doing good work, serving others, thinking well, sharing ideas, doing life with others, and promoting good books and music and food and frienships.

We have long appreciated Critique and some of our best and most favorite mail-order customers are friends who Denis or Margie sent our way.  They seem to understand that our own vision and inclinations and theological orientation here are somewhat akin to their own.  We respect them for holding to orthodox faith and applying it in sometimes unorthodox ways.  We respect them for the deep legacy of abiding in the Word, and living it out in the complexities of the contemporary context.

Yes they are all about the contemporary context --  in their publications and great website, they've done insightful album reviews, have encouraged people to watch serious films, they've aided and nurtured visual artists and poets and they have mentored hundreds of people to embody genuine, risky faith, with Biblical discernment, while living in something like a Babylonian exile.  If anybody gets the "in but not of"  and "already but not yet" / creation-fall-redemption vision, it is they.  We have learned much from Denis and Margie, about the details of a coherent, gracious Christian orientation and approach to culture, but also about the real-world, day-to-day expression of real caring for real people in their very real home. The house they called Toad Hall.

And that, my friends, is the bare-minimum background I needed to tell to help you understand the absolutely fabulous, truly exceptional, sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic, always interesting newly released collection of essays and meditations offered in this anthology of Margie's monthly Notes from Toad Hall.  God in the Sink: Essays From Toad Hall has been long-awaited and eagerly anticipated by so many of her loyal fans.  If you order it from us, you'll see why.

Critique was a pioneering journal, offering incisive reviews before the likes of Relevant magazine or the Mockingbird website and remains an wonderful resource for anyone wanting to keep up with cultural trends, even hosting conversations on the latest important films or indie rock albums. Denis and Margie have done this together as a labor of love, and over the years many good writers have chimed in and contributed essays and reviews and discussion guides.
margie in light.jpg
But - perhaps like Edith Schaeffer - it has been Margie's home-making and hospitality, inventing recipes, teaching others to set tables and do dishes, ruminating on God's presence in the day by day, that has not only made Toad Hall a home and haven for many, but has allowed Ransom Fellowship to become a down-to-Earth, making-it-real, incarnational experience, grounded in a real place of grace. Want to know what beauty and goodness and holiness look like, beyond the good essays in Critique?  Join them at Toad Hall.

Or, since few of us actually have made the trek to their big old Minnesota home, we can listen in, learning about the day-to-day stuff of life, through the pen of Margie Haack. Her Notes From Toad Hall has been a report and an essay, sharing life and ruminating, and it has been one of my favorite publications.

Each month when the mail carrier brings our packet of extra copies of Critique and Notes from Toad Hall -- we love sharing them with folks who would appreciate them -- both Beth and I dive into Margie's Notes... first. Critique is important, informative and well done.  Notes from Toad Hall is powerful, moving, funny, and sometimes real as hell.

We are astonished at Ms Haack's ability to describe her life, the craziness of hosting events, the anxieties of wondering what others might think when they see the mess of her own daily life, the complex emotions when facing hard family stuff (and the complex emotions when, well, not facing hard family stuff: Margie wears her heart on her sleeve, and names what is going on, like it or not through the small and large issues of her days.)  In her Notes from Toad Hall she has offered, month by month, a brave look into their real lives, and it is both stunning to see a Christian leader with such raw candor, and wonderful to see a vulnerable, funny story develop as she narrates her life and times running a household as interesting as the Haacks.
Notes From Toad Hall began as a family newsletter, the sort of ministry update written by missionaries and those who raise their own salaries from contributors; but, as she says in the first essay compiled in God in the Sink: Essays...

It was our desire to update the friends on our mailing list in a way that was informative but not so dull you would want your time back after you read it. The challenge was how to write truthfully about the place where we all must dwell -- in whatever is our ordinary and everyday -- without over-emphasizing what our culture, Christians included, defines as success.

This paragraph captures her honest style and the intent of her Notes, and the pieces that became God in the Sink.  Don't you want to read something that promises to tell you about this kind of stuff?  Talk about a spirituality of the mundane; listen to this:

The rhythm of ordinary life is rarely that exciting or sensational. I wanted to honestly share what it meant to be a faithful follower of Jesus not so much when a hundred people praised my spinach quiche and artisan bread or a lecture on tattoos - that part was easy - it has always been much harder for me to believe God calls us to the very place where the thistles and thorns of the fallen world creep into our vocations and callings every day. It's a place where there are painful disagreements with your spouse, where a child's vomit stains the woodwork, and where the espresso machine explodes. Faithfulness is tested and strained through the mundane, often boring, offices of life where the pantry must be kept stocked and mistakes are made when filing your taxes. These things are so ordinary we hardly consider that this is where God mentors us and gives us grace and rest and meaning and life, but these were the bones that grew into a personal essay I included in every letter. This is a collection of some of those essays gathered together with the hope that others would be encouraged, as I have been, to recognize God's presence in the ordinary.

I am sure that you will enjoy these finely crafted essays, these good pieces about a life livedgod in sink.jpg with ordinariness. I am sure you'll find your own faith enhanced, your own sense of the presence of God heightened, your own willingness to laugh at yourself liberated.
These reflections are fun and good; they make for nice reading, and they make for solid spiritual nourishment.  You will enjoy them, and you will be appreciative.

I wish I could cite excerpts from each of these essays but this review would be too, too long if I started.  I want to press this into your hands, invite you to press it into the hands of others.  I suppose women who do behind the scenes family stuff may be the primary audience, but I certainly hope you don't think that it is exclusively for women or homemakers or those involved in this kind of ministry.  This book is certainly for anyone, reflections about finding God in the ordinary, the hidden art of finding the joy of living; a way of seeing, even.
But it is also about how real caring in real life mediates God's own grace and holiness, exposing our own deep need to some inner work, re-doubling our trust in God's goodness and promises, saying no to household gods and inner idols, letting go of self-importance and the attendant anxieties when we live for things other than "the audience of One."

In many of these gracious essays, the writer shares her own heart, inviting us (without sanctimony or cliché) to repentance and sanctification.
jesus - god in the sink bobblehead.jpg
The first essay, by the way, tells of Margie doing dishes with a three-year old granddaughter.  The child wants to wash the bobble head Jesus figurine, perched ironically on her counter.  Her snarky side is on display a bit more vibrantly in other essays, but you get a glimpse of this here:

I wondered how to explain irony to her. How to say it had an obscure, but special meaning to me. I've often thought, I should put it away because people must look at it all the time and wonder if I'm a heretic of some kind, worshiping saints or idols or something equally suspicious. This is my explanation. He was a gift from a friend, Jeremy Huggins. Together we appreciate the humor and irony in Christian paraphernalia that is marketed in certain stores. Things like Frisbees that say "Flying high for Jesus." Or night-lights with the inscription: "Jesus is the light of the world."
 
So there Jesus sits bobbling on the edge of my sink as a reminder to laugh at ourselves for the absurd ways in which we represent Christian faith to the world, and to try to push against the trivialization of such great a thing as the gospel. I mean no disrespect to a God I love. I think he knows that.
 
When it took too long to think of a simple answer to this dear child, she moved on to the next question.
 
"Can I give God a bath? He wants a bath." I gently said no. He will get all rusty inside and not bobble anymore, and I quickly moved to pack him in a box, ready for my next kitchen. Yes, my next kitchen. The words were both exhilarating and terrifying.
And, yes, this is a big reveal: the Haack's have left Toad Hall and their new location has generated a new name, and her beloved newsletters have a new name.

In another essay she shares about the new phase of their life, and their transition to a new place.  It is moving stuff, relevant for many, I'm sure,

So, this is, perhaps, the winter of our lives. Or at least late fall. There is still lots to be done. I'd like to keep going with Notes From Toad Hall. Denis wants to keep writing Critique. I'd like to keep on letting you know how this aging bit goes. Is it possible to serve God well with failing body parts, Social Security and Medicare? We plan to lean into this and listen and learn new ways of being faithful in the midst of our ordinary. We'd like to be signposts of encouragement to others. We are going to avoid the advertisements of our culture that insist "You can do ANYthing you want no matter how OLD you are." Bah. Denis jokes that we're not quite ready for assisted care, but with a play on words, says, "perhaps we will name our next home "The Out House," referring to the last place we will own somewhere out there on the prairie on our way out of life. And, Bonus! he suggests I write "Sheets from the Outhouse." Maybe.
margie.jpg
This collection of pieces written over a decade or so hangs together and chronicle their life and ministry in Minnesota.  It is not a memoir, so it is not quite a sequel to her beloved The Exact Place biography.  But in a way, it nearly is: these essays emerge from the exact place she has been these years, literally and metaphorically.

There is much honest wisdom here.  For instance, she occasionally writes about her own lack of energy, spiritual dryness and such.  As she pokes at the typical modern middle-class habit of shopping as an antidote to depression, she writes,

What I'm experiencing is spiritual dryness, and my first instinct is to do exactly what Tim Keller describes in a sermon on Psalm 42. He says that when something goes wrong for American Christians, they look for someone or some thing to pin it on. We tend to be very moralistic and think that surely, spiritual dryness is the result of un-confessed sin in our life. We haven't pushed the right button, we've neglected our Christian "to-do list." What we need to grasp, he says, is that dryness is going to happen no matter where, who, or how old you are as a Christian. It isn't necessarily because you've done something wrong, or haven't had faith, or neglected to read through the Bible in a year. It's because you're human and we live in a fractured, fallen world.
 
Keller examines Psalm 42 which examines the nature of our disorder. The Psalmist asks "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so disturbed?" The question is not rhetorical; it isn't at all cynical, or sarcastic. It is actually asking us for self-examination. So the Psalmist searches for hopes.

Her insights about her own life, and how God in mercy deals with us, are always good, and usually refreshing in their honesty.  In an essay entitled "Calm Down" she is reflecting on her own strengths as one who is good at intuition.  And yet, she gets herself involved in a battle with Sudoku.  Can you see it?

After supper on Wednesday I began my third Sudoku with a jaunty confidence. Two and a half hours later Denis begged me to please come to bed. I did, but I took it with me and worked on it for another hour without adding a single number. Only then did I notice five stars at the bottom of the puzzle with three of them shaded. A crack of light entered my darkened mind: Oh. This indicates difficulty factor. The one in my hand was a 3-star. The previous night's (with solution) was printed at the bottom; it had only been a 2-star. With logic gaining momentum despite intuition, it occurred to me that as the week goes by the puzzles increase in difficulty sort of like the NYT Crosswords so that by the time you get to the weekend they're so punishing you want to pay your own way to New York, find the editor, and force him to eat iceberg lettuce and Velveeta cheese until he can give you an eight-letter-word for "rugged outdoor clothing." Carhartts! Idiot! As anyone north of Minneapolis would know. And I don't want to hear, my friend, how you can do it in 10 minutes while blogging, writing a movie review, and flirting with the barista. By then I was crushed, in addition to feeling slightly crazy. But I rallied and told myself, "You've always despised logic, so why in the name of all your precious hormones don't you just intuit the solution? A few numbers should not defeat you."
 
Have you ever considered, even for one second, praying that God would help you finish a puzzle? Well. Okay. Maybe you haven't. But what about scoring a three-pointer from mid-court, or beating a red light? Or shooting a trophy buck? You know it's the same thing.
 
At 11:30 p.m. Denis raised an eyebrow at me and turned out the light on his side. I held the paper out for us to observe -- it was covered with hundreds and hundreds of teeny, tiny numbers written in patterns, grids, and graphs. Suddenly, it was so scary because there it was: A Beautiful Mind! Remember that scene from the movie when the door of John Forbes Nash's office opens and on every wall, floor to ceiling, are little papers with hand-written numbers, formulas and codes, and you suddenly understood how ill he is, even though he is a genius? This was my mind on paper and it was not well. I shrieked, threw the paper and pen across the room, and turned off the light.
 
She moves from there to some painful needs in her life and in her family. They've got financial concerns, health concerns, a leaky roof, ruined books. She feels convicted by the lack of joy in her life.  She takes up some Psalms as she often does, and then recalls Sufjan Stevens' version of Come Thou Fount.  "He completely redeems, what for me was an - I'm sorry - annoying old hymn." With banjo and simple vocals, so quiet, so profound, he sings Come Thou Fount."
 
"I didn't mean to cry," she writes, "to be taken by joy with a hymn I knew so well and formerly resented from my childhood. Every verse came back unbidden."
 
And so it goes in God in the Sink, Essays... From retelling scenes from Julie & Julia to citations from the Book of Common Prayer to honest reporting of arguments with her beloved husband, and plenty about her adult children and her grandchildren, she crafts honest, interesting ruminations.  There is sadness and snark and joy. There are remedies for poison ivy, a recipe or two, and a bit about Stephen Hawking, written in the summer of 2005, right after a beautiful chapter on "Cool Cotton Sheets." These are great pieces, on all kinds of things, and I loved reading them all.
 
