About May 2015

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

April 2015 is the previous archive.

June 2015 is the next archive.

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

May 2015 Archives

May 4, 2015

READ the Introduction to Serious Dreams: Live Well, Do Good, Be True

You can read for free the serious introduction from Serious Dreams by scrolling down a bit. Or, enjoy my bit of background explanation and sharing my appreciation for the support we've seen for this new project, first if you'd like. I did a thorough explanation of it and its various authors and chapters at the last BookNotes blog post, here.


BB and BB.jpgBeth and I (and our friends at the publisher of my new book, Square Halo Books) are truly gratified by those who have said so many nice things about the recent release Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life  (Square Halo Books; regularly $12.95; on sale here for $11.50.) Facebook and Twitter have been aflutter with good wishes and we are grateful for friends who have celebrated this milestone with us. (Special thanks for the champagne the big day the boxes of books arrived, Derek!) 

We are so appreciative of those who follow our work, who value the BookNotes reviews and website lists, and the authors and ideas and visions we try to promote here through our small town bookstore.  That some have said that they value our store, so want to have my book no matter what it is about is, well, almost embarrassing.  I am also deeply touched by the loyalty and friendship of our customers and friends in the publishing industry. I wasn't prepared for the mix of feelings about all this; that could be a column itself, I suppose. I know other artists and writers and I now realize more then ever what it feels like to put yourself out there, and see what happens.


We are glad for those who have bought bunches of the new book to give as gifts to those graduating from college (or other kinds of schools) this season - or other young adults who are perhaps transitioning into new stages of their lives or careers.  As a collection of graduation day speeches by famous and thoughtful evangelical Christians who are known for the integration of faith and thinking, for being wise about the relation of the Bible and life, for their passion in nurturing a worldview that includes key notions of calling and vocation, helping clarify a spirituality of work and social engagement, well, you can see why we think it is great as a graduation gift. It has more substance than those little collections of aphorisms and, given how very relevant it is, its size and shape and feel, we think it has a chance of actually being read by those to whom it is gifted.  

If you see yourself as part of the movement that has been talking about these things in the last decade or so, if you love books as we suspect you do, if you want to help others catch the vision of this lively and generative whole-life-discipleship, we hope you will help us get the word out about this little volume.  Is there somebody you can give it to?  Can you ask your own church to considering honoring their college grads by giving out a few Serious Dreams?  Heck, I'll even autograph them if you want.


Serious Dreams cover.jpgBut, there's more.  (You'd be disappointed if I didn't do my earnest book-selling pitch, wouldn't you?) You see, we truly are confident that this collection of relatively short reflections can be enjoyed by nearly anyone.  The speeches really are that good.  The authors are worth knowing and considering. Reading or sharing this little book is a simple way to offer a great introduction for yourself or for those you care about to a handful of important voices you should know.  Maybe it is like those "best of the year" album compilations where in one CD you can get all the hits of that year.  Well, these little talks maybe weren't big hits across the country, but these authors are stars, and I am proud to have had the opportunity to curate this project, selecting  wonderfully inspiring talks that cohered, by women and men I admire. We think it deserves a wide reading.

So. Serious Dreams is a collegiate graduation gift, certainly, and yet because it is a short collection of reflections/essays about calling and work and the gospel of the Kingdom, it is a way to hear some of the thinking about these themes by the finest writers doing this kind of work these days; again, it is good for anyone who wants a short book of robust thinking, motivational passion and Biblical vision for serving God in the contemporary culture.  The questions for reflection at the end of each chapter make it particularly useful to read devotionally, too.


A couple of friends asked me about how I came to do this, or what it was like working on it.  I've written a page or two here about that, but if you want to skip down and read my introductory chapter to the book, please do. I hope you enjoy it.

Writing well is hard work.  I know that, of course, but since my BookNotes reviews are composed on the fly, in between customers and conferences, I admit that they sometimes could use a second or third draft. 

Good grammar is not my love language, anyway, and too often the ideas come faster than my fingers can type. (And I do often take solace in the great chapter in Marilyn Chandler McEntyre's Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies called "Love the Long Sentence.")  editing-symbols-632x345.jpegUsually, I'm not crafting beautiful prose for the ages - although I try to make it interesting - since most days my job is to alert readers to new and worthy book releases. When a waiter explains the catch of the day or the special soup, she uses a few lovely adjectives, but the recitation is designed to get the job done.  

When I set out, though, to craft a talk or sermon, I usually don't write it out fully, but work from an outline of sorts.  A year ago, however, when I was given an honorary doctorate from Geneva College, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and had the grand privilege of doing the commencement speech there, I realized that the big occasion demanded a line by line manuscript. It was a manuscript to be delivered, out loud, though, and my speaking style is very different then my customary writing style.

When I had to edit said (lengthy) manuscript a half-a-year later to be included in this book idea I cooked up - - well, I learned how little I knew about serious editing.  Yes, I curated the volume, selecting and arranging those that fit the purpose of the book, but the details of trimming mine down to size was, shall we say, daunting.  Tweaking it is the inelegant word we used, but to allow it to sound right on the page (no matter that it received great reviews as a speech) took more than tweaking.

The legendary, passionate civil rights leader, John M. Perkins, never preaches from a manuscript, I learned, and although he only has a third grade education (he was raised in the Mississippi delta, a son of poverty-stricken black share croppers) he has been awarded a number of honorary degrees. He has long been one of my heroes and we were so honored to have his involvement.  Dr. Perkins gave a tremendous, passionate, commencement address at Seattle Pacific University, and was kind to offer us a transcript of his talk.  Again, I learned something about the art of editing an orally-given, live speech, one laden with off-the-cuff asides, ebonics, black preaching moves. It was fun tweaking that one a bit, allowing it to sing on the page as well as it did in when performed in person.

Other speeches in Serious Dreams were presented by academics, those who routinely craft manuscripts that read well out loud, but that were also perfect for the printed page.  To have me, of all people, check the grammar and tenses and participles of scholars as renowned as Nicholas Wolterstorff (whose books are published by world-class, serious publishers such as Eerdmans, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press) or the exceptionally concise and always clear Richard Mouw, or the  eloquent and profound Steve Garber, reminded me these last months that God must surely have a sense of humor.  Amy Sherman's years of work on her magisterial book Kingdom Calling allowed her to present an impeccable presentation; we have met a time or two and she trusted me and we were so glad to have her remarkable speech. Dr. Claudia Beversluis, of Calvin College, also had a manuscript that was just perfect -- I've said it before, but it was watching her moving speech drawing somewhat on a Wendell Berry poem that inspired me to compile these talks.  But still, I had to work on them all, of only a bit.

I felt a little like Moses who told God that he couldn't speak well enough for such a job.  Who me? Moses asked God.  Yes you, came the Divine reply.  Of course, Mo was given a well-spoken sidekick, and Beth was obviously my learned partner in crime in this part of the project. ( And some late nights we texted our grammarian daughter, Stephanie, who is pretty much the most savvy grammar geek I know, who helped us puzzle a way out of a few verbal quagmires as we edited one line, creating rippling effects of other lingual inconsistencies.)  All the while I kept thinking of the lovely autobiography of the late great Lewis Smedes, My God and I, which tells of Smedes finding himself becoming a Reformed thinker at Calvin College more then half a century ago ago because he learned there that "God loved participles." 

And so, under the microscope these pieces went, and - no surprise - most were nearly impeccable, and we concluded that we'd bring them into the book largely unedited.  

Early on in this project I had to figure out what to do about the idiosyncrasies of these speeches that were delivered live in a particular place.  Should I leave in the names and lingo of that place, as the speech was delivered, or edit out stuff that may not be germane for other readers? (Mine was maybe the one that spoke the most about the social location of the speech, naming faculty members and a bit of the legacy of Geneva College there in the Beaver Valley of Western Pennsylvania, even celebrating certain connections to the CCO and the beloved Jubilee conference.) I didn't want readers, especially younger ones, to be distracted by odd jargon or in-house references.

To explain my choice to leave some of the local color intact, I wrote a little forward for Serious Dreams called "A Word About Speeches" which made the case that listening in to speeches delivered in other people's settings, is a good thing. Among other things, I wrote,

We edited out a few of the congratulatory comments at the start of each. The speakers, of course, named the college Presidents, thanked everybody on the dais, made nice with the Trustees. They are all earnestly polite and we wouldn't want you to think otherwise. We did leave a number of the particularities of each speech intact, not to bore you with details of those specific places, with their own heroes and lingo and traditions, but because they were germane to the actual speech, and to illustrate that these were real talks, messages crafted for a certain group of people, in a particular place. That's how it often works: we lean in and listen to others, even if their locations and situations are a bit dissimilar to our own. Their storied specificity actually keeps us from being too abstract and lofty. Christian faith is always embodied, down to earth, real. We think these are good examples of that.

Of course these were originally spoken and heard, live. They were each delivered at real places and have that story-telling energy and sermonic style, but we think they are universal enough to be of great benefit, here in print, in mostly unedited form. We think that the largest story of which they speak--the gospel of Christ's Kingdom--comes through the details of these various places. We're sure you're smart enough to notice the instances where the unique setting shines through, and appreciate that for what it is: authenticity.

graduate2.jpg.CROP.rtstory-large.jpgMy first vision for this book, as I've said, was to create a gift book to give to graduating college seniors. I love college students, and, mostly through the CCO,  have come to be friends with a number of such students. There are many nice gift items for high school seniors, but fewer good ones for Christian students commencing out of college, graduate programs, trade school, or transitioning out of other contexts.  We were clear on early drafts of the cover that these were graduation speeches, even with a cool cover design showing iconic mortarboard caps flying in the air.  One early reader, though, thought these chapters were so good, so rich, so useful for nearly anyone entering the work-world, or setting out to make a difference in the world, that he convinced us not to risk the book becoming merely a souvenir of the big day.  That friend believed in our project, appreciated these authors, and insisted that we pitch it not only as a gift for graduates, but as a solid book that deserves to  be kept handy on one's desk or bookshelf, carried,  shared, pondered deeply, talked about in book clubs, college fellowship groups and young adult ministry gatherings. These are all graduation speeches, and the epilogue specifically offers practical advice for those launching out right out of college, but we think that the speechshipp students.jpges are universal enough to be adapted to the printed page, and released as what we hope will become an enduring little collection.

And you'd be surprised at the dozens of possible titles we brainstormed. This title, that subtitle, and vice versa. Some art work had to be jettisoned once we changed the title. And vice versa. I knew this was complicated (and I know a number of good authors who had little say over the cover art of their precious book.) What a stressful, complicated process that was.

Serious Dreams cover.jpgWe messed around for weeks and weeks, with the cover, then, and Ned Bustard, the remarkable Creative Director of Square Halo Books and book designer, did a good job working with us. The cover font, he explained, has a youthful zest to it that counters a bit of the heavy pomp of the title. The meaning of the acorn/oak trees motif is obvious in a book designed to help launch young adults into the world, inviting them to bloom where they are planted.  One of the great chapters, in fact, given by Claudia Beversluis, a former Provost of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, cites a Wendell Berry poem, "The Memory of the Seed," using Berry's poetic reminder of this insight: things of our past reside within us like seeds, soon to blossom in the future. (I wanted to allude to that poem and call the book What We Owe the Future but concluded it was a bit too allusive.)  Ned used graphic silhouettes of oak leaves before the title page of each speech, and the acorn from the cover is placed playfully at the end of each chapter to demarcate the short reflection questions we designed for each.  

The book is compact, hand-sized, and has a rich, tactile feel, making it very nice to hold.  The paper has a slight creamy tone, making it just a little nicer than some paperbacks without that touch.  It is a very handsome product, and we worked hard to bring it to you. 

Even though this is not a self-published book - Square Halo Books is a classy, boutique press that specializes mostly in books about faith and the arts - they are quite the indie, craft house. As my friend Keith Martel (who started a micro-publisher called Falls City Press, which released the impressive Storied Leadership a few months back) observed, people are these days all about the indie scene, craft beers, hand-made bakeries, micro-distilleries, local farmer's markets.  We really should support not just independent bookstores, but indie publishers, too. 

 In a world where even the largest publishing ventures (from Zondervan to Penguin) are owned by yet bigger conglomerates, there is something good about supporting niche marketing projects that are not mere vanity presses, crappy pay-to-get-published insta-printing, or direct-to-amazon outfits, but real publishing houses lead by people who love books and love the craft of making real books and selling them fairly in real stores.  Which is to say we are happy to report that my first book, which we worked hard to compile and develop and edit, is released by a fantastic, if quite small, indie publishing house that is more about the book and the difference it can make than money or marketing charts.  Kudos to the small team at Square Halo Books for taking us on, and releasing our Serious Dreams in such a nice, nice way.  We are grateful, very, very grateful.

And kudos to my friends who work, or have worked, with students through the CCO, the campus ministry headquartered in Pittsburgh to whom the book is dedicated.

Oh yes, and to those who maybe haven't lived into their hopes and dreams yet, those who Matt Kearney, in a new song on his CD Just Kids, calls "heartbreak dreamers." He assures them in that song, It's gonna be all right. It's dedicated to them, too.

But now, we need to recruit our fans and friends to help us care about this little paperback, to keep it from languishing.  We hope you enjoyed my explanatory review last week, and this little window into our writing and editing and design thinking. It's been a challenge and a blast, but not the hard, critical point has come: we have to sell this thing.  Can you help?

We really, really are grateful, and, as I said in my previous review, if ever there was a time when we need help getting the word out about a title, this is it.  Again, thank you very much.

Serious Dreams Facebook Timeline banner.jpg


Here is my long introduction to Serious Dreams.  There was one more set of edits after this version, but this edition is handy for me to share here, with our compliments.  I hope you enjoy it.


It's funny how, when somebody seems destined for great things in our culture, we say, "She is really going to go far," as if there is great virtue in leaving home, moving away, heading out to, well, anywhere but here. It is almost a cliché that young adults who move back to their old hometowns (let alone to their childhood houses) are losers. After all, who doesn't want to "go far?"

Yet there is also another set of voices these days calling us to stay put, live locally, celebrate the small and mundane, form communities, and discover vibrant ways of finding home in a culture of displacement.

Graduation speeches--and, at first glance, maybe even the speeches in this little volume--tend towards the first view. "Oh, the places you'll go," the great Dr. Seuss predicted. Who isn't inspired by the encouraging word to really "make something of yourself?" In some Christian circles, much is made about God's call to change the world and our man- date to transform the culture. I like that breathy, exciting rhetoric--you'll see it in my own speech, I hope. But such an attitude can be damaging. So allow me to say here at the outset that there is nothing wrong with staying put. We don't have to go far; we don't really have to go anywhere new or different or big. In fact, many of our wisest writers here in the hot-wired, fast-paced, twenty-first century do not invite us to the highest paying jobs, to the glitz of the big city, or to halls of power and prestige. Rather, they invite us to quiet, ordinary lives in small towns, caring for extended family and friends--not "going far," but staying home.

