About April 2015

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in April 2015. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2015 is the previous archive.

May 2015 is the next archive.

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

April 2015 Archives

April 6, 2015

13 New Books You Must Know About: Lauren Winner, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Erin Lane, Nancy Pearcey, Richard Rohr, Matthew Crawford, Tony Jones, Lee Strobel and more - 20% OFF

Thanks to those who have ordered the very cool and excellently produced new book which we proudly announced last week, Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Ned Bustard & Greg Thornbury (Square Halo Press.; $17.99, on sale here at 20% off.)  We have enjoyed shipping this rare work about the long-running BBC geeky sci-fi show, even across the pond. Spread the word!

case grace strobel.jpgThe Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evident of Transformed Lives Lee Strobel (Zondervan) $22.99  I bet that not a few of us heard sermons this week about how the message of Easter can change our lives. Maybe you heard a good story or two of real people whose lives were transformed by the gospel. If you, like most people, love those kinds of stories - or you want to share a book with somebody who needs those kinds of stories - this is the book for you. Not unlike his other useful anthologies (Case for Christ, Case for Faith, Case for a Creator) Strobel uses his considerable journalistic skill and his own lively verve to tells the tales of those who met Christ, came to understand grace, were set free by free-flowing mercy. What great and intriguing and fabulous stories.  Strobel is more candid here about his own journey from atheism to follower of Jesus. There is an extensive study guide in the back, too, making this great for book clubs. This is Strobel's most personal and practice book yet.  Watch Lee talk about it in this very nice short video clip.

Vulnerable Faith - Missional Living.jpgVulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick  Jamie Arpin-Ricci (Paraclete Press) $16.99  Like most of the titles in this list, this fine book deserves a much better review than I can offer here in these brief annotations. Trust me, here:  Jamie is the real deal; an experienced and wise missional pastor of an inner city faith community in Winnipeg called Little Flowers who is always worth listening to.  He has spent decades in urban ministry, and has written widely - good, if provocative and challenging, stuff on grace and discipleship, community and servanthood, prayer and public life. 

In Vulnerable Faith Arpin-Ricci brings an upbeat, informative, and really fresh telling of the story of the early Celtic Christian leader, Saint Patrick.  What transformation Patrick experienced as his own faith radicalized his lifestyle of mission and daily discipleship!  There is good reason why so many are interested in Celtic spirituality, the legendary sort of piety that honors the Earth and cares for the poor and respects the cultures of others. This new book, which has at times a gentle, devotional tone, uses the life of Saint Patrick to show how we all can take deeper steps to be more faithful to Jesus -- in matters of being vulnerable, hospitable, nonviolent. He shows how to take faith seriously -- in ways that invite us to more authentic community, a more contemplative way of spiritual formation, and a more costly sort of servanthood and lived out ethics.   I think this is valuable, too, because it has emerged from Jamie's own work (in part through a group called Bridgefolk) drawing together Mennonites and Catholics. I suspect most BookNotes readers are neither Mennonite nor Catholic but I also suspect that a number of us draw on the best insights of these profound faith traditions. This book brings some really good stuff to us all, maybe like some mash-up of Celtic and Mennonite radical discipleship in light of Bonhoeffer's Life Together.  A warm and very special foreword is by Jean Vanier.  Highly recommended. 

I really like the way they act out Patrick miraculous journey out of slavery, and the remarkable quotes endorsing the book that appear in this moving trailer for the book. Enjoy!

Lessons in Belonging From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe.jpgLessons in Belonging From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe Erin Lane (IVP/cresendo) $16.00 One of the best written paperbacks of the year, this is a truly splendid,  very honest,  often funny,   really enjoyable and profound rumination on commitment and belonging to a local church. I'm telling you, you've not read a book on community or parish life like this before!  If you are young and longing for community but not so sure of the local congregation, you have to read this. If you are an older reader, wondering why young adults may not be as active in church as you may wish, and want a wonderful and helpful glimpse into their lives and faith, this story is a must. Ms Lane has a degree from Duke Divinity School, to make matters more sticky, her husband is a pastor. She knows her way around good sentences and storytelling, too; she helped edit an anthology we love of Christian women telling their stories called Talking Taboo. Lessons in Belonging written by a "commitment phobe" is very highly recommended.

Wearing God.jpgWearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God Lauren F. Winner (HarperOne) $24.99  This is, for me, personally, the most anticipated book of the season, and I almost regret that it hit bookstores the week before Easter.  I have not yet more than cracked the cover and glanced at the table of contents and footnotes I (and, okay, the acknowledgements, because, well, that's what I always do to get a feel for whom and what the author is grateful.)  This is not the first book that explores lesser known Biblical images for God, but it will most likely be the most beautifully written, the most inspiring, the most enjoyable to read, and significant to take to heart.  Here is what it says on the back:

Clothing. Beekeeper. A loaf of bread. A cypress tree. These are a few of the lyrical metaphors for God found in the Bible. Author, scholar, and priest Lauren Winner shows just how rich the biblical depictions of God are -and helps us consider how our friendship with God and our sense of ourselves, changes and deepens if we pray to a God who is as close to us as clothing, a God who laughs at injustice, a God who arrests our attention like a flame.

The always eloquent Barbara Brown Taylor says of Wearing God,

Lauren Winner's curiosity about the life of faith is so compelling -- and her intelligence is so engaging -- that there is nothing more satisfying then settling down with a new book from her. The only problem is that it is impossible to read her without being changed. So advance at your own risk - in this case, that you will begin to see God differently so that your old way of relating no longer works. This, of course, is the best possible news.

You will be hearing more about this (already you may have seen an excerpt in The Christian Century) so you might as well just order this form us now, and join the conversations. Happy reading!

Finding God in the Verbs.jpgFinding God in the Verbs: Crafting a Fresh Language of Prayer Jennie Isbell & J. Brent Bill (IVP/formation) $16.00 I think it is kind of funny to see the zesty swirls of color on this busy cover, realizing the authors are both Quakers. But maybe Friends are not as you imagine, and energy captured here is just right. This new handbook is not that quiet or still, not even all that sober, but is fresh and lively and full of mystery and energy; it's about verbs, you know.  Language, they remind us, shapes and guides us, even our understanding of our encounters with God. As Nathan Foster notes of it,  Finding God in the Verbs "ultimately unlocks our hearts into a deeper, more intimate relationship of joy and ease with God."  A book that offers "ease with God." Wow.  (Now that sounds Quaker, eh?) These two writers and spiritual directors obviously have spent some time in some deep waters, and they are obviously lovers of words, of good language.  This book of exercises can help you deepen your love, too, for prayer and words and, finally, for God.

What the Mystics Know- Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self Richard Rohr.jpgWhat the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self Richard Rohr (Crossroads) $19.95  Anyone who keeps up with the most popular spiritual writers knows Fr. Richard Rohr, a lively and socially engaged Franciscan.  In this new hardback, he invites us to central values that guide the monastic path, offering, as he has in recent works, not only practices to know God more deeply, but ways to know one's own self with more holy awareness. One of the interesting things about this handsome book is the color on the inside (even the ink color) and the full color pictures illuminating the text. This might remind readers of good on-line text or a classy magazine, with useful art and color and photographs.  Maybe these seven pathways were given as talks and these were the PowerPoint slides that enhanced it.  However it developed it is a bit unique, and many will love this guy into the mystical path.

Starting Something New- Spiritual Direction for Your God Given Dream.jpgStarting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God Given Dream Beth A. Booram (IVP/formation) $16.00  I have often recommended Booram's lovely The Wide Open Spaces of God to those who are interested in experiential education and finding ways to relate faith formation and place; her book of meditation based on many different paintings of Jesus (Picturing the Face of Jesus) is a sleeper that should be better known.  The fabulous book Awakening Your Senses is packed with exercises and suggestions for using our senses to experience God and God's creation.  This new one is a wonderful resource which, as Randy Reese puts it, "offers both inspiration and wisdom through her own story and the stories of those who trusted the Spirit's stirring to follow after their own God-given dreams. Whether you are seeking direction or providing it for others, Starting Something New will help set people on a path they were meant to follow after."  Here is what it says on the back cover: "Do you long to change your lifestyle or vocation, or to start a new business or nonprofit ministry? Do you find yourself wondering "How do I know for sure that this dream is from God and for me? And what in the world should I do?"  This really is a book to help guide you through the spiritual process of defining and acting on the idea stirring within you.

The World Beyond Your Head- On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.jpgThe World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction Matthew Crawford (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) $26.00  I hope you know how much we have appreciated Crawford's brilliant Shop Class as Soul Craft, the rather heady, but truly wonderfully book  about opening a motorcycle repair shop, an eloquent mediation about blue collar work, the trades, why shop class is so important, and how working with one's hands moves us away from the abstract and often surreal nature of higher education. If Shop Class was about the importance of manual competence, and mastering one's physical environment, this is about mastering one's own mind. He gives sustained attention to real things, and looks at certain workers and their individual abilities. I have been holding this waiting for the time to give it the attention it deserves. Surely this will be one of the most discussed books of the year; it received rare starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist.  Here's a video of excerpts of a talk Crawford gave  and a fascinating, serious panel discussion with our friends at Cardus not long ago.

Jones Did God Kill.pngDid God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History's Most Famous Execution Tony Jones (HarperOne) $26.99  I suppose you are aware that there has been a lively (and at times ugly) debate in mostly evangelical (or emerging post-evangelical) circles, about the nature of the atonement, what the cross is about, and the significance of Christ's death. I have read many of these recent books - defending classic penal substitutionary views of atonement and justification, looking at orthodox but fresh new perspectives, and even some that are what conventional believers who think to be a bit "out there." There are good books that survey various schools of thought, and there are scholars who are irenic and balanced, some who are iconoclastic and deconstructive.  This small announcement is not the place to further describe this robust conversation, other than to say that I have found Tony Jones's book to be one of the most interesting, stimulating, approachable and provocative books on this topic I have yet read. He covers a lot of ground, and explains things with wit and (most of the time) fairness.  From the honest explanations of why some of Bible stories and teaching (not to mention later theological formulations) are disturbing to some folks, to how various models or approaches were developed, this really does offer hope and new ways of holding all of this together for those who are frustrated with conventional single-minded teaching that explains the death of Christ solely in punitive ways. Although Jones is known as a provocative writer, this isn't some fringe, weirdo topic: we all should reflect, regularly, how best to understand and explain this central core of Christian faith.  And Tony is right to ask what kind of God is behind each model of atonement, and what kind of fruit our theological explanations bears (he calls it "the smell test.") This is vital stuff.  Adam Hamilton says "Every Christian should read this book" and Nadia Bolz-Weber (an edgy-looking emergent Lutheran pastor who preaches pretty standard law-gospel  messages week by week) says "I will be honestly referring people to it for decades to come.  It's that important."  

 Phyllis Tickle says, 

Did God Kill Jesus?  is the one and only book I have ever seen on the atonement that I can wholeheartedly recommend without reservation and with devout enthusiasm. Even-handed, historically complete, accessible to any reader who chooses to approach it, this is a masterful piece of work.

I might not endorse it as decisively in the way that Phyllis does, but she does gives you a sense of how important this book is. I really like how Brian McLaren recommends it:  "...you'll be grateful for the chance to think alongside a passionate, inspiring theologian who writes with clarity, intensity, and relentless curiosity."  Appreciate Tony's "intense" style or not,  be glad for his drawing on Girard or Multmonn, be frustrated with his candor and crass language, and, finally, agree or not with his alternative understanding(s) of the death of Christ, it is still good to be curious, good to be honest before the complexities of this stuff, good to study along with a helpful guide.   