There are books described, song lyrics, natural history and nature writing, and lots of Bible and some stuff about their own sense of calling, their community, their travels.  It is a collection of reflections that work on many levels, writings that should appeal to anyone who enjoys the art of the essay.  And it is a glimpse into the life and times of Margie Haack, formerly of a house called Toad Hall.  God in the Sink: Essays From Toad Hall is a testament of her life in those years, and we all should be very, very grateful that such places exist, and that such books tell the tale.  Thanks be to God.

For what it is worth, we can send these right out, and we do complimentary gift wrapping, too.  We have these at a BookNotes special price, and think they would make a lovely holiday gift.

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December 16, 2014

THIS JUST IN: DVD on C.S. Lewis, narrated by Os Guinness "C.S. Lewis: Reluctant Disciple: Faith, Reason, and the Power of the Gospel" - ON SALE NOW

Wow, what good news.  We just got into the shop a brand new DVD on C.S. Lewis, narrated by Os Guinness!
 
C.S. Lewis: Reluctant Disciple: Faith, Reason, and the Power of the Gospe
(Discovery House) regular price, $19.99. Hearts & Minds BookNotes sale price - $17.99.

We have been waiting for this, and have been eager to tell you about it, and was tickled that it arrivedCS Lewis Reluctant Disciple DVD.jpg just yesterday. We were up quite late last night, watching this lovely set of eight lessons, listening to the charming accents, viewing breath-taking scenes of Donegal, Ulster, the Northern coast of Ireland, and of course, the Kilns and the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge.  I don't know what was more visually stunning, the bright green scenes of the lawns and gardens, or the glorious architecture of those hallowed academic halls, the churches and even the pubs. 

The production of C.S. Lewis: Reluctant Disciple is top class, not edgy or wild or unusually creative, but gentle, beautiful, very nice, with a lovely and effective orchestral score.  Filmed on location in Ireland and England, there are remarkable archival shots, old black and white photographs, of Lewis's early years, and up to his death in November 1963.  The production has -- for lack of a better way to explain it -- a PBS/Ken Burns sort of style. There are lots of interviews with lots of people, and the camera moves from these handsomely set interviews to old black and white pictures, close-up shots of letters and notesDVD.jpg and family documents, to contemporary scenes of the lively locations at Oxford or Cambridge or the countryside Kilns where he and his brother Warnie lived.

Time does not permit me to explain all the wonderful people who are shown here, the scenes shot, or the insider information that is shared, but I'll make three quick observations.

First, it is just wonderful to hear people who knew Lewis personally, to have these candid andirish landscape.jpgIreland.jpg first hand interviews, some which were quite enlightening, some which were a bit light-hearted, and a few which brought tears. I wasn't expecting these first-hand accounts, and was a bit surprised at how touched I was by this. Jack's longing to enter the other country near the end of his life, and hearing testimony of people that were with him in his last days was deeply affecting to Beth and I.

We think you will enjoy this, be moved by it, and be very, very glad for this wondrous opportunity to be in the company of those who knew this great man.

Secondly, you should know that it is not particularly academic; it is not so much a work aboutlewis face.jpg apologetics as the subtitle of the DVD curriculum might lead you to believe. It bears witness to the life of this great man, a thinker, writer, professor of note, and that is enough. There does come with it a very thorough study guide, with discussion resources, reflection questions and Scripture verses, and it is clearly arranged (in eight lessons) for group exploration.  The Leader's Guide is well made and useful, but the sessions can be viewed almost back to back, like a series from PBS.  

This production really is a delight, so informative, even though I'd say it offers less "teaching" about his views, then about his life.  There are several sessions on his early years, the war years, his early disappointing efforts at poetry and the like.  The bits on Narnia are brief, there is littleoxford-university.jpg dissection of Mere Christianity (although the backstory of the BBC inviting him to lecture live, and his voice becoming the second most famous voice in all of England, only surpassed by Winston Churchill, is great.) They interview a friend who told of how he wrote the whole first Screwtape letter in his head during a communion service (and show the church) and they show the pew in which he sat for morning prayer each day at Oxford. The interviews with a US friend of Joy Davidman was delightful, and a few of Lewis's old friends who told of how he handled his grief when she died -- on the page, in his writing, not in his public life -- is all here. (Oh how he loved to write. "Ink," he declared, "can solve anything.")

lewis with signature.jpg
CS Lewis Reluctant Disciple DVD.jpgThis DVD curriculum is, again, less a direct teaching tool about faith and reason and the like, or a study of his theories and theology, but truly a documentary glimpse into the life of C.S. Lewis.  It is dignified and classy and warm, and perhaps could be described as dignified, sharp but pleasant in a way that befits this Oxford don, who was known as quite a fine chap and a very decent human being.

Thirdly. I daren't exploit this, but it is true: Os Guinness is so very articulate and gifted as an orator, that even if he is reading from a script, as seems evident, it is simply marvelous, a perfect narrator for this project. To hear Os narrate this story of his hero from Belfast, a don at Oxford (where Os once studied, after Lewis had died) and to hear his own charming cadences and accents, well, it was just wonderful. os guinness.jpgWhat a great pairing of a contemporary voice and this glorious subject. To hear Dr. Guinness reading lines from The Weight of Glory or A Grief Observed or a great passage from Screwtape Letters --  it is worth the price of admission, just for that. 


Here is what it says on the back of the DVD. 

Escaping to a place of imagination and mythology during his time away in English boarding schools, young C.S. Lewis convinced himself that God did not exist. And despite his Christian upbringing, he moved further and further from the truth, ceasing to be a Christian in every aspect of the word. But from the trenches of World War I to his time at Oxford University, he began to seek the Lord until God's indescribably joy finally found him.

C.S. Lewis: Reluctant Disciple gives you a deeper look into the life of one of the twentieth century's most influential writers as it chronicles his journey from disillusioned atheist to fearless defender of the faith.

We have been waiting for a good video study of Lewis and when we heard of the many friends and former colleagues or students of Lewis and the many Lewis scholars that were involved -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- we were very enthused.  Having watched it all, we can say that it is very well done, a true delight and more, a testimony of a life well lived, of a good man, of a writer, scholar, teacher, and mere Christian, saved by grace and living in to his own calling as an lucid apologist, good teacher, argumentative but charming conversationalist, and loyal friend.

You will enjoy this DVD, and I suspect you know someone who will be made exceedingly glad to receive it as a gift.  We can, of course, ship it out right away, even gift wrapping for free if you'd like.

There are eight sessions, and most are between 10 - 15 minutes in length. The exceptionally well done Leaders Guide is included in the case. This is to be sold for $19.99 but with our discounted savings for BookNotes readers, we have it for just $17.99.



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December 20, 2014

A BONA FIDE PUBLISHING EVENT: A SIX-VOLUME SET OF THE WRITINGS OF CALVIN G. SEERVELD -- ALL ON SALE, 20% OFF

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A PUBLISHING EVENT

A publishing event. 

It is a phrase I've used a few times but, for obvious reasons it must be employed only sparingly.  Most often it is reserved for the release of, say, a previously unpublished work by a classic author. (Speaking of which, a new edition of Roald Dahl's classic YA book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been released with a recently discovered, long-missing chapter. Now that's a publishing event for you!)

Sometimes the phrase may indicate the significance of a new volume, perhaps a second novel of a highly acclaimed, exceptionally gifted writer, or maybe a new Bible translation destined to become widely esteemed and used (like, say, the release of the ESV in 2001.)  Occasionally it may refer to a major new scholarly contribution that promises to change paradigms, rocking the worlds of science or medicine.  If the blockbuster sales promise to be large enough - think Harry Potter or The Hunger Games - some refer to the release date as a publishing event.  

The phrase is sometimes used too quickly, I think, cheapening it.

That said, I can't think of any other way to describe what I felt and how I came to think about the announcement of a 6-volume set of writings by the important Christian philosopher, aesthetician, art historian, Bible scholar, hymn writer, cultural critic, Dr. Calvin Seerveld. I know, I know, Seerveld is only known in a very small circle, a niche sub-culture, within theseerveld.jpg small Christian subculture, and his writing is sometimes exceptionally dense and often eccentric.  Seerveld's field, the field of the Lord in which he plays, is aesthetics, and his life-long project of developing a coherently, consistently Christian aesthetic theory, embedded in and emerging from a deeply Biblical world and life view, is seen by some to be esoteric. His artfully serious writings may seem obscure, even: digging deep into the philosophical assumptions embedded in and flowing out of a Rococo art piece, waxing eloquent with passionate insights about an off-off Broadway theater performance, detailing the good and bad, wise and deadly, of a scholar's textbook, detailing the religiously-shaped ethics informed by particular art theories of a century ago.  

On one hand, Seerveld is a specialist in a specific field, and he has paid close attention to details, and it may be that this matters most to those within the scholarly arenas of art criticism, museum curating, or academic discourse.

On the other hand, who among us can't see the implications of art's impact on cultural trends, and how "ideas grow legs" and ripple down through the ages with consequences in our day to day days, especially when those ideas are carried into a mass market through electronic mediums like movies,TV and itunes? Dr. Seerveld's specialized theorizing, as we shall see, even when arcane, ends up being - as they say about Holy Communion - "a gift of God for the people of God." We should say, in response to Seerveld's work, "thanks be to God."

seerveld at gallery in shirt.jpgCalvin Seerveld is a hero to many of us, modeling as he has, a commitment to serious, world-class, inter-disciplinary scholarship, one whose remarkably detailed, arcane professional work usually ends up sounding very, very important. Even if one doesn't know much about art history, say, or the discussions about public art in Canadian cities, or the perspectives and practices emerging from recent study about play and recreation, reading Seerveld makes one realize how it does matter. Like a truly good teacher, he helps us "get it."  Without jumping to simplistic or moralistic "practical applications" his perspective comes through his robust, scholarly essays, papers, talks, or sermons, and get into one's bones in transforming, sometimes Earth-shattering ways. His insights, both the big, broad conclusions and the smaller allusions offered in detailed lines are -- to use a phrase I swear I first heard from Cal, probably at a Jubilee conference in the mid 70s -- "pregnant with meaning."

And so, dear readers, friends of Hearts & Minds, join me as I make the case that the release of this extraordinary collection of occasional pieces - major addresses, keynote talks, academic papers (a few published in chapters of hard-to-find books published in Africa or Amsterdam) and many popular-level articles published in magazines, not to mention a few sermons and hymns and Bible studies and lovely meditations - ought to be consider a bona fide publishing event.  From the largest literary stars rocking the best-seller lists to brilliant work coming from cryptic indie-publishers, from important new scholarship in the mainstream academic guilds to the large renaissance of important Christian scholarship available from publishers like Eerdmans, Baker Academic or IVP Academic, I can say that there is simply nothing that has been published in recent years that is as ambitious, as fascinating, and - dare I say it? - as important, as this collected works project of Dr. Calvin G. Seerveld, son of a Long Island fishmonger. 

BEARING FRESH OLIVE LEAVES                                                                                                      (OR: "COMMON GRACE FOR THE COMMON GOOD")

Steve Garber's nice phrase from the subtitle of his Visions of Vocation, "common grace for the common good," captures something of the tone of Seerveld's work. (Garber esteems Cal Seerveld greatly, by the way, and Seerveld was an early influence on him, along with their mutual friend, the Dutchman Hans Rookmaaker.) Seerveld brings profound insight to the watching world. Which is to say that although he is one of the most overtly Christian scholars I know (Scriptural references pepper his talks, Biblical stories and  theological allusions show up in the most fascinating ways) his work is read by scholars who do not seem otherwise interested in Christian convictions. His work has won prestigious scholarly awards and some of his presentations were first delivered in very public forums. One volume of these six (Cultural Problems in Western Society) includes, in fact, six serious presentations given in Europe at a series of annual conferences paid for by the Dutch government, bringing together policy advocates and civic activists, artists, labor union leaders, and cultural workers, who were tasked to think together deeply about the changing culture in Europe, especially given the rise in immigration and the increase in tensions arising in an increasingly secularized and multi-ethnic society. 

I reviewed that one briefly for the Citizens for Public Justice newsletter, Capitol Commentary, reminding that particular audience that Seerveld is useful for those committed to nurturing principled convictions about  citizenship for the common good. Seerveld is perhaps anBearing-Fresh-Olive-leaves2-188x300.jpg example of what we sometimes call a public intellectual. Common grace for the common good, indeed.

(Seerveld has a previous and quite brilliant book of essays about the arts, including some wonderful talks he gave at the famous Greenbelt Festival in England, entitled, with Noahic overtones, Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves. Yes, that's it -- we bring gifts of promise, pointing others towards God's gift of shalom a-coming. Again, this is language of the common good; love of neighbor seems to be palpable in even his art theories, educational proposals or civic studies.)