From the esteemed Kentucky farmer, novelist, poet, and essayist, Wendell Berry, we are inspired to develop a sense of place, caring about local regions, watersheds, rural places. From Presbyterian pastor and writer Eugene Peterson, we hear the themes of paying attention to local details, practicing the presence of God in the ordinary and the mundane. Books like the one by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove drawing on old monastic wisdom called The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture praise the value of steadiness. Stability may not sound that enticing to a fresh-out-of-college young adult like you, but for those who are serious about living into the contours of a meaningful, good life after college, stability is important to consider alongside the louder calls to "go big or go home." Maybe part of what it may mean for you to live well and do good is to be true to your own hometown.

Maybe you will be inspired by these energetic speeches to head out into the world and be used by God for Christ's Kingdom's sake, and that might take you to faraway cities and exciting, innovative jobs. But I hope you will also consider what Steve Garber calls "common grace for the common good"--which is a pretty big idea--that God cares about common graces built into creation such as good friends, healthy food, imaginative art, sustainable neighborhoods, helpful stores, nourishing families, trusted spouses. God is at work in many small, ordinary, human things such as work and play and art and citizenship, and we are invited by God to cultivate these common gifts, for the good of all. Our salvation in Christ is for this very purpose: to live humanly in the world that God loves, so that we, our neighbors, and our neighborhoods may flourish. Few people say this better than Amy Sherman, whose inspiring chapter reminds us that our success is for the sake the of broader community.

This big vision of the common good is often lived out in small ways. But these exciting talks delivered with great passion on days given to celebrate commencements could be misunderstood as a call only to go big, to go far. They should not be misunderstood, as if we are calling you only to extraordinarily great things.

Don't feel bad for getting an ordinary job with a plain-sounding title and an unremarkable salary in your major which, maybe for you, was a mixed-bag, anyway. You don't even have to feel bad for getting an ordinary job that is not in your major! That's just the way it works sometimes.

Yes, most of us long to see the world healed and made a bit more whole. We want our own professions and workplaces to be transformed so they are better, healthier, serving the world in the way they should. Many of us long to play a part in the redemptive story of God. There is nothing good about living a boring life--what Thoreau called "quiet desperation." But this call to find a life of purpose and joy by taking up our vocations in the world doesn't necessarily mean doing big, crazy things. We don't have to be extraordinary. We can, as the Bible sometimes says, live quiet and peaceful lives, blooming gracefully where we are planted, learning to care and mature in ordinary discipleship.

As elder social justice activist and leader in the cause of racial reconciliation, Dr. John Perkins, reminds us in his challenging graduation speech offered at Seattle Pacific University, "you have enough to learn more." I think he meant that, as college graduates, you have learned how to learn, to think well, to study, to develop your own personal library, to figure stuff out. You have the skills and self-discipline and habits of heart that will allow you to continue being life-long learners. You will continue to grow and thrive. You will need to because this "making a difference" stuff, whether in a posh office at a Fortune 500 company or in returning to a familiar summer job for a season or two, takes time.

Graduation speeches are naturally designed to be in- spiring, motivational, upbeat. We really can be salt and light and leaven; we can be in the world and not of it; we can make a difference. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we really can be transformed into agents of God's coming Kingdom. But it may or may not entail big time passion, and super-radical lifestyles. More likely, you'll just put one foot ahead of the other, day by day by day, soli deo gloria.

It takes time to get your bearings, to find your sweet spot. And that is my point in these introductory remarks. We hope these talks encourage you, inspire you, remind you of some key themes you most likely have heard over the years of your college career. This is an exciting time in your life, even if bittersweet. But don't feel badly if you don't see yourself as a "change agent" and "radical Christian" who "makes a difference" right away. We all have to lean into these things, be patient with ourselves, and learn more about the spiritual practices that will sustain us over the long haul. You've gotten through college. The silly little slogan on plaques and posters and cards really is true--today actually is the first day of the rest of your life. I think these meditations and reflections will keep you moving forward. Live well, do good, be true.

So, I've danced around two themes that might help frame or inform your reading of these graduation messages. Let me be clear: first, you don't have to "go far" or really "make something of yourself." You may be called to less dramatic, more mundane faithfulness, serving God and nurturing your faith in pedestrian ways in places that don't look like a TV show. Not all of us can be social entrepreneurs who start new charities or websites or programs or protests. Starting up a start-up isn't for everyone. Changing the world may even be, as Eugene Cho put it in a book by this title, overrated. It's okay to be ordinary.

Secondly, we have to be patient as we step into our lives' vocations. We may know we are called to be part of God's redemptive mission and that that is the story that shapes our lives. But, like everyone else, we have to learn the skills and craft and practices of our professions. We have to, as the saying goes, earn the right to be heard. We have to be life- long learners, deepening our insight and fidelity to our callings, our jobs, our places and relationships. Whether we are called to the high-power corporate world in a cool urbane setting or a less prestigious job in a small town, we have to do the work, learning day by day. These speeches will be good reminders of the bigger picture, even serving as provocative commissionings to see your life as part of the Biblical story of the all-of-life-redeemed Kingdom coming. All of these speeches invite you to fresh thinking and renewed commitments to joining God in your careers and callings. You've got a lot of baby steps to take in this season of your life, and that's okay. God is gracious, and you can take your time.

Another important theme that is hinted at in several of these reflections needs to be named here, too. Nicholas Wolterstorff talks movingly about having eyes that shed tears, and reminds us of the Bible's invitation to "weep with those who weep." John Perkins teaches from the Good Samaritan story about the Jericho Road where an unnamed person had empathy, the first attribute of a life of com- passion. Claudia Beversluis reminds you that "when your gut aches and your heart breaks" you should "find a place to share the pain." I think that anyone who is going to maintain visions of vocation and be faithful in small things for God's glory will have to become a person who is not afraid of shedding tears. As the late and still beloved contemplative writer Henri Nouwen put it, we must become "wounded healers." The Bible is full of those who experienced hardships, mystery, confusion, hurt, tears, rage, and lament. To not name our fears and doubts is denial. We who want to develop a Christian worldview and care about the things God cares about in the very way God cares about them, simply must be prepared to host our hurt. We must honestly attend to the great anxieties we have about our own lives and about the state of the world. Don't let anyone or anything (let alone these happy speeches inviting you to serve God in the years ahead) suggest that you can't be honest about your own heart.

It isn't the main theme of this collection, but it bears saying: if we try to struggle against the idols and dysfunctions and crude values of our culture, perhaps of our workplaces, maybe even of our own broken families, we will seem a bit counter-cultural. We may feel like weirdoes because we care so deeply and are in touch with the brokenness of this fallen world. Art historian and Christian philosopher Calvin Seerveld, in a collection called Biblical Studies & Wisdom for Living, writes to some graduating seniors and reminds them that Jesus said His yoke would be light. "It fits well over your graduating shoulders," Seerveld, said, "even if it makes you feel maladjusted in our Darwinian survival- of-the-fittest society." It is okay to feel maladjusted.

This idea about being prepared for hard times is the climax of my own talk given to graduate students at Geneva College, and I hope you take it to heart. The black gospel tradition that inspired the civil rights movement can instruct us all in this matter. I mention Mahalia Jackson singing to Martin Luther King, Jr. over the phone in the middle of the night, "Precious Lord, take my hand."

If you are battered and bruised from trying to make a difference in the world, if you are sad and discouraged because you haven't found your niche or your calling, if you are full of frustration and doubt and anxiety, or if you've faced disheartening resistance to your fresh ideas for healthy reformation in your church or workplace, you can sing the many laments from the Bible with integrity. You can cry out to God through your tears and fears.

Our glad and hopeful speeches collected here offer congratulations and inspiration and emphasize God's desire for graduating seniors to take up their careers and vocations as holy callings. Each one of us deeply realizes that making the transition between Sunday and Monday, carrying faith into the work-world, market- place, and contemporary culture, is harder than it sounds. We know that we all have to cope with setbacks and anguish. We know from the Bible and the best thinking of Christian leaders throughout history, that this is normal; tears are nothing to be ashamed of.

A very creative writer who has experienced more than her share of anguish and who continues to give her life to others is Anne Lamott. In her lovely book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, she writes,

We connect with God in our humanity. A great truth, attributed to Emily Dickinson, is that "hope inspires the good to reveal itself." This is almost all I ever need to remember. Gravity and sadness yank us down, and hope gives us a nudge to help one another get back up or to sit with the fallen on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity.

Most commencement speeches don't say this, but you shouldn't be surprised when "gravity and sadness" yank you down. Be prepared to lament, to be with others in your times of need, and to sit with others in their own abysses. A high priority for you in this post-college time is figuring out how to find and form supportive community, to maintain your best friendships, and to find a local church body whose members can walk with you in life's ups and downs.

Added to this collection of speeches is an epilogue by Erica Young Reitz who has served college students for many years. She has a book coming out, tentatively called Life After College, that will be about this time of young adult transitions. Erica's book will be both visionary and practical, aware of both the fresh opportunities and looming pitfalls of young adult faith development and post-college discipleship. Her brief remarks here are themselves an integral part of this book, and the stories she tells are going to be helpful for you. They will assist you in moving from the profound and glorious rhetoric of these messages to the daily steps you need to take in order to live into this stuff.

I know I speak for all the contributors who allowed us to use their commencement addresses when I say that we truly hope that the next season of your life will be very meaningful, and that, though tears may be shed at times, you come to know deep, deep joy. God cares about you, about all areas of your life, and there are very significant ways God invites you to think faithfully and serve well wherever you find yourself. Together with your friends and church, you will have to figure out what that looks like.

These chapters deserve repeated readings and can be good companions along the way as you, in the great line from the chapter by Claudia Beversluis, "make God and God's good news believable to others, not just through your words, but through the daily ways you live."

You really can live well, friends. You will surely do good. And please, be true, be faithful. Know, above all, that the God who loves you, who calls you, who has sustained you thus far, is true. God will be faithful--whether you go far or stay put.


Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life

regularly $12.95
sale price $ 11.50

order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want

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

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

May 7, 2015

I posted the Introduction to "Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life"

I hope this isn't annoying or redundant, but some folks only occasionally check in to the updates of the BookNotes blog at our website, but may not check the longer "columns" that I post from time to time.  I wanted to tell a few stories about how we cooked up the idea for my new book, share how we curated, selected, and edited them, and thank people involved -- mostly Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books and my wife and partner in this project, Beth.  It wasn't exactly a review of the book, which I had already done at BookNotes, but offered a bit about the writing process that I thought you might enjoy. So I did that as an extended column, posting it there, rather than as BookNotes blog post.

More importantly, I put the whole introduction to the book there as well.  With our compliments, you can enjoy that. 

Just click here to get over to the "columns" section of the website to see the Introduction to Serious Dreams.

Sorry if you already knew that; those who subscribe got it into their in-box already, but wanted to be sure that those just checking the BookNotes blog didn't miss those ruminations posted over there. And, better, the free copy of the introduction.

As I admit, I hope it gives you a flavor of the project and inspires you to get some of these and put them into the hands of adults you may know, and especially anyone graduating from college, grad school, seminary, or trade school this season.  May they follow God's dreams, learning to live well, do good, be true.

serious dreams copies fanned.jpg


Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life

regularly $12.95
sale price $ 11.50

order here
takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page
just tell us what you want

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

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

May 10, 2015

Introducing a great new series: ORDINARY THEOLOGY edited by Gene Green -- four small volumes, each very good! ON SALE

The Cities of Tomorrow and the City to Come: A Theology of Urban Life Noah J. Toly

The Scalpel and the Cross: A Theology of Surgery Gene L. Green

The Political Disciples: A Theology of Public Life Vincent E. Bacote 

Faithful: A Theology of Sex Beth Felker Jones 

Serious Dreams cover.jpgOne of the themes of each of the speeches collected in my new book, Serious Dreams, is that God cares about all of life, and that we can discern a sense of holy vocation in our callings and careers.  We are to steward our vocations for the sake of the world. Any legitimate work can be an avenue to serve God and help the common good -- a Christian view of work is for the butcher, baker, and candlestick-the call.jpgmaker, we sometimes joke. Or, as Os Guinness puts it in his classic, must-read work The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nelson; $17.99) God's redemptive work is for "everyone, everywhere, in everything."  I think it may have been Tom Sine who coined the phrase "whole life discipleship" and it is one the campus ministry CCO uses routinely.  It is no surprise that those who talk about Christ's saving work as "the restoration of creation" and the fruit of the gospel as not just the forgiveness of sinners, but as the flourishing of culture with a vision of "creation regained" would create a student conference such as Jubilee. 

jon tyson at jubilee.jpgTo get a great, great sense of this vision of faith, this perspective informed by a the whole story of God, watch this great talk by Jon Tyson from Jubilee 2015. I was simply thrilled, even moved to tears, as I rejoiced that so many young evangelical leaders and authors like Jon Tyson (from Trinity Grace in NYC and author of Rumors of God) is so clear about this stuff, and how these 3000 students at the conference in Pittsburgh were hearing this message of all of life redeemed and the deep meaning of human cultural involvement.  I do hope you can bookmark this and watch it, soon (and don't miss the ending where he talks specifically about the church!) This Jubilee talk is illustrative of the work of the CCO and is one of the reasons I dedicated my little book to CCO staff, for not just bringing students to Jubilee, but for teaching and modelling and helping students experience the shalom of God, leading them into Jubilee visions of vocation, year by year.

 As I say in the introduction to Serious Dreams (which you can read here)

We have to be life-long learners, deepening our insight and fidelity to our callings, our jobs, our places and relationships. Whether we are called to the high-power corporate world in a cool urbane setting or a less prestigious job in a small town, we have to do the work, learning day by day. These speeches will be good reminders of the bigger picture, even serving as provocative commissionings to see your life as part of the Biblical story of the all-of-life-redeemed Kingdom coming. All of these speeches invite you to fresh thinking and renewed commitments to joining God in your careers and callings...

But yet, the dualisms that separate faith from life, callings from careers, and that suggest a gulf between Sunday and Monday, between worship and work,  between faith and public life, still remain.  There is a gap between religion and life, prayer and politics, and it is pervasive.