The Skeletons in God's Closet- The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War.jpgThe Skeletons in God's Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War Joshua Ryan Butler (Thomas Nelson)$ 15.99  This 350 page book was obviously a labor of love by a very thoughtful, aware and hip, young  pastor. (Joshua - a reader of BookNotes, I suppose I might add - is a pastor of outreach at the very creative Imago Dei Community in Portland. Rick McKinley, whose books I love, is from there, and wrote a nice foreword.) As one who oversees the churches considerable activism around foster care, against trafficking, homelessness and global issues like HIV-support and clean water projects, Butler  knows, more than most of us, what it means to long for God's redemption of the fallen creation. He understands the hope of the gospel and offers here what Scot McKnight describes as "relief and joy."  Let's face it, though:  for many of us it does seem like God has some skeletons in the closest - some even think God appears like a moral monster, a sadistic torturer, even, especially when thinking about hell or the violence in the Bible.  I think Butler has given us one of the better books about all this, sensitive, honest, creative and fresh, energetic.  He doesn't stretch for untenable, obscure answers, but yet willing to work out the implications of our "texts of terror" with the Bible's testimony that God is good, and working to heal the fabric of this world. Can hell be merciful? Can judgment be surprisingly good?   I think this is a fine contribution, and will thrill those who appreciate Biblical scholars such as Oliver and Joan O'Donovan, N.T. Wright, Chris Wright, John Goldingay, Leslie Newbigin, Miroslov Volf.

finding truth.jpgFinding Truth  Nancy Pearcey (David C. Cook) $22.99  A few who know me know that one of the great influences in my life in the 1970s was a Dutch Kuyperian professor and activist named Peter Steen who taught college students to analyze Western society by discerning the main "spirits of the age" and the idols that formed the main worldviews of the secularized culture committed mostly to capitalism and progress. Drawing on Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, Steen taught us (including some in the CCO and those who founded the Jubilee conference) this conceptual tool that was somewhat akin, if a bit deeper, to the cultural and philosophical apologetic of Francis Schaeffer.) We learned that many of the cultural shifts of the middle of the 20th century (most bluntly, a reductionist rationalism, mostly on the right and bohemian romanticism, mostly on the left) have their most immediate roots in the eighteenth Enlightenment, even the French Revolution (even though Steen insisted that the dualisms and wrong-headed ways of seeing life and doing education began with the ancient Greek philosophers, and in the early church's accommodation to pagan Greek thought.)

Well, well.  Few cite Dooyeweerd as helpfully, or speak like Schaeffer so passionately, these days as Nancy Pearcey and in this new book she sets out to teach us "5 principles for unmasking atheism, secularism, and other god substitutes."  From modernism to postmodernism, from arid logic to touchy feely emotionalism, nothing is safe under Pearcey's incisive critique." Secular worldviews have become," in the words of John Erickson, the author of the great Hank the Cowdog series, "the intellectual fast food of our day -- nice taste, no nourishment." Pearcey can help us be critical thinkers, not falling for popular attitudes and sloganeering. Finding Truth, says David Naugle, is "wonderfully insightful...helps readers avoid becoming 'intoxicated' with idols and false ideas." 

One of the good friends of the aforementioned Pete Steen was Al Wolters (of Creation Regained) and he says, "Nancy Pearcey has produced another winner. Here again we find what we have come to expect from her: readability, clear thought, a nose for remarkable quotations, a high regard for biblical authority, and a passion for Christian cultural engagement." I hope to write more about this when I'm finished with it and process it a bit -- the book is over 360 pages, and I'm only half-way through -- but, like other titles on this list, I think one need not agree with every point on every page, to still come away immensely richer, more aware, educated, edified, stimulated, even. Which is to say, reading this kind of a book makes you more alive, more human, even, for (as is said in the excellent foreword) to be human is "to write, to compose, to create, and to dream. So is to think, to test, and to know why." Kudos to Cook for bringing this big, thoughtful work to us, to help us to ponder "why?" Thanks to Nancy for telling her very compelling personl story, and reminding us of the need for intellectual engagement, serious willingness to think and care deeply, for faith that is more than subjective sentiment, and for doing this kind of very interesting work. And for citing that old Dutch legal philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd. Listen here to an audio recording of the first few pages of this book. Listen to the first 3 or 4 minutes and you'll why she thinks this is all so very important, and how the principles she explains in this book will be helpful, perhaps even lifesaving. 

Rejoicing in Christ Michael Reeves .jpgRejoicing in Christ Michael Reeves (IVP Academic) $16.00 Reeves wrote a book a few years ago called Delighting in the Trinity which was a great primer on the nature of the Triune God, but with this experiential component, inviting us to delight in the goodness of this complex, relational Divine One-in-Three persons.  It was a rich and thoughtful academic work, but not heady or obscure, just good meat for educated readers.  Here, again, Reeves offers a book that is intelligent and learned, but still offered for ordinary educated readers to learn what our best theologians say about the nature of God and the person and work of Christ. With blurbs from Michael Horton (Westminster Seminary West) who says 

Michael Reeves has a knack not only for making great truths accessible, but for leading us to bask in the warmth of Christ. Our mediator not only in salvation, but in creation and consummation, Christ isn't just a gift-giver, he is the Gift.

This book, of about 125 pages, is, quite simply, a book about rejoicing in Christ. Here, a week after Holy Week and Resurrection Day, you may be drawn to focus on Jesus.  And, to learn how to rejoice in Him.

Pray for the World- A New Prayer Resource from Operation World.jpgPray for the World: A New Prayer Resource from Operation World Foreword by Patrick Johnstone  (IVP/Operation World) $15.00  Many know, and some use, the spectacular prayer guide which offers details about and need to pray about for every country on Earth. Operation World remains an essential tool, but it is, in a few cases, a bit dated, now, and is, admittedly, chock full of data.  This up-to-date new volume emerged from the Operation World research teams who asked Christian leaders in every country one key question: 

"How should the body of Christ throughout the world be praying for your country?"

It would seem to me that every one of us should want to know their answer. It is a matter of ecumenicity, of course, but it is also obvious that many brothers and sisters in other lands are in dire straits - some poor, some the target of state repression, some, of course, violently persecuted.  Some are struggling with secularization and modernity, some with the loss of cultural traditions, some are in need of renewal, some need food and medicine. These country-by-country specific prayer requests are humbling and informative, and if you choose to pray through this book, I suspect it will change you for the rest of your life. Kudos to Operation World and IVP for bringing this remarkable daily payer guide so inexpensively to us. Perhaps you should buy a few for your fellowship, church, ministry, or Christian school.



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April 9, 2015

Embracing the Body (Tara Owens), This Is My Body (Ragan Sutterfield), Spiritual Friendship (Wesley Hill), and The World Beyond Your Head (Matthew Crawford) ON SALE

Christ is Risen! 

He is Risen Indeed!

Even low-brow evangelicals and hipster missional house church folk have been adopting this ancientthomas painting.jpg Orthodox call and response these days. I'm heartened by how many have signed off their emails this week with the creedal reminder, and hope this Eastertide season of the church shapes our imaginations and habits.  Nothing against the start of baseball season, of course (we have a Baltimore Sun sportswriter Dan Connolly coming in to the store next month to talk about the Orioles!), but there is something good about rooting ourselves in the ancient story.  At the change of each liturgical season I get out Bobby Gross's great devotional Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God (IVP; $18.00) and re-read Lauren Winner's spectacular introduction where she reflects on wanting to be more shaped by the church year than the customs of the American narrative and its secular feast days and calendar revolving around school seasons. What does it mean to be alive to the themes and insights about Jesus, season by season?

Certainly one of the great, great truths of this season is that Jesus rose from the dead.  So now is a goodMiracles.jpg time to think and maybe read about that. He did so in his body, the texts tell us, and I believe it -- the modernist lack of imagination among the progressive intelligentsia notwithstanding. If only we could pass out the latest Eric Metaxas book, Miracles (Dutton; $27.95), like loaves and fishes for those hungry for an enchanted universe. 

(And, while I'm on this preamble digression, allow me this tangent: New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, perhaps the world's leading scholar on first century ideas about resurrection has described how when he was trying to figure out if he was a Christian or not, he, of course, had to determine what he believed about this astounding claim that Jesus rose from the dead. To even entertain that, he had to first conclude if miracles - any kind of miracles - could even happen.  If not, then there was little point it trying to conjure up Easter faith.  So, he read C.S. Lewis's classic little paperback, Miracles and that was a key step in the process.  Once he came to realize that miracles are plausible, then he could proceed to the matter at hand: if that miracle - the literal raising of Jesus from the tomb - had happened.  Which is why I commend not only the Lewis standard, but the new Metaxas book. Not only because we may all need a little inspiration to recall that Hamlet was right in his quip to Horatio -- there is more to life then meets the naked eye -- but so that we can stand seriously on this ancient Christian essential truth:  Christ is Risen indeed.)

Okay.  That said, I'd like to suggest some books that seem particularly germane this week as we see life in light of the Light of the world, who is now much more than light. He is, as in the famous Updike poem, "Seven Stanzas At Easter," molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindled. ("Let us not mock God with metaphors" he writes. "Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body...") 

(John Calvin, you may have heard, was once asked if Jesus still sits at the right hand of the Father, as the Apostle Creed declares. His witty reply was that, most likely, He sometimes gets up and walks around. Which is to say, again, Updike is right. This is a real body, which Thomas touched and that reigns in Heaven, even now.)

Enough of me telling it slant, warming up.  Here are some books that are about the human body, since bodies matter.  Black ones, yes, yes, especially now, but that's not the half of it.  All sorts of stuff matters, and, in Christ, we are like new Adams and Eves, alive in the world, gloriously human, gladly bound by gravity and grace. "This is our Father's World" the old song says and despite the goofy lines in too many hymns (as documented in a few pages in Richard Middleton's A New Heaven and A New Earth) the whole Earth does declare the glory of God.  And that includes - like it or not - our bodies, from tongues to toenails.  

We suggest these books because they are very good. I suggest them now because, well, it is Eastertide, and it seems right.

Embracing the Body- Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone.jpgEmbracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone Tara M. Owens (IVP/formation) $17.00  This is the third spectacular book published by IVP in the last few years on the nature of the human body, living in our own skins, pondering the deep relationship between our deepest interior lives and our bodies.  (We recommend their practical and very spiritually enriching The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie Hess & Lane Arnold and the extraordinary, wonderfully-written What Your Body Knows About God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve, and Thrive by Rob Moll. I am sure Debra Hirsch's soon to be released Redeeming Sex, although a bit more specific, will also wonderful explore the relationship between our bodies and our faith.) I'm glad the acquisition team there are finding these kinds of helpful titles, and releasing them so affordably. Kudos to IVP.

This new book by Tara M. Owens declares that "Our bodies teach us about God, and God communicates to us through our bodies. Our bodies are more good that we can possibly imagine them to be. And yet at times we may struggle with feelings of shame and guilt or even pride in regard to our bodies. What is God trying to do through our skin and bones?"

tara m. jpgTara Owens is a spiritual director, a gifted, artful person, if a failed poet (so she tells us, although she doesn't blame her friends from the Image Journal Santa Fe Glen Workshop or her teacher Scott Cairnes) and a heck of a great writer. (I love somebody who cites the 21st century writer Christian Wiman and 2nd century poet, St. Symeon the New Theologian, C.S. Lewis and Rob Bell.) She edits an excellent, excellent spirituality journal, Conversations Journal, so gets to work with Gary Moon and David Benner and the likes of Richard Foster and Eugene Peterson and the late Dallas Willard. (By the way, do you recall that in Willard's breakthrough 1988 book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he had a chapter on the body!) Owens says her own "cranky patron saint" is the mystic Evelyn Underhill.  Besides her editing and writing, she is a part time instructor for the Benedictine Spiritual Formation Program at Benet Hill Monastery.  She is qualified to write an engaging, spiritually profound, mature and discerning book.

But why this, writing on the body?  She seems neither terribly broken nor distressed about her body (there are some powerful memoirs about eating disorders, say, or cutting, which get at the woundedness so many know.) She is deeply aware, though, and writes eloquently about these hard things that happen to and in our bodies, even though she comes at this less as a physiologist or psychologist, but as spiritual director. She know that our bodies are a central part of who we are, and that we can embody God's glorious intentions only as we become comfortable with our bodies. Our spirituality is intimately tied to our physicality.

Part One of Embracing the Body is called "Body Reality" and the four chapters are:

Where Do Our Fears Come From?

How We Lost Our Bodies?

Broken Body, Broken Church

Dust to Dust

In Part Two, Ms. Owens uses her wise and pastoral insights to offer us ways to "face our fears."  She offers really profound ways to frame these conversations and I am sure this is going to be immensely helpful for many.  I think it might be helpful to just list these chapters and what they cover:

Angel or Animal: Beyond False Dichotomies

Beauty of Beast: Living with an Unglorified Body

Touch or Temptation: Issues Around Sexuality

Desire or Destruction: Exploring Our Impulses

The third part of Embracing... includes five more great chapters, moving us towards a Kingdom vision,glory of our bodies poster.jpg how God's people in the church -a Body! - might help us with better body images, and how Christ's redemption may shape and heal our own distorted views and approaches.   As you might guess, I loved a chapter called "Sensing God's Kingdom:  Encountering God's Physical Creation" and highly recommend the chapter on sexuality.  (She cites the beautiful book by Lisa Graham McMann, which I often recommend, called Sexuality and Holy Longing: Embracing Intimacy in a Broken World.)  There are suggested exercises for reflection at the end of each chapter. 