It is fair to say, though, that Seerveld is mostly known in certain Christian circles - he is Dutch Reformed, a neo-Calvinist standing in the Kuyperian legacy who studied with Barth and other heady continental theologians, a son of a New York fish seller who has served as gritty cheerleader and very vocal supporter of the struggles of the rough and tumble Christian Labour Association of Canada, a founding professor of the embattled Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, the first Christian institution in North America to offer PhD degrees (in subjects other than Bible or theology) in an knowingly, intentionally Christian program. His work at ICS helped them earn their world-wide reputation, even though the hugely significant Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters, a good friend and former colleague of Seerveld's there, is now better known. (It was Seerveld, by the way, who coined that phrase "reformational" to distinguish the neo-Calvinism of Kuyper, Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven and the movement of scholars from Amsterdam and Toronto's ICS from the more conventional Reformed theology known in the States.)  

Cal's friend Nicholas Woltersdorff, who left Calvin College to take up a position at Notre Dame and then Yale, and eventually the equally prestigious UVA, is a similar scholar who is also widely read; his books are on Cambridge University Press, and other renowned scholarly presses, and his Eerdmans Art in Action is considered a watershed book on Christian writing about aesthetics. I mention him for those who may know his serious work in aesthetics and political philosophy, but who oddly may not have read Seerveld; they are good friends and working in somewhat similar terrain. (And both will be on a panel at the upcoming CIVA conference in June of 2015.) Seerveld seems more evangelically passionate, his wildly colorful style allowing his seriously informed academic ruminations to feel on the page like revival fire. Perhaps this is why he did not, like Nick, end up respected in the Ivy League; Seerveld is perhaps too rambunctious and less willing to obscure his own deepest orientation. At any rate, perhaps knowing the long-standing friendship between Nick and Cal will help you place Seerveld in the larger landscape of what we sometimes call integrated Christian scholarship.  Rainbows.gif

Seerveld's Rainbows for the Fallen World (published by his own Toronto Tuppence Press) is a study done in evocative, passionate, eccentric prose, part sermon, part philosophy, part chat with older Dutch Uncle, part exhortation from what sounds like a not so minor prophet, and is perhaps his most well-known work. It is cited by many of our smartest evangelical artists and cultural creatives -- Mako Fujimura, Andy Crouch, Charlie Peacock, Michael Card, the late Mark Heard, the publisher Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books, guys in Jars of Clay, William D. Romanowski, not to mention leaders at organizations like CIVA, IAM, the XD team of the CCO, and Fuller's Brehm Center for the Arts. We are proud to sell it, and have sent it around the world.

Justice advocate and former leadership mentor at the Max DePree Center for Leadership Gideon Strauss writes of Seerveld:

I cannot adequately express my own gratitude for Calvin Seerveld's lifetime of faithful study, writing, and speaking. I first bought a copy of Seerveld's Rainbows for the Fallen World in the mid-1980s, from a colporteur selling them out of a room in the back of his house in apartheid South Africa, and I have since read three copies of Rainbows threadbare and to the point of falling apart. No other pages outside of the Scriptures themselves have more decisively and thoroughly shaped my understanding of God, the world, and myself than the introduction and first chapters of Rainbows. 

While in graduate school I read an essay included in Part Two of this volume [Cultural Education and History Writing], "Footprints in the Snow," that shaped my understanding of culture, history and history-writing in a perduing manner. I can say without any doubt that Rainbows and "Footprints in the Snow" are the most important things I have ever read, outside of the Bible itself.

Each of these good volumes, with uniform covers, collects dozens of Seerveld pieces, most never seen in a book before, many published since his retirement from ICS in the 1990s.  A few of the chapters are articles published or sermons delivered as far back as the 1960s and those, too, are almost all as timely as the most recent.  The subtitle of each is "Sundry Writings and Occasional Lectures."

This remarkable six-volume anthology of his many sundry pieces not only brings these rare works to readers who have long wanted such a collection - some of these pieces have been photo-copied and passed around like Russian samizdat -- and some are real surprises (to all but the most devout fans.) To see so many Seerveld writings that we haven't actually seen before (or haven't even heard of!) is a gift of the finest order. Yes, I'm sayin' it, right here, right now: the simultaneous release of this handsome set is a bone fide publishing event!

Nicely, this set collects the writings less by genre (each book contains short articles and longer papers, spoken small informal talks and major keynote presentations, academic pieces and devotional meditations) but by theme.

Here are the names of the six volumes, in no particular order.

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CULTURAL HISTORY AND EDUCATION WRITING //                                                    CULTURAL PROBLEMS IN WESTERN SOCIETY

Perhaps some readers who know of Seerveld's work as art critic and advocate for a reformational aesthetics, or as a Bible scholar who speaks at worship conferences, especially on the use of the Psalms in liturgy,  may wonder what these last two volumes are about. It isn't easy to ever say what any of Cal's books are "about" as they are so colorfully written, always so deeply Biblical, informed by his serious study of theology and philosophy, and his concern for the ordinary people of God, that all are always about many things at once. These two collections, though, are a great example of his interdisciplinary interests (and expertise.) 

As I mentioned above, I briefly told about the two of them earlier in the year for a review column that I do called "Politics and Prose" for Capitol Commentary, published by the Christian political think-tank, the Center for Public Justice.

I exclaimed there that those seeking more profound thinking about contemporary socio-political problems would be wise to study with Seerveld as he brings his brilliant, prophetic imagination to bear on some of large issues of the age. As I note there, some of these talks were delivered at an annual conference in Europe, in part funded by the Dutch government, bringing together artists and cultural creative alongside educators, civic leaders, politicos and union leaders.  It is almost unheard of in North America to see this kind of robust conversation among public leaders and faith leaders that is intellectually meaty and multi-dimensional.

Artist or activist, these essays are worth your consideration, and would bring a refreshingly rare vision and tone and direction to your work. 

That review of these two is short, and you could quickly read it here -- but do come back here, please! 

A few chapters in Cultural Education & History Writing deserve special mention, as theycultural_problems.jpgcultural education.jpg are important to at least a few of our BookNotes readers. There is reprinted an important speech offered at the founding of a Christian college in Korea. It is amazing --  "Why Should a University Exist?" If you are in higher education, this is well worth pondering.

And, importantly included here is Seerveld's passionate, important, wise contribution to a complex conference a few years back called "Beyond Worldview" which tried to argue through the usefulness, or harmfulness, of using the word "worldview." Many of those pieces were published in a vastly under-rated, important book After Worldview edited by Matt Bonzo and Michael Stevens.

Cal's piece here from that event is called "The Damages of a Christian Worldview" and is lovingly dedicated to one of my own influences, the Western Pennsylvania reformational philosopher and preacher, Peter J. Steen (1936 - 1984.) It is a good piece; it makes me happy that Seerveld loved Pete, and gave him this small honor.

Pete Steen would want you to read "Jubilee on the Job" a prophetic, astute, and powerful keynote offered at the 50th anniversary of the Christian Labour Association of Canada. It isn't the only piece in here on the dignity and hardships of work. I'm so glad that one is in here. Anyone reading about faith and the marketplace, Christian views of work and vocation must read a few of these good papers.

And it may be a bit "insider baseball" for some, but his short piece from The Banner called "Thinking Deeply About Our Faith" honors some of his own influences. He talks about meeting a famous Dutch pastor who was a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp and a bookseller, and the colorful H. Evan Runner, and their passionate arguments as they discussed Trinity Christian College (where Seerveld first taught) and the founding of ICS in Toronto. There were conversations between folks at Calvin and Regent in BC and Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (and, even, the CCO in Pittsburgh.) It is a nice, quick summary of some history that I've watched develop from afar.

Most of these pieces are brilliant, and substantive. I cannot recommend them enough for the educated Christian thinker who reads widely.

NORMATIVE AESTHETICSnormative aesthetics.jpg

You may think that a book about Normative Aesthetics is a bit arcane, and I suppose it is.  However, if you live in God's world, you have know you experience the aesthetic dimension of life - God has given us "rainbows for the fallen world" after all.  You attend to color, you listen to music, you choose clothing, you set your table for meals, you trim your trees, make a snowman;  you do or don't use banners and/or paraments at church, you send greeting cards not just by what they say, or choose fonts in blogs or use irony in your facebook profile. Maybe you like soccer, wax your car, pay somebody to style your hair, use certain affectations in your speech.  Maybe you hang a painting in your home, maybe you have a favorite ceramic mug, maybe you tell a good joke. Perhaps you read novels, watch films, go to rock (or country or jazz or polka) shows, enjoy architecture, binge on TV shows, for better or worse. Maybe you judge a book by its cover.

Knowing a bit about this side of life, knowing a bit about the philosophy that underlies and shapes and informs appropriate thinking about aesthetics is certainly a must for artists, critics, or aficionados of the arts.  (You do think there is good and bad art, don't you? Also fashion or play or cooking? Of course -- there are norms, perhaps what the Bible sometimes calls creational ordinances, which are more than principles, much more than "values" and really not at all what we say when we talk about our subjective tastes.  Wow, come to think of it, we could all use a book or two with the word "normative" in the title -- who doesn't want to live life in sync with what is true and good and right? 

You could give this to anyone who has already read a few books on culture-making or the arts and who needs a deeper underpinning, who wants to go a bit further in to the quest for Christian consideration, Christian thinking, Christian practice in the arts. Or give it to anyone who is smart enough to want to read seriously about this particular field.  

Yes, there are chapter titles here like "Dooyeweeerd's Legacy for Aesthetics: Modal Law Theory" which expands that nearly mystifying chapter at the heart of Rainbows for the Fallen World. His "A Turnabout in Aesthetics to Understanding" was his much-discussed inaugural lecture from the early 70s when he took up his chair at Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies; I still have a few copies of it when it was sold as a small booklet!  Lambert Zuidervaart's wonderful, thick, helpful introduction to this volume is itself worth studying; it is called "(Un) Timely Voyage: Calvin Seerveld's Normative Aesthetics."  It is meaty, intelligent, perspicacious, if you will.

But many of these chapters are fun for anyone, not just philosophers of aesthetics. I loved the one called "Joy, Style, and Aesthetic Imperatives, with the Biblical Meaning of Clothes and Games in the Christian Life." His little piece "Ordinary Aesthetic Life: Humor, Tastes, and "Taking a Break" is wonderful and wise -- who else writes stuff like this? I don't know how many times I have read, over the years, his stunning "Christian Aesthetic Bread for the World." "Both More and Less a Matter of Taste" is a bit heady, buy must-reading, I think, for anyone who wants to be faithful in our conversation about culture and social renewal in these days. His "Relation of the Arts to the Presentation of Truth" is passionate, serious, and very important. 

What great blurbs grace the back, too. 

James K.A. Smith notes not only how influenced he has been by Seerveld and how he has "drilled wells that Christians will drink from for years to come" but that it this release is perfectly timed: 

Just as Christians in theology and the arts are becoming interested in the imagination, they can discover anew the philosophical wisdom of Seerveld's normative aesthetics.

Nicholas Woltersdorf has a very gracious and helpful endorsement. So does Richard Mouw, who calls his work "ground-breaking" and reports that he "practices what he preaches.  These fine essays both stimulate our imagination and offer us a gift of joy."  

This book is a true, joyous gift, a publishing event in itself, and I'm eager to have Hearts & Minds friends know of it.  Will people buy a book on aesthetics (normative or otherwise?)  We shall see. I suspect it won't be a big seller at LifeWay or Barnes & Noble, but we do hope to sell a few, for God's sake.

BIBLICAL LIVING & WISDOM FOR LIVINGbiblical studies & wisdom seerveld.jpg

The volume in the set that may be most appealing to most BookNotes readers is the extraordinary (words fail me) writing and insight in Biblical Studies & Wisdom for Living.  In this 425-page, thick volume - a volume that, again, is stunning in its breadth and erudite contribution - we have a wide array of his Biblical work. 

Eugene Peterson, you might want to know, is a fan.

Of this new volume, he writes,

For those of us who have been led and directed by Calvin Seerveld's books to develop artistic imagination as we read Scripture, receiving the narrative whole and integrated, this gathering of his occasional writings is sheer bonus. No one in my experience is more prescient in his alertness to the intertexuality of the entire Biblical canon. Under his influence I find myself listening to God's voice in the Scriptures, not just reading God's words.

Read that again, my friends. 

Some of you may esteem the well-respected work of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, headed up by the remarkably ecumenical, surefire, John Witvliet, who grew up, I gather, with a steady diet of Seerveld.  

Witvliet says of Biblical Studies & Wisdom for Living, 

Vintage Seerveld -- gutsy, wise, vivid, provocative, sanctifying... While several pieces directly address audiences and questions of particular significance to Reformed Christians, the patterns of thought reflected here will be inspiring and challenging to serious Christian believers in any tradition.

I sometimes call Cornelius Plantinga, a research fellow at said Calvin Institute, the patron saint of booksellers, not only for his many eloquent, broad-minded books about learning for God's sake (like the lovely and valuable Engaging God's World) but for his book about books and reading, Reading for Preaching. Plantinga says of this particular Seerveld volume in the new set,

This collection of Calvin Seerveld's writings is a sheer gift. Highly intelligent, wide ranging, deeply revealing of the light of God, these lively pieces inform, delight, move the heart. They are at once provocative and reassuring, and they are, above all, wise.