Beth and I have had the joy of selling books at four very different sorts of religious education events the last two weeks, and have so appreciated the interest and support shown to us by conference organizers and participants. These kinds of off-site events are part of our work, and we value serving various sorts of Christians and setting up displays in diverse corners of God's Kingdom.  One thing that comes up every time we sells books, though, almost anywhere, is how perplexed people are that we carry "secular " books or that we display books on topics that at first blush are not overtly religious -- technology, art, schooling, science, globalism. Not that folks object -- most are delighted -- but even folks that seem to know us express a bit of surprise. Or they say things like "well, I can't have my church budget pay for that since it isn't religious" or "I'll buy this, but I can't tell my congregation that I'm reading it" or, even flatly, "I never expected to see that in a Christian bookstore."  Again, these comments aren't spoken as criticisms and they aren't usually about anything all that controversial. But people say things that betray their confusion about the scope of God's work, that all of life is being redeemed, that Christ is Lord of all zones of life, that the art of Christian reading includes reading about all of creation and culture. There remains a sense, even from otherwise progressive church staff or Biblically-informed leaders, that there is some divide between what is seen as religious reading and what is considered lesser or even secular topics. 

flow package.jpgnew heavens and new earth.jpgI was glad, therefore, that at one event recently we sold some of the delightful For the Life of the World DVD (Gorilla Productions; $25.00) that artfully illustrates a creation-wide vision of redemption and reminds us of our calling as exiles in this good but fallen world. 

And, I was glad for the chance to highlight Richard Middleton's exceptional, rich book of Biblical studies, A New Heaven and Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic; $26.99.)  

It was good to highlight the exceptionally rigorous but important book by Jamie Smith How (Not) to Be Secular (Eerdmans; $16.00) about the heady Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor and his uber-important work The Secular Age and the road to character.jpghow not to be secular.jpgstunning, deeply rewarding new book by pundit David Brooks The Road to Character (Random House; $28.00) which combines perceptive cultural analysis and nifty reportage as well as hints of his own journey towards more explicit theological awareness.  I note that these two books by Smith and Brooks include astute observations about the texture of our times, and help people of faith understand our culture and embody faith in daily discipleship that makes sense.  Again, if God is redeeming all of life, and we are to take up our vocation to be Christ's agents of restoration and hope in the world, these sorts of books (that are certainly not pietistic or devotional in any conventional sense) are profoundly useful for Christian discipleship.

Serious Dreams cover.jpgMy own speech in my chapter in the Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life in fact, includes some reflections on a passage in 1 Chronicles that mentions "sons of Issachar."  I invite young women and men to have the same reputation as those whose legacy was to "understand the times and know what God's people should do." We really are invited to think about every sphere of life and to be willing to serve, to even suffer, for the sake of cultural flourishing.

Which brings me to four little books I am delighted to tell you about, that I fear may not be taken seriously in the religious book world, but certainly ought to be known among us. I want to kick up my heels in celebration, and praise God for this exact kind of work.  These brand new books are fantastic, short, profound, and very, very useful for this project of nurturing embodied daily discipleship, relating faith and various aspects of ordinary life. They are the first four in a set called the "Ordinary Discipleship Series" edited by Wheaton College theology professor Gene L. Green.  Kudos to those who cooked up the idea and to Zondervan for daring to publish these kinds of books that seem to cross the boundaries of scholarly theological studies and what some might call "Christian living" categories.  

(A little aside; I can't help myself:  John Ortberg's fantastic book on the spiritual disciplines, The Life You Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People  (Zondervan; $15.99) just came out, finally, in paperback. I mention it here because Ortberg, a Presbyterian pastor, writes how odd it is when people ask about your "spiritual life." He wonders what they even mean - what part of one's life isn't related to one's spiritual life, after all? He thinks it is better to just ask about one's life, not one's "spiritual" life.  This is in a book, remember, about spiritual disciplines, by an author who recently wrote a book about what he learned from Dallas Willard called Soul Keeping (Zondervan; $22.99.)  These are not written quite like Barbara Brown Taylor's exquisite An Altar in the World: The Geography of Faith (HarperOne; $14.99) but make a similar point. We experience God and work out the implications of our commitments to Christ in our human lives in the real world. Once we understand who God is and that we live in God's world, saved by grace through faith, we can find great insight about the nature of daily life. That's just the way it works, living as we do in the real world, sustained by Christ.  We desperately need a spirituality of the ordinary.  As Steve Garber reminds us in his chapter in my Serious Dreams volume, we live in a "covenantal cosmos."  So yes, cheers for John Ortberg's efforts to teach spirituality in a way that makes sense to ordinary people and for ordinary life, living in a burning bush world sustained by Christ Himself.)


Which brings us to this question of just how we related Christian thinking to various spheres of life, different aspects of our lived experiences.  Gene Green's "Ordinary Theology" series provides brief studies of four areas of life, and each one is fabulously interesting, quite helpful.  Each one starts with a story from the author's life and then offers Biblical and theological reflections which help inform or shape our understanding and involvement in the particular area of life being examined.  Much more can be said about each of these areas, of course, but for a primer (each is about 80 - 100 pages) each one takes us a long way into Christian perspective and how to integrate faith and thinking, for the sake of whole-life discipleship. 

Each one of these sells for $11.99.  We have them each on sale here at BookNotes for 20% off ($9.60) but will offer a bigger savings if you buy all four - just $8.00 each! 

I do recommend ordering all four at this extra discount, since you'll not only want to read them all, but you may want to share this one or that one, to different friends.

The Cities of Tomorrow and the City to Come- A Theology of Urban Life.jpgThe Cities of Tomorrow and the City to Come: A Theology of Urban Life Noah J. Toly (Zondervan) $11.99   This is a must-read for nearly all of us, I'd say (and I live in a small town!) Knowing about new urbanism, thinking about our spaces and built environment, and wondering how to be faithful as we consider the trends towards urbanization are urgent. This whole area (not just urban ministry, as urgent as that is, but what might be called urban sociology, thinking about design, planning and the like) is increasingly important and even church folks are starting to think about the role of things like zoning, or buying local, or how farmer's market's and art galleries enhance neighborhoods.  Missional churches are intentional about their locations and the nature of what makes towns flourish and the uniqueness of their own places.  This all can be very exciting stuff, and this book is fabulous  - what an example of all this we are talking about, relating faith to social location, being attentive to our environment, relating faith the public life.  I am perplexed why Toly (who is an experienced professor who guides undergrads in an urban living semester as they consider how to inhabit our spaces) doesn't cite the wonderful The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment  or even Sidewalks of the Kingdom both by Eric O. Jacobsen, which are very nice introductions to these themes as well.  Otherwise, Toly's bibliography is fabulous, his writing is passionate, and the opening story,  about a well-known urbanist who asked why he, as a scholar in this field, wanted to "think Christianly" since we wasn't, technically a theologian, is worth the price of the book.  He ends with a lovely prayer for the city from the Book of Common Prayer. This is very highly recommended and should be discussed in churches wanting to be intentional about their own mission to seek the peace of the city.

scalpel and the cross.jpgThe Scalpel and the Cross: A Theology of Surgery Gene L. Green (Zondervan) $11.99 Wow, what a book!  This is "lived theology" emerging directly from the authors own experience.  Geen is a Biblical scholar and professional theologian who, in fact, had to undergo serious heart surgery. Schooled as he is in the integration of theology and life, he searched in vain for a book on the theology of surgery. (There are hardly any good books for doctors, as such, on redemptive views of medicine, by the way, and I often advise docs to read the good body of literature on Christian views of nursing, at least.) Green's narrative about his emotional journey reflecting on his own faith and how it did or didn't equip him and his family for going under the knife, and his search for theological writings on the subject make for a riveting read. Am I weird for being on the edge of my seat as this scholar tells about the history of medicine, what story shaped the rise of surgery, and how he was researching all of this as not only a "theologian of the ordinary" but as a patient.  Again, more could be said, I'm sure, and the task for surgeons themselves to write Christianly about their work, is urgent. But, for now, this little volume is a significant contribution to Christian views of health care, medicine, and the art of doctoring, especially in serious matters of organ transplants, life-and-death procedures, and the complex matters of the economics of health care in a poverty-stricken world.  I would love to hear Green's view of the provocative book (co-written by a pediatrician and poet) called Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful use of Modern Medicine by Joel Schuman and Brian Volck (Brazos; $22.00.) Kudos to Dr. Green for putting together this whole series and for his own passion for relating Bible teaching and Christian theology to all of life.

political disciple- theology of public life.jpgThe Political Disciples: A Theology of Public Life Vincent E. Bacote (Zondervan) $11.99  Dr. Bacote is one of the great scholars of our time, a fun and upbeat African American professor who has written widely about Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper, so is ideally suited for this broad conversation about political theology.  Bacote is not a political scientist, but, in keeping with this series, is adept at taking his theological training and relating it to the topic at hand: faith and public life.  The book is not on government, per se, or even citizenship, and he notes that we perhaps would benefit from a broader view of our civic responsibilities in the public realm.  Much of this book tells of Vince's own journey as an evangelical come to his own in the midst of the perplexing rise of the fundamentalist religious right; coming from an African American home, he leaned Democratic; as an evangelical reading Francis Schaeffer he became about being pro-life.  His early formation within evangelical circles warned him about social involvement and other "worldly" pursuits, but yet it was Falwell and Robertson who called people of evangelical faith into the public sphere in the 80s and 90s.  My, my, what an interesting, curious journey, one that mirrors the twists and turns taken by many of us, and which have been writ large in the American religious and political landscapes in our time. 

Dr. Bacote walks us through essential Biblical and theological teaching that could guide us towards a more robust, lasting, non-partisan and faithful public theology, helps us think about social change in more fruitful ways, and shares - with hints of Kuyper for those with ears to hear - how we might approach the pluralism of our culture, even around contentious issues like abortion and marriage equality.  He talks helpfully about the cultural mandate, about our responsibility and the joy of serving Christ's Lordship in civil life.  Much more could be said (and Vince himself has, for instance in his wonderful book called The Spirit In Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper.)  He is the Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College. 

Dr. Vincent Bacote will, by the way, be the 2015 speaker for the annual Hearts & Minds Summer Lecture in Pittsburgh this coming July.  More on that later.

faithful- a theology of sex.jpgFaithful: A Theology of Sex Beth Felker Jones (Zondervan) $11.99 (Zondervan) $11.99  Well, this is a topic about which there has been much written.  For all the dualisms that separate body and soul, Biblical faith and daily matters, Christians of all sorts of written widely about sex.  And there is a lot that is very, very good.  Yet, it would be a conspicuous if a series like this on "ordinary" life failed to address this essential aspect of our daily living.  What could be said, in just 100 pages?  Very, very much, as it ends up.  Again, the strength of this little series is that it is bringing theological experts into the conversations, allowing their expertise to inform the topics. Welker has a PhD from Duke and is an associate professor of theology and here sketches a theology of sexuality "that demonstrates that sex is not about legalistic morals with no basis in reality but rather about the God who is faithful to us."  By grounding gender and sexuality in the realities of God's own creative process in and intent for the world  --and the broad drama of the Biblical story, creation/fall/redemption - we can frame our understandings and navigate our difficulties in ways that are better than mere moralism.  "What if sex is about God and who God is and God's intentions for the good creation," she asks.  Jones is not the first to do this, but perhaps this short contribution is one of the best, insisting that sexuality is created good, distorted and fallen, but being redeemed and restored.  She is a rigorous scholar - the footnotes themselves are a fascinating survey of writers and thinkers throughout church history, as well as contemporary social critics who offer good nuggets of insight.  This reminds us of the very essence of this whole series of "ordinary theology" that there is deep significance of the body and the created realities in which we live out our faith.  



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May 14, 2015

"C.S. Lewis's List" and Other Recent and Important Books on C.S. Lewis

In an adult Sunday School class I'm teaching at my church, I've been sharing the background, life and work of a handful of mostly recent "Christian authors everyone should know."  From writers like Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster to Bible scholars (Brueggemann, N.T. Wright) to eloquent memoirists such as Barbara Brown Taylor, I've highlighted some of the important, interesting, charming, and often-cited religious writers of our day.  Obviously (do I need to say it?) I did a week on C.S. Lewis. 

lewis and lion.jpg

mere - nice hardback.jpgI mentioned to one friend the other day that Lewis seems to be in the background for many of us; esteemed, valued, loved, even. We've read Narnia so often, given Mere Christianity away to thoughtful seekers (maybe even springing for the very elegant, classy hardback), pondered his creative fiction (how many times have you read The Screwtape Letters? The Great Divorce?) and enjoyed his quirky correspondence such as that found in Letters to an American Woman.  We've read the requisite biographies (Geroge Sayer's Jack is a must; The Narnian by Alan Jacobs continues to get rave reviews and I'm embarrassed that I haven't yet read it.) Probably we've read several of the many, many studies about his views, such as the must-read Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis by David Downing or The Taste for the Other by ethicist Gilbert MeilaenderBut, I admitted, I go through long stretches without talking or thinking about Lewis much (and we go weeks without selling a single Lewis volume here in the store!) I said that I may not be alone, but that I think I take his work for granted.

And then, I'll revisit something, have to answer a question, look something up, or read a good Lewis line in another book, and I'm reminded exactly why he is so beloved, and why there is such an ongoing interest in the great Oxford don.  I'm once again surprised by Jack, surprised by Joy.

CS Lewis Reluctant Disciple DVD.jpgHere are some newer works that I may not have yet announced or that I want to mention again. Not long ago we highlighted the lovely DVD curriculum on Lewis narrated by Os Guinness called C.S. Lewis: Reluctant Disciple: Faith, Reason, and the Power of the Gospel  (Discovery House; regular price, $19.99) and the recently released annotated Wade Edition of The Pilgrim's Regress (Eerdmans; regularly $25.00.) Good Lewisian workdiscussing Mere Christianity DVD Metaxas.jpg continues to come out -- and we can't wait for the Devin Brown DVD study Discussing Mere Christianity [Zondervan; regularly $49.99] which has the very engaging Eric Metaxas as a host, to release later next month. (We've waited for decades for just such a resource, so when it arrives we will be almost incredulous.  Finally!  More on that, soon.)

Okay, I can't wait: here is a bit of how the publisher explains it:

Host Eric Metaxas and a variety of Christian leaders (e.g. N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, Lauren Winner, Devin Brown, Paul McCusker, Douglas Gresham) help us understand the timeless message of C.S. Lewis in fresh ways for a new generation.

The $49.99 DVD package comes with one Participant's Guide, by the way, and additional study books for each participant are available for $8.99.

We ARE taking PRE-ORDERS at our BookNotes 20% off.  Just let us know, by clicking on the "order" link below. Or keep an eye out here for more information next month. 

For now, though, you should know about these, which are also on sale.

The C.S. Lewis List- The Ten Books That Influenced Him jpgC.S. Lewis's List: The Ten Books That Influenced Him Most edited by David Werther and Susan Werther (Bloomsbury) $24.95  This fantastic, interesting, and learned book is the sort that makes me think "why didn't someone do this sooner?"  And, it makes me say, with a hint of pride, that we had a tiny role in this: the book compiles papers given at a conference - 10 scholars talking about the 10 books that influenced Lewis in 10 different lectures about said books - and we provided the books to sell at the event, held in Madison Wisconsin a few years ago.  What a thrill to display classic books such as Phantastes by Lewis's beloved George MacDonaldChesterton's The Everlasting Man, Virgil's The Aeneid or The Descent into Hell by Charles Williams.  There are other remarkable literary works and books that Lewis himself says influenced him, and each are discussed, from poems by Wordsworth and George Herbert to mystical writings by Rudolph Otto to the eloquence of Boswell's Johnson biography. And more.