Lauren Winner (whose brand new Wearing God I announced in our last post) says "This book is beautiful, learned and wise. It will make you think, and it will make you want to say 'amen' - and, more important, it will enable you to live as a body."  Micah Boyett (author of Found) says "Tara M. Owens is a rare find among contemporary writers. Part theologian, part mystic, her insight is bod and rich, and her writing is fine-tuned... I will be meditating on this book for a long time to come."

Enjoy this interview with Tara Owens, about her book, done by another astute blogger.

this is my body ragan s.jpgThis Is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith Ragan Sutterfield (Convergent Books) $22.99  It isn't every day that one sees a mature philosopher write a book about his own body (let alone a triumphant story of becoming an Ironman competitor.)  But this - this is smart, exceptionally well-written, captivating, a stimulating blend of memoir and reflection.  That Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove says it is a memoir "that threatens to up-end spiritual writing in the twenty-first century" is significant. This is, truly, an embodied sort of spirituality, a meditation about flesh and weight and sweat and tears and aches and pleasures.  

Sutterfield, by the way, wrote a small book that we mention as often as we can, the fantastic Cultivating Reality: How The Soil Might Save Us (Cascade; $16.00) which ponders the harm of industrial food systems, and offers a faithful glimpse of sustainable, soulful, agriculture. That he is indebted to Wendell Berry and the new agrarians is obvious, that he loves the land is evident.  That he is a great, solid writer is also evident.  He cites rich pieces of the New Yorker and knows good literature from the classic poets to the best theologians. He is studying to become an Episcopal priest.

In This Is My Body Sutterfield helps us think about our physical natures in ways that remind us that "God glories in the flesh." Even on the back cover, he asks, "What if we had the same joy about our bodies" as God does?  Although there is plenty of spiritually-enlightening reflection and some good and challenging diagnosis of our cultural dysfunctions, it is, after all, a memoir. (Rodney Clapp, founder of Brazos Press, and himself author of Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels) says it is "unflinchingly honest." This book is exactly that, and it is almost stunning to see anyone reflect on his own views of his own body with such candor. Each chapter tells of a season of his life, from a certain setting. (Including his time on a farm, which is pivotal.)   

Chapter by chapter, Sutterfield unfolds his story as he tells how he perceived and experienced his bodySutterfield-Ragan-210x300.jpg as a body, as he awakened to his body, to his own body in college. He became obese, and has chapters telling how his body was lonely, broken, fulfilled... you've been there, no doubt. Interspersed with these auto-biographical ruminations are episodes from his taking up Ironman training as a spiritual discipline.  I usually have little interest in reading about these kinds of hard exercise regimens or extreme sports stories (although we do have a book called Slowspoke about a guy riding a unicycle across the country) but found these parts very interesting. Beyond that, they were inspiring, and one more way into this conversation that God cares about this world, that there are, as Bruce Cockburn has sung, "rumours of glory" and that Christ's own resurrection helps us know in the deepest sense, the promise of the redemption of all things, including our bodies.  Did I mention that one of Mr. Sutterfield's chapters is called "My Resurrected Body"?  

I like that on the back cover it notes that Sutterfield "counts his success, though, not in his decreased clothing size, but in his increased understanding of how much God truly loves us and what it means to be stewards, not just of our souls, but of our skin and bones, too." What a story!

Spiritual Friendship- Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian.jpgSpiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian Wesley Hill (Brazos Press) $14.99 This book deserves its own longer review, and I am afraid I cannot do it justice here. It is one of the most important books of our time, vital, important, rare, wise, exceptional.  It is exactly about our embodiedness, yes, even about the redemption of our sexuality.  It is beautifully written, exquisite at times, and more candid then one might expect in an evangelical Christian book.  We are proud to carry it, and eager to commend it to one and all.

The author is a very sharp, Anglican theologian (indeed, his just released his long-awaited scholarly book Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations and the Pauline Letters (Eerdmans; $26.00) which itself deserves much acclaim.) Mr. Hill, though, is perhaps better known as the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality which was published by Zondervan ($14.99) a few years ago. There, he tells his story of being a thoughtful, evangelical and undeniably gay.  As one who holds to the traditional interpretations of the often-contested handful of texts about same sex behaviors, Wes is clear that he believes that he must, like other unmarried singles, remain sexually celibate. Washed and Waiting is the only book of its kind, a candid rumination by an out Christian who is gay and who is committed to sexual restraint, without muchwashed and waiting.jpg expectation of God re-orienting his own desires for same sex intimacy.  Some on the progressive side of things have lamented his prissy fidelity to heterosexual norms and some in the fundamentalist camps have wished for less candor from the brother.  (An unashamed gay Christian? Yikes!)  We believe that book to be a watershed and exceptionally helpful for those wanting a third way between the extremes.  Agree or not, it is, as they say, what it is: a testimonial witness of a very thoughtful, young evangelical leader ruminating on his body, on the redemption of all things, and his hope as he waits for the new earth.

In that significant book he notes that if one is committed to celibacy - no erotic, sexual activity - one certainly needs brothers and sisters along on the journey. Everyone needs companions, serious friends, those who can share life and times more deeply than even in more typical friendships. One needs (embodied) spiritual friendship, and Wes promised that this would be the topic of his next book.  Many of us - gay and straight - have awaited this next chapter of his story, and his theologically rich call to better, more profound views of friendship. I cannot tell you how glad I am that this is now available.

Here are four features of this great book which underscore why you should consider buying Spiritual Friendship, as soon as possible.

Firstly, we all know that one of the great themes of our time is the need for authentic community. Not a day goes by without an article crossing my desk - in cyberspace, that is, which may be part of the problem and some of the answer - about the fragmentation of our mobile culture, and why younger Christians, especially, are seeking community.  A gang of us moved into a big old house a few decades ago and christened ourselves "an intentional community" and it is beautiful to see that tribe now including houses and apartments throughout that neighborhood in the East End of Pittsburgh, with diverse and nearly intergenerational housing arrangements. (Apropos of not much, I might say it was a pretty depressed area when we moved in, and now there is a Whole Foods and Starbucks nearby.) So, yes, we long for a sense of place, for friends with whom we can do life, for churches to enhance our relationships, for community.  Wes moves beyond the rhetoric, it seems, and pushes us beyond grand talk of community to real friendships. (He's very good on this in the video interview to which I link, below.)

As Richard Hays of Duke writes of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church...

Courageous and thought provoking. This is a book that challenges all of us -- whatever our sexual experience or longings may be -- to think more truthfully about the meaning of love and the complex ways in which our communities either stifle or nurture it.

As Eve Tushnet (author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith) says, "Honest and poignant, Spiritual Friendship is like a conversation with a good friend who has learned much for books but more from loving and being loved by others." 

Secondly -- and this, too,  fits with my theme here of the redemption of our bodies, of God's care aboutside_dr_wesley_hill.jpg physicality -- I suspect this book, which I have only started, will talk about the value of human embrace, of touch.  Just this week in church a single friend mentioned to me that she and others she knows are "touched starved." She was not hinting at anything illicit, of course, but only admitting that single people,  widows and widowers, and all sorts of folks need human touch. Let us even leave aside the question of whether we all need something erotic in our lives, sensual pleasures. There is no doubt that we all need touch.  I think that Hill writes about this, and enters these frank matters out of both his own personal experience (which he mentions in Washed and Waiting) and from his meticulous, rich, theological studies.

Thirdly, there is, in recent years, a large move to recover ancient theological sources. There is a lot of interest in the patristics, in early church leaders, in a new rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox. (Read the powerful, heady memoir by Thomas Oden called A Change of Heart for some of this story.)  Some of this comes from an awareness that much of the crisis of faith in our secularizing time has rattled down from the rise of rationalistic modernity and the Enlightenment. Many realize that it is beneficial to retrieve older sources -- pre-modern, if you will -- and that ancient guides could provide ballast for shallow evangelicals and liberal Protestants alike. Whether you are immediately interested in the presenting concerns of Mr. Hill, as a celibate gay Christian, or the question of friendship, you may find it helpful to see how early church or medieval teachings presented this notion of spiritual friendship.  Hill has recovered a large body of work about friendship -- in fact, he has a fascinating epilogue which is an essay on his sources -- making this book a major contribution to the growing literature on what Peter Leithart says is "a lost Christian tradition of committed spiritual friendship."

Lastly, this book is a book-lovers dream. BookNotes readers may not know the works of St Aelred of Rievaulx (Spiritual Friendship written in 12th century England) or the early 20th century author Pavel Florensky.  More might know The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis or the many amazing lines in Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (There is a footnote, by the way,  of a letter to Hill from Charles Marsh, about the spiritual friendship of Bonhoeffer and Bethge that fans will want to see.)  Henri Nouwen, of course, shows up, as well.  Besides other important theological voices from years ago, Hill quotes popular contemporary studies and recent author (yes, Dan Brennen, whose rare book about cross-gender friendships, Sacred Unions gets a much-deserved shout out.)  He notes that moving chapter on loneliness in Lauren Winner's book Still, the lovely writings on love and romance by Diogenes Allen and novels like The Goldfinch or several by Chaim Potok.  Again, his essay which is a guided walk through all manner of recommended books, his own sources ancient and recent, is, for some of us, worth the price of the book.

Here is a remarkable half hour interview with Dr. Hill about his course on Christian friendship that he teaches at Trinity Evangelical School for Ministry. It is very, very good and I highly recommend it.

The World Beyond Your Head- On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.jpgThe World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction Matthew B. Crawford (FSG) $26.00  I announced this notable book on this prestigious publisher in the last post, naming 12 of our favorite books that released last month.  I have only dipped in to this - the booksellers joy and frustration - but I have talked to one of our most astute customers, a serious and delightful reader, who assures me it is one of the better books of the year.  Crawford, as you surely know (since you read my post earlier this week - ahem!) wrote the much-discussed Shop Class as Soulcraft a few years ago.  His story in that rich and learned work, is fantastic. He grew weary of his abstract and seemingly pointless work as a scholar in a think-tank and found new joy and meaning in a motorcycle repair shop he opened.  As one well-schooled in the liberal arts (and still involved in the academy as a senior fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies of Culture - run by James Davison Hunter) he can ponder the intricacies and nuances of cultural shifts with the best of them. (Ahh, but can other cultural critics fabricate components for custom motorcycles?) His call to re-instate shop class, for reasons both practical and soulful, is breathtaking.

Here, he moves further into this conversation that honors the work of our hands, literally.  Crawfordmatthew crawford.png extols practices and craft, he explains how the brain works (yes, neurology figures in to this new volume) and he invites us again to resist Gnosticism.  That is the theological heresy, of course, that devalued the physical world, hating the body as Plato did. (I still cringe when a congregation sings "I'll Fly Away" with its non-biblical, Platonic stuff about this world of God's being a "prison.") Crawford, by focusing on our literal, embodied labor and skills, helps us heady types recall the places we live and the ways we work.

Here is what it says on the lovely flyleaf of this handsome hardback (well designed and manufactured and delivered by real hands, by the way.):

We often complain about our fractured mental lives and feel beset by outside forces that destroy our focus and disrupt our peace of mind. Any defense against this, Crawford argues, requires that we reckon with the way attention sculpts the self. He examines the intense concentration of ice hockey players and short-order cooks, the quasi-autistic behavior of gambling addicts, the familiar hassles of daily life, and the deep slow craftwork of building pipe organs. He shows that our current crisis of attention is only superficially the result of digital technology and becomes more comprehensible when understood as the culmination of certain assumptions at the root of Western culture that are profoundly at odds with human nature.

The World Beyond Your Head promises to make sense of an astonishing array of familiar phenomena, from "the frustrations of airport security to the rise of the hipster." 

This glorious book is divided into two major sections: "Encountering Things" and "Other People." It starts with an epigram by Vincent Van Gogh, who wrote, "The great thing is to gather new vigor in reality."

Here is a very serious interview with this smart guy from a recent National Review. Wow.

For those of us who believe that Christ is Risen, there is, indeed, a really real reality. God's Spirit can give us new vigor to enter it well.  Perhaps we can imagine, envision, inhabit and embody the new Easter creation by experiencing grace firstly in our bodies.  As down-to-Earth farmer/poet Wendell Berry put it, we must "practice resurrection."  Maybe these books can help.