Here are a few of the chapter titles of this one: 

"Hearing God's Narrative About 'the way' of Shalom" 

"Reading and Hearing the Psalms: The Gut of the Bible"

"Pain is a Four Letter Word: A Congregational Lament."  

One long chapter is called "Five Psalms: For the American Guild of Organists" and in it he explores three Psalms. The bit on Psalm 19 he titled "Celebrating the good news of God's creational ordinances and creatural glossolalia" and it is excellent; Psalm 30 is "A song written for a consecration service of the house of God" and one that "never gets old" is Psalm 96. The next two "psalms" in this chapter include poetic pieces from Isaiah and Revelation 18 ("Hip Hop millennial culture and Hallelujah!")

I'm telling you, this is stuff that combines Hebrew scholarship, the history of exegesis, robust Reformed theology, worldviewish hope, brought out in creative, contemporary dunamis. It's a pocketful of kyrptonite.

Other chapters in this volume bring greater detail: one chapter is on Proverbs 10 which he called "From Poetic Paragraphs to Preaching" and then there is a classic study of Proverbs 31 (which is entitled "Celebrate the Resourceful Woman.") Excellent, fresh, insightful.  

A few chapters are rather academic. For instance, one of Seerveld's famous works is his script for a dramatization of Song of Songs called The Greatest Song. (We carry that rare, lovely book as well, by the way, with its  evocative script, its handsome woodcuts, its Biblical heft and eroticism.) In one chapter with rich implications for any of us who read the Bible in fresh ways, he studies a literary critic named Herder who wrote and preached and translated in the mid-1700s, and anticipated contemporary conversations about hermeneutics raised by the likes of Gadamer, centuries later. This heady and fascinating bit of historical theology and aesthetics is called "Herder's Revolutionary Hermeneutic and Aesthetic Theory: The Import of Herder's Hermeneutics for Text Performance of The Greatest Song."  Okay, so it may not be for everybody.

A few of these pieces, though, are sermons, tough and tender and worth repeated readings. Peterson and the others are right, this is prescient and alert and leads us to God's own voice!  Try on "The Gift and Distraction of Pleasure" or "Longing to Lament: A Conversations Between Michael Card and Calvin Seerveld" (clear, honest, helpful!) or "We are Not Pilgrims: We are called to build tent cities in God's world."  Amazing.

He has meditations here on marriage such as "The Tender, Tough Mystery of (Married) Love" and on friendship ("The Rare Gift of a Friend") and remarkable pieces like "Ways-of-life and becoming elderly wise" and "Bastards or Sons of God?"  I almost think that if some of us immersed ourselves in this kind of radical, integral Biblical reflection until it gets into our bones, we might be more healed and whole, less afraid and anxious, more bold and glad and good.  

Some of the chapters in Biblical Studies and Wisdom were messages given on occasions such as college graduations or at associations of Christians schools or other denominational institutions.  No matter your own denomination, you should read his "Modest Proposal for Reforming the Christian Reformed Church in North America" which will blow you away.  His "Graduating to Glocal Martyrdom" is wondrously heavy - who says this kind of stuff at a commencement talk? He's pretty tough, too, in another piece about higher education, although its rumination on 2 Corinthians 2: 14 - 3:6 would be powerfully applied to your church or fellowship group as well -- it is called "The Smell of Your School: A Letter of Reference?" Wow.

Seerveld shows his cross-cultural humility (and savvy) in his fabulously interesting study of Say Amen, Somebody! the 1983 documentary about black gospel music and Thomas Dorsey. His first line in this great chapter is, "Say Amen, Somebody! should be seen by every sourpuss in the church." As he narrates his own experiences in black churches, his study of gospel music, we learn so much. There is one great episode of going to black churches with his friend, the Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker in the early 60's; included is a great grainy picture of Rookmaaker and Mahalia Jackson from 1961. Oh my, this is precious stuff, and I hope you realize it.

I could say more about this large volume, as there is so much more.  Allow me to name one more chapter. 

One of Seerveld's most popular and often-re-printed short pieces is included here. "How to Read the Bible as a Grown Up Child" gives a broad, serious, clever, passionate reminder of how to approach the story of God revealed in the Scriptures. It is wonderful, just wonderful.  

Seerveld has a short, meaty book called How To Read the Bible To Hear God Speak: A Study in Numbers (an earlier version old fans of his know as Balaam's Apocalyptic Prophecies: A Study in Reading Scripture) which  compares four different hermeneutical methods (from fundamentalist literalism to hyper-Reformed dogmatism to liberal higher criticism to postmodern engagement) naming the strengths and sometimes deadly weaknesses of each camp's approach.  He mostly shows a better, redemptive way, as he guides us how to read the Bible by preaching it so well, and by using it in such a fruitful, lively way in all his scholarship. 

But this little piece that is in the Biblical Studies & Wisdom volume - about being a "grown up child" -- is delightful and good, and captures this vision, explored in his bigger book on reading the Bible, and his devotionals, such as Take Hold of God and Pull. Is it an overstatement to say you should buy this book so you have easy access to this one "How to Read the Bible Like a Grown-Up Child" essay?  Perhaps. But I could say that about half of amazing pieces here: it is well worth owning this book so you can draw on these pieces for the rest of your life.

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Well. This is where it gets serious, friends, and this is where Seerveld perhaps shines in his own field, beyond what I can adequately express. I know some of you will love this book, and some of you should give it to somebody you know.

Seerveld has been honored for his astute contributions to this field; he has done as much on a uniquely Christian, reformational method, than anyone in our lifetime, perhaps ever. (He has a thrilling, invaluable chapter in a book on the methods of doing art history Christianly, a festschrift in honor of the famed Wheaton College art professor, John Walford, called Art as Spiritual Perception: Essays in Honor of E. John Walford edited by James Romaine.)

And in Art History Revisited we see him in action.  And, it is something -- yes, the aforementioned "publishing event." As Nigel Halliday from the UK writes, 

Seerveld writes with the learned precision of the academic, but also with the passion and wry humour of a man rationally and emotionally convinced that we are God's creatures living in God's world.... the result is writing that brings art and artists to life, whether from this age or ages past, and makes us reflect seriously about our own lives. 

James Romaine (President of the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art) notes,

Cal Seerveld brings fresh insights to the methods and motivations of art... Seerveld's practice of identifying connections across periods of art history manifests a belief in God's authority over the entirety of history and culture. His is a pursuit of the divine continuity that binds and gives meaningful significance to the ordinary particulars of historical and cultural moments.

There is some slow sledding here, rich and fruitful. For those that follow these things, Seerveld tends to appreciate the scholarly philosophy of Dirk Vollenhoven, the brother-in-law of cosmonomic Christian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, and has several chapters here such as "Vollehnoven's Legacy for Art Historiography." Some of this deep background philosophy about the very nature of God's real world offers a lens for him, which enables him to write remarkably prophetic pieces such as "Methodological Notes for Assessing What Happened 1764 - 1831 in the History of Aesthetics" and "The Moment of Truth and Evidence of Sterility within Neoclassical Art and Aesthetic Theory of the Later Enlightenment." There are Biblical insights here, and he explains it, too: see the chapter "Biblical wisdom underneath Vollenhoven's Categories..." Whew.

Part Two of this heady volume gives some delightful and inspiring examples of his methods by doing some nice case studies, truly revisiting art history, bit by bit. Whether you know much about this stuff or not, it is great, informative reading, a great way to learn a lot. He looks, for instance, at "Telltale Statues in Watteau's Painting" and studies Hogwarth, Anton Raphael Mengs, and the wonderful contemporary wood engraving of Peter S. Smith.  What great chapters! Know these artists or not, these are informative, inspiring pieces of fruitful Christian reflection. Anyone with interest in Christians working contemporary visual arts will love, and deeply appreciate his wonderful essay called "Redemptive Grit: The Ordinary Artistry of Gerald Folkerts." 

REDEMPTIVE ART IN SOCIETYredemptive art.jpg

This is another favorite in the set, and it is one to which I had the immeasurable honor of adding an endorsing blurb. That Seerveld or his chief editor (from Dordt College Press) John Kok thought I might have some wisdom to impart here was a blessing for me -- foolishness on their part, some might say. Ha! But there I am, next to Hans Rookmaaker's wondrously artful daughter, editor-in-chief of ArtWay, Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, on the same page with scholar Jeremy Begbie, now of Duke Divinity School, and Makoto Fujimura.

Here is what Mako wrote,

Dr. Seerveld's carefully crafted, scintillating, poetic words... are, to me, shalom promises, wisdom given to encourage artists in a broken, dark, and yet glorious (New York.) to only seek the best, to integrate one's life and one's art, and to bathe everything in prayer. I am grateful for his words: I am grateful for this book.

I appreciate what Begbie says,

Countless artists and theoreticians have been nourished by Cal Seerveld's vivid and striking wisdom. These extraordinarily wide-ranging essays will not disappoint those who have followed his work, and those who are new to his unique voice will be greatly enriched.

But, you know, I hate to say it, but I think that the Borger guy captured best the tone and value of this particular volume, this one called Redemptive Art in Society.  Here is what I said:

Can high quality, properly nuanceful, allusive theatre, sculpture, painting or song help heal the world? Can art expose injustices, bring comfort to the hurting, shake the idols of our age? These chapters are amazing pieces, a true gift for those wanting to go further along the journey towards "seeking the peace of the city." Wise leaders and faithful artists simply must read them.

Yeah, I believe truly that. Art can change the world. (Perhaps you saw my review in Capitol Commentary of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior, about the Victorian-ear British societal reformer, high-class cultural leader, educator, writer, and friend of the famous politician William Wilberforce.) I think this is very, very important stuff.

As Seerveld predecessor at ICS, Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin, writes in a moving, important introduction to this one, 

"What would art look like that liberates, reconciles, reforms, and edifies?"  That is the driving question throughout this collection of writings and lectures by Calvin Seerveld." 

She opens her superb introduction by writing about Seerveld's important lectures given in South Africa during the days after the worst of the apartheid years.  She cites a line he gave there, a line I heard in the mid-70s that impacted me like Richard Wright's famous "punch to the solar plexus."  

"In my country on Friday nights youths die by the thousands culturally at the movies, and ten thousands are stunted by their weekend videos."

The antidote, he says, is normative aesthetics, lived out, real and raw. "The best defense against attractive superficiality in the arts is a tough, home-bred imaginative fiber."  Or, as he puts it elsewhere, "art is like minerals in one's food, the fiber to one's diet, whose nutritives one hardly notices unless you become malnourished and it is determined that iron or ruffage has been missing from your daily bread."  As Adrienne puts it, "For Seerveld, wholesome bread -- artistic, ludic, theatrical -- is a recurrent image of the redemptive role of art in society."

Seerveld cares deeply about public justice, about politics and economics, labor and freedom and shalom, real hurting people in a polluted world.  But let me be clear: although he cares about the "redemptive role" of art in society -- thee are chapters here where he talks about inner city murals and shares his passion for the "displaced" and, as we noted, about liberation in places like South Africa -- this collection is not about social justice propaganda, about harnessing the arts for some just project.  No -- just like we realize that cheesy, evangelical preaching in the guise of, say, contemporary worship choruses or  Christian-radio-friendly simplistic Christian pop, is often less than artistically mature, thin and not adequately nuanceful, so agit-prop, Christian preachments even about peace and justice, are not the calling of the mature artist, either, and not what ordinary folk should hunger for.

Redemptive art is gritty, but not propaganda. We bring "fresh olive leaves" announcing shalom, but we don't have to sacrifice metaphor, allusion, suggestion -- we "tell it slant" -- let alone excellence and craft. Seerveld has thought harder and written more significantly than anybody I know about the ways in which art can enhance cities, how imaginativity is important for human dignity, how allusive artistry can enhance our cultural flourishing in ways that screeds and propaganda cannot.

As with the other volumes, Redemptive Art in Society includes some pretty scholarly pieces here, and then there are others that are so brilliant, and so fascinating and hopeful, that I'd wish everyone would read and study and ponder them. "The Challenge to Be Imaginative Salt in God's World" is a near manifesto for relevant, socially-poignant Christian art. His message "For the Next Generation of Christian Writers of Literature" is a must for creative writers and readers of novels. He has an important little piece on poetry. He offers more than one piece on theater, a must for actors, writers, or anybody who enjoys going off Broadway. 

Seerveld is especially attuned to the life of the city (and he has often shared insights about the murals of Diego Riviera.) This is excellent stuff for urban ministers, city planners, those called to reflect on the "sidewalks of the Kingdom" and  "the spaces between us" as Christian new urbanist Eric O. Jacobsen puts it. But it isn't just about public art and social renewal.  Again, this is a book about the consequences of good aesthetic theory and the impact of mature Christian art and artful appreciation. I love this book!

A publishing event it is. 