At one point, about the time Lewis went to Cambridge, he was considered the mostly widely read man in the Western world.  Why not take his word for things, and read those that he found most impactful? As Wayne Martindale (author of Beyond the Shadowlands) writes, 

If Lewis has taken you on journeys of discovery, you will rejoice to know more about the books that carried his imagination to new horizons. The ten contributors to this collection are like experienced tour guides who show us what to look for when we arrive at these places so enrichingly traversed by Lewis. 

Contemporary authors who contribute to this volume include some very good names you should know. Chris Armstrong (who, by the way, directs "Opus: The Art of Work" at Wheaton College), Adam Barkman of Redeemer University College in Ontario, Don King of Montreat College (who has written on Lewis's poetry and has a forthcoming book on Joy Davidman), the energetic  classicist Louis Markos (of Houston Baptist University), Holly Ortway, Mary Ritter, Charles Taliaferro and others. The honor of crafting the foreword was given to David Downing from here in Central Pennsylvania.  Many deep thinkers and those who are well read will obviously love this.  I think for many of us, who frankly aren't very well schooled in the Western classics, this would be a nice way to be informed about some important books and how they have been understood, at least by Lewis.  Kudos one and all.

c s lewis- A Life.jpgC.S. Lewis: A Life -- Eccentric Genius. Reluctant Prophet Alister McGrath (Tyndale) $24.95   I have extolled the value of this remarkable, recent biography before but just had to give it another shout out here. It may be the definitive biography now and although it became known for some new insights about the dating of Lewis's own conversion, and some new light on a few other topics, it ought to be known not ony because it adds a small bit of new information but for how it so interestingly weaves together so very much. McGrath is ideal for writing this - a former atheist himself, one who has taught at Oxford himself, one who has done magisterial biographies already, almost as a hobby, he once told me.  Important, lively endorsements grace the back from Timothy Keller, N.T. Wright, Alan Jacobs, Lyle Dorsett, Michael Ward.  It is very highly recommended.

The Intellectual World of C.S. jpgThe Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis Alister McGrath (John Wiley/Blackwell) $32.95  This is only a somewhat smaller book than the previously mentioned, major biography, but it is weighty, mature, and exceptionally useful for understanding the man in light of his philosophical context and intellectual milieu. Some have gone so far as to say it "should be on everyone's reading list, whether that of the research scholar of general reader."  Michael Ward notes that it is "thoughtful and thought-provoking" and that "these essays help to set C.S. Lewis's writing in its broader context." There are topics and ideas explore here that it seems no one else has tackled and it may be that it is distinctive, unlike any previous study. I'm sure that some of this comes from Dr. McGrath's deep professional awareness of historical theology and his insights about the flow of ideas and what some call "social location" but I also suspect that some of it may have been material that just didn't fit into the flow of the already brimming biography. Consider it a heady companion volume.

If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis- Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of jpgIf I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life Alister McGrath (Tyndale) $17.99 If the big hardback is McGrath's fabulous, meticulous biography, and the Blackwell paperback is a more academic study of Lewis's intellectual world, this is the one that showcases McGrath's vast knowledge of Lewis and which shares it in a creative, winsome, enjoyably storied way. What a fun idea -- imagining a series of lunchtime chats with Jack himself.  It isn't overly speculative, though, as McGrath so carefully draws on Lewis's work; it is playful in imagining a semester's worth of weekly meetings, supposing what it would be like to chat and learn from him, but it isn't exceedingly fanciful. Each week the lunch date covers certain specific topics --  among other things, the importance of stories, the art of apologetics, the nature of education, Lewis's views of hope and heaven, friendship, even a week all about Aslan. This hand-sized hardback is a true delight and you are sure to learn about Lewis, and from Lewis. It would make a nice gift, too, perhaps for a younger person who hasn't been adequately introduced to the charming gentleman from Belfast.

The Romantic Rationalist- God, Life, and Imagination in the World of C.S. jpgThe Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis edited by John Piper and David Mathis (Crossway) $17.99  In the class I mentioned, I drew fruitfully on a few of these great essays; I really appreciate the way these capture these two large themes in Lewis's life and work: imagination and reason. Some know Lewis as a storyteller and fantasy writer, a poet and author of books about friendship, love, suffering.  Most, though, I suspect, think of him as a scholar, a thinker, one schooled in rational argument, heady apologetics.  Could we have misjudged him (and, well, the entire project of the West, pitting head and heart, romance and reason, thinking and loving against one another?)

Piper notes that

Lewis came to Christ on the converging paths of romanticism and rationalism. And as a Christian, he became a master thinker and master (lover.) This is who he was, and this is what he knew. And so this is how he did his evangelism. He bent every romantic effort and every rational effort to help people see what he had seen - the glory of Jesus Christ, the goal of all his longings, and the solid ground of all his thoughts.

Besides the two compilers, there are very good chapters are by Philip Ryken, Douglas Wilson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Randy Alcorn.  Not all agree with Lewis on everything, by the way, so that's interesting, too.  And Randy Alcorn offers a bit of an examination of in an extra appendix about Lewis and heaven, wondering if his influences were truly Biblical, or more influenced by some kind of neo-Platonism.

CS Lewis and the Arts.jpgC.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands edited by Rod Miller (Square Halo Books) $18.99  This is another I've mentioned before -- I did a lengthy description when it first came out --  but think it deserves an extra word here. There is nothing like it in print, and it is very handsomely created.  There is an original Ned Bustard linograph ("Saint Jack") reproduced inside and a crisp typeface for the chapter titles and sub-headings. I really like the stuff Square Halo Books produces (as you may guess, since they did my own Serious Dreams, which does, in fact, cite C.S. Lewis more then once, but I digress.) More importantly, there are original essays here, thoughtful, interesting, important, even, for those who want to understand Dr. Lewis and for those interested in the arts and the creative life.  Some of these contributors are top-tier Lewisians (David Downing, Don King, Jerry Root, Peter Schakel) and the forward is by the important contemporary artist, retired recently from the excellent art department at Messiah College, Theodore Prescott. What a fine, fine book!  It should be better known among us and I'm happy to include it here in this list of relatively recent books about St. Jack.

plain to the inward eye.jpgPlain to the Inward Eye: Selected Essays on C.S. Lewis Don W. King (Abilene Christian University Press) $25.99 Another lesser-known book that deserves to be on the shelves of any Lewis fan, this remarkable collection gathers together a lifetime of critical thinking about Lewis and his concerns by one of the great Lewis men of our age.  Don King has been a professor of English at Montreat College since 1974 and, significantly, has edited the prestigious Christian Scholar's Review since 1999. He has contributed articles on Lewis's poetry to significant books about Lewis, even being drafted to contribute to certain enclopedia entries; further, he has authored several full books on Lewis and on Joy Davidman. But this collection of pieces is his best yet for general Lewis readers. 

Bruce Edwards writes that

Don King is a superb and engaging researcher and writer, and stands as the leading expert on either side of the Atlantic on the poetry of Lewis... He has a careful editorial eye... contextualizing intelligence... and is an exemplary Lewis scholar. 

There is spectacularly interesting stuff in Plain to the Inward Eye -- "Narnia and the Seven Deadly Sins", Lewis's poetry compared with others, reviews of important books about Lewis,  explorations of the core values Lewis gleaned from Dante, Chaucer, Yeats. There is a chapter comparing how Lewis wrote about the devil with how Milton did so. There is one on the erotic love poetry of Joy Davidman, another on Lewis' use of "the door" as a metaphor.  Wonderful, curious, informed, this is a great way to learn about Lewis, and useful for those who want to know more, and a must for aficionados. A great anthology by a very impressive critic.

Bedeviled- Lewis, Tolkien and the Shadow of Evil .jpgBedeviled: Lewis, Tolkien and the Shadow of Evil Colin Duriez (IVP) $17.00  For some, Colin Duriez is the most significant scholar of the Inklings and is known for being a commentator on the extended version film DVDs of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In this new book -- which I suspect will be widely discussed and significantly reviewed in all the right places - Duriez explores how the battle between good and evil (in the seen and unseen worlds) is understood by Lewis and Tolkien and how their views work their ways into their own writings. How did the Inklings respond to the great tragedies of their time? (Lewis, by the way, we should recall, by the way, saw horrific action in World World I and was seriously wounded in the front.) As it says on the back cover of this new paperback "In these pages we turn also to the way of goodness and the promise of a far country as we explore a the way out of the shadow of evil."

Listen to what Bruce Edwards (author of Not a Tame Lion) says:

Nobody knows more about the respective canons of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien or their collaborative friendship then Colin Duriez, and he puts his erudition to work in this new volume that explores and elucidates the shadow of evil in their respective literary work. Those looking for contemporary insights into the source and problem of evil need look no further than Bedeviled.

Or, hear Monika Hilder of Trinity Western University:

Duriez captures how Lewis and Tolkien meet darkness head-on and show blow-by-blow how technocracy, egotism, disillusionment and loss of faith (the world, the flesh, the devil) are overcome by the love of God. This important book celebrates strong hope over and against the dire forces of darkness that beset us. Together, Lewis, Tolkien and Duriez raise the victory flag with high courage, wisdom and joy.

Called- My Journey to C.S. Lewis's House and Back jpgCalled: My Journey to C.S. Lewis's House and Back Again Ryan Pemberton (Leafwood) $14.99  This is a fun and fabulous new book which is hard to explain. Well, maybe it isn't. It's about a young guy -- who tells us early on that he never imagined himself, not in a million years, studying theology, let alone in England, at Oxford. Long story short, this memoir is Pemberton's telling of his discerning his sense of a calling, his leaving a career in marketing, his tragi-comic roller coaster ride to Oxford.  One reviewer likened it a bit to Donald Miller of Blue Like Jazz fame, although perhaps they meant his Million Miles one. In prose that has been called "beautiful and heart wrenching" and "a breath of fresh air for the generations raised to equate divine calling with radical adventure" Pemberton tells his tale, even if it isn't a radical adventure.  For a few of us, though, this really is an amazing adventure, as Pemberton meets Walter Hooper, ends up working as a docent/tour guide at The Kilns, Lewis's world-famous and beloved homestead. Who gets to house-sit the Lewis home? Called to the Kilns? You've got to be kidding me!  I bet this will be a great read.



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May 18, 2015

Two must-read books: Ghettoside (Jill Leovy) and Wanted (Chris Hoke) ON SALE at HEARTS & MINDS

just mercy.jpgMany BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds customers know of my great, great appreciation for legal aid advocate Bryan Stevenson and his spectacular book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau; $28.00.) We named it one of the Best Books of 2014, offered links to interviews and TED talks, (bragged that he came out of Eastern University and that he spoke at Jubilee in Pittsburgh.) We've promoted it most places we've gone the last half a year, and sometimes have read out loud Desmond Tutu's endorsement exclaiming how thrilling the book was to read, and how important. Regarding the stories of flagrant legal injustices, often racially-tinged, that are so well told in Just Mercy and Mr. Stevenson's persistent and faithful advocacy, to achieve criminal justice for poor folks, the mentally impaired, children, even, Tutu declares what hangs in the balance: "Nothing less than the soul of a great nation." 

new jim crow.jpgMore readable, I think, than the definitive and compelling The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (The New Press; $19.95) Just Mercy stands alongside her work as a must read for anyone wanting to understand racial tensions, crime and punishment in our age.

You know we appreciate these two, as we've said it before.

Well, a few months ago the same prestigious publisher who released Just Mercy, Spiegel & Grau, released another stunning work, now surely another must-read book on similar, related themes. I didn't think it was possible, but this one is even more riveting and page-turning than Just Mercy. And it is a bit more complicated, with a bit more going on. But one thing that is clear:  there are racial dimensions to the large numbers of black men killed in American and it is astonishing we don't talk about it much.

GhettoSide: A True Story of Murder in America  Jill Leovy (Spiegel & Grau) $28.00

ghettoside big.jpgGhettoSide: A True Story of Murder in America was written over many years of detailed research by Jill Leovy, an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times who certainly deserves acclaim and honor for her extra-ordinary work documenting how mostly black-on-black murders in Compton and other parts of South L.A. are investigated and prosecuted. I would suggest that if anyone wants to understand episodes such as the uprising in Ferguson MO or the riots in Baltimore, the recent national conversation about community policing, or, for that matter, if one wants to understand the real life work of criminal investigation and gritty urban police work (beyond Law and Order or Blue Bloods) this is the book to read.  In fact, if you like those popular police shows, you will love this book.

I've been wanting to tell our readers more about this incredible work for months, now (I had already described it briefly when it first came out) waiting both for my own ability to process it all and describe it with something approximating what it deserves, and for the best time to do so, in terms of current events and recent controversies.  I must admit that the tragedy in Baltimore - the murder of Freddy Gray, the riots, the arrests of the police officers, and the stressful rounds of comments and arguments on-line that followed, made me not so sure I wanted to share a review at that time. I didn't want to add to the noise, and I didn't want the book to be ignored or have BookNotes readers connect it too closely to those events. It is such a good read, such a valuable story, and I have been waiting for the right time to tell about it, but, now, can't wait any longer.  


Here is the short version of what this book is about. In great detail and prose that at times is nearly luminous, Ms. Leovy explains the horrors of inner city crime (most often gang related) and the subsequent police investigations and prosecution of the crimes. (Or, notably, the lack of such investigation and prosecution.) On the front of the book, in stark white letters on a striking black cover, it says "Someone is killed nearly every day in Los Angeles County, murders mostly unnoticed by the city at large - and likely to remain unsolved by the police. The killing of Bryant Tennelle seemed destined to share that fate, until the case was assigned to John Skaggs, a relentless detective of unusual gifts whose investigation reveals much about the epidemic of American homicide and how it can be stopped."

Yes, that is exactly what it is about, and -- whew! -- what a long, strange trip it is. Buckle your seat belts and get on board; this train is one you don't want to miss.

Ghettoside is set in the worst years of the violence in Compton, more than a decade ago, now, statistics about which are breathtakingly bad. I know a bit and have read a lot about urban issues, and I was riveted, knocked back at times, shocked by how bad the situation was.  With more deaths each week than in most of our modern wars, why aren't the crimes known and why aren't the perps tracked down and brought to justice? This is a huge, complex question.  The book maintains that "where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic."