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April 14, 2015

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans AND Hopecasting by Mark Oestreicher - ON SALE

evolving in monkey town.jpgI remember reading and reviewing the memoir Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Held Evan's first book about growing up fundamentalist in the same town that gave us the  infamous Scopes trial. Dayton, Tennessee is locked forever in the American popular imagination as the site of the showdown between conservative religion and modern science and although the trial was in a previous century, Held used its defining impact as a springboard into her own feisty revolt against an anti-science sort of faith that is still too prevalent on the American religious landscape.

As I was reading it, years ago, I, myself, had been on the fringes of a battle here in our community, when a stupid lawsuit by the ACLU took an even stupider school board from Dover PA to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, over the school's legitimate (in my view) debate regarding Darwin's ideology about evolution happening by chance alone, and the philosophy of science that is inextricably connected to it. Could they mention that there were other views?  Darwin's great grandson was one of the several who sat in on the "Scopes 2" trial -- which lasted exactly 40 days and 40 nights ("Not by design," the judge quipped as the final official words of the trial.) Between the ill-informed creationism of many of the school board members and the militant secularism of some who opposed them, I was, it seemed, at odds with nearly everyone. It wasn't easy trying to get both camps to understand the other. Few seemed to want to grapple with the serious philosophical questions underlying the trial (as have been raised, say, in the brilliant Oxford University Press book by world-class philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies) let alone the more nuanced questions of philosophical pluralism in education policy.  

I remember this because Rachel's memoir put me in a world that I might not have otherwise known - again, she did, in fact, grow up monkey-town, and went to the college named after the lawyer in the famous Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan.  That is, you see, one of the reasons we so often recommend memoirs as they can be a window into the lives and views of others.

And this is one of the great reasons not only to know the writing of Ms Evans, but of her brand new book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (Nelson; $16.99.)

Rachel, too, wants various sides of debates and different sorts of faith traditions to understand one another, and although she has left her fundamentalism behind, with not a small amount of gusto, she remains an ally to any of us who want to bridge cultural divides, who long to nourish greater awareness and empathy of those who are different then ourselves. In her new book she says, in a very moving scene recalling her baptism, that there is no real escaping our past. This is who she is, one who was baptized into the body of Christ in a particular way, in a particular place, by a particular group of people.  Gladly, she does not disdain them. faith unraveleled.jpg

That fine first book of hers, in part about evolution, recently re-issued and retitled as Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned to Ask Questions (Nelson; $15.99) reminded me when I read it of some things I knew, and explained a lot I didn't, having not grown up in that world.  As a good memoir can,  it allowed me to enter into another's story. I appreciated much about the book, mostly, and, I think, said something to the effect that Rachel was a writer to watch.  Not only had she - quintessentially, perhaps - evolved out of fundamentalism and embraced a more open-minded, less dogmatic evangelical faith that wasn't tied to the Christian Right,  she was increasingly sharing her journey for all to see. 

She was a born storyteller and reporter, writing dispatches from the front, allowing us to listen in as she ranted and raved and ruminated on her increasingly important blog.  I think I was right to say then that she was a good writer and it is obvious now that she became a force to reckon with.  She was building a head of steam, on line and on the speaking circuit, coming on strong. Her Rachel Held Evans blog now has a global and dedicated following and she is loved and her work respected, despite the occasional crankiness and controversy that shows up on social media discussions.  

year of biblical womanhood.jpgHer second book was The Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master' (Nelson; $16.99) and was very entertainingly written, modeled after the sort of experiential memoir done of A.J. Jacobs.  This, again, showed her passion and resolve to leave behind a fundamentalism (and a Biblical hermeneutic) that is unhelpful and unsustainable. In that often hilarious book she attempts to actually do each and every thing the Bible commands of women, which leads her to do all manner of odd things, as commanded (at some point) in Scripture. Again, I mostly complimented this at BookNotes and highlighted it many places where we went, and appreciated her raising very legitimate questions about gender and Biblical interpretation in the delightful style of a comic memoir. You may take exception to this or that point or opinion of Rachel Held Evans but there is no doubt that she is a significant voice, an important writer, and an author whose work you should know.

searching for sunday.jpgEvans' brand new book, Searching  for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church is the triumphant third installment of these memoiristic tales of her faith journey. And it is without a doubt her best yet. It is stunningly exquisite, remarkable in its tender prose, good storytelling, and mature, ecumenical insight.  She offers her ruminations about the broader Christian church in a way that immediately resonated with Beth and I; Evans is positioned to see contemporary faith from a variety of healthy angles, from her ultra- conservative past to her progressive sensibilities, now. 

Evans journey is perhaps writ large, but she shares some similarities with other popular authors these days. Barbara Brown Taylor, for instance, who is perhaps the most famous Episcopalian writer of our generation, was nurtured in Christ in an evangelical campus ministry setting (as she briefly describes in her wonderful memoir The Preaching Life.) Nadia Bolz- Weber, who was raised in the strict Southern world of the Churches of Christ is now a tatted up, emerging Lutheran pastor. But more than these other women writers, Evans speaks of ecumenical and mainline denominational church life through the lens of her earlier experiences as a good-hearted fundamentalist.

It isn't every book that talks endearingly about AWANA and cites the Russian Orthodox theologian, the late Alexander Schmemann,  glowing about his brilliant book For the Life of the World.  It isn't every author that recalls (in a passage that for some reason brought tears to my eyes) her own childhood baptism with her sister - and the deviled eggs they made for her afterword, because somebody knew they were her favorites - and beautiful prayers from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer.  My ecumenical heart is warmed by writers who cite Tim Keller and Brian McLaren and Robert Webber and Robert Farrar Capon and Rachel Marie Stone and G.K. Chesterton. 

rachel held evans photo.pngRachel Held Evan was born and baptized into the Southern fundamentalist church,  grew disillusioned, and yet - as her subtitle here says - has spent her years "loving, leaving, and finding" the church.  Like many of the recent faith memoirs of writers of her generation she has had her frustrations with the church, but sure couldn't shake Jesus. "Christ-haunted" is the term Flannery O'Connor used for the American South, and it is surely a common expression used by many described in (for instance) the important work of David Kinnaman and his research on young adults who have left church. (See Kinnaman's You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving... and RethinkingFaith [Baker; $17.99] for a remarkably interesting study of this.)  Ms. Evans has became one of the small handful of younger, post-evangelical writers who helped reshape the conversation about the nature of gospel truth and emerging forms of experiencing faith and living out relevant discipleship. 

And, get this: she seems tired of the too-easy position of those who "love Jesus but not the church." In Searching for Sunday she shows a remarkable, wise, andwe long for our churches to be safe.jpg healthy love for the Body of Christ, for the local church, and for the ordinary stuff that gets done in the daily life of faith.  It isn't exactly the same as When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church (Jericho Books; $16.00) by UCC pastor Lillian Daniel -- which really is a tribute to the small, ordinary, local parish -- but I still cannot tell you how grateful I am for this fine work, this voice from the margins, aware of so much wrong with so many expressions of faith, and yet willing to tell us in such beautiful prose and revealing stories, why the church still matters.  And that it can still change our lives.  This is ecumenical, serious faith, expressed with wonder and grace and captivating prose.

Despite the lovely prose and the brave celebration of the local church, however, this book isn't all joy on the journey. This search is not a walk in the park.  Rachel - as we know from her previous books and blog - can be satirical, fierce, prophetic, even. She wears her heart on her sleeve.  And her shifting understanding of faith has not come easy.  After a passage describing attending services at her evangelical church, admitting that she resented the uplifted arms and how easily faith has seemed to come to some of her fellow-worshippers (even some who have suffered and been tested more than she) she fumes. 

Then she writes,

My husband of five years, Dan, stands beside me, steady as a pier to a drifting boat. Once we are home, we will crawl into bed together - both of us still dressed in our church clothes, but with our shoes kicked off - and he will listen as I mumble through my litany of grievances: the political jab during the announcements, the talk of hell, the simplistic interpretation of a complicated text, the violent and masculine theology, the seemingly shared assumption that the end times are upon us because we just elected a Democratic president with a foreign-sounding name. I glom onto these offenses, not because they are particularly grievous or even real, but because they give me reasons to hate going to church besides my own ugly doubt. They give me someone else to blame. Maybe it's time to call it quits, we will say. Maybe let's give it one more week.

There are recovery programs for people grieving the loss of a parent, a sibling, a spouse. You can buy books on how to cope with the death of a beloved pet or work through the anguish of a miscarriage. We speak openly with one another about the bereavement that can accompany a layoff, a move, a diagnosis, or a dream deferred. But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You're on your own for that.

There is some anguishing stuff in here.  In one chapter she tells of the story of J.R. Briggs (whose book about the shame of ministry failure, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure is a must-read!) That chapter starts with an epigram from Ian Morgan Cron, who has said "All ministry begins at the ragged edges of your own failure."

I was glad, also, to see her cite the indie folk-singer Gregory Alan Isakov, and his line "I threw stones at the stars, but the whole sky fell."  In that line is a whole story, of course, and Rachel using it says much about the price she has paid to find her place.  

Ian Cron offers a blurb on the back, too, by the way, and he is always worth listening to.

Of Searching for Sunday he writes, If you're done with church, or simply on the verge of throwing in the towel, then please, please, please, read this book. It is brave, wry, and exquisitely penned meditation from someone who knows precisely how you feel.

But this book is not just for those who are anguished about the church, angry prodigals or doubters. For anyone looking for a good read, there is such joy in taking in the spiritual memoir and reflections of a thoughtful sister who has seen a lot, considered much, learned some, and written about it nicely. Perhaps it takes one who has not been raised in the more liturgical churches to uncover some of the strengths of that tradition, but she does this well. Of course she thanks her friend  Diana Butler Bass and cites Barbara Brown Taylor and Lauren Winner. She draws on United Methodist leader William Willimon and the Lutheran Book of Worship.

Evans here tells of her insights about the church and the Christian life by telling of her journey towards a more liturgical and mainline sort of Protestant faith. Even though she opens with a quote from the current Pope.

Here is the key to the book: Searching for Sunday is arranged as a set of ruminations on what RomanRachel Held Evans picture of communion.jpg Catholics call the seven sacraments. (When I first heard this I wondered, although didn't think it was likely, that Rachel had become Catholic.) These seven parts, each with several chapters, of sacramental reflections are rich and give the book a structure which is more than just a random collection of her latest thoughts. It is a mature, developed, and highly insightful flow of what might be called spiritual theology.  She is doing helpful good work here, besides offering us an entertaining third installment of her ongoing series of memoirs. As she unfolds some of her story - their stint away from church, sleeping in on Sunday, watching Meet the Press and reading the paper ("one New York Times crossword puzzle away from liberal nirvana") and their eventual return, somewhat sobered - she also tells us what she has learned about the seven sacraments. 

She describes her approach like this:

I am telling my church story in seven sections, through the imagery of baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. These are the seven sacraments named by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, but one need not consider them the church's only sacraments. I could easily write about the sacrament of pilgrimage, the sacrament of foot washing, the sacrament of the Word, the sacrament of making chicken casseroles, or any number of outward signs of inward grace. My aim in employing these seven sacraments is not theological or ecclesiological, but rather literary. They are the tent pegs anchoring my little tabernacle of a story to the ground. I chose them because they have something of a universal quality, for even in churches that are not expressly sacramental,  the truths of the sacrament are generally shared.

She illustrates what she means with this bullet list:

The church tells us we are loved (baptism). The church tells us we are broken (confession). The church tells us we are commissioned (holy orders). The church feeds us (communion). The church welcomes us (confirmation). The church anoints us (anointing of the sick). The church unites us (marriage).

As you might guess, she ends up turning over some similar ground that others have plowed, most obviously, here, Barbara Brown Taylor (Leaving Church, An Altar in the World, Learning to Walk in the Dark) and Lauren Winner (Still.)  That is not to say Evans is derivative, not at all. Like these other exceptional women writers, Held Evans uses the images and metaphors and insights about sacramentalism and invites us to see deep truths embedded not only in church teaching and congregational life, but in the created order itself.

At times the writing is luminous, helping us glimpse the the most profound realities of God's glory seen in what we experience, in what Robert Johnston has recently called in a book called God's Wider Presence.  As Evans says in her forward, she is not just writing about the search for church, but resurrection. 

It's about all the strange ways God brings dead things back to life again. It's about giving up and starting over again. It's about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk about Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet racing the rising sun.