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SIX VOLUMES

These six volumes collect, as we've seen, a real variety of styles -- sermons, Bible studies, short magazine pieces, letters, even, next to scholarly essays and academic publications.  And they cover a variety of themes explored by Seerveld in his sundry and occasional work.  Some of these pieces are nearly legendary, a few are famous. Most, though, are virtually unknown, and we hope that this new collection will make his sustained, on-going work well known, from sea to shining sea.  This really is great stuff, and we are more than please, we are compelled to tell you about it.

This series from Dr. Calvin Seerveld are among the most important and meaningful books I have been pleased to try to sell in our thirty plus years of selling books coram deo.

I trust you enjoyed reading about them, hearing about this fine scholar and eccentric cheerleader for the arts. I trust you will consider parting with some of your hard earned cash to buy a few, if not all.  These are the sorts of books that last a lifetime, a wish investment, important for God's glory, in God's world, for those starved for lack of mature Christian theories about important aspects of our lives in God's good but broken world.

Who else has written a chapter called "Joy, Style, and Aesthetic Imperatives with the Biblical Meaning of Clothes and Games in the Christian Life"?  

Who else takes a course on popular song-writing so he can learn how his students might counter "formulaic meretricious songs" and does so in light of global starvation and real poverty, with a photo of an African shanty-town, beside a Picasso piece an Rembrandt self portrait?

Seerveld laments those who are

smothered by the clutter of huge, repetitive blinking billboards signs 7/24 for corporate advertising, turning the place into a marketing venue. There is more than one way to be killed: commercialistic anaestheticzed place can have the forlorn mark of a Las Vegas virtual cemetery.

Well, this is amazing writing, colorful, demanding, serious, a bit playful, stunning. There is no other author like him, and we cannot thank Dordt College Press quite enough for bringing these pieces into the publishing world.

We can tell you about them, though, and pray that you help us spread the word about them, curious and winsome and learned and full of prophetic imagination that they are. You've not seen anything like them, I am sure. These books are remarkable, and we are happy to tell you -- someday in the Kingdom Hall of Fame I will be vindicated, if you don't believe me -- that this batch of books being released this fall is a true publishing event.

Or, as the kids say these days: A. True. Publishing. Event.

The gifts of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God.

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YOU CAN BUY ANY ONE AT 20% OFF. 

IF YOU BUY THE WHOLE SET, WE"LL SELL THEM AT 25% OFF AND WE WILL SEND ALONG (WHILE SUPPLIES LAST) A NICE ART BOOK, A COFFEE TABLE GIFT BOOK THAT SEERVELD LIKES. 

NICE, eh?


Here are the mundane details:

We'll show the regular price, and our BookNotes 20% sale price.


Normative Aesthetics                          $21.00   our sale price  $16.80             

Cultural Education & History Writing   $23.00   our sale price  $18.40

Cultural Problems in the West             $17.00   our sale price  $13.60

Biblical Studies & Wisdom for Living   $25.00   our sale price  $20.00

Art History Revisted                             $20.00   our sale price  $16.00

Redemptive Art in Society                   $21.00   our sale price  $16.80



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December 22, 2014

For the 12 Days -- a handful of great children's books and books for young readers and teens. ON SALE

I swear it isn't a marketing ploy, but a sincere hat tip to the ancient wisdom of the Christian calendar.TWELVE_DAYS_image.jpg  As the mall tells the story, Xmas starts in the fall, and then goes full tilt from the stupid black Friday frenzy, ending abruptly,  cynically, as quickly as they can stock the shelves with Valentine stuff. Then it's on to the President Day sales!  Whatever.


But the month of December is for Christians not a time of Christmas, but an Advent time of waiting, hoping, expecting, and crying out -- Ferguson and Iraq aren't the only places that cries "how long O Lord?"  but we join them in lament and longing.  Yes, yes, we want Christ  to "be born in us today" but we want Christ not only in our own broken little hearts but to reign, bringing his shalom to his fallen creation as a redeemer King.  We want those crazy promises of the Magnificat to come true in history, don't we?  This takes a lot of faith and so it helps to have a lot of ceremony and ritual over a substantive block of time.


Which is why we are glad to continue to suggest books and gifts to keep the festivities going through the classic twelve days of Christmas.  We used to give our own family gifts to our children on Epiphany, celebrated 12 days after Christmas day, teaching them that one of the reasons we give gifts at Christmastime is because of the wise men who did so. It was our way of trying to honor the liturgical calendar, a little way to subvert how the culture tells the story, and a even little way to relieve us of gift-buying anxieties in mid-to-late December. And we got to keep our tree up -- what fun!


So, yep, we're happy to try to sell you some more books, to help you give gifts for some of the 12 days. This is a grand time to give small items, especially to children, as we stretch out the happy days of this glad season.  Here are a few, mostly new, that we wanted to recommend.


We show the regular retail price, but will deduct the 20% discount when you enter the title at our website's order form page. (Please see the link below.) The page is certified secure so you can enter credit card numbers safely, or you can just as for an invoice, if you'd rather send a check, later.  We like that!  Either way, we promise a prompt, personal confirmation.


Happy gift-giving.  Merry Christmastime.


saint-nicholas-and-the-mouse-of-myra-24.jpgSaint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra: A Graphic Novel Jay Stoeckl, OFS (Paraclete Press) $15.99  I suppose this compact graphic novel is a book for all ages, but I think smart kids would love it.  Are the legends of St. Nicholas true?  This is a vital and good question, and a way to navigate the Santa stuff, and this paperback is a great aid.  For what it is worth, there is another book out now by a popular evangelical children's writer and big time publisher and the cheesy art and glitter on the cover should have warned me away.  That they have the legend of Nicholas in what looks like the Victorian era -- he lived in Asia Minor in the late third century (and even attended the famous Council of NIcea!) -- makes me crazy with perplexity.  What was the author, illustrator, editor, publisher, and sales reps thinking? Ugh.


This cool book from a much smaller publisher, though, is an excellent introduction to the life of one of the most important, least understood and oh-so-very-real characters in Christian history.  The cartoonist has a light touch and adds some fun -- a talking mouse named Cicero, dressed like a Greek philosopher, which, let's face it, is pretty darn funny.  (He did something this in a previous book called Saint Francis and Brother Duck.)  Stoeckl has taught elementary school kids and is a now a middle school teacher.  If you like comic books or graphic novels, this is a nice way to learn how Nicholas learned to practice generosity, and a whole lot more. Nice!


song of the stars 12 - 14.jpgThe Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story  Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated with paintings by Allison Jay (Zonderkidz) $15.99  We have simply raved about this for two years, now, and it remains one of the best children's books we've seen. The whole creation gets in on the action here in this gentle, serious, visionary, playful, subtle, artful rendering of the Nativity.  I assume you know how much we esteem Lloyd-Jone's wonderfully written, beautifully done, theologically sound Jesus Storybook Bible and the fabulous sequel Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, both regular best sellers for us.  She is such a reliable and helpful narrator for our little ones. There is proper Biblical language here -- Christ is called "Our Rescuer" and it has the weight of glory.  Simple, clever, solid, highly recommended.  Enjoy!


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let there be light.jpgLet There Be Light  Desmond Tutu  & Nancy Tillman (ZonderKidz) regular hardback book, $16.99; small board board, $7.99  When this came out a year ago, we raved.  Beth continues to tell customers that it is one of her all time favorite children's books.  The combination of an esteemed, powerful, winsome, global Christian leader and one of our most lovely children's illustrators combines for a truly beautiful, moving, happy story, an imaginative and even playful vision of the creation -- with royal humans cavorting with animals of all kinds.   Yes, that is a son of Adam writing an ostrich on the cover!  You've got to see this close up to appreciate how great it is. We have a few on hand now for immediate shipment, and a few more coming in later in the week.  Nice for little ones!  Splendidly creative.Let There Be Light Tutu scene.jpg


song of the king.jpgThe Song of the King Max Lucado (Crossway) $17.99  You may know of the many beloved children's stories of this master communicator, and you may appreciate his gentle way of telling a story which is a metaphor for things of God's Kingdom.  The back cover here states, "A timeless tale about the most important choice on your journey through life."  This is at first blush a story of a princess, brave knights that want to prove their worth, and with only the King's song to guide them, they must overcome obstacles. "Who will be victorious? Carlisle the strongest, Alon the swiftest, or Cassidon the wisest?"  Illustrated by Chuck Gillies, of Kendall School of Design and a popular illustrator for over 50 books.  Ages 5 and up.





Andrew Draws David McPhail .jpgAndrew Draws David McPhail (Holiday House) $16.95  Wow -- this is not only a charming little book, but a great conversation starter.  On the first page, the child star of the book finds a crayon and starts to scribble on the floor and walls. His love of drawing is honed over the years, he becomes better and better and you realize this is a book about finding one's passion, the power of art, the joy of creativity.  It is simple, but good. But then one day he asked a someone what they would like him to draw and when she says a bird, he draws a nice on, and it flies right off the page on to her shoulder.  He becomes famous for this, and soon the President of the US calls him, asking him for some help.  What will he do? What does he draw, and for whom? What a great question? What might your child say?  The crayon stub is almost gone, he's got enough for one picture left.  (Spoiler alert: he makes a drawing for himself. Which licks him, afterwards.)


The Magnificent Thing Ashley Spires .jpgThe Magnificent Thing Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press) $16.95  Do you know any enterprising children who like to make stuff? Who are maybe even destined to be inventors? Or you might like a story of encouragement, even if things don't work out at first? This little girl and her assistant (a odd little dog) are making the most magnificent things. She repurposes all kind of junk and almost makes a great thing, but, uh, well, it just isn't quite right. But then she goes back to the drawing board and it ends up being just what she wanted.  Fun for early elementary children.  It notes on the copyright page, by the way, "The artwork in this book was rendered digitally with lots of practice, two hissy-fits, and one all-out tantrum." The author apparently understands the "it turned out all wrong" frustration, and knows how to keep at it, with whimsy and joy.  


Love Letters from God Bible Stories  .jpgLove Letters from God Bible Stories  written by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sophie Allsopp (Zonderkidz) $16.99  This is without a doubt one of the best designs in a children's Bible story collection we've seen -- it is colorful, fun without being cute, with a creatively designed part that sets it apart and brings it all home. Yes, it has engaging pictures, sidebars and graphic design on each two page spread; if that were all, it would still be much better than average and highly recommended.  But there is also a little tipped in, lift the flap sort of letter or card, with a letter to the child in each one.  In other words, it says in simple, personalized prose exactly how this passage teaches about God's great love and faithfulness to the child. These notes are very colloquial, and talk about "being on Jesus' team" love-letters-from-God-2.jpgand things being super-duper. It is child-like, just a little silly, even. This lift-the-flap feature isn't so prominent as to distract from the pictures and the telling of the story, but is an extra, enhancing contribution.  We love this book, and congratulate ZonderKidz for doing such fine work.











  Sharing God's Love- The Jesus Creed for Children.jpgSharing God's Love: The Jesus Creed for Children Scot McKnight & Laura McKnight Barring  illustrated by Dave Hill (Paraclete Press) $15.66  I hope you know the impressive, important, and very useful book about loving God and others simply called The Jesus Creed by the preeminent (and fun) New Testament scholar.  There is a teen version of this book, and now a children's book.  This is a splendid resource, with pastel art and a gentle storytelling style (the co-author is Laura McKnight Barringer, Scot's daughter, a kindergarten/first grade teacher and graduate of Wheaton College.  The illustrations are not stunning, just straight on illustration which for this book is, I think, perfect.  This book is more about the life-changing content then the story itself, although it does work nicely as a fun book to read with an elementary age student. 


Ann Voskamp writes of it's importance and value:


Parents know what the great theologians know: Good theology for future grown-ups should start when kids are little. Start with books that become their favorites that they want to return to over and over again. This book is one for every home of faith. If a generation of children made the words in these pages their creed, it'd change the world -- and eternity.


Shauna Niequist nicely says,


Like all parents, Aaron and I are always on the hunt for ways to each big ideas to our little people, and this book makes it easy. I love the illustrations, and I love that by the end, my kids have learned a creed they can carry with them, through childhood and beyond.


My-Librarian-Is-a-Camel.jpgMy Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World Margriet Ruurs (Boyds Mill Press) $16.95  Any kid who goes to the library will be thrilled to learn how other children get their books.  This shows bunches of libraries, some in, uh, surprising locations!  How interesting, and what a testimony to the love (and value) of the printed page.  This brightly photographed book has won a number of important awards -- a "Notable Book for a Global Society" and was a "Children's Crown Award" nominee for the National Christian Schools Associations. It's sold from National Geographic to other prominent museum shops. This teaches about books, offers global awareness with a eye-popping multi-ethnic around the world journey.  What a fun book, truly fascinating.  Maybe adult book lovers will get a kick out of it, too. 