In other words, the failure of mostly white police forces to prosecute gang violence (and coupled with para-militarized anti-drug campaigns and policing strategies that provoke more than protect) left a huge gap in urban centers.  Black on black violence, as it is sometimes described, occurred in the power vacuum left by the failures of adequate, effective policing and stable institutions of law and of order.

Of course there are huge, complicated and reasons for this vexing abdication of duty. Because this book is written like a true crime thriller, by an excellent journalist at the top of her craft, we learn about big policy matters by way of real stories, real people, real scenarios. As such the book is captivating, and compelling, leaving this reader in tears, sometimes in outrage, shaking his head, smacking his fist against the table, reaching for the tissues. 

And I was amazed by the unusual, fiercely dedicated John Skaggs. (More on him in a bit.)

So, so much is so very complicated in this real, fallen world. (Fallen may be the theological word we use to describe the distortion and dysfunctions wrought by sin; many of the characters in Ghettoside would use a different f-word, expressing the same awareness with unsanitized anguish.) From page to page we learn just how broken things are.


Just for instance, when a young boy has part of his head blown off by a drive by shooting - perhaps intentional, perhaps due to a mistaken identity - the scene must be secured by yellow police tape so that forensics scientists can do their work, gathering evidence, bone and blood and bullets. (You've seen CSI, no doubt.)  However, understandably, in crowded urban centers, aunts and mothers, siblings and lovers gather, sometimes before the police do, to mourn, to share tenderness and grief, and to express outrage. When such murders are nearly common-place rituals and means of mourning develop and outrage is severe, with anger often expressed against the law enforcers who seem to fail, and who most likely will not put much effort into solving this particular crime.  If police disrupt the communal grief, try to pull the mother off the body, try to secure the forensics integrity of the crime scene, they are seen as brutes. (And, according to Leovy's careful research and reporting, they sometimes are., but not always.) However, if the investigators are culturally sensitive or allow the body to be disturbed or removed, it is inevitable they will lose time and evidence. Homicide detectives even have a name for this routine problem of loved ones pulling the deceased away from the scene of the crime, forbidding police - who they do not trust - access, seemingly not aware that they are hindering whatever effort the police may want to expend gathering evidence. The police are harassed and threatened and the initial moments of the investigation are sometimes dangerous, bordering on pandemonium, with anguish and mistrust and more violence breaking out, understandably demoralizing the investigators who seem themselves as trying to help.  These investigators may be Latino or black, themselves, although they are often white, and the complexities of class and culture are pressing, even at the start of any given crime's investigation. And there were sometimes several a day in those years. Reading this was beyond sobering.

Prosecution of inner city gang-related or drug-related crime becomes problematic as well -- as we've seen on the TV shows, similar, too, to the Mob stories -- when eye-witnesses are resistant to speak to the police out of real fear of being targeted for revenge.  Again, this is complicated as many urban youth have been demeaned and even harmed by police, so when some investigators surely mean well, and cooperation with them would be in the interest of the neighborhood's safety, there is still mistrust, deep and profound and lasting.  Add to this the fear that the brutal enforcers of the harsh drug lords or uber-loyal gang members threaten the families of the witnesses in the most grotesque ways imaginable, the police investigation is exceedingly, overwhelmingly, difficult. Some rookie cops can't even imagine why good people won't cooperate. Others understand.

The first part of this moving work is called "The Plague" which is an overt reference to Camus' famous novel. (And I thought that the futility of The Myth of Sisyphus would have worked as well.)

But yet, the police soldier on, and Leovy tells -- with utter sympathy for the crisis of the neighborhoods, the urban downtrodden, the poor and fearful, the good, bad, and the ugly, the kids and the moms -- the story of the often valiant efforts of a few expert detectives to pursue justice.

And this is the heart of the story, good cops trying to do their jobs well, nearly against all odds. 

Like the Law and Order episodes there are two parts to every story. There is the true crime investigation (and oh, how Leovy captures the street cops, the homicide detectives, the chiefs and administrators struggling with policy and funding and management) and then there is the lawyering -- the courts, the public defenders, the judges, sentencing, prisons.  Although the book's focus is more on the former, there is a bit of the latter as well.


In what seems to me a passionately honest and yet generous eye, Leovy sees and tells the truth aboutjill leovy on TV.jpg all sides, the different facets and factors, the different people and their stories, their lives and their circumstances, colorful and poignant as they often are. She captures with vibrant prose the nature of inner city street life, the housing projects, the houses and lawns and alleys, the charm and goodness as well as the drugs and violence.  She understands inner city lifestyles, the people of many ethnicities that live in the many neighborhoods that make up South Los Angeles County, and with such good writing helps us feel like we understand the nuances and difference between this avenue and that block, between the Crips and the Bloods, the druggies and the preachers and social workers and prostitutes and more.  And yet, the book, set in Compton and about urban homicide, is a bigger story, finally about police work, the vocation of being a detective, and the "lucid social critique" she makes about it all.

Listen to the notable writer Martin Amis,

Jill Leovy writes with exceptional sharpness and tautness, and her pages glow and glitter with the found poetry of the street. This book will take an honored place on the shelf that includes David Simon's classic Homicide and Michelle Alexander's explosive study of mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow.

Or, listen to these amazing words of Michael Connelly,

Ghettoside is fantastic. It does what the best narrative nonfiction does: It transcends its subject by taking one person's journey and making it all our journeys. That's what makes this not just a gritty, heart-wrenching, and telling book, but an important one. From the patrol copy to the president, everyone needs to read this book.

So, yes, this is the kind of book we feel compelled to promote, and hope you will consider recommending it to your book club, or getting it for your own summer reading.


One reviewer said it was the bravest book bout race and crime he ever saw. I saw that comment before I started the book, and wasn't sure what it implied. You must read the book yourself to discern if it is true, but Dan Baum (author of Nine Lives) says it is "a thoroughly engrossing true-life policier full of vivid and sympathetic characters, but also the bravest book about race and crime I've ever read."

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America is an amazing book. I've suggested that it is important because of how it shows the pain and dignity of the urban poor, gang kids, addicts and street people as well as more ordinary folks trying to live normal lives in dense urban settings.  And it shows the pain and dignity of cops and detectives and all sorts of police workers; even if you don't like detective stories, this is a great read to show this side of this profession.  Many of us have opinions about race and crime and city strife and law enforcement - some expressed with great passion, even in posters and sloganeering on line - and it seems to me that our viewpoints ought to be shaped by this sort of reporting.  (Do you disagree?) Whether you see yourself as basically liberal or conservative on these kinds of things, whether you try to have understanding for the uprisings in the cities or whether you a revolted by the protests, and think we should just always support our officers in blue, I hope you will agree that we simply must know what really goes on, in the streets and in the precinct headquarters and the squad cars.  This book is the best I've read on this, the most important book on urban problems I've ever seen.


(Although grand policy questions aren't the primary topic, one learns about how the headquarters in certain precincts  in LA County were woefully underfunded, how dumb management foibles of this or that chief had huge impact on how crimes are investigated and adjudicated.  Not unlike Jonathan Kozol's blazing critique of what he calls "savage inequalities" (the way some school districts are well funded and others horribly underfunded and how these disparities are drawn around color lines) Ghettoside exposes some truly unjust institutional issues.  From funding to training to administration, inner city cops are working with great needs and woeful support and some of that is political. The decisions of Mayors and State and even Federal legislation have repercussions on the ground.  Savage inequalities, again.  Unbelievable that some police have (well, these days, tanks and grenade launchers) and these police in Watts don't even have paper and pencils!)


There is another reason why some BookNotes readers will want to pay attention to this moving, gripping book. There is a matter explored, almost as a sub-theme, examined on some pages quite directly, and sometimes nearly between the lines. There is, in Ghettoside, an inspiring exploration of how one or two effective detectives researched, investigated and doggedly pursued the best practices of their craft and wouldn't give up as they learned how to better serve with success.  I can count on one hand the number of well written books like this that explore what it means to see one's career as a calling, a vocation, and what it means to learn, over time, the best practices of a craft so they become almost supernaturally second nature. 

Detective John Skaggs is the primary hero here, not only for his diligence and integrity and passion, but because he learned what worked in his line of work, what little thing matters, what didn't. One can use that phrase - best practices - but it seems to be a rare few who have inhabited their jobs so intentionally, the have attended to the literal use of their bodies and minds and habits and time, have developed the "body memory" of what works, how to do daily stuff, making them outstanding in their fields. Skaggs is that kind of a person, and his own career's path -- trying to train others in how to do these herculean tasks with sensitivity and effectiveness, his mentoring another in the art of urban criminal investigations -- is itself a major part of this story. 


And, it raises the question: can those who are great at what they do (teachers or salespeople or doctors, say) rise up the organizational ladder in their careers to new positions of administration and there create new cultures in their own workplaces and institutions? Can a passionate and driven worker learn to work in other venues, in administration, say? (Can he or she retire and still be happy?) This complex story is one of urban hardships and bad guys and injustices and violence and the various ways police respond to solve and prosecute these crimes (or not) but it also reveals something to those of us who care about the Christian reformation of the workplace, and how to humanize and transform moribund and unhealthy institutions and professions. It helps us realize insight about learning a craft, about the long hours of becoming fluent in a field, and about how to accomplish something good in one's workplace.

We should applaud Ms. Leovy for her astute research doing this book - there is no doubt that she put herself in harm's way and through the emotional rigors of learning to care about inner city neighborhoods and the lives of people there.  And, she was brave to cover these stories of police failings (and also great police heroism and civic dedication) and the complicated struggles to reform inner city policing.  But I also want to note that she did more than ride along and report - which itself would have been heroic and notable. She studied this topic in the most profound ways, knowing the scholars of the field, the intellectually formative criminologist and she fairly explored the various schools of thought.  She has studied and agrees with "great intellectual prophets" like the late William J. Stuntz, who wrote that "Poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kinds of policing and criminal punishment that do the most good and too much of the kinds that do the most harm." I admired how she frames many of the riveting scenes and page-turning episodes by her obviously knowledgeable awareness of the bigger picture questions about institutions and cultures and social architecture and the different theories and approaches that are operative in the field.

Like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy is hard and sad and yet inspiring and finally good. It is truly wonderfully written, fascinating, and as captivating as any good novel. It will let you know much about the nature of our world, help you realize more about the stuff we hear about in the newspapers, movies or hip hop songs. (There is, by the way, a film coming out later this summer about the late 80s hip hop group N.W. A. called Straight Outta Compton.)

Besides being helpful and informative and a quality literary experience, Ghettoside will inspire you, as ordinary people fight to create meaning in their hard lives, and as certain professional police officers see their work as vocations, and do what they must, within the constraints of what they can, to make this world a better place.  I was surprised by how much I grew to appreciate the thoughtful efforts of Skaggs and his best partners and compatriots for reform, showing his colleagues that these urban crimes must be pursued and could be prosecuted, and that that sort of enforcement brought more order and dignity to the dangerous neighborhoods then other more overt efforts at establishing control and order.  In this, it reminded me of the Christian insight of Gary Haugen, writing about global places of injustice and the need for good order in Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford University Press; $18.95) and how that can be accomplished in fruitful, lasting ways.

Here is a good interview with her on the Daily Show. Check it out.

Wanted.jpgWanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders Chris Hoke (HarperOne) $25.99  I have already given an early shout out to this amazing book,  too, and, again, it deserves so much more. I hardly feel like I can do it justice as it is such a moving and rare work.

Hoke works with Tierra Nueva in the state of Washington, a deeply spiritual and anointed, one-of-a-kind wholistic Christian ministry started by Bob and Gracie Ekblad after they left their Latin American mission work where they were doing agricultural work, pressing for land reform, and standing up for human rights of peasants who were often persecuted by U.S. backed death squads and paramilitary police. Bob Ekblad has written two powerhouse books that we stock about his radical solidarity with the poor, Reading the Bible with the Damned and A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God, both published by Eerdmans ($22.00 and $20.00) and is also featured in one great chapter of Fred Bahnson's tremendous memoir of farming and spirituality called Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food & Faith (Simon & Schuster; $26.00) Ekblad is the founder of Tierra Nueva -- "new earth" of course -- where Chris  Hoke eventually finds a home.

Chris is a rabble rouser after Ekblad's own heart, a young subversive who is now a coffee roaster who employs former gang members and other folks hard up on their luck, a prison worker, friend of migrants, runaways, the troubled and the damned. In this high-octane, unforgettable book he tells touching stories of his work at Tierra Nueva, showing us an inclusive and gracious way of living the Christian faith with gospel integrity.  Some of our best writers about urban affairs have gushed over this moving work. 

Listen to Father Greg Boyle (author of the famous Tattoos on the Heart.)

Chris Hoke's fine book widens what needs to be widened in a world where some lives seem to matter less than others.  What he so eloquently articulates is the erasure of margins and the birth of a new inclusion - where the demonizing cease and the disposable are no longer tossed aside. It is a book which refines one's own heart to meet the brokenness of the other and discover your own. Exquisite mutuality.

chris hoke.jpgI am pretty sure most of us have rarely read anything like this. There is recent interest in prison life (Orange is the New Black, for instance) but this is the really, real deal.  It is beautiful, blazing, profane and grace-filled. It is tragic and good, beautiful and broken. It is a gripping book, full of stories, human and real, full of faith and prayer and love.  He calls these stories (some comic, some crazy, almost all deeply moving) "mystical portraiture" and the prose comes to us from someone who knows a bit about creative writing. (He has an MFA from the famed writing program at Seattle Pacific University.) But more than the beauty of these stories is their power to impact us. Wanted:  A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail...  is very different than the narrative nonfiction of Ghettoside, in style and religious perspective and setting, but I am glad I read them back to back. You might want to, too.  

Listen to what some others have said about the joy and impact that reading this might have.

Scott Cairns, the wonderful Orthodox poet, writes,

Chris Hoke is what I would call a Christ-follower. He follows the path that Jesus walked, eyes open, hands ready to help, heart ready to break. The result is life-changing -- for him, for those he serves, and for us if we have ears to hear.

Fr. Richard Rohr (of the Center for Action and Contemplation) says,

As a former jail chaplain myself, I have yet to find a book that is so well written, so honest, and so non-naïve - and yet compassionate - about the kind of world we live in! You will live in your own world with greater courage if you read this book.

Glynn Washington, the host and creator of NPR's Snap Judgement show has written,

When Chris first told a story on my show, it was so beautiful I wept. But I kept asking for more. This book proves what we believe at Snap - stories can lure you into places you've never imagined, and maybe even change your life.

And there you have it.  Books can inform, they can change us as we learn new stuff, learn to see things differently. If they are well written -- as are both Ghettoside and Wanted -- this transformative reading experience can even be enjoyable. We can be touched, in heart and mind, and we will be better for it. I think these two books deserve those sorts of promises, and I do not hesitate to offer that sort of expectation. I know what I learned, what I appreciated, what I felt and experienced as a reader going through them. We are happy to invite you to order them from us, hoping they can be influential for you, as well.

ghettoside big.jpg




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May 20, 2015

A Great Gift for College-Bound High School Graduates -- An Encore Review: Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning by Derek Melleby ON SALE

I know you know what re-runs are.  