I hope you like this book, and I hope you appreciate Rachel Held Evans as good writer, an honest seeker who refuses to succumb to cheap cynicism or bitterness, who sees resurrection hope in places like Becca Steven's community for former prostitutes and addicts called Thistle Farms or Sara Miles' work with the urban poor.  She knows that the body of Christ includes (and at its best draws on the insights and practices of) Mennonites and Anglicans and Free Methodists and free range folk of all kinds, from emerging house churches to third world base communities to non-denom Pentecostals to mega-church evangelicals.  And she knows our stories are not over until they are over.  She herself is proof of this; lost and found, left and returned. From Monkey Town to the Canterbury Trail.

I certainly do not think that this book is only, or even mostly, for the discouraged or alienated. Many of us who are fairly ordinary Christians, more or less glad to be where we are, aware of other churches but not obsessed with ecumenicity, glad to ponder how grace and goodness might spill over and make all of life a sacrament, will benefit from this, too.  We commend it to you, seeker, skeptic, or spiritual leader. It would make a fantastic book club title or something to take on a quiet day away. You will most likely not agree with it all; I did not agree with it all. But that isn't the point with a book like this, made of ruminations, memories, stories, reflections.
like it or not, RHE banner.jpg Her last chapters are about the mystery of marriage, especially as it is seen as a metaphor for the church. These are clever and precious pages; read this little part:

We married before Pinterest, so there were no photo booths or mason jars or mustaches-on-sticks at the reception. Back in those days, the photographer just lined everybody in front of the church like it was a firing range and took the shot. We didn't even think to pose inside a vintage mirror frame or sit on a rusty pickup truck. But even though we started out young and poor and Republican, our marriage has been a happy one, and has made the meandering journey in and out of church a less lonely one for sure.

Then, in writing about her marriage, and their bristling about strict gender roles and some unhelpful marriage books they read, she notes, nicely:

What Dan and I found within just a few months of living together is that marriage isn't about sticking to a script; it's about making a life together. It's not a choreographed cha-cha, it's an intimate slow dance. It isn't a formula, it's a mystery. Few of the Christian marriage books prepared us for the actual adventure of marriage, which involves improvisation, compromise, and learning as you go.

She tells of the church customs that put crowns upon the heads of the married couples in their wedding ceremony (and, once again, cites Alexander Schmemenn.) And then, she reminds us beautifully not only of a spirituality of family life, but, I suppose, what is the point of the whole searching for Sunday thing, the ultimate truth of the book:

Dan and I have been married for eleven years now. Sometimes our marriage looks like the kingdom. Sometimes it does not. Sometimes we wear our crowns with decorum and grace. Sometimes we fight to snatch them off each other's heads. But what makes our marriage holy, what makes it "set apart" and sacramental, isn't the marriage certificate filed away in the basement or the degree to which we follow a list of rules and roles, it's the way God shows up in those everyday moments - loading the dishwasher, sharing a joke, hosting a meal, enduring an illness, working through a disagreement - and gives us a chance to notice, to pay attention to the divine. It's the way the God of resurrection makes all things new. searching for sunday.jpg

Learn about Rachel's coming of age and beginning to chafe at rigid fundamentalism in her book set in "Monkey town" USA, now called Faith Unraveled. Join her in the hilarious year-long romp trying to learn how to read the Bible well described in The Year of Biblical Womanhood. Both are really good. 

But this, this is nearly a masterpiece, her finest book yet, including great insights, caring, artful writing, and poignant, powerful storytelling. Rachel Held Evans is one of our notable young writers, and an author you should know.  Who knows, maybe you, too, need a gentle push to start over, reconsider your faith, to broaden your attentiveness to God's presence and work in the world, in the sacramental stuff of life, and, yes, in a local church.

Join her in Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding not only the church, but, perhaps, resurrection itself.

I suppose I should end my review right there.  But - you know how this works for me - there are several other titles that come to mind, that I'd love to mention.  For some reason, I just want to mention this one, now, as it somehow feels like a companion sort of book. They are very different in tone and topic, but here ya go.  It, too, is very, very good, and my quick announcement of it doesn't do it justice.
hopecasting-header.png hopecasting cover.jpgHopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen Mark Oestreicher (IVP) $16.00  Oh my, this book (with a nice foreword by Scot McKnight) deserves a long, weighty review.  "Why is it that some people are full of hope," the author asks, "while many of us struggle to get past the snooze alarm?" 

And isn't that a curious thing, how some people (I'm thinking of Rachel Held Evans, even) are resilient and are able to find fresh hope, while others grow hardened and stale and discouraged? What is hope, anyway, and how does one find it? How can we announce it to others, share it with the broken world? You know I loved (loved!) N.T. Wright's must-read, heavy-weight book Surprised By Hope. Perhaps you, too, will be drawn to a book called Hopecasting.

Well, this isn't just a simple study of the elusive quality of hopefulness in some people (although that in itself makes it worth reading) but it is a deep and profound and fabulous study of what hope is, loaded with good Bible study, and lots of illustrative stories. Princeton scholar and youth specialist Kenda Creasy Dean notes that it is "part memoir, part mentor, part prayer for the journey."

The genius recording artist David Crowder says "Oestreicher redefines hope, or better yet, pulls us back to a workable set of postures for receiving hope. This book reminds us that hope is a beautiful gift, an influx of Jesus into our dark and dry souls."  No lesser a hopester than IJM founder Gary Haugen has raved about it, noting that Hopecasting is "an invitation into active, faithful confidence in the goodness of God." (Gary, by the way, has seen some of the most gruesome stuff on the planet, walking through the corpses of Rwanda and now fighting brothels and child slavery throughout the world. If he, of all people,  says this is "deep encouragement for those of us who have ever struggled to cultivate transformative hope in hard places" then you can trust it. 

walt talking.jpghope within history.jpgmarko o.jpgFor what it is worth, if I were doing a bigger review, I'd further commend  Marko, as he is called (get it? Mark O.) for giving us a very nice introduction, without exactly saying so, to the work of Walter Brueggemann. Marko even joked that he considered calling this Brueggemann for Dummies and it does capture much of that for which Walt is known. Upon doing research for this book, Marko the gifted storyteller and upbeat youth worker, discovered Brueggemann, and holed himself up with two of my own favorite books, the greatly under-rated volumes of Walt's, Hope Within History and the sequel to The Prophetic Imagination called, simply, The Hopeful Imagination.

That Mr. Oestreicher channels some of the allusive, deep, Biblical vision makes of those two books makes this delightful, story-filled  book a true gift to God's people.

There are very interesting and practical reflection questions after each chapter (he calls them the "Hope Toolbox" -- something WB would not have done, by the way) that will be very, very helpful for those wanting to process this good material. The 10 chapters move us from an awareness of Biblical themes of exile and their resonance today, towards being honest with ourselves and God, even in lament, on towards an authentic encounter with Christ as "the hope bringer." Those paying attention to important discussions about faith formation and the transformation of desire will appreciate the penultimate chapter -- ""Hopes Dance Partner: Transformed Longings" which leads to the last great about how hope becomes hope-casting. (And, yes, if you must know, Moltmann makes a brief appearance.)  This is good, good, hardy stuff.

Jim Belcher is right, I think, when he says: "Read this book. Your life may never be the same again." Kudos to all involved.

hopecasting cover.jpgsearching for sunday.jpg



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April 23, 2015

NEW BOOKS, Helping Us Move to Maturity -- on sale 20% OFF

I hope you enjoyed the review I did last week of the latest memoir of the feisty and increasingly skilled writer, Rachel Held Evans. Searching for Sunday told of her frustrations with her experiences of conservative evangelical faith and her embrace of a more sacramental, open-minded sort of mainline denominational church experience. Our bookstore searching for sunday.jpghas always worked hard at showing books from various viewpoints and theological traditions, and while there seems to be an abundance these days of well-written memoirs and theological reformulations that tend to move away from historic orthodox views, there are - it is helpful to know - many who are moving (shall we say) the other way, too. (None that are as beautifully written as Rachel's though, or as dynamically passionate as Pastrix by Nadia Bolz Weber, say.)

There is an exodus from some mainline denominational churches which are often fuzzy about historic creeds and many of these disillusioned, hurting pilgrims are finding homes in more conventional, traditionalist churches, evangelical, Catholic or Orthodox. (Frederica Mathewes-Green, who has a brand new introduction to Orthodoxy, by the way, is a stellar writer from a decade or more ago who wrote Facing East, a memoir of becoming Orthodox which is beautifully rendered, and a very compelling faith journey; Rosaria Butterfield wrote seriously of her conversion to conservative Reformed faith after years as a postmodern literary critic, religious skeptic, and lesbian, in her memoir The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Thomas Oden's big autobiography, A Change of Heart, about which I have exclaimed before, although not lyrical or elegantly composed, is a brilliant story of a leading theological liberal who discerned a fatal trajectory in his life and work and returned to ancient, multi-cultural sources, becoming in the process an expert in ancient North African Christianity and thoughtful evangelical pressing the church towards clarity about the first things of the gospel.)

Anyway, I resonated with much of Rachel's very contemporary, fabulously-written and tender book, and commend it. If you know of anyone who, like she, has gone through religious disillusionment and needs to find an orientation to faith that is less harshly dogmatic and more gracious, her story of refusing to give up on church will be an aid. If you are evangelical and concerned about those drawn to other sorts of faith experiences, I think it is a good window into the journey of many these days and will be an interesting read.  Here is another review that I thought was helpful on this very matter written wonderfully by Katelyn Beaty of Christianity Today.

So, on we go; we keep reading, keep learning, enjoying books and finding good conversations around the creative sentences and poignant pages found in these blocks of paper and print. I have often said that it is wise to work through classic works and maybe even some dry tomes, but I do hope you find pleasure in your learning, reading stuff that is enjoyable, stimulating, good to hold in your hands and hearts. Books matter, and reading a lot is a good thing. It is a joy to serve you by alerting you to books and titles, authors and ideas.

Here are some new ones that I won't take time to describe in detail. Almost without me realizing it at first, these are mostly all about deepening faith, maturing, being wiser and better informed, able to take up Christians ways of being in the world. I hope you notice the ecumenical diversity - we sure do stock books from a variety of publishers!  Maybe something here will strike you enough to order it from us.  We'd be grateful.

pray like a goumet.jpgPray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul David Brazzeal (Paraclete) $18.99  Brazzeal lies in France ("where he enjoys warm baguettes from the boulangerie and fresh cheese from the marche.) I gather he's a character -the back cover says "whether writing poetry, creating guerrilla labyrinths, or electro-meditative music, his work is inspired by the organic fusion that exists between the spiritual and the creative." Here, he offers bunches of ways to "pray like a gourmet" by drawing on all things foodie, imagining prayer like a find French meal, a flow of courses, one as good as the next, creative recipes, infusing all your senses, enticing you to return for more. 

One fantastic endorsement is from Graham Kerr, of the old Galloping Gourmet TV show - he is now a strong Christian! - which would make you want to read it immediately. The widely read and ever gracious Phyllis Tickle says it is the "gentlest, most readable, kindest guide to prayer one could ever hope to explore."  I love how she puts it: "Reading through its storied pages, one goes from "'I never thought of that' to 'I could do that' to 'I want to do that' and back again."  Now that is a nice endorsement for a book on prayer, isn't it? And, there's all that fun French food stuff.  Done in lovely full color art it is delightfully designed, offers creative insight and is a grand book, another in the "Active Prayer Series" published by this ecumenical, contemplative publisher. Beautiful, intriguing, wondrous.

FindingLivelihood-ag4-330.jpgFinding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure  Nancy J. Nodrenson (Kalos Press) $14.95  Kalos Press is known for being a classy, literary house that does thoughtful and beautifully crafted books of essays and memoirs. (God In The Sink: Essays from Toad Hall by our friend Margie Haack was their last release, one of our "Best of 2014" award-winners.) This brand new book is nothing short of spectacular, and I will surely review it more thoroughly, soon. I believe it is fair to say that Nancy Nordenson is a writer to watch and that this book should be considered a major, significant work. She has written in places as diverse as the Harvard Divinity Bulletin and Comment magazine.

This lovely book is about a lot of things, but mostly, about a spirituality of work.  It takes the "faith and work" conversation in new directions, drilling deeper, offering ruminations on the nature of good work, on measuring our significance, or discerning God's call.  I'll write more later, but it is extraordinary and I highly recommend it.