  Whatever You Grow Up To Be Karen Kingsbury,.jpgWhatever You Grow Up To Be Karen Kingsbury, illustrated by Valeria Docampo (ZonderKidz) $15.99  What a curious, wacky, fun, sentimental book this is!  With zany pictures in each busy two-page spread, the mom wonders what the boy will grow up to be. Political leader, Fireman, Businessman, Rock star, husband? In each case, the dream is named, the ethical and noble way he will serve in that vocation simply described, and (of course) the big if.  Perhaps this is a book for moms and dads -- or grand-moms or grand-dads, since it ends there, actually.  Fun for kids, fun for parents, fun for grandparents, to remind one and all about God's plans for God's own children, whatever they grow up to be.  I have to admit, I was choked up as I read it, grinning.






As Good as Anybody .jpgAs Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom Richard Michelson illustrated by Raul Colon (Knopf) $16.99 Is it the soon-to-be-released Selma movie that makes me want to name this book, or the troubles in Ferguson and beyond? We have stocked it for several years, and smile at the powerful story, hard as it is.  It shows Martin's youth anger, how he stepped into his father's vocation of being a preacher, and, well, you know the rest. He gives out a call for other people of other faiths to join him at the bridge in Selma.  Heschel is a notable, wondrous Jewish scholar -- his book on the prophets and his book on sabbath remain true classics that we continue to sell! -- raised in Poland.  As a child, he, too, wondered if he as as good as others.  You can imagine the horror. It shows him moving to America, and, as a young rabbi, taking up King's call.  The two men were good friends, Christian and Jew, black and white, leaders for peace and justice. We need to tell this story, and this book is a splendid way.  


martin's big words.jpgMartin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Hyperion) $6.99  This slightly over-sized book has big pictures, exceptionally artful design, and a perfect use of vocabulary and text. It is no wonder it has been awarded for such excellence, over and over. Every child should see something like this, and it may be our favorite kids book on King. It offers a bit about his life, some of the key events, with a few good, actually quotes. (By the way, the same artful blend of text and image is found in the similar book Abe's Honest Words about Lincoln, and other colorful bios of Teddy Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Jack Kennedy. Very nicely done!) Highly recommended,





wrinkle graphic.jpgA Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel  Madeleine L'Engle  Adapted and Illustrated by Hope Larson (FSG) $19.99  I wrote a bit about this last year when it first came out, and not only celebrated the brilliant idea of it, but its artistic excellence; I mentioned, importantly, I think, that the L'Engle family approved of this large project.  We sold a few, then, and those who got it were astonished at how very cool it was. This is a contemporary classic, written by dear and wise Christian woman, and this new graphic edition -- like a serious comic book, in a sturdy hardcover -- brings it freshly.   What a great gift idea this is!  Popular YA author James Patterson insists it is "page-turning, eye candy of the highest order."  Yes!









Both of Me Jonathan Friesen.jpgBoth of Me Jonathan Friesen (Blink) $16.99 When Zondervan, a large evangelical publishing house owned by Harper, announced a new project, an imprint of books called "Blink" folks wondered: they were up front that this was a line designed to reach out to the general teen market, sharing wholesome values, even Christian ideas, but without any obvious religious content. If this is an example of what they mean, I think we can all rejoice -- this is a fine book, a handsome hardback with a provocative story, good writing, meaningful conversations about stuff that matters. The plot revolves around a teen girl and her mysterious friend, who has dissociative disorder (what used to be called "multiple personalities") and one of his selves has some profound secrets. 


"We quietly left the room and the inn and wandered out beneath a full-moon sky. Elias's face brimmed with confidence, and I rubbed my eyes.  I was helping half of him. I was using the other half. What I was running from had finally found me."


Remnants- Season of Wonder  Lisa T. jpgRemnants: Season of Wonder  Lisa T. Bergren (Blink) $15.99  This is another one of the new and important releases for the new imprint of books called "Blink." This is a YA/teen fiction line created by Christian writers, but muting the overt messages, making the stories more applicable for a wider market, longing for wholesome books with good writing, without some of the sex and violence and vulgarity that is prevalent in YA titles these days. This is a great example, Book One in "The Remnant" fantasy/adventure series, a not too distant cousins of The Hunger Games and the like. Yes, there are kids that have to save the world, but what else would you want? Right on!  Ms Bergren is a prolific and award winning author, with most of her 40 books appearing in the Christian marketplace. Kudos to her, to Blink, and to the kids of The Remnants. As it is written,"our coming was foretold by the elders..."








Brown Girl Dreaming Jacqueline Woodson.jpgBrown Girl Dreaming Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books) $16.99 Not only is this a fantastic book by a great YA writer, it has won the National Book Award in her category.  It unfolds as a story, written as a series of poems. Wow -- so good.  Here is what one reviewer wrote: "Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson's eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become."




DVD Kaleidoscope- A Skateboarding Film  Steelroots  .jpgDVD Kaleidoscope: A Skateboarding Film  Steelroots  (Kaleidoscope) $19.99  I'm not gonna lie -- I don't know enough about skateboarding to say I love this. But the reviews have been good, and we are eager to promote it.  It really is the real deal;  very authentic, with much blood, sweat, and tears spilled, years of hard work going into making this killer movie about 10 world-class skateboarders sharing their Christian faith as they travel around the world. They have footage from Barcelona to New York, from Philly to California and I might say it really rocks. This is a documentary of the talent and testimony of this crew, and includes some extras (outtakes, of course, interviews, Bible studies and more.) This might appeal to unchurched punk kids, and it would appeal to Christian teens or young adults who are into the skate scene.






The NIV Teen Study Bible (Zondervan) Italian duo-tone, $34.99 / $39.99 There are a number of teen-friendly Bibles, in various translations. (NRSV? New Living Translation? ESV?  Catholic or Protestant?  Call us if you need more guidance.) This one, though, in the popular and readable New International Version is a good bet, at least for Protestants -- it has very fine information alongside many passages, sidebars and a bit of graphic interest, some color, some Q & A stuff, but not tooo much.  It's reliable, relevant, interesting.  It comes in a regular Bible size and a compact size, in hardback and paperback. Here are some great gift editions, soft, leather-like Bibles that are rich and artful and beautiful to hold and use, and that hold up under use (or carrying around in a backpack.) Although they look much better up close and personal, here you can see four lovely faux leather versions called "Italian Duo-Tone." They are named chocolate (with a Celtic-like cross design), espresso (with a darker look and cool embedded pattern), sienna (with a small, crisp cross), and raspberry/chocolate. The second one shown (with the pattern) is $39.99 and has a cool design on the page edging, too.  The other three are regularly $34.99 -- we off course will take off our BookNotes sale discount.  Just click below to order.



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December 23, 2014

A Last Minute DIY Option: Our Make Your Own Gift Certificate Deal

It has been a busy week or two for all of us, I'm sure.  Here at the bookstore, we're waiting on and chatting with friends and neighbors, folks we love and new customers, too. There are books to hand-sell, inquiries to track down, conversations to have, joyful and hard. In the last days we've had quite a handful of out of town guests in the shop, and we are so grateful for those who swing by our central Pennsylvania town, reconnecting, or putting a face with a mail order, on-line friend.  We hope you like meeting our staff and checking out our heavily stocked shelves here in Dallastown.

At BookNotes, we've done some energetic writing, too.  Of course, yesterday I made a case for continuing your gift giving festivities throughout the 12 Days of Christmas, and told you about some nifty kids books, some of which I bet you had never seen before.
CS Lewis Reluctant Disciple DVD.jpg
Before that, I hope you saw our review of a beautiful and informative new DVD series about C.S. Lewis, narrated nicely by Os Guinness. It is called C.S. Lewis: Reluctant Disciple -- Faith, Reason, and the Power of the Gospel.  As I described, it is really, really nice.


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I really hope you didn't miss one of the most anticipated releases of the year (at least for some in our circles), God in the Sink: Essays from Toad Hall by Margie Haack, published by the lovely literary imprint, Kalos Press.  As I explained, Margie and her husband Denis have had a ministry for decades (helping others engage culture, learn the art of wise discernment, and winsomely present the gospel in socially-relevant ways) mostly out of their Minnesota home which their children dubbed Toad Hall. Margie has published her "Notes from Toad Hall" for years, and this is an anthology of some of her best writing. I enjoyed telling you about it, here.

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Not only do I do BookNotes reviews, but sometimes I place my articles at the part of our website marked "columns" which means they are longer, even epic sometimes. Just the other night I posted a larger column there, an complex essay I had been working on for months, a description of an important set of books (6 volumes!) by Calvin Seerveld. I called it "the publishing event of the year." Find out why, here.

Even while doing some BookNotes lists of good Advent books, and some gifty-type, wondrously done, artful works, or top brand new releases, I compiled a set of links of several lists I've made in recent years about racial reconciliation, multi-ethnic ministry, diversity and the like. Obviously, there is a lot being said about these concerns this month, and I thought some wise books on the subject would be useful. You can see at least  some of my recommendations on race matters, here.

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And, oh my, I did a long review of Richard Middleton's new book A New Heaven and a New Earth which I think is very, very important. I'm excited he will be on the main-stage of our Jubilee conference out in Pittsburgh this February.  See my review, here.

All of these are archived at our website, and you can scroll back to see these vital reviews, or the ones that are lists of key titles, new releases, or books we just had to tell you about, even if briefly.  Many of the titles on those random lists are truly great, and we have been pleased to be able to describe so many new books this past few months.  Go back farther, and you'll see even more great titles on display by some very good authors.

Perhaps you could forward some of these reviews or lists to somebody you know; invite them into a reading group, or a book of the month club for the new year, or at least invite them to sign up to receive BookNotes. It's free, and keeps you up on important new releases for the heart and for the mind.

Yeah, you saw what I did there.

And, of course, there is our annual invitation to quickly make your own gift card.  If you want to highlight any of these titles for your loved ones, print out pages from our website, or just give a plain old open-ended gift certificate, we're more than happy to honor whatever you can cook up.

It's simple, really; and fun.  Let's do this.

Last, last minute, lots of fun, DIY Gift Certicate. You make it, you give it. Simple.

MAKE YOUR OWN HEARTS & MINDS GIFT CERTIFICATE
Abook wrapped in brown.jpgs do most real stores, we enjoy selling and sending out gift certificates.  You may call them "gift cards" but ours aren't plastic,  but nicely printed certificates; old school.  Some customers really enjoy giving them and they are the perfect solution for gifts large or small.  We make them for any amount you'd like, and can send them out anywhere.

But here is what is fun -- this time of year we invite a little homemade DIY action.  Why not get crafty, use your imagination, open up that aesthetic dimension of life, and prettify something as a way to share some H&M joy?  You can make your own gift certificate and we will honor it.

Yep, you can make your own gift card, for any amount, drawing it up in any way you'd like.  Give them to your loved ones, and voila, they can be ordering whatever they like, whenever they like.

Here is how it works.  On the secure order form page at our website, just type in that you arpaper trail.jpge making your own gift card and tell us the dollar amount you want it to be for.  We will send to you the cc receipt (or a bill, if you'd rather) to your address for your records.  We will also reply promptly via email (as we always do) and give you a little gift certificate number that you can write on the card somewhere, just for everybody's records.  (Be sure to give us YOUR email address, not the recipients, as we want to confirm with you.) 

If you tell us to whom you are giving it, that would be helpful for our files, too.  We won't correspond with them, but having a name would be good.  That way, if they lose it -- heaven forbid, since it will be a work of art -- we can still honor it. 

This is so easy, and if you'd rather do it over the phone, that is simple, too.  Just call the shop at 717.246.3333.



Mhandmade christmas.jpgaking and giving your own gift certificate is one last way for you to say Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, or to commemorate any of the Twelve Days of Christmas, including (our family favorite)  Epiphany.  The Persian astrologers brought gifts to Jesus on that day, so you could put Epiphany art on it.  Smart thinking, eh?  Or use it for a Christmas eve stocking stuffer or along with a thank you to someone who has blessed you this year.


Speaking of gift-giving, you all are a great gift to us.  Beth and I and our staff thank you for caring about books, for supporting a real store, and for allowing us to inform you about books we think you'll like, all through the year.  We enjoy our on-line friends and appreciate those who follow along, sharing in our efforts.  You are part of this story and we are grateful, daily.  At this glorious holiday time, though, we are especially aware of how we wouldn't be here if it were not for you, our friends and customers.  Merry, merry Christmas.

BookNotes


order here
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just tell us what you want to order

inquire here
if you have questions or need more information
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                   Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313
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December 26, 2014

Great novels we enjoyed this year - and a few we haven't read (yet.) ON SALE 20% OFF

Beth tends to read more novels than I do, as do most of our staff, I suppose.  It is fun talking about characters and plot and often Beth and I, especially, read the same books and compare notes. Our tastes are pretty similar, I think, and our selections often overlap.  Here are a few we talked the most about this year, stories and writing we enjoyed, or, for one reason or another, really appreciated. Or they are books we intend to read, and want to tell you about. 

Like most people, we sometimes need a good word from somebody we trust, or a thoughtful review or a hint of the benefit of a particular novel, so maybe these sort descriptions will help you choose a good novel or two even in these gentle days of Christmastide. We happily recommend these, among so many others, of course.  Call us or use the "inquiry" form at the website if you want more ideas or have questions.