Or "encore performances" as they are sometimes called.  Sometimes, we are really glad to see one -- the first showing was so good that you want to see it again;  or, maybe, the "encore" allows folks to see something they missed previously.

With my celebration a few weeks ago of my new book designed for those young adults who are transitioning out of college or trade school, or finishing up graduate work, and taking up vocations in the work world (Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life published by Square Halo Books; at a special sale price here, $11.50) we have not forgotten that many readers give books to their high school graduates this season, too.  

Churches, youth ministries, private schools, moms and dads, godparents, confirmation sponsors, uncles and aunts, older sibs, even -- who doesn't want to honor the twelfth graders who survived senioritis and made it to graduation day?

My favorite book to give to high school grads who are going off to college is the fine book by Derek Melleby, Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning (Baker; $12.99.)  I've mentioned it a bunch of times over the last few years, but I don't think I've actually done a re-run. 

For a list of suggestions for those high school grads who are not going off to college, see here.

So, without further ado, with only minor editing, here is the "encore performance" of a review I wrote when this book released. Since I wrote this review a few years ago, I've only deepened my appreciate for Derek as a young leader, for the usefulness of his book, and for the impact it has made. The publisher has been happy to keep it in print, and it has developed a fantastic reputation. So it deserves this re-run of a review.  Enjoy.


It is always a joy to be standing around the church hallway and see some teens sauntering up the stairs to their Sunday school class.  Many medium-sized mainline churches don't have many youth, and it is a blessing that we have a good handful.  It was a joy this morning as I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary, noticing a few seniors, students that I have nearly watched grow up.  A few I played with in the nursery 15 years ago; my own youngest daughter's cohort will soon be graduating from high school.  Last year this time --- well, most every spring for the last dozen years or so, since my oldest was first active in youth group and I knew many of those kids with senioritis---I was in a serious funk about what might become of these older teens. 

These were kids I knew and cared about, mostly all heading off to some kind of higher education.  Would they get involved in some campus fellowship group when they went off to college?  Would they find themselves being followers of Christ in their new homes?  Would a local church reach out to them?  Would they develop good new friends that would wisely assist them in discerning the big questions about their future, their major, their callings and careers?  Would they, like most young adults in what developmentalists now call the critical years, take up the materialistic and secular values of the American way of life or would they choose God's Kingdom's ways --- upside down values of service and justice and a deeper purpose better than upward mobility?  Would they find a spouse that suits them well?  Oh, how we fret about these very young adults.


Of course, the fretting comes to a head for me when we pray over them (if we do at all) or recognize them in some churchly ceremony.  Does your church do something for students graduating from high school?  And does it sound something like God's radical call to them and a profound blessing upon them, or just a religious veneer over the same kind of stuff they hear at their mawkish high school commencements?  Do we commission them to a new phase of Kingdom living, with fear and trembling, or do we just sprinkle a little civil religion over the hope they'll be happy and successful?  I hope it is the former.  

That is, I hope our churches really inspire our young adults to take their faith seriously, and to move into the next stage of their lives with gusto, intentional discipleship, and a desire to have their lives count, really count.

This concern of what message we send to our graduates really comes to a head for me when we give them some sort of graduation gift.  We are asked this in the store each year, too -- what do we recommend?  In our experience some well-intended folks get students a plaque or pen or gifty type knick-knack. (A tie tac, you ask?  How do you ask a customer if they are out of their cottonpickin' minds?)  Most students find these remembrances pretty boring, I've heard, reinforcing their hunch that church is about as relevant to their lives as, well, their great grandma's gifts of a monogrammed hanky. 

Often, though, we try a offer something a bit better, so we give them a book, like a faux leather compilation of Bible promises, as if some 18 year old is just dying to do a concordance type study of every listing of every Bible verse around a certain theme.  Anxious about leaving home?  Wondering what major might make sense or what classes to choose?  Sad about leaving your bff from kindergarden?  I am not so sure they will turn to that handsome little pocket guide, even if they do deep down want to know what God might say to them.  I recall one kid trying to sell such a book back to us; you had to admire not only his ingenuity but his honesty.  "I just wouldn't use a book like that," he said.


And so, I am here to announce, as urgently and as plainly as I can, that we have found the best book to give to college-bound high-school seniors and graduates.  

Make College Count.jpgThose in the throes of that  "college transition" will enjoy this book which is substantive, interesting, important, and -- and this is important, too -- cool looking and fun. It is called Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning by Derek Melleby (Baker; $12.99 -- one sale here for $10.39.)  As Steve Garber (one who has studied, and studied with, college students as intentionally as anyone I know, most college professors included) writes of it,  "Make College Count is just right!  What Derek Melleby has done is find a way to come alongside someone on the way to college and offer guidance about things that matter most."  


There are several very nice books for college-bound students and they have useful stuff about getting along with room-mates, doing laundry, avoiding the college party scene.   A couple warn about the atheism of their secular professors.  They almost all admonish youngsters to not have sex, to stay in touch with mom, to study hard.  They are fine.  And they are almost all cleverly written and still mostly inane.  This 17 or 18 year old has just completed the first major phase of his or her educational life;  it feels (at that age, at that transition point) like one of the most important moments in their whole life, and they are off to one of the most challenging (and expensive) and life-changing, formative episodes of the rest of their life, and we give them a whimsical guide to doing laundry, and one last warning not to have sex?  This is the best God's people can do??  This is all we have to say?

Make-College-Count-Hardcover-218x300.jpgMr. Melleby, in Make College Count, thinks more foundationally; without seeming at all high-minded or overly serious, he winsomely invites students to think about, as Garber says, the things that matter most of all, and without sounding preachy.  There are seven questions that Melleby has discovered to be important for students to ask themselves, most usefully, before they get to State U, or at least early on in their college experience. 

Derek is increasingly known as a national leader on the psychology and spirituality of the college transition (he now directs an innovative Christian gap year program called OneLife) and he affirms the research that has shown that college is a time where emerging adults will become the person they most likely will be for the rest of their life.  How can they make the most of that time?  What might we ask them to consider, to set them in the right direction?  What are the things they should wrestle with a bit before they jump into the pace of the collegiate experience this fall?

Melleby is a fine and at times funny writer, and after each chapter, where he takes up one of the primal questions, he does an illuminating interview with a young woman or man who has recently been out of college.  He invites them to look back over their shoulder and tell their story, how their identity and sense of calling was shaped by their university years.  These are not composites -- they are real interviews. I actually know almost all of these students. Derek (I'm happy to disclose) is a very good friend and his campus ministry work where he met these students occurred at a campus near here.  I can say that nearly all of these students who are now young alum, have bought books from us, have shared some of their stories with Beth me, and we can vouch for their thoughtfulness and integrity.  The interviews in Make College Count are like little sidebars, and they are upbeat and very interesting.  And really helpful.

We are confident that this little book -- offering a way to discover a path to true success at college and beyond (as it says on the back cover) -- is the best thing we've seen like this in over 30 years of book selling.  There is simply no other book that asks these very basic sorts of fascinating questions and offers such solid counsel about such good stuff in such a brief, colorful, (and likely to be read) format.  

Here is a part of the table of contents:

What Kind of Person Do You Want to Become?  Following Jesus During the Critical Years

Why Are You Going to College?  Finding Your Place in the Story of God

What Do You Believe? Taking Ownership of Your Faith

Who Are You?  Securing your Identity in Christ

With Whom Shall You Surround Yourself?  Connecting with the Christian Community

How Will You Choose a Major? Putting Your Faith into Action

How Do You Want Your Life to Influence Others?  Leaving a Legacy

And, happily, he selected a few key books and websites that he suggests as "resources for the road ahead."  He names that great college conference that we help with, the CCOs annual Jubilee Conference, and, yes, he mentions Hearts & Minds BookNotes.  How cool is that?

Derek is an associate staff with the CCO and used to work with the great Walt Mueller at the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding.  He co-wrote (with Donald Optiz) my favorite book for collegelearning for the love of god.jpg students about taking their faith perspective into the classroom, Learning for the Love of God (a must-have resource for students, presuming a somewhat more intentional reader.) This illustrates the broadly evangelical perspective he holds, and the exceptionally thoughtful approach he brings -- all offered with an upbeat tone, alongside funny stories, great interviews, and the artful design of the small hardback.  This is a book you can give to any college-bound student with great confidence that it will be appreciated. 

You know the old story of Goldilocks' bears?  Some books for graduates are too this, some are too that; some too long, some too short, some too heady, some not heady enough.  I can hardly name any that are truly "just right."  Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning is the prime example, perfect in tone, fabulous in content, great in appearance and price.  We cannot recommend it any more highly; we think it will be used in the lives of emerging adults at this key transition point in their lives.

Here is a simple video clip of Derek talking about the book, noting some initial feedback he has gotten from young readers, explaining just what he was hoping he would accomplish by providing a resource like this.  It is low-key and a great illustration of Derek's clear, kind, and insightful style.  I hope you enjoy it.  And then I hope you buy a boat-load of the book.  From us, of course.  We told the publisher we would get behind this, and we look forward to promoting it anywhere we can.  Won't you help us?  It sure beats the tie tacs...

If this impresses you as it does us, if you are eager for the high school grads that you know who are heading off to college or trade school to have an opportunity to reflect on these basic matters -- who they want to be, what they feel called to do, with whom they will be involved and the like --  why not forward this review to whoever it is at your church who buys the gifts for the graduating seniors?  If you have a relative or friend heading off to college, buy the book yourself.  

Thanks for helping us spread the word.  We think it can make a difference.  We are glad for those that get the importance of this, honoring our grads in ways that are meaningful and have the possibility of really being helpful.  We are very glad for any orders you send our way -- but if you don't know any senior high kids heading off to college, just say a quick prayer for the next generation of the college-bound, their unique time in history, and the call for them to ponder deeply "the things that matter most."  




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May 22, 2015

If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For -- the new book by Jamie Tworkowski (of "To Write Love On Her Arms") ON SALE at BookNotes

If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For Jamie Tworkowski (Tarcher) $16.95

if you feel too much.pngI don't remember the first time I heard Jamie speak and chatted with him -- I think it was at an underground hard music festival called Purple Door here in Central PA.  I know he spoke at a number of pretty cool places, sometimes gave brief talks at indie rock shows, hung out with bands like Anberlin, supported Invisible Children around freeing child soldiers in Africa, ran with friends who promoted nationally-known gatherings like Catalyst and Q, and has been to Jubilee in Pittsburgh more than once (including this past year.)  We have been impressed with his earnest, soft-spoken stories of caring for those who are hurting -- fringe kids, mostly, those considering suicide, cutters, the addicted or depressed or those in chronic pain or those who feel marginalized for whatever reason -- or those just feeling alone. As he became better known, he ended up telling his story even in the mainstream media, winning awards, getting on national TV.  One of his best friends is Donald Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame; he even figures in to the new Miller book, Scary Close.) The San Diego band Switchfoot has written songs inspired by him. He himself became somewhat of a rock star.

TO WRITE LOVE image.jpgTWLONA DVD.jpgYou may not realize how popular he is or the extent of his remarkable ministry, To Write Love On Her Arms, but maybe this might be a clue: there is a Hollywood film made about him, called To Write To On Her Arms and you can rent it at Netflix or Redbox. Or buy it from us.

Maybe you've heard the story that catapulted him into this flurry of reaching out, storytelling, activism, bearing witness. A young woman who would cut herself in horrific acts of self-loathing reached out to jamie tworkowski.jpgJamie and his friends.  They would be there for her, they promised -- Renee was her name, and she struggled with addiction and depression and thoughts of suicide --  and they wanted Renee to know, above all, that she is beloved of God, and has friends in this world who will walk through life with her.  There was no literal writing "love" on her arms -- that is apocryphal -- but Renee moved in with this group of friends until they could get her into a treatment place.  It was a moving time for all of them, and Jamie's writing about it is poetic, passionate, raw.  If you've ever entered into the very deep pain of others like this, you know it is holy ground. They affirm her, take her to some concerts, stay with her, buying cigarettes and bathroom stuff, helping her hold on.  He writes,

She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She's had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn't have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

It may date the story a bit to know that Jamie posted something about it on MySpace. And it did what we now call "going viral."

The TWLOHA phrase took hold and in an odd blend of branding and hip marketing -- gotta love kids these days with their technology and organizational savvy -- and utterly sincere care for others, the movement took off.  As anyone who has heard him (and, more importantly, anyone who knows him well) can tell, Tworkowski is a man who loves others, who serves others, who comes through in his promises. His faith motivates him to be with those who are hurting, the mentally ill, the bullied, the losers.  His movement --  blogs, speaking engagements, a cool media presence, and his staff showing up at rock festivals and concerts and other curious venues -- has done much good in this world, person by person, reminding us all to love a bit more, to be aware of those who are hurting, to create safe places of inclusion and care and raw honesty.  He cares about mental health issues, about depression and suicide, but he writes for all of us, any of us, who want to think about identity and purpose and grace and life.

Even those who are skeptical of these hip neo-evangelicals and their idealistic nonprofits and start-ups and cool-sounding social initiatives have to admit: this is the real deal, offered without cynicism or irony or self-interest. The teams involved with To Write Love On Her Arms are living out Christ-centered, grace-driven faith over the long haul, despite knowing what they know about the world andvisions of vocation.jpg the horrible ways people suffer. Perhaps without realizing it, they've embodied some of the principles of Steve Garber's Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, the rumination on how to mourn with the world, knowing how broken things are, and yet be responsible to do something about what we know and feel and care about. They want to (as Garber reflects upon) feel what God feels and respond in God's own ways, embodied, real, Christ-like, true. That this new Tworkowski book is called If You Feel Too Much is fascinating, isn't it? That it promises in the subtitle writings about what is "hoped for" is vital. I can't wait to continue through it myself.

if you feel cover.jpgIf You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For is brand new and I haven't read it straight through. I can say that the book is loosely built around previous blogs, earlier writings, edited and cut and pasted into a narrative that unfolds, pieces that can be read as stand alone chapters, but now cohere, nicely related.  I think it is a book that is very nicely done, useful, too, as a wonderful example not only of what one person can do, but, more, a glimpse into the heart of a person who has such obvious gifts of being present to others. If you read even a bit of Jamie Tworkowski you will discover a man who is self-aware, caring, able to step into the pain that other people feel and absorb some of it, even, offering hope and healing and goodness and beauty.  Taken together, these short essays weave together a picture of a good man, doing very good work (even amidst his own issues and losses and life story.) If You Feel Too Much is for the sad and hurting and hungry and searching, to be sure, but it is for all of us, modeling gently what it means to be fully alive, open to questions, on a mission for God, filled with the spirit of Christ Himself. It is a good book and it is for all of us.