Here is what it says on the back cover: "At once a shrewd challenge of Buechner's assertion that "the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet" and also a lyrical journey to the place where labor and love meet, Finding Livelihood explores the tensions between the planned life and the given, between desire and need, between aspirations and limits."  Oh my, isn't that beautiful and intriguing and good? Don't you long for good writing and mature thinking like this? You will be hearing more about this, for sure.

jesus outside the lines.jpgJesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides  Scott Sauls (Tyndale) $15.99  Perhaps the largest theme in the new book by Rachel Held Evans, that I reviewed last time, is her frustration with those who bring culture wars approaches from the so-called religious right to evangelical faith. She, and many of her fellow-travelers, have tired of that approach, and for good reason. Yet, some think, I suppose, that many progressives -- writing with such passion about what is wrong with fundamentalism -- themselves damage the church by fueling the fires of dissension. Are the religious progressives just the flip side of religious fundamentalists?  I don't know quite what to think myself, since I have such allies on various places in the Body of Christ, and have worked for reform myself, sometimes with a bit too much self-righteous zeal. I tired of it all, a long for healing and hope. Or at least civility... 

Scott Sauls brings a voice of relief, a rare view, indeed. That there is a foreword by Gabe Lyons isn't surprising -- Gabe has long made a case for a generous but robust evangelicalism that engages the culture without ideology or anger. Tim Keller offers a front-cover blurb, calling it "a refreshing look at discipleship in our late modern times."  That Keller observes the cultural location -- "late modern" times -- is not insignificant, of course, and is a clue that this book carries a degree of social sophistication. I think it is a very good book.

Yet, what Sauls offers is pretty basic: the gospel of God's grace, an invitation to color outside the lines a bit, redemptively.  For those on either side who are weary of "us vs them" we need not be polarized but can find truth and beauty, grace and goodness, by more closing following the patterns of Jesus Himself.  This book will not erase differences, or even animosities, I'm afraid. But it might offer us a way forward -- away from harshness, caricatures, and stereotypes, if only it is read and taken to heart. I know I need to be reminded of this call to civility and Christian charity, and I suspect you might too. Sauls serves as the senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, but previously served as a lead and preaching pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan.  My friend Bethany Jenkins (director of the Gospel Coalition's "Every Square Inch" project writes,

The "conform or else" mentality of our late modern culture is disheartening, lamentable, and transgressive to human flourishing. Yet the root of the problem isn't "out there" in our culture, but "in here" in our hearts. In Jesus Outside the Lines, Scott Sauls is authentic and vulnerable as he wisely and gently reminds us of our brokenness and shows us how the power and beauty of the gospel can heal us, from the inside out.

Listen to the eloquent reminder from Steve Garber,

Scott Sauls invites everyone everywhere into an honest conversation about the things that matter most -- and therefore at the same time are the most tender and contentious for us. But he does so as a friend... agreeing to disagree where we must, but with love and respect, with listening and friendship. In our polarizing world, where the more we know about each other means the less we care for each other, Scott's vision is a gift for those who care about the common good.

from here to maturity.jpgFrom Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity Thomas Bergler (Eerdmans) $20.00  I displayed a big stack of these at two different gatherings of church leaders, recently, and nobody bought any, which discourage me more than I can say.  I suppose the subtitle is perplexing to some, and maybe they thought - if they had heard of it at all - that it was mostly about youth ministry, as was his first one, The Juvenilization of American Christianity. That book is one which you should know about, as it won a number of awards last year, and got rave reviews in both Christian Century and Christianity Today.  That  first book argued that the historical rise of the specialty of youth ministry in the latter half of the twentieth century (for all its value) created new norms, customs, expectations, within American Christianity (mostly Protestantism) that were, well, juvenile. It is a dense and sophisticated diagnosis, and its acclaim was well deserved.

This new book, From Here to Maturity... is equally serious, but is Bergler's guide to help both individuals and church groups to move on from juvenilization, to grow spiritually, and grow towards spiritual maturity. This book explains what maturity is, why it is desirable and attainable, and how to reach it. Of course, maturity happens in community, and the ethos of our church or parachurch may or may not be congenial toward members growing up in the Lord.  Some of this is based on research done in real congregations, by the way, and he has helpful appendices listing questions used in observing congregational cultures, and some observed characteristics of youth ministries that build maturity.  Church leaders: you should know this stuff, and I am sure From Here to Maturity will help remind you of your own high calling and the best practices to ponder and enact.

godly play volume 8.jpggodly play all eight.jpgThe Complete Guide to Godly Play Volume 8 Jerome W. Berryman (Living the Good News) $29.95  We have sold these unique resources since they first came out, and while this "Montessori" approach to Christian education is beloved by those who use it, it takes a serious and spiritually profound commitment to trust the Spirit's leading in drawing children to the Biblical text and playfully/prayerfully allowing them to imagine its meaning. You may know that the various books cover various seasons, or themes; this new one includes 15 new presentations. The back cover tells us "it also includes a wealth of capstone insights gleaned from decades of research and practice, as well as an appendix summarizing the foundational literature and describing the entirety of the Godly Play spiral curriculum as it exits today."

As one reviewer notes, "Forty years of Jerome Berryman's thought and wisdom are reflected in this long-awaited Volume 8, the capstone..."  It certainly fills in some gaps, offers some helpful introductions, and, we believe, will deepen learners of any age in their relationship with Jesus.  We carry the other books by Berryman, and some new narrative booklets to be used with Godly Play storytelling.

Becoming the Gospel.jpgBecoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $28.00 I don't often write about heavy theology texts or mature works of Biblical studies. I'm not particularly qualified for these deep waters, but I do know that - see above! - we must deepen our maturity as we grapple with God's Word and form communities of faith in the way of following Jesus.  Occasionally, a book of Biblical studies arises that even if it is seriously written, deserves to be widely known, widely read, and should be well considered.  Becoming the Gospel is that kind of book.  I'll admit, gladly, that Mike is a friend, and a customer here, and that I have heard him lecture on this very topic.  Dr. Gorman has several other books - some rather academic, on Paul (Apostle of the Crucified Lord, Cruciformity and Inhabiting the Cruciform God which are in many ways companions to this new work), a lovely book called Reading Revelation Responsibility and a recent one offering a "(not so) new" model of the atonement, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant. Among other things, Mike holds the Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD. 

One can learn a lot by noting who authors acknowledge and thank. When one thanks Tom Wright, Beverly Gavanta, Michael Barram, and Richard Hays (among others) for reading parts of the manuscript and offering feedback, well, you realize you are in the top ranks of New Testament work. One reviewer says "Gorman has written another superb and groundbreaking study."  Another calls him "one of the leading Pauline scholars of our age."  Maybe the best way to express how important this new volume is, and the acclaim it is already receiving, is to cite this endorsements from the back cover by Dean Flemming:

This book is a tour de force in missional hermeneutics. With clear exegesis and fresh theological insights, Gorman uncovers Paul's rich and comprehensive understanding of the mission of God. The book's central thesis, that Paul expected all Christians not only to believe the gospel, but to become the gospel, and thus to further the gospel, is completely convincing. Yet this study also packs a powerful contemporary message, challenging Christian communities to hear Paul's invitation to become the gospel, in word and deed, where they live.

The God We Worship- An Exploration of Liturgical Theology.jpgThe God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans) $20.00  Speaking of reading widely and deeply, and growing into creative, but orthodox, lively but sensible, whole-life, culturally-engaged discipleship, there is hardly a better person to give us philosophical foundations for our deepest Christian convictions than the estimable scholar Nicholas Wolterstorff.  He is the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. (And, he has a chapter in the book I edited, to be announced soon, called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, maybe the most popular-level book Nick has ever found himself in!)

This new book, which I am working through carefully myself, were first given as the esteemed Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology, which are essentially evangelical equivalent of the prestigious Gifford Lectures (established in 1885 in Scotland, and still delivered and published annually. Wolterstorff has a book of those lectures, as well.) The first chapter here is introductory, "The Project: Liturgical Theology" and Wolterstorff brings his thoughtful eye to what we even mean by this phrase. This quickly alerts us that this is not a simple book of zippy steps for better - whatever that may mean - worship services. Nor is it a book about why we should conjure up more passion for an awesome God, although, I suppose I should say that the author certainly would think we need "better worship" and greater passion for God's attributes. But this book is deeper then that, and, consequently, surely more lasting.

Cornelius Plantinga notes that Wolterstorff "writes on Christian worship with enormous expertise...This book is a flood of light. It has all of the Wolterstorff marks, including brilliant clarity and powerful illumination of the subject."

Other back cover blurbs come from the esteemed classical and church musician Jeremy Begbie (who, like Nick, has written widely on aesthetics) and John D. Witvliet, of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.  Witvliet says it is "a rare kind of book that can simultaneously challenge common assumptions about theological method, make bold theological claims about the character of God, correct readings of significant theologians in the history of the church, and inspire deeper liturgical spirituality of wonder, expectation, and hope."  Wow.

There are many lectures of Dr. Wolterstorff on line: here is his first lecture from the Kantzer Lectures which should inspire you to get this book!  It's about an hour, well-spent.

backpacking with the saints.jpgBackpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as a Spiritual Practice Belden Lane (Oxford University Press) $24.95  Oh my, my outdoor experiential education friends, this is one of the ones we've been waiting for. We still need more really good, theologically sound books on "finding God in nature" and on the spirituality of the great outdoors. Those who read in this field know that Lane has himself been nearly a patron saint, with his excellent and lyrical Solace of Fierce Landscapes and another on geography and land metaphors in American spiritual formation, Landscapes of the Sacred. He has another heady one that we've really appreciated, Ravished By Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality.

I mostly want to rave about this great book, too, which, like Solace of Fierce Landscapes, is part travel narrative and part spiritual memoir and part theology of hiking. You should know that although each chapter looks great - I won't read it until I get to sit outside, later in the season, maybe on a pile of rocks down by the Susquehanna River, if I'm lucky -- but it is structured around his engagement with others who have written about faith and the outdoors; they are not all Christians, let alone Biblically-sound spiritual guides. Yet, as you surely know, we can learn much even from the misguided and odd balls (maybe we can learn especially from them!) There are chapters here on classic people from the heart of the Christian tradition such as Therese of Liseux, Thomas Traherne and Martin Luther, but there are also chapters on Gandhi and Rumi and Teilhard de Chardin. It may be jarring for some to read about the Anglican verse of the British Thomas Traherne in one chapter and the Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh and the eclectic Lutheran mysticism of statesman Dag Hammarskjold in the same book, but there you go: Lane is a wild man in more ways than one. In fact, the first two chapters are under a unit called "The Power of Wilderness and the Reading of Dangerous Texts."

What looks particularly interesting about Backpacking with the Saints is how Lane tells about each particular author while climbing or hiking in one specific place, with chapters grouped around different legs of the journey. (In this regard, it reminded me of the classic Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster with his grouping of "Inward Disciplines" "Upward Disciplines" and "Corporate Disciplines."  Foster is himself a hiker, by the way, and wrote a book with his son Nathan about climbing the fourteeners in Colorado, so here's hoping somebody gets Richard to review this book!)

With Lane's complex but clearly organized format we get cool chapters such as "Venturing Out: The Irish Wilderness and Columba of Iona" or "Solitude: Bell Mountain Wilderness and Soren Kierkegaard" or "Failure: Mt. Whitney and Martin Luther." The last chapters, by the way, are in the "fourth leg" of the journey, a grouping of entries on "returning home with gifts." I can't wait to get to the last chapter, "Holy Folly: Aravaipa Canyon and Thomas Merton."  This may not be your cup of tea, but if it is, you are going to love it!

road to character.jpgThe Road to Character David Brooks (Random House) $28.00 I simply don't understand the lurid animosity on the left against Mr. Brooks, and the nasty stuff written about him on blogs comments is inexplicable. He is, I am aware, a moderate conservative, and the tea party right thinks he is soft while the left increasingly is strident even about moderates.  Maybe it is a case in point about the urgent need of this extraordinary book, in fact: we are a nation full of folks who are deeply flawed, and as we grapple with this we could become more noble people.  I think Brooks is a clear and interesting writer, even though he is quite thoughtful and a bit sophisticated.  His two books about the sociology of place and class -- Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive are among my all-time favorite reads, and the best-selling The Social Animal is very, very important, especially for any of us who care about the workings of the unconscious mind, our interior lives, and how people change.  As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, "Brooks's considerable achievement comes in his ability to elevate the unseen aspects of private experience into a vigorous and challenging conversation about what we all share."