The Invention of Wings.jpgThe Invention of Wings  Sue Monk Kidd (Viking) $27.95  This much-discussed book was one of Beth's favorites this year, beautifully rendered by the talented author of The Secret Life of Bees. She could hardly tear herself away from it, or stop talking about it early this fall.  Sue Monk Kidd's writing is soulful and passionate, as it needs to be in this great story, loosely based on the Grimke sisters, revivalists and abolitionists of the early 1800s. This chronicles Sarah's move to Philadelphia, and, in a parallel plot, traces the life of Hetty "Handful," the slave she was given as a young girl. This is truly one of the great books of the year. Here is what it says in on the dust jacket:

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women's rights movements.

The Art of Fielding.jpgThe Art of Fielding Chad Harbach (Back Bay) $14.99  I know I'm a year late to the game, but I hadn't read this last year, and wanted to wait until baseball season this summer to dive into this renowned sports story.  As we all know, good novels are so much more than what they seem to be about. (Who was it that said something about how silly it is to think that Moby Dick is just a story about a whale?) This baseball story is set in the complexities of liberal arts colleges, and, in fact, the college's sports teams are called the Whalers, since the great Herman Melville once visited the campus, and the campus President is a Moby Dick and Melville scholar. (This figures in just a bit -- so fun!) The school's baseball team goes to the playoffs, for the first time in years, due to the extraordinary gift of one very talented player. I can't spoil all that goes on throughout that fateful season and those last games, as the plot thickens more than you can imagine, but the mentoring this young player received from an older team-mate becomes a much larger matter as, together, they try to figure out their young adult years, their futures, the women they love, loyalties and more. It has been positively reviewed from great sources, and called everything from "engrossing" "triumphant" "astonishingly assured" "intensely readable."

It is a great, long, well-imagined story in a believable place. I cared about these characters, about Westish College, and, despite some vulgarities and troubling behaviors, found it to also be a book of virtue and vision, asking big questions about ambition and family and commitment and the like.  The practices and scenes in the gyms and locker rooms (and road trips) seemed very realistic to me.  

The Signature of All Things  hardback.jpgThe Signature of All Things paperback.jpgThe Signature of All Things  Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking) $28.95 (hardcover); $17.00 (paperback) This is nothing short of stunning, an epic tale of a 18th century man who, through entrepreneurial ingenuity, courageous involvement with the likes of explorer Captain Cook and sheer dogged diligence, becomes a self-taught botanist and global leader in the commercial trade of early pharmaceuticals. He becomes very, very rich, known in the world's of landscaping, gardening, and more, professional horticulture. He learns to grow medicinal pants, and becomes involved in global business. After marrying a Dutch wife and moving to Philadelphia, they raise two girls, one herself a young botanist, who, well... I can't say, as I've not finished it yet, and don't want to spoil anything. I am willing to say that Beth loved this book, despite some weirdness (I haven't reached that part yet) and I am thinking it may be my favorite novel of the year. The prose is solid and weighty, almost old fashioned (not at all like Eat Pray Love, which I enjoyed, by the way.) This is a marvelous, learned, intriguing, captivating, mature book, playing with questions of what it means to truly know, the quest for knowledge, perhaps even questions of science and faith, data and magic, and certainly huge themes emerging from the era when the Age of Enlightenment gave way to the Industrial Revolution and theSignature - inside.jpg romantics arose in response to the narrow vision of the rationalists. The hardback edition from last year has lush botanical illustrations in the inside cover, almost making it worth the investment to own this as a wonderfully-made hardback with deckled pages.  It is now out in paperback.

Here is what one reviewer wrote of it, giving a bit of back-story that is fun to know about Ms Gilbert:

As a small girl, Elizabeth Gilbert scrawled her name in the most extraordinary book in her house: an original illustrated folio of Captain Cook's voyages. Decades later, her parents discovered her signature and gave her the book, reigniting her passion for scientific exploration in the century leading up to Darwin's theory of evolution. She became fascinated with the women--always wives or daughters of scientists--who made their own discoveries, in spite of the cultural constraints that kept them from true exploration. Her invented heroine, the insatiably curious Alma Whittaker, daughter of a scrappy botanical baron, spends most of her life confined to her family estate in Philadelphia, yearning for a life of greater passion and liberty. She channels her desires into botany, thrilling to the miniature universe of moss in the forests surrounding her house, developing a new taxonomy that becomes a theory encompassing all living things, parallel to Darwin's. When she finally turns herself loose on the world, it's to claim her place in a lineage of explorers. An earthy, elegant, deeply sensual novel of daring breadth and imagination, The Signature of All Things gives us the cosmos in the life of one woman, in her worlds within worlds.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.jpgSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good Jan Karon (Putnam) $27.95  This is one of those wonderful books to show customers and to sell -- so many people adored the Mitford series and have been hoping for a chance to revisit that charming town, Father Tim, and all the others there. Does Mitford, to swipe a line from Bruce Springsteen, still "take care of our own?" Pastor Tim doesn't have a pulpit any more, of course, but there is plenty for him to do, relationships to guide, tough stuff to explore; for instance there are serious troubles at the Happy Ending Bookstore. (Ahh a story where the plight of the beloved local bookstore figures in -- wow.)  As we had announced earlier, we acquired a few autographed copies, and we still have a few left.  Nice.






Third  Book of the Dun Cow- Peace.jpgSecond Book of the Dun Cow- Lamentations.jpgSecond Book of the Dun Cow: Lamentations and The Third Book of the Dun Cow: Peace at Last  Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Diversion Books) $13.99 each  Sometimes, we just throw back our heads and sing for joy. I didn't know these two important, under-appreciated sequels to the National Award Winning fantasy novel, The Book of the Dun Cow, by the celebrated Lutheran writer, had been re-printed. You may recall the devastating battle with the Wyrm, Chauntecleer and his wife Pertelote who lead the animals from the Coop.  Years ago somebody said this was a cross between Watership Down and Lord of the Rings; be that as it may, they are thrilling fantasy stories with a profound moral imagination.  These two new editions have revised content, and matching covers.  The first one has remained in print, but these two re-issued companions are great to see. 

RiskOfReturning.jpgThe Risk of Returning: A Novel Shirley & Rudy Nelson (Wipf & Stock) $18.00  As you may guess, we stock a number of novels that are not in the mainstream, but are well down, and carry with them large and imaginative tellings of important matters for those who are interested in peacemaking, social justice, social renewal and the like. (Think of my reviews last year of A Land Without Sin by Paula Huston, a book in the "Slant" imprint curated by Gregory Wolfe.) This recent story, too, is haunting, teaching us much about faith in the midst of a violent and broken world. It is, to be sure, a mystery and political thriller, set when the character Ted Peterson, the son of former missionaries to Guatemala, return there to solve the mystery of his father's death years before. There are deadly secrets in that place, and Ted learns much about himself as his father.  The title itself is allusive and important. What does it mean to return, to remember?

In a way, some of this explores what it means to be a "missionary kid." (A working title early on was, in fact, MK.)

Eugene Garber creatively writes,

Full of stir and unfolding, the evocations of place -- the landscapes and streetscapes and interiors and even the weathers never mere backdrop but an expansion of the paradoxes of beauty and terror. 

It is interesting to see great endorsing blurbs by those familiar with liberation theology (Gary Dorrien) and Presbyterian missions (Dennis Smith) and scholars of Central America, and great, great writers (Jeanne Murray Walker, author of Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer's.) I read, decades ago, Shirley Nelson's very powerful book The Last Year of the War, and this new one caught my attention in part because of that book and her good writing there.

Sister Eve, Private Eye- A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery.jpgSister Eve, Private Eye: A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery Lynne Hinton (Nelson) $15.99  We carry lots of books that are a bit lighter fare, too, interesting and hopefully inspiring. Ya gotta love the blurb from Publisher's Weekly  who named it a top ten pick in the religion category: "Get thee to a nunnery, Sherlock."  Ha.  This story is, in fact, set in a New Mexico monastery; Sister Eve is the daughter of a police captain turned detective, so she knows her away around crime scenes and solving mysteries. This is a fun story, a nice bit of mystery, with  soul-searching questions about vocation and calling and how to square her religious devotion with this rather chilling job. Hinton is an experienced writer, and does a nice job.  A rave endorsement from her earlier book in this series came from Philip Gulley, quite a thoughtful writer himself, and a pacifist Quaker.  So there ya go -- this has something for everyone!


The Rosie Project.jpgThe Rosie Project  Graeme Simsion (Simon & Schuster) $15.99  None of us here had read this, and then we saw the video where billionaires Bill and Melissa Gates interviewed the author and admitted to giving away dozens of this to friends and others who they thought might benefit from it.  It was their novel of the year!  Rosie has been a New York Times best-seller, an international sensation, on NPR, and widely touted as a well done, thoughtful bit of romantic comedy writing. (And yes, there's a movie in the works.) Here's the gist: Dan Tillman is a genetics professor, and he is getting married. Or at least he is confident that he will, once his sixteen-page scientifically valid survey yields a candidate, in what he calls "The Wife Project." His questionnaire is, for this socially-challenged academic, the most logical method to find the perfect partner.

Rosie Jarman has her own little project though ("The Father Project") as she is trying to find her biological father.  
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You can imagine the take-aways; do you find love, or does it find you? Nature or nurture? Head or heart? The Gates thinks that this really could help people have better relationships, be wiser in their dating, and deepen their marriages.  How 'bout that.

We just got the sequel in today --The Rosie Effect.  It looks like fun and, again, just might impart some good sense to a generation unschooled in wise relationships.  

lila.jpgLila Marilynne Robinson (FSG) $26.00  Will this get the Pulitzer? While she be nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature? You may know that Robinson is one of our finest essayists, and a John Calvin scholar, as well; she is most esteemed, though, as a mature, thoughtful, serious novelist. Gilead (for which she did win the Pulitzer) is the story of a small town, mid-Western pastor telling his life story.  This fall I met a young college student who said (in what warmed my heart) that she was "obsessed" with this novel.  It is that good.  The sequel, you may know, was Homecoming and now we have the third, Lila.  Lila is the wife of John Ames, the pastor in the town of Gilead, and she appears in the earlier novels.  This is her story, and what a story it is.  She was neglected as a child, homeless and desperate at time, crafted a life "on the run" quite unlike that of the man who marries her. Lila is a beautiful, intriguing story that you won't soon forget. As Lev Grossman writes in Time, "As writers go Robinson is among the superpowered..." After noting her "beautiful work..." James Wood writes in the prominent The New York Times Book Review, "Robinson's words have a spiritual force that's very rare in contemporary fiction."

To Rise at a Decent Hour .jpgTo Rise at a Decent Hour Joshua Ferris (Back Bay Books) $16.00  Well, this may be the weirdest novel I've read all year -- no, not as weird as Dave Eggers' Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets Do They Live Forever that I read in one long sitting. That was the most provocative, odd story I've read all year.  Ferris' To Rise Again stunning, and, for all it's odd-ball plot, I just couldn't put it down.  I guess that is why it has been so widely reviewed, with the author quite the star on the talk shows, NPR and the like.  Here's the short plot: the main character is a dentist, he hates the internet but somebody opens a website for him (without his knowledge) and then these weird religious passages -- sounding like the Bible, but actually not -- start appearing. His dental practice continues, his office staff are perplexed, we learn of his own religious views and escapes (some driven by, uh, romance, shall we say) and his longing to belong.  I absolutely will not spoil this breath-takingly curious book by telling you the source of these religious testimonies, or how our faithful dentist deals with the religious proselytizing/harassment. It sounds weird, but I'm telling you. Sit back and open wide. Let this story wash over you; it's funny and sad and you will see in this dislocated 21st century New Yorker something vital.  At least I think so.  What a book.