The brief introduction is by Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. It is a beautifully-written, short tribute. It struck me as a beautiful way to start the book, with a simple story and a great line or two that you'll want to remember.

Scary Close- Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.jpgThe longer foreword is by memoirist Donald Miller, and it is marvelous. (He retells the moving story from a chapter in his Scary Close of leaving a note in Tworkowski's shoe once when they were together.)

Noting that Tworkowski's fame hasn't changed him -- "He just keeps saying the same thing, softly, as though from some other planet: We need one another. There's no reason to judge. People are more fragile than you could possible imagine"  --  Miller talks about their friendship, and how Jamie treats him.

I now consider Jamie one of my closest friends. He's the one to call me when I say something unkind online. He reminds me people are hurting and we are supposed to be bigger than the Darwinian games that tempt us. And not only does he call me on my crap, but I call him when I'm hurting.

Miller observes,

Jamie is a mystery to me, I remember thinking. He doesn't so much tell a story as he is a story. He pours his heart into blogs and shares them with the world...  Can things as immeasurable as love, acceptance, grace, tolerance, and forgiveness create a better world? These aren't commodities measured in financial exchanges, after all...

You know, we review books here sometimes that are deep, maybe for those with specialized interests, including some serious theology and cultural studies that some may find a bit arcane. We promote some that are, in fact, somewhat demanding.  (Only we called the release of a six-volume set published by Dordt College Press by the Christian philosopher of aesthetics Calvin Seerveld "the publishing event of the year."

But sometimes we relish just clear, good writing about personal, raw stuff. It is why we like Bob Goff (of the great book Love Does) so much; even though he is a lawyer and human rights activist, traveling often to and writing from his beloved Uganda, his books and talks mostly just inspire people to love others. Clear, simple, basic, and the kind of thing we can all move towards: loving others more consistently, with more abandon, like Jesus says. This is what Tworkowski does, offering real hope by saying that we humans have the capacity to care for each other. We are wired by God for real relationships and we can let go of judgement and fear, to open ourselves to know and be known.  Yada, yada, you know, means to know and be known.

Listen to some of the other endorsements offering blurbs for this long-awaited book, including a great one by Bob Goff:

Jamie loves people unlike anyone I've ever met. He is also a humble guy and a faithful friend. He's the one who has offered to come on my darkest day, to cry with me, and on my best day to celebrate. His brand of love is one without judgement, boundaries, or pretense. This book gives you a wonderful glimpse at Jamie's beautiful heart. You're in for a treat.                                                                                       Bob Goff (author of Love Does.) 

Through poignant self-reflection and stories that pulse with a poetic rawness, Jamie invites us to be part of a bigger conversation. It's one that leads to community, connection, healing and incredible hope."                                                            Dr. Georgiana Smith, clinical psychologist

Here is what the founder and producer of the Van Warped Tour says:

When I first met Jamie, he struck me as someone on a mission. Through his sheer determination, he brought some difficult issues out of the shadows and helped so many people realize they were not alone. I believe this book will inspire others to do the same, to get help, and to chase their passion just as he has.

you'll need - from jamie T quote.jpg

Although he is a man on a mission, apparently in constant motion, serving others, thinking of new ways to share grace and goodness, writing and speaking, a year ago he took several months off embracing a rare sabbatical, in order to prayerfully discern some next steps, and to write this book so many told him he should write.  He says in the beginning that he has often wanted to write ("every time I walked into a bookstore, something in me ached to have a seat at the table") but a new, long-form book just wasn't happening. He says he felt like a sprinter doing a marathon.  Someone suggested a ghost writer, which he never considered (God bless him!)  JT is a person of his word, and sentences matter to him.

twloha-jamie typing.jpgHe tells us,

And so for years the idea sat, an awkward dream on some back burner. Awkward because there was no update, no progress. It took a while to warm up to the possibility that I could simply be myself, that I could write the way I write, about  the things I'm moved to write about. And then it took some more time to realize that perhaps my book was mostly written, that in the nine years since TWLOHA began, I had written thousands and thousands of words, words that I was proud of, words that had moved people. What would it look like to find the best of it, and to put it all in one place?

And so began a journey in reverse, to collect and to remember and to place things side by side. It turned out there were clues back at the beginning, in the days before the story that would change so many things. There were words starting to emerge a decade ago, when I was just a surfer selling t-shirts and board shorts.

I'm sure many fans, and many of us who write, will appreciate his saying this, too:

The truth is that part of me felt lost, feels lost. And it's hard to tell a story you don't like. So there was a subplot as I began that backwards journey, back through the last ten years. I'm trying to get back to someplace true, to someone I knew and liked a lot. I'm trying to make sense of my story, trying to make peace with it, perhaps so I can tell it, but more so I can smile. The ache is for a life that I believe in, and this book is brave in ways I hope to return to. I needed to g back, to read these words and retrace the steps, in order to move forward.

All of that brings us to you. I wonder where this finds you. I wonder what you've known and what you feel, what you've found and lost and hoped for. Perhaps there's still time, time for things to turn around, time for us to be surprised. Perhaps there's still a lot of beauty to be found here, and good people too.  People to love and people who will say we're not invisible.; Perhaps there's everything we need.

So if you feel as if you feel too much, well then you are not alone.

May these words fine you like a friend.

jamie twork at Jubilee.jpgHere is a great 20 minute video clip where you can watch Jamie's presentation at Jubilee 2015.  It is really good and I invite you to watch it.

We have If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For by Jamie Tworkowski on sale, at 20% off. (It regularly sells for $16.95 but for BookNotes fans and our online customers we have it at $13.56.) It is a casebound hardback, sans dust jacket, so looks pretty sharp.  

We would be honored to sell it, happy to ship it to someone on your behalf, if that is what you want. As Tworkowski tells his story by way of this decade's worth of essays, short pieces, articles and blog posts, you will be moved to celebrate his honest efforts, his own struggle, and his deep care for this wounded world. It may remind you of things you, too, have lost or found, things you still hope for. Enjoy.

if you feel too much.png



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May 25, 2015

The great, new "Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Perspectives" -- and over 20 other somewhat related titles for your summer pleasure. ON SALE.

arcade-fire1111.jpg0122_james-taylor-haiti-concert_620.jpg"Summer's here, I'm for that, got my cold beer, got my straw hat," James Taylor once sang.

Or, more sardonically, Arcade Fire sings: 

Children, wake up.

Hold your mistake up

before they turn the summer into dust.

It seems this summer business -- optimistic with leisurely cold beer or with prophetic foreboding  (we are "turning every good thing to rust" the Arcade song "Wake Up" continues) -- is serious business. 

There is something about this recent holiday weekend's shift to summer that makes many of us buoyant.  We look forward to longer days, being outdoors more, a different rhythm, maybe even a vacation or two.

Don't we who are Christians owe it to ourselves -- to God, really -- to think seriously about all of life, including the straw hats of summer? (And is Arcade Fire right, that we have a tendency to turn everything to rust, even our time-off and our visions of vacations?) Shouldn't we wonder what leisure means and looks like from the perspective of faith and discipleship what is right about it, and maybe what is wrong?

Here are a handful of books that could help you have better fun this summer. Or, should I say, help you explore a spirituality of leisure, remind you of the human calling of play, or re-creation, of living into the joy of the Lord in our off hours, so you think about your leisure time -- and, consequently, experience your leisure time -- in an appropriate, Godly manner.  Plus, I've just listed some books that seem fun, restful, adventurous, helping us learn to pay attention.

John Piper calls himself (drawing significantly on C.S. Lewis) a "Christian hedonist."  That is, he develops a theologically robust vision to get us to enjoy joy, to search for pleasure, which (of course) comes from glorifying God in all we do. Lewis reminds us to put first things first, and that when we do, we get everything else, too.  On this, at least, brother Piper is right.

Two quick comments before the list: I write a lot at BookNotes about vocation and work, calling and careers. We have that bibliography by vocation link at our website. (And, yes, even the recent book I edited, Serious Dreams, invites recent college grads to relate faith and work in ways that are intentional and enduring.) Books about work and calling are important to us, as they are to you, our readership and customers.

In a way, thinking about leisure and play and rest is the flip side of all that.  We are glad for recent interest in thinking Christianly about work, but what about our leisure? What about rest and play and re-creation?

But it isn't always simple.  For many of us there is a joy at work and a diligence at play that ends up blending the boundaries between the two; those of us who work out of our homes or work on weekends are further confused about the distinctions between work and play and "time off."  (And, of course, many of us fool around a bit at work, making it lovely, and there is plenty of unpaid work to do around the house when we aren't at our places of employment, some of which is difficult.)

Secondly, as I will explain, the first book is magisterial, a great example of serious Christian scholarship, and a substantial work about the subject of leisure. I realize not everyone wants to "go there" so the rest of the books are more pleasurable, fun, even -- books less about leisure as such, but titles that piled up on my stack as I pondered creating this little list about recreation. But please don't skip the first one. It is, for those of us who are serious about developing a uniquely Christian take on all of life, reading widely to help us craft a coherently, faithful worldview, a God-send, vital, more valuable then you may realize. I very highly recommend it.

Leisure and Spirituality.jpgLeisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Perspectives Paul Heintzman (Baker Academic) $24.99  Thank goodness for the great "engaging culture" series from Baker Academic, and for this long-awaited, just released new volume.  Heintzman has been on our radar screen for years having co-edited Christianity and Leisure: Issues in a Pluralistic Society (Dordt College Press) which includes papers done by Christians working in leisure studies, sports theory, recreational fields, sociologists and theologians exploring the integration of faith and this aspect of life and culture. He is a remarkable scholar, has been through Regent College in Vancouver, and has been teaching at the University of Ottawa.  As we learn in the book, he is not only a professor of leisure studies, and has not only done a major PhD project doing research into the spiritual benefits of leisure, but he is an avid outdoorsman - backpacker, paddler, and a leader in wilderness treks and thinking about experiential education .

As I have said, I think this book is nothing short of magisterial, and stands, at this point, as the definitive Christian book in the field.  There is simply nothing like it on the market, and it should appeal to any number of readers.

First, there are those among us who are studying this topic.  If you are in sociology or cultural studies or interested in this growing sub-field, it is a no-brainer: you should order Leisure and Spirituality today. 

Also, this book is important for you if you work at a camp, if you lead wilderness trips, if you do experiential education, if you work in recreational programs  in any way,  if you are interested in thinking about recreation in our culture -- perhaps you work in athletics, you are a coach or gym teacher or help others in these fields.  There are insights here that are important for medical caregivers, for those working in rehabilitation, in elder care, in therapy.  There are connections here, and Heintzman explores it usefully.

Further, allow me to suggest that if you are an educated reader -- a pastor, say, or a campus minister or blogger who writes about Christian worldview or cultural renewal -- this is a book for you.  

Let's face it, all of those who we intend to influence (pastors: your flocks!) have complicated relationships with their leisure time.  Early on in the book, Heintzman quotes J.I. Packer explaining that most of us in the West have two oddly conflicting views of leisure: we make an idol out of it, or we belittle it.  That is we are workaholics who rest too little or we are hedonists who live for pleasure and play.  (And, for those with economic means, it is sometimes both: work too hard, party too hard, you know.)

So, yeah, if you want to help people live good lives, opened up, multi-dimensional, happy and whole, and you are passionate about equipping people to imagine their lives seamlessly, then learning the vocabulary and wisdom of this book will help you help them.

And, of course, that leads me to most all of us, fans and friends of BookNotes. You want this for your own life, I gather -- books to help you think, to care, to put the pieces together of this mystery called whole life discipleship.  Hearing what this scholar has learned -- even learning to use terms correctly is helpful.  The vast research in this remarkable book will help us ask better questions, and  learn to discuss what we might mean as we use certain words. What is leisure, after all? What is rest? Recreation, play? Is there qualitative difference between, say, taking a hike, playing an outdoor game with others, or watching TV? Is one more restorative, more normative, life-giving than others? What is the role of exercise, should we be more intentional about hobbies, should we take up new tasks as we age? What is the role of quiet time, silence and solitude? What about celebration and partying?

Leisure and Spirituality.jpgThere are many great endorsements of this deliciously intellectual and important book.  Really, this is impressive!

Listen to Leland Ryken (author of a classic on this, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure

For the past quarter of a century, Paul Heintzman has been a leader in the field of Christian leisure theory. Leisure and Spirituality is the fruit of Heintzman's long career. And the most notable feature of the book is its thoroughness: all of the important topics are covered and the survey of scholarship is breathtaking. The book is a triumph of scholarship and a helpful guide to thinking Christianly about leisure."

Or, consider Robert Banks (whose book Redeeming the Routines is tremendous, by the way) who says,

 This is, quite simply, the most thorough and thoughtful book about the relationship between leisure and spirituality. It covers biblical, historical, theological, cultural, and practical terrain. I encourage you to read it in a leisurely and therefore more spiritual way. If you follow this book's suggestions you will be the better for it, as will your relationships, activities, and world.

I so respect Loren Wilkinson at Regent, who served as a friend and mentor to Heintzman,; if he recommends it, that carries a lot of weight. Do read this:

The things closest to us are often the hardest to see, understand, and talk about. In his Leisure and Spirituality Paul Heintzman does a masterful job of casting light on many of those crucial closest things: work, rest, leisure, time, body, and soul. The book itself is 'leisurely': the author does not hurry us through these hard topics, but becomes a thoughtful guide: through the confusions of our own time, the long history of different views of work and leisure, and--most important--the deep biblical sources for a life which lets us both be and do as thankful recipients of the gift of being. For scholars in leisure studies, this study is likely to become the most helpful and comprehensive resource for a long time to come.

After a more thorough reviews, Calvin College professor emeritus of sports sciences, Glen Van Andel summarizes,

With this book Dr. Heintzman has given the Christian community a wonderful gift that will transform our perspective on common elements of our daily lives: work, rest, and play.

I think Van Andel is right; books like this are a gift to the Christian community, and they have the potential to help us transform our perspective -- and experience -- of so much of our daily lives. We are happy to promote Leisure and Spirituality and hope many will consider it.

rest of life.jpgThe Rest of Our Life: Rest, Play, Eating, Studying, Sex from a Kingdom Perspective Ben Witherington III (Eerdmans) $18.00  I have mentioned this before, noting that this excellent United Methodist Biblical scholar has done (besides his major Biblical commentaries) a few small books on Kingdom living; that is, what the overall theme of living in the commonwealth of God, under the reign of Christ, means for daily living. He has a great one on the story of the Kingdom in the Bible and how we celebrate it within the church calendar, another on Kingdom worship, a great one on work, and now this.  A bit more then 150 pages, this is good Bible stuff, interesting ruminations, and a reminder about God's care for these everyday parts of life. 