This new one is, simply (ha!) about character formation.  Brooks has written this book during, he admits, a period of soul searching, which gives it a certain humility, but also urgency; it is not a distant, academic bit of social criticism. Brooks has read, interviewed, and consulted widely, and the stories here are truly inspiring. 

That he thanks Tim Keller for helping to shepherd him through some of this has caused some to speculate if he is moving towards some sort of Christian conversion. (He writes about Augustine and sin and even a bit about grace in this book, for crying out loud!) The Road to Character looks at a wide array of people, colorfully and caringly described, who were, in many ways, great individuals, but who had deep flaws. He looks at the remarkable Bayard Rustin (a gay socialist who was very, very influential in the life of Martin Luther King) and Dorothy Day (the spiritually traditional Catholic convert who worked for radical social change with the likes of Thomas Merton and the Berrigan brothers), President Eisenhower and a host of writers, politicos, business leaders and others who served well in their professional careers but struggled to - as Steve Garber put it in the subtitle to Fabric of Faithfulness - "weave together belief and behavior."  I don't know for sure, but I have reason to believe that Mr. Brooks has read Garber's substantive book. 

I won't put too much emphasis on this, but the Road to Character starts with a bit of a survey of the stuff that is often said in college commencement speeches. That my soon to be released new book (Serious Dreams) is a collection of college graduation speeches designed to offer vision and inspiration for young adults to take up their vocations in the world, for the sake of the common good, is, well, perhaps an example that not all such speeches are inane, offering advice about listening to the self, or focusing on one's own bliss or suggesting other sorts of self-centeredness.  How we've shifted from the virtues of humility and service to self-aggrandizement and a theology of Self is a complex and important story, and he tells it with his characteristic blend of social science, a bit of history and a dash of good wit.

Please listen to this wonderful "On Point" radio interview with David Brooks here. He not only holds up examples of those whose character has been shown to be virtuous, but echos material in the book about how we got away from this as a culture. (Surprise, he does not blame the lenient 60s and the boomers.) I bet you'll be as intrigued as Beth and I were as we listened to this amazing stuff about faith and formation and character and theology on NPR, and you'll want to form a smart book club to discuss this splendid new volume.

Believe AND Think, Act, Believe.jpgBelieve: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus Randy Frazee, editor  (Zondervan) $24.99

Think, Act, Believe Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ  Randy Frazee (Zondervan) $15.99

If some of the above titles remind us of the need to "grow up" in Christ, to seek creative and energetic ways to deepen our knowledge and maturity in faith, and to read widely in order to discern the contours of faithful discipleship in our age, then I think it is helpful to name these two books designed, mostly, it seems, for new believers. Since so very few churches have "catechism" for adults, and we all can benefit from knowing a bit about what we believe, and why we believe it, and how such beliefs can transform us into the people God wants us to be, it might be wise to see this pair of books as helpful resources for anyone doing adult education, Christian formation, Sunday school, or the mentoring of others, new believers or not.

Believe me, I think you could use these in fruitful ways, if not in a full class of seekers or new church members or young Christians, but in one-on-one mentoring, spiritual formation sessions, or "disciple-making." Maybe you could use it to inspire your own curriculum plans, or draw on it, bit by bit. Use it as a resource for your own teaching, or share it with somebody who you think maybe would appreciate a guide to being grounded in the basics.

Here's the deal with how they are arranged.

Believe- Living the Story of the Bible.jpgBelieve: Living the Story of the Bible is not exactly an abridged NIV Bible, but it is almost entirely Scripture, in a Bible-sized hardback, with the passages and texts arranged around three major themes. These themes are offered under the headlines Think, Act, Do Each has a subtitle that explains what they mean by Think, Act, Be:  "What Do I Believe?" and "What Should I Do?" and "Who Am I Becoming?"  Each chapter within each of the three sections has a "key idea" and a "key verse" but then mostly is just long passages of the Bible, annotated in italics with some basic context stuff, or single verses offered.  I've perused many of these annotations, what they say to frame the passages, and these brief connective, explanatory comments are clear, evangelical, helpfully designed for assisting people to see the truthfulness of these portions of the unfolding Story of God.

Think / What Do I Believe?  This section includes 10 chapters about God, salvation, the Bible, the church, humanity, compassion, service, and more. 

Act / What Should I Do?  This offers Scripture readings on worship, prayer, surrender, spiritual gifts, sharing one's faith, stewardship of money and time,  and other basic Christian practices.

The Be / Who Am I Becoming?  The last portion is a 10 chapter study of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, self-control, hope, patience, kindness/goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, humility) offering Bible portions from Old and New Testaments.

There are 30 chapters to this, and there is a nice, basic 30-session study guide in the back, offering a few helpful questions for readers to ponder or for groups to discuss.  I should be clear that although there is this handy format and organized structure and some apparatus naming key verses and offering annotations, this really is mostly Bible. It says on the back "It's one thing to know the story of the Bible. It's another thing to live it."  Believe really is grounded in carefully selected Scripture, offering a unique spiritual growth experience that takes participants on this journey of thinking, doing, and becoming more Christ-like in character.  I am sure you could quibble or refine his rubric here, but Frazee is helping if offering us ten key beliefs, tend key practices, and ten key virtues. This is an amazing resource.

think act believe like jesus.jpgThink, Act, Believe Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ is a companion to Believe and is arranged in the same three units, adding a fourth called "Transformation" which presents more good information exploring how inner transformation happens and the benefits of deepening one's own journey towards Christ-likeness. It covers lots of ground, but remains accessible and clear -- useful stuff. For those that care about such things, Frazee and his co-writer Robert Noland draw on profound insights from philosopher Dallas Willard (of course!) especially the valuable V.I.M. approach explored in Willard's important Renovation of the Heart. (V.I.M. stands for Vision, Intent and Means.) These last few chapters on the "think-act-be" revolution" is really, really helpful for those who don't have much an intentional strategy about Christian growth, and it is well worth considering his insight about the relationship of believing and belonging, and the essential connection between doing and growing. It is my experience that few churches (or even para-church groups who are on the front lines of mentoring and discipling eager learners) have much of a strategy to guide life-giving teaching in discipleship.  This can help.

This paperback book is laden with good stuff, contains solid Biblical teaching about all manner of basic, sensible, Christian practices, written with lively, evangelical passion.  Here's what it says on the back cover:

In Think, Act, Be Like Jesus bestselling author and pastor Randy Frazee helps you grasp the vision of the Christian life and get started on the journey of discipleship.

In thirty short chapters, Frazee unpacks the ten key beliefs, ten key practices, and ten key virtues that help disciples to think, act, and be more like Jesus Christ. As he unfolds the revolutionary dream of Jesus, he shows how our lives fit into the big picture of what God is doing in the world.

I know, dear friends, that some of you don't like formulaic approaches or numbered points or too much simple appeals to Bible verses to guide you towards the deeper waters of faith.  Okay, read the mystics and postmodern theologies and ponder the transformational potential of ritual or find God in popular culture or missional service; I do, or try to. Use Brian McLaren's extraordinary We Make the Road By Walking as an essential guide for progressive spiritual movement into this world of personal change and communal growth and social change. I've recommended it often as a year-long story- journey through the Bible in ways that are designed to be transformational.  

But I am also convinced that without revisiting the basic, historically-grounded, classic matters, offered in Think, Act, Be Like Jesus we become unmoored and disheveled.  Our programs of spiritual direction become vague conversations about discerning one's own inner voice without much concrete guidance in formulating reliable application to process and integrate Biblical wisdom into our own transformation.

Thomas Bergler is right in his examination of how youth ministry visions and practices, and a pop culture of immediacy and sensation has caused us all to drift away from solid, good stuff.  His aforementioned Eerdmans book, From Here to Maturity might be best to start you thinking deeply about how transforming spiritual growth can be seen in your faith community.  Think, Act, Believe Like Jesus unpacks so much, in such readable, usable nuggets, that I think it would be a valuable resource for anyone wanting to know how to lead others into maturity in Christ, even if it is a tad basic for some tastes. If your church doesn't offer you this kind of stuff, take charge of your own faith journey, work through this, and see where it all leads. 



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April 26, 2015

ANNOUNCING MY NEW BOOK: Serious Dreams, edited by Byron Borger - ON SALE Now


Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books)  $12.99

There are phrases that keep coming to mind, as I sit here, fingers poised over the keyboard, phrases that we all know that should guide decent conversation in the polite ways of appropriate humility.  One ought not "toot your own horn" or "pat yourself on the back", let alone "sing your own praises." 

I don't know quite how to get around this, though, as today, this is exactly my job.

Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, the book that some of you have heard I've beenSerious Dreams cover.jpg working on this past year, was just released by the publisher this week. Obviously, we just had to tell you!

Given that it was pretty much my idea -- yep, it's my little baby -- and given that the publisher is a respected but small, indie press without a huge reach into the marketplace, and, given, too, that it was rushed to publication quickly, as I hoped, without much of a marketing plan, I guess it is evident that it is my job to let you know about it now.  

Did I say this really is my baby? That Beth and I have been significantly involved with Square Halo Books to get this thing out their doors? That I think it is pretty amazing, even if it sounds impolite for me to say so? I'm blushing a bit, but I'm so excited to tell you all about it.

If ever there was a time when our dear BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds fan base needs to know about something (something that they most likely won't hear about anywhere else) this is it.  So forgive me as I review my own work.  It's a little weird, I know, but bear with me:  despite obvious bias and self-interest, I really do think you will want to know about this.  Dare I say you need to know about this?

And that we need your help in spreading the news about this book for young adults, recent college grads, especially, inspiring them to live well, taking up serious dreams of God's Kingdom coming.

Old_Main.jpgThe shortest version of the backstory is that I was given the great privilege of delivering the commencement address for the Graduate School and Adult Learners at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, last spring.  It was a thrilling event for Beth and me; associates there offered great support, the trustees awarded me an honorary doctorate,  and even some out of state friends arrived to help celebrate.  In that speech I talked a bit about the unique heritage of this Reformed Presbyterian college, its good legacy, their current conversations about the integration of faith and learning for the common good, and the future for recent grads, helping themByron at podium with flags.jpgByron at podium at Geneva.jpg imagine the complex tasks of stepping into their vocations in the world, for the life of the world. I preached on a few favorite passages, told a few stories, and cried out to God and the gathered community, hoping that these talented young adults would help advance Christ's Kingdom, especially in their various careers, jobs, workplaces.  It got a pretty good response, for which I was humbled and grateful. A number of people asked if I might print it up, and we considered briefly doing a little booklet to share with those who had wanted to read it. Borger getting a free doctorate was quite the news for a bit -- ha, ha - and we wanted to honor those who wanted to read my remarks.

calvincommencement.jpgA week or so later, I watched the commencement address at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, one delivered by then-Provost Dr. Claudia Beverslius, who built her marvelous speech around a beloved Wendell Berry poem, a funeral poem, actually.  Mr. Berry has visited their campus on more than one occasion and it was more than appropriate to use his work, it was genius.  With tears running down my cheeks in front of the live streaming video on Beth's computer, I commented that that was a speech that deserved to be widely read.

And so I set out to find other friends of mine or authors I respected who had given graduation speeches for evangelical Christian colleges, speeches I could acquire easily, that had not been published in a book before, and that cohered around a common theme - taking up what Steve Garber calls "visions of vocation" and living out the implications of the gospel of the Kingdom in all of life, for the life of the world.  Not a few speeches these days use the language of calling, finding purpose and meaning, making a difference, but I did not want any that were merely inspirational, without Biblical substance to inform the meaning of these grand rhetorical calls, and I wanted reflections that did not overstate the call to be radical, as if we are all called only to be revolutionaries changing the world, with unrealistic bluster. I wanted balance, substance, and talks that were beautifully crafted, well done, words that would last, bread for the journey as young adults make their way into the marketplace.

They didn't need to be in the same theological tradition, exactly, but I wanted them to hold together, offering a certain sort of worldview and embodied practices, in the world, but not of it, for the sake of God's glory and our neighbors good. And I found some great ones.

Serious Dreams Facebook Timeline banner.jpgSerious Dreams: Big Ideas... includes seven great messages and they all translate well from the spoken word format to the printed page. (I will write a bit about the adventure of editing these manuscripts, and why we left most of the talks mostly unedited, soon.) I think this small. compact sized book is not only a great gift for a graduating college young adult, but for anyone wanting to be reminded of the big picture of our call to follow Christ in all areas  of life, living missionally for the reign of God, even in our work and careers.