Neverhome Laird Hunt.jpgNeverhome Laird Hunt (Little Brown) $26.00  What a beautiful cover -- just makes me want to hold it and carry it around for a while! This is a book I had hoped to have read by now -- I read a chapter when if first came into our shop -- but just haven't gotten to it. The reviews of the writing have been so moving, so glowing, I obviously am interested; while Civil War books come in all varieties and styles, this looks to be literary fiction at its finest. It is about a woman who disguises herself as a man to fight.  Have you heard of it?  Here are some of the moving endorsements, that makes us want to sell it:

"Rarely, a voice so compels it's as if we're furtively eaves-dropping on a whispered confession, which is how I felt reading Neverhome: I was marching alongside Ash, eager for more of her well-guarded secrets....Hunt says he was inspired by the real-life tale of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who disguised herself as 'Lyons Wakeman' and enlisted with the Union Army. Ash, however is entirely Hunt's own creation. His ability to evoke her demeanor and circumstances in a gorgeously written sentence or two is one of the book's many pleasures." --The New York Times Book Review

"A spare, beautiful novel, so deeply about America and the language of America that its sentences seem to rise up from the earth itself. Laird Hunt had me under his spell from the first word of Neverhome to the last. Magnificent."--Paul Auster, author of The New York Trilogy and Report from the Interior

"Rarely, a voice so compels it's as if we're furtively eaves-dropping on a whispered confession, which is how I felt reading Neverhome: I was marching alongside Ash, eager for more of her well-guarded secrets....Hunt says he was inspired by the real-life tale of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who disguised herself as 'Lyons Wakeman' and enlisted with the Union Army. Ash, however is entirely Hunt's own creation. His ability to evoke her demeanor and circumstances in a gorgeously written sentence or two is one of the book's many pleasures."--Karen Abbott, The New York Times Book Review

"In fiercely gorgeous prose, Laird Hunt's Neverhome traces the mesmerizing odyssey of a singular woman, who stretches and shimmers from these pages, and stakes a piercing claim on our hearts. You won't soon forget Ash Thompson's voice or this astonishing novel."--Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

"Laird Hunt's new novel is a beguiling and evocative story about love and loss, duty and deceit. Through the assured voice of his narrator and the subtle beauty of his writing, Neverhome took me on a journey so thoroughly engrossed that there were times the pages seemed to turn themselves."
--Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds

"The Civil War has given us so many great literary works that I couldn't have imagined a new fictional approach that was both stunningly original and yet utterly natural, even inevitable. But this is just what Laird Hunt brilliantly delivers in his new novel. The key is his central character: in her voice, her personality, her yearning, she deeply touches our shared and enduring humanity. Neverhome is masterful work by one of our finest writers."--Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

"The wiry, androgynous and mysterious Hoosier of Hunt's haunting novel Neverhome pushes through its pages like a spring crocus shoot....This is mystical, transcendent storytelling full of sun and shadows, memories and dreams, in a language and syntax from another time and place. Hunt...is an extraordinary, original writer."--Jane Sumner, The Dallas Morning News

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December 30, 2014

Hearts & Minds suggests 6 new devotionals (or almost devotionals) and another book about prayer, kind of: 20% OFF

We have a huge selection of daily devotions, for youth or adults, mystics or Reformers, saints or sinners, written by all sorts of folks, for all sorts of folks.  You can see a list I did for entering into the rhythms of daily prayer and using a devotional resource here or here, or here.

Just for fun, here at the cusp of a new year, I thought I'd name a few that are pretty new, and that might be just right for you or someone to whom you want to give a gift.

Flunking Sainthood Every Day .jpgFlunking Sainthood Every Day: A Daily Devotional for the Rest of Us  edited and compiled by Jana Riess (Paraclete Press) $23.99  You may recall (we hope you do) Riess's hilarious memoir of trying to work through spiritual classics called Flunking Sainthood; it is a refreshing and honest story of what she did (or didn't!) get out of reading often-recommended, sometimes obtuse, spiritual classics. It really resonated with so many of us who wanted a light-hearted study of books by St. John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna, Theresa, and those who right about centered prayer and keeping sabbath and the like.  Now, she has given us "a daily devotional for the rest of us" and it has great quotes, blurbs, citations, offered one on a page along with her own prayers and proposals for how to apply this stuff into an ordinary life. Marjorie Thompson says it is "refreshingly realistic about our human imperfections and heartily confident of grace."

I like Lilian Daniel's quote,

Relax, spiritual slackers. Somebody else has done all the reading. Now you have a book of poetic inspirations, Bible verses, current bestsellers and ancient thinkers, one for each day. Skip a day? No guilt. Don't understand? You'll catch up....

Longing for More- Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life.jpgLonging for More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life Timothy Willard (Bethany) $16.99  First, I love Tim Willard. He co-wrote Veneer and proved himself a potent storyteller, with a keen eye of the holy in the mundane. Not only has he been in an indie rock band, he served for years for the Praxis Nonprofit Accelerator, a ministry somewhat affiliated with the glitzy Catalyst conference, which was an incubator for those starting social social initiatives. In this book, Willard offers daily reflections, with each week's writings ruminating around a different theme -- joy, love, newness, silence, work, trust, hope and the like. Every 12 weeks he offers a longer essay to ponder for the week, with appropriate reflection prompts.  (He calls these "The Long Pause" which, again, is hoping to help one get into a broader rhythm and intention.  The theme of all of these colorful, creative pieces is that our life should be alive and robust, with God in it all.  If you are seeking the "spirituality of the ordinary" and wanting a devotional to invite you to be honest and real about your walk with God, this is interesting, often insightful, upbeat and contemporary.  Willard is a young, hip, example of the newer generation of evangelical leaders, socially engaged, deeply contemplative, joyful and authentic.  As his friend hard rocker Lacey Sturm of the band Flyleaf, (author of the moving The Reason: How I Discovered a Life Worth Living) writes,

There are sacred moments when life catches you up in its beautiful mystery. Suddenly everything feels heavy and connected. You want to weep and cheer at the same time. You come away empowered, fully alive. Timothy sets you down in these moments. Get caught up in them and watch yourself come to life.

Saving Grace- Daily Devotions From Jack Miller.jpgSaving Grace: Daily Devotions From Jack Miller C. John Miller (New Growth Press) $19.99  I love this small sized shape for a book, a heavy hardback that is small enough to fit in your hand.   The pages are dated and designed nicely, with a Bible verse and a brief reading for each day.  You may know Jack Miller who founded World Harvest Mission and the network of New Life Presbyterian churches, a Reformed pastor, missionary, preacher, scholar, and activist whose son (Paul Miller) has also written very popular books (such as the wonderful book on Jesus, Love Walked Among Us and the great and important.)  This book brings to you what you might call a "gospel centered life" and a daily reminder that Jesus is your saving grace.  Blurbs on the back are from thoughtful and wise leaders such as David Powlison of CCEF, Joni Eareckson Tada, and Key Life Radio dude Steve Brown. This is a power-house volume, able to help you see how the gospel can transform your life, grace upon grace, from the inside out. Solid.

We Make the Road by Walking- A Year Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation.jpgWe Make the Road by Walking: A Year Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation Brian D. McLaren (Jericho Books) $25.00 I hope that you, like me, tire of the nasty or muddled over-reactions by some strident people regarding popular authors in faith traditions or "camps" with whom we may disagree. Rob Bell is either a heretic or walks on water; the emerging church is either neo-pagan or the faithful way of the future, McLaren is a textbook example of the complete loss of orthodoxy or the new Martin Luther.  One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry at such lack of nuance. (I wrote a longer piece about Brian and this book when it came out, if your interested, here.)

Anyway, Brian is a bit of a lightening rod, and for those that are more progressive, they will naturally love his creative call to be serious about engaging the Scriptures without being wooden or literalistic, learning contemplative spiritual practices, being in a small faith community with people from different views and experiences, to grapple together with the big story of the Bible, and to discern ways to be active in living out faith, especially for the common good, in the world. Social gospel-oriented folks have long wanted to be Biblical within that trajectory, and McLaren's well designed, year-long Bible study helps us live into that better than almost any such book I've seen!

Yet, those who worry that McLaren is less evangelical than he once was need only spend some time with him in the Word to see his love -- love, love, love -- of the Bible, his strong conviction that there is great truth here, and that the Holy Scriptures are the written Word, of God which point us vividly to the living Word, Jesus the Christ.

As Phyllis Tickle proclaims, We Make the Road by Walking is "one of the most remarkable documents in recent Christian writings..." There is, in it, she says, "a sinewy, but orderly, and open presentation of the faith. The result is as startling as it is beautiful."

Rachel Held Evans says "It changed the way I engage Scripture, the way I pray, the way I experience communion, and the way I interact with my neighbors."

Do you or yours want to walk the Jesus path together? Guided by the light of the Word, in the presence of the living Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, in serious community with one another, for the life of the reign of God "on Earth as it is in Heaven" you can build this road. You can.  You must.  This book will help, I'm sure of it.  It is a whole year's worth of readings, so why not join in now?

Exercising our Worldview- A Collection of Essays.jpgExercising our Worldview: A Collection of Essays Charles Adams (Dordt College Press) $25.00  This is not exactly a daily devotional, but for those of us who use more conventional prayer books or who don't do daily devos at all, this could be a resource to help you spend a brief, intentional time each day, or each week, thinking through the implications of the gospel of the Kingdom for daily life.  And what a resource this is!

Dr. Charles Adams taught at at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa and started a daily radio show there where he would do these five minute ruminations on everything "from technology to art, from one Christian's perspective." These popular broadcasts were called the "Plumbline" program, and he started using a Dutch pseudonym, D. Livid Vander Krowd -- a playful nod to being a non-Dutch transplant from the East Coast at this CRC college. Yes, the named alludes to his yearning to be "delivered from the crowd" (another playful nod, this time to Kierkegaard.) We are all called to be somehow non-conformed, to be transformed, to be counter-cultural, to be something other than lukewarm.  Here is what it says on the back cover:

So, while these essays may at times inspire you, anger you, surprise and delight you, ultimately they have been written to push you beyond "the crowd" by enabling you to see with the Holy Spirit-filled eyes what faithfulness to God's Word might look like. 

By the way, if you liked the long column I wrote (found under the "columns" section of the website) about the new set of books by Calvin Seerveld, also published by Dordt College Press, you'll like this set of short pieces from the Dutch neo-Calvinist perspective; Adams cites Seerveld, in fact.  Greatly informed by the liberal arts and a Kuyperian Christian philosophy, the late Dr. Adams was a beloved engineering professor.  Here is what a colleague wrote of his classes and writing:

To have Professor Adams as a teacher was to be team-taught by the unlikely quartet of Dooyeweerd, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, and Dickens, all supervised by the teacher in Ecclesiastes.  Neither technophile or technopobe, he was more than an engineer, he was an artisan of life.

sacred pause hackenberg.jpgSacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-weary Christian Rachel G. Hackenberg (Paraclete) $21.00  I announced this just a few weeks ago when I was listing some books that would make handsome gifts, that were expertly designed and lovely to behold.  This is certainly one of those, with the artful design a wonderful platform for the creative content, the beautiful invitation to ponder deeply and experience God's grace, bit by bit, through these guided readings. 

Here is what I said:   Leave it to Paraclete to once again give us a splendid, rich, wonderfully made small book of prayerful meditation, illustrated with good graphic design and full color photography and artwork.  Hackenberg is a UCC pastor and the writer of the popular Writing to God, so you can expect a vivid, colorful, aesthetic experience.  Here, she invites us to "reconsider and re-engage" with the words we typically use to describe our faith.  As Bruce Epperly notes, "This book will awaken you to a sensational faith, encompassing all your senses and enabling you to experience the holiness of God in the quotidian adventures of life." Yes, this is inviting us to leave behind stagnant faith and tired expressions, but it is light-hearted and joyful, too. From grammar lessons to poetry, stuff on letters and helpfully playful definitions, this is upbeat, making you glad to be reading and pondering and doing such good stuff.  She draws on Microstyle by Chris Johnson, Finally Comes the Poet by Walt Brueggemann, and so many more artists, poets, scholars, pray-ers.  Handsome, unusual, nice.
  This nice hardback is over 215 pages, with 12 chapters, each with thoughtful questions, stuff to do and ponder, and I could easily see it being use over a period of weeks or months.

Wasted Prayer- Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing.jpg

Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing Greg Darkley (Nelson) $15.99  I was concerned when I announced this and promoted it a bit this fall, for fear of giving the impression that we don't value serious, dedication, zealous, long-term prayerfulness.  Indeed, we do value exactly that, and have a huge selection of shelves and shelves about prayer.  And yet, we all know that "faith without works is dead" and so might it also be said (as this author does) that prayer without action is wasted?  He asks "what would your life look like if you stopped praying about God's will and just did it instead? How would your church look if it spent as much time serving as it spent praying about serving?"

It seems that the new year may be a perfect time to ponder this very question.

I don't know if one can pray too much, or if many churches do. I don't know of any, to be honest.  But yet I still resonant with this feisty, spiritually-sound call to action.  Greg Darley is a social entrepreneur, speaker, and director of College Mobilization for International Justice Mission (IJM) one of the most action-oriented, but deeply prayerful organizations of which I know. This book offers some powerful, passionate Bible study exploring the interface of prayer and service, contemplation and action, intercession and faithful obedience.  

Look: I've got this problem, and maybe you do, too.  I think if I've read a book about prayer, that it counts as prayer.  I think if I've read a book about stopping sexual trafficking, it counts as abolition.  I can read about caring for the poor, and feel virtuous in doing so. Weird, eh?

You certainly know that I believe in the value of books and think that study is a major, serious, urgently necessary call to us all, and that we cannot go half-cocked into Christian service without knowing the theological foundations for and the cultural exegesis of any arena of action, service, calling or vocation. We've got to pray, study, reflect. So, yes, we need to read, and we need to pray.  But does praying about God's will substitute for stepping into it? Can a call to prayer and discernment actually be a smokescreen to avoid real faithfulness? Wasted Prayer uncovers the ways we use prayer to dodge responsibility for the work God has assigned us to do.  I dare you to read this alongside another devotional, or alongside a more conventional call to prayer.  As our friend Bob Goff says, after all, "love does."  Yes!

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