R. Paul Stevens (author of Work Matters) says that Witherington "gives us bifocal lenses so we can look at life both close up, as it is now, and as it will become in the fullness of God's lovely reign This is an invigorating book, a delight to read."  That's a great quote, eh, about bifocal lenses?

We highly recommend the lovely essays found in The Rest of Our Life.

finding livelihood.jpgFinding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure Nancy J. Nordenson (Kalos Press) $14.95  I have given this a shout out already, and am working on a more substantial review for later, but I want to note two quick things here. Notice the title: it is not just a book on work, but on livelihood, which includes, in Nodenson's insightful vision, leisure.  

And, secondly, it is so wondrously, beautifully, elegantly written, it is a joy to read even a page or two, and I find it invites a leisurely pace. It is not a didactic study of a Christian view of work, but a lyrical rumination, more memoir and storytelling then overt instruction, on how to navigate "the tension between passion and need, between aspiration and limits, between the planned life and the given life."  

The wise and energetic and eloquent writer Leslie Leyland Fields (Nordenson has a fabulous chapter about comfort food and her family's  Swedish pancakes in the spectacular book Fields edited, The Spirit of  Food) says Nordenson Finding Livelihood "offers us real ways of finding astonishment and transcendence eve in the most stultifying jobs. This book is a revelation. It goes with me to my fishing camp."

  Receiving the Day- Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time.jpgReceiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time Dorothy Bass (Jossey Bass) $14.95  I just might re-read this this summer, and see if it still holds up as one of my favorite books. I will never forget the profound impact it had on me, the luminous prose, the nearly mystical vision of time and reality it offers.  More than a book about Sabbath -- although it catapulted (along with Marva Dawn's Keeping the Sabbath Holy) that conversation into the mainstream of Christian churches -- this invites us to experience all of time as a gift from God.  I suppose this is the point of the highly regarded and often cited Sabbath by Abraham Heschel, but this touched me even more deeply than that important book.  If you are feeling frantic or stressed, these reflections will be helpful, I'm sure. At work or at home, getting paid or not, on the clock or off, we are all bound by time, which, Bass shows, can be opened and stewarded as the gift of God that it is. One can't think about "leisure time" without first grappling with the notion of time. Very nicely done.

Rest of God- Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath.jpgThe Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath Mark Buchanan (Nelson) $14.99  There are so many good books on the practice of keeping sabbath, but I mention this one for a few reasons. It is really fun to read; Buchanan is a very find wordsmith. (The book is endorsed on the back by Lauren Winner and Philip Yancey, for what it is worth!) And, he starts with a good chapter on work, framing the call to rest by the call to work, which is helpful.  However, he not only does the conventional stuff about deepening our appreciation for God's creation, for joy and renewal, and such, but has chapters like on on play which commends "stopping just to waste time." Hooray!

sabbath allender.jpgSabbath  Dan Allender (Nelson) $12.99  I have often recommended this whole series of "Ancient Practices" books compiled and curated by Phyllis Tickle, each one by great authors reflecting on various ancient spiritual practices. I mention this one, among oodles of books on sabbath and sabbath keeping, because Dan Allender brings a particular insight to his study of sabbath.  He suggests here that the heart of Sabbath is not just to "stop" or rest, but to be re-created (a generative way to think about recreation, eh?) In other words, sabbath is designed for play.  I'd heartily recommend anything by Allander, but this seemed so relevant, I had to list it here.

Simplify- Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul .jpgSimplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul Bill Hybels Tyndale/Momentum) $15.99  I know, I know, there are a dozen of these kinds of books inviting us to trim down our over-scheduled and overwhelmed lives. Perhaps you are exhausted, to frantic to do anything about your own out-of-control clutter and stress? Believe me, I relate. I like Hybels, trust him a lot, and have really enjoyed his other books.  Although this seems to be more about one's interior life, and simplifying one's own spirituality, I am sure it advises practices -- including play and rest -- that will help.  Shauna Niequist says of her famous father's book "I don't know who doesn't need this kind of rich thinking about what it means to live with focus and sanity and peace. I love these ideas." 

 Fringe Hours- Making Time for You .jpgThe Fringe Hours: Making Time for You  Jessica N. Turner (Revell) $14.99 You may know Turner from here popular lifestyle blog "The Mom Creative" where she documents her pursuit of "cultivating a life well crafted." Brigid Schultz, author of the New York Times bestseller Overwhelmed says that this book "is like one gigantic permission slip to carve out some space in your day for the things that give you joy and feed your soul."  

Shauna Niequist (whose wonderful devotional Savor would be a nice daily reader for your summer months) writes, 

I want to give The Fringe Hours to every woman in my life, because this is the conversation we're having over and over, at soccer practices and church and crammed between meetings. Jessica's practical style made me feel like another way is possible.

Abundant Simplicity- Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace.jpgAbundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace Jan Johnson (InterVarsity Press) $15.00  This wonderful, rich book is one to study carefully and enjoy reading devotionally -- it has a large, rave review on the back from Dallas Willard (the last line of which is "Do what she says") and another by Norvene Vest. I suppose any number of book on the inner life, slowing down, practicing the  presence, receiving grace in the ordinary, would enhance your summer leisure time.  But this is just such a lovely reflection on our relationship to time and energy and money, I had to list it.  Anyway, you've got to read chapter 8 nicely called "Putting the 'Free' in Free Time." Do I hear an "Amen"?

Like a Child- Restoring the Awe, Wonder, Joy and Resiliency of the Human Spirit .jpgLike a Child: Restoring the Awe, Wonder, Joy and Resiliency of the Human Spirit Rev. Timothy J. Mooney (Skylight Paths) $16.99  Mystic Richard Rohr says "This might be the most intelligent, inspiring and integrated book I have read on the subject. It will not give you cliches or glib answers, but genuine wisdom."  Sure, we all should "grow up" and mature into full adulthood.  But what if Jesus's own praise of spiritual childhood shapes our view of what maturity means, and what we tend to lose in our culture of modern speed and work and responsibility? Can we cultivate childlike ways of attention, self-awareness, joy and resilience? How might playfulness effect our daily discipleship and faith formation?  

John Buchanan, editor of The Christian Century, says "With a scholars careful eye and a pastor's heart... Mooney employs the insights of art, theology, literature, popular culture and his own winsome humanity to invite us to become the children Jesus meant us to be. This is an important book."  The author is an artist and Presbyterian pastor of an intentional faith community in urban Denver.

index.jpgThink Like a 5-Year Old- Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great jpgThink Like a 5-Year Old: Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things Len Wilson (Abingdon) $163.99 Wilson serves as the Creative Director of Peachtree, a large church in Atlanta, and has written several books on relating creativity and faith and how congregations can use "visual storytelling" more wisely.  Energetic and fun, this book suggests we can be "creative geniuses" and unleash wondrous creativity to help us live life to the fullest.

You will find here a fascinating blend of hip insight from modern marketers like Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield, thoughtful Christian insight from contemporary writers about the arts like Madeline L'Engle and Makoto Fujimura,  and some good gleanings from the latest research on the creative brian. Nice.

Free to Learn- Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play .jpgFree to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life Peter Gray (Basic Books) $16.99  What a stimulating book, by an author who is a research and professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College. Gray is critical of compulsory schooling (think of the amazing work of John Taylor Gatto on that such as Dumbing us Down) but more importantly, it is about how children are wired to play, and how curiosity and joy and becoming emotionally resilient should be see as being part of the task of the child. This is "a brave, counterintuitive proposal for freeing our children..." and suggests that we must entrust children to steer their own learning and development.  We may not agree with all of his policy proposals or views of the systems of education we've devised, but his insights about the role of free play as the primary way children solve problems and learn is remarkable. It is not a leisurely book but for some parents it will remind them, at least, of the need for play and freedom and joy, for their kids and, perhaps, even for themselves.

Eyes Wide Open- Enjoying God in Everything Steve DeWitt.jpgEyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything Steve DeWitt (Credo House) $14.99  Do you really enjoy something? Have a hobby or passion? We all enjoy so many things in this world, and DeWitt helps us hold that up to the light, think about it faithfully, and enter into a journey of discovering how to allow God to speak to us in the things we enjoy. "The outdoors, art, food, sports, sunsets, coffee, mountains or anything else?" Eyes Wide Open enriches these experiences by turning them toward their created purpose.  As it says on the back cover, "This is a book about our beautiful God who designed our craving for beauty to lead us back to Him." This is a tremendous book with solid theology and plenty of winsome guidance.  There are reflection questions for small groups, too. It would make a fun, fun book to do on summer evenings with some good friends  -- maybe over a good meal, dessert or wine and cheese.  Enjoy -- soli deo gloria. 

of games and god.jpgipod, youtube, wii play.jpgOf Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games Kevin Schut (Brazos) $16.99  I know nothing about video games, I'll admit it, but I am confident that, without a doubt, this is the best book for Christians to reflect on the meaning and joy and goodness and downsides of this vastly popular form of entertainment. It is engaging, looks at the problems and promises of interactive entertainment, and is a very valuable resource for this long over-due conversation.  If you know gamers, they will enjoy this one, for sure.

Ipod, YouTube, Wii Play: Theological Engagement with Entertainment  D. Brent Laytham (Wipf & Stock) $19.00  Again, we've mentioned this before, but just have to list it here.  Here is what Jaimie Smith says of it:  "A generation of theologians has been worried about the deforming practices of the liberal state. What we really need to worry about are its games. The devil is in its bread and circuses. In this wise, accessible book Brent Laytham offers an engaged theological analysis of our entertainments and distractions, inviting us to follow Jesus with new intentionality.''  Or, if you want to be sure this is a fun read, how about this comment by Todd Johnson: 'Witty, wistful, and wickedly provocative."  

fragrance of god.jpgInheriting Paradise- Meditations on Gardening.jpgInheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening and The Fragrance of God Vigen Guroian (Eerdmans) $14.00 each  We promote these books routinely, and mention them from time to time here. What a fine time to suggest them again; they are lovely to read and great to own. Guroian is an Orthodox theologian and professor, but is also renowned for his spacious garden about which he is immensely knowledgeable and can truly wax eloquent -- perhaps you will recall his great talk on NPR.  Both of these books are exquisite, brief, profound; they are a delight to read, and you will be inspired.  Bill McKibben says of The Fragrance of God "Vigen Guroian's fine book is proof that Christians would do well to spend more time outdoors, in the one great megachurch that operates as a planet-scale museum of divine intent." Frederica Mathewes-Green says it is "Earthy in all the best senses." Yes, there are plants and dirt and flowers and bugs here, but also stories and spirituality.  What a great pair of books.

backpacking with the saints.jpgBackpacking with the Saints: WIlderness HIking as Spiritual Practice Beldon Lane (Oxford University Press) $24.95  I have written about this before, as well, but it seems prefect to mention it now.  Lane has written extraordinary, important book on the spirituality of land (see The Solace of Fierce Landscapes) and here narrates a series of hikes (to some world renowned places) linked to a particular spiritual writer, from Luther to Gandhi to Theresa of Lisueux.  I don't get away much, and certainly will not attempt these strenuous journeys out of the trailhead and towards a summit and back again (he has a spiritual author for each leg of the journey, so the book is arranged in these stages.) Still it is a book I can enjoy, vicariously.   

I really do like Barbara Brown Taylor's blurb, though, where she suggests at least being is some kind of outdoor setting to read this one:

The only problem with this remarkable book is that it cannot be read rightly from a comfortable chair. As Lane and the rest of the saints in these pages insist, what the soul most needs is not found in safe places but in wild ones, where the dangers are as real as the courage they call forth. So find a high rock, a far hill, or a patch of desert that scares you a little and let this book persuade you that you are exactly where you need to be.

She should know. Ms Taylor has written two books herself about "the geography of faith" and I have read parts of each more than twice:  An Altar in the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark. 

On the Water- A Fishing Memoir Guy de la Valdene.jpgOn the Water: A Fishing Memoir Guy de la Valdene (Lyons Press) $25.95  When I saw this handsome hardback had an endorsement by Carl Hiaasen, I thought it might be funny. Then I saw a blurb by -- get this! -- the author of Forrest Gump, Winston Groom, who says it is "a splendid and beautifully written insight into the vicissitudes of man and nature." I think we could all use some vicissitude, and this meditation on water and nature and fishing and growing older and (as it says on the back cover) "of the sporting life well lived" could be a lovely addition to your library.  The novelist Philip Caputo says of it "At a time when just about everything in America seems to be monetized, On the Water reminds us of values that don't carry dollar signs."  Another reviewer says it is a "mixture of memory and desire, of wit and wisdom, nothing less then a classic."

Downstream- Reflections on Brook Trout, Fly Fishing, and the Waters of Appalachia.jpgDownstream: Reflections on Brook Trout, Fly Fishing, and the Waters of Appalachia David L. O'Hara & Matthew Dickerson (Cascade Books) $18.00 This is another we are very proud to stock, and about which I have written before. Both of these authors are serious literary figures, professors and writers. (O'Hara has written in Books and Culture and Orion and Dickerson has published a number of books about fantasy literature, such as From Homer to Harry Potter on Brazos, and a pair of books on the environmental vision of both C.S. Lewis.) There is an afterward by Bill McKibben, blurbs on the back by Middlebury College author John Elder and a wonderful endorsement by Eugene Peterson. It is a memoir of their fishing the trout streams from New York down through Pennsylvania and into West Virginia and the Smokey Mountain headwaters of Tennessee. .  They quote the likes of Kathleen Dean Moore and Wendell Berry and try to pay attention to the fish and mountains they visit.  What an intelligent, beautiful read.

No Ordinary Game- Miraculous Moments in Backyards and Sandlots Kirk Westphal.jpgNo Ordinary Game: Miraculous Moments in Backyards and Sandlots Kirk Westphal (Down East Books) $16.95  I'm sure I'm not alone in loving books about small towns, and small town sports -- the charms writing about Little League and local soccer and pick-up games are many.  "Many of the sporting world's most profound achievements," the back cover of No Ordinary Game says, "are never recorded. They happen on sandlots, asphalt, and backyards. Stories of well-known athletes and teams abound in popular literature. What is missing is an exaltation of the moments that can happen to any of the rest of us -- and do."

I love that the publishers say this is "the grandstand for everyday miracles." It is a collection of poignant memories of games played without grandstands.

There are some very fun moments here, lovely reading, good stories. There is almost quiet substance in these reports from the home front,  gentle tales of good stuff done by ordinary folks, but this author has a better eye then most. (It doesn't hurt that his father is the famous Christian philosopher and Kirkegaerd scholar, Merald Westphal.) 

You will find here a young boy weighing baseball against illness, the teaching of dignity in