I begin the book with a long, opening introduction that, we think, helps frame the ideas of the speeches.  I admit that I like the breathy rhetoric of these upbeat messages, designed to inspire young professionals to enter the worlds of work and see their future destinations as venues for the redeeming work of God. I like the approach expressed in some of them, how our own life stories make most sense in light of God's redemptive Story.  My own speech in the book is pretty breathy and earnest about such things, maybe a bit fiery, even.  But much of my introduction is a gentle reminder not to take these motivational sermons to mean that we have to "go far" or "make something of ourselves" as "world changers" or that we have to do big things to "transform the culture."  No -- we can start small, live locally, be faithful even in baby steps as we live into this story, gain a sense of place, learn our craft, earn the right to be heard. 

Serious Dreams cover.jpgIn that introductory chapter, I mention authors like Wendell Berry and Eugene Peterson who remind us to find God in the down-to-Earth and mundane, even the rural and seemingly insignificant. Granted, some may be called to pretty glitzy careers in high-rise offices exploring remarkable careers, but most of us are not. I cite books like Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove's The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture.  Although most of the speakers do suggest it,  I wanted to be clear: young adults transitioning out of college need both a big, transforming vision and a whole lot of patience; we need to be eager to make a difference in the culture, yes, but we also need good friends, a faithful church, good art, healthy food, helpful stores, enriching hobbies, maybe a bookseller friend or two, living slowly into what I explain as "common graces for the common good." It is good to be involved in normal life, establishing sacred rhythms and living well, in ways that are not particularly extraordinary.  

I do not want to scare you away, but I also say in this framing introduction that we must also be prepared to suffer. I mention Henri Nouwen's good phrase, saying we can be "wounded healers" and tell an Anne Lamotte story about hard times.  I note that Nicholas Wolterstorff's spectacular speech is about having "two eyes" - one to see what needs to be done, a technical eye for skills and competence and excellence, and the other with which to shed tears.  I think this is liberating, good stuff, and it helps readers realize that although most of these speeches are motivational and encouraging, we do have to be prepared for the hardships of this life.  I say it better in the book, but wanted you to know some of the themes of my opening chapter.  It is called "Live Well, Do Good, Be True."

rich mouw.jpgRichard Mouw's is the first real chapter. He a master of the short speech (in fact, he has a book of very short speeches published by Eerdmans that he compiled during his years at President of Fuller Theological Seminary, called Praying at Burger King. It's great!) This commencement address, entitled "What It's All About" was given last year near us here at Messiah College. It is a bit longer than those short ones, but it is concise and powerful.  He starts with a splendid joke, talks about the significance of having been a collegiate learner, and reminds these soon-to-be-graduates of the importance of uniquely Christian scholarship, encouraging them to keep their minds sharp, and too look for ways to honor Christ even in the life of the mind.  He tells a few moving stories about the clarity we need about the first things of the gospel, about the courage that is needed to live out faith in our complicated world. He ends with a rousing Bible reading; it is an inspiring ending of a very good chapter. I must say it is a real honor to have Rich in this little book; he is one of our favorite writers and thinkers these days and it's a great lead chapter. His latest book, by the way, is a lovely little volume about some of these same themes and is entitled Called to the Life of the Mind.

nick wolterstorff.jpgMouw's old friend, himself a renowned political philosopher and renowned scholar, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Professor Emeritus at Yale, has one of the most brilliantly conceived pieces in the book. Nick explains as a philosopher can, the nuances of what good Christian thinking entails, and he, like Mouw, extols the good learning skills acquired in (Christian) higher education, reminding the young adults to continue to think well,  calling them to challenge the ways things are, probing the deeper meaning of things they encounter, even in their future workplaces and institutions.  But the heart of his talk comes from story about an obstetrician who once advised health care providers among those who experience the death of a newborn to have "two eyes - one to watch the IV, the other to weep with the bereaved parents."  And from there, Wolterstorff asks what it would mean for businesspeople or teachers or lawyers or engineers or workers in any career to have two eyes, seeing competence and compassion, skill-sets and excellence as well as the ability to weep with those who weep.  In fact, he suggested, if one is attuned to the suffering in any given arena of life, it is more likely that one will want to use her skills to bring reform and change in their profession so that those who are hurting might see justice. (And, conversely, even if a young professional is truly skilled, without the eye that sheds tears, she may not realize what might be wrong in the place she works, and her skill becomes mere technical competence, not Christian service.)  Over and over, the famed professor shows that we need two eyes. That is, he explains with great clarity and beautifully crisp sentences why we need "head and heart" - two eyes.  It is an amazing speech and well worth pondering, even worth the price of the book for us all.

amy sherman.jpgThe third chapter is another brilliant contribution, a concise and clear sermon on one passage of the Bible that will open up new vistas of understanding, create hope and energy for seeing one's life and work as a ministry for the common good, in the public square.  Dr. Amy Sherman delivered this talk called "Rejoicing Your Community" (inspired by Proverbs 11:10) at Malone University in Ohio, and, again, I would be glad to give this speech to anyone wanting to deepen their understanding of what we mean by stewarding one's career in ways that serve others.  Few have thought very explicitly about this, let alone heard akingdom calling.gif whole talk about it, but the text which Dr. Sherman explores says that the whole city will rejoice when "the righteous prosper." Rather than producing resentment (which would be understandable, the have-nots frustrated with the haves, so to speak) those who perhaps are not prospering will be gladly rejoicing if God's righteous ones are successful in ways that cause the healthy flourishing for all. That is, the city rejoices because, precisely, the tsaddiqim are not in it for themselves.  Their prosperity apparently is a blessing to others, and develops because of, and is bound up with, the good of the city in which they live.  

Her examples and questions about how to leverage one's professional skills and passions for the common good is exactly the kind of speech (she lifts up as examples a few Malone alum who are doing good work) I wanted to find for this little volume, and we are glad Amy graced us with her good manuscript. For those wanting a fuller explication of this good idea, do see her significant Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (InterVarsity Press.)

claudia.jpgThe next chapter is the one I have mentioned by Dr. Claudia Berversluis, the one that draws on a poem by Wendell Berry, "The Memory in the Seed."  Not only does she artfully use his insight about the relationship of the past to the future -  seeds have been planted in the stuff learned at college, in the reading and learning in the classroom and in other places and ways, too - and they will be paid forward into the future.  Perhaps it is because I have a daughter at Calvin College, and have very dear friends who work there, but this wonderful talk was the one that inspired me to do this book, and it is a very, very, good address.  I have read it a dozen times, now, and do not tire of its inspiration, feeling her care for the graduating students and her hopeful confidence in the scope and broad vision of God's Kingdom coming, even in hard times. I commend it to you, I really do.

visions of vocation.jpggarber in front of church.jpgI perhaps don't need to say too much about the fifth chapter other than to say it is an elegant rendering by Steve Garber, a dear friend and respected leader, especially on issues of the relationship of faith and work. Again, when I felt led to do this project, I knew I would insist on having his work represented; a book like this just had to have him in it, and we are grateful for his eager support.  You may know his good efforts through his Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation and Culture. Perhaps you will recall his extraordinary book about living in the post-college years,  Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, which was a much-discussed book a few years back, and still very, very worth of your attention. I hope you know his newer, award- winning book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. In this talk - which was delivered  last year to the graduating class of seminarians at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri - Steve explores the notion that covenant could be an essential insight to understanding the nature of the world God has made, which he calls, sounding almost  like Francis Schaeffer, a "covenantal cosmos."  Garber brings Wendell Berry into the conversation, mentions his own work consulting with large corporations and nonprofit ministries to help explore the way a covenantal understanding of knowing the world could bring healing and hope and hints of reformation in these troubled times.  By using words like mutuality and responsibility, Steve models an allusive and profound language, and invites his listeners to learn how to speak about solid Biblical truths in ways that that unchurched and unfamiliar might understand and be drawn towards.

byron in front of bookshelf.jpgMy chapter -- Byron K. Borger of Hearts & Minds, for the record -- follows Steve's and if his is the most profound in the book, mine is perhaps the liveliest.  As I will explain elsewhere, it was tricky cutting a bit out that perhaps worked in the live setting, but seemed less compelling as read on the printed page.  In the original speech I made a number of comments about the college itself, and a former teacher there (Dr. Peter J. Steen) and I took some of those lines out, trimming the wordy text down to a more manageable contribution. (Mine is still the longest in the book -- "two speeches for the price of one" one wit quipped. Imagine!) I suppose you know I can get a bit flamboyant at times, and I hope the passion in this talk shines through. Even if I countered it a bit with the calm reminders in the introduction to live small and local, I do share some pretty big ideas in this bold chapter.  

I wear my heart on my sleeve, there, friends, and I hope you enjoy hearing me share this visionary stuff that I believe with all my being.  My message is called "Three Cheers for Sons and Daughters of Issachar" which alludes to the reputation of the group mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12:32 - who "understood the times and knew what God's people should do."  Oh, if we had more sons and daughters of Issachar, who read the world and read the Word with faithful clarity and big-hearted passion, becoming wise leaders for change, ambassadors of the Kingdom coming, life-long learners willing to critique the culture and offer winsome solutions. Maybe this chapter will stimulate someone some-where to live more robustly for Christ's ways, prepared even to suffer for His sake, like Issacharians.  I'd be eager to hear what you think.

johnperkins.jpgThe last commencement speech in the book was given by the famous civil rights leader Dr. John M. Perkins, who preached up a storm at Seattle Pacific University's graduation ceremony a few years ago.  We really wanted to have Dr. Perkins included as he has been a real hero to many of us, and we have crossed paths many a time over the years, most notably at the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh. Many of the students affiliated with the CCO who attend Jubilee may know him, and those that do not, certainly should.  He is a prolific author and vibrant leader for evangelical faith that is deeply committed to racial reconciliation, social justice, and leadership development, especially among those who are hurting and marginalized. Perkins and his ministry offers a model of radical, prophetic welcoming justice.jpgimagination and gospel-centered, evangelical faith. 

This wholistic, but evangelical piety comes out nicely in his speech here, inviting us all to be on "three roads" with Jesus.  He tells about the Damascus Road (where Paul was transformed by a saving relationship with Christ), the Emmaus Road (where one walks with Christ, nurturing a spiritual friendship with Him, learning of His ways in the Scriptures) and the Jericho Road - the road of service.   Of course, he naturally goes into this "three rs" as well, as a strategy for effective change on that Jericho Road, but the heart of this passionate call to action is based on these three roads.  It seemed like a lively enough speech to put at the end of Serious Dreams and it reads well, as a good sermon in the black tradition should.

erica y r.jpgErica Young Reitz offers a great afterward, an epilogue, really, and it is an integral part of the book. Erica is one of the best campus ministers I know, working for the CCO through a church in State College, PA (home of Penn State.) Year after year she has paid special attention to her young friends who were college seniors, walking with them through that year of transition, and then doing some teaching and services around the post-college experience. (She has done a workshop on this at the Jubilee conference, too, for seniors, to great acclaim.)  Erica has a book coming out next year, tentatively titled Life After College  (on InterVarsity Press) which tells of her work and offers practical guidance for Christian discipleship in the post-college years, so it is fantastic to have her included here. (The only other book like this, by the way, which we heartily recommend, is by Richard Lamb, called Following Jesus in the "Real World.")  Erica's Young Reitz's words at the end of this book gives it a bit more of a practical feel, offering clear guidance that is down to earth and helpful.  I trust, also, that it will whet your appetite for her full book when it releases perhaps a year from now.

So, there it is, my description of the book I compiled and edited and now get to sell, before anywhere else. 

I hope you realize that as odd as it is to be tooting my own horn, I am so, so eager to get this little volume launched into the world.  We think it is so inspiring, and the authors each of such quality, that you may just want to have it, even if you graduated from college years ago, or perhaps never went to college. The talks are highly motivational, yet, well, serious; the insights, although concise and accessible, are really pretty profound -- not the kind of stuff you hear every day. These are learned and smart folks, so the writing is good.  As I describe below, it is a handsome, compact volume, with some very nice touches (including a brief reflective question or two at the end of each chapter to help readers process the content.)  I'd be grateful and honored if you picked it up from us.

Even if you do want one for yourself -- and I hope you do -- please do think of this as a great gift for any young adults who have graduated in recent years. 

Although these fine speeches were given at Christian colleges the primary intended audience includes anyone who has recently graduated from any kind of school who may appreciate the encouragement and guidance.  Perhaps you'd be so kind as to suggest that your church buy a batch so they can honor their college graduates, inviting them to dream Serious Dreams.

serious dreams copies fanned.jpg 


Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life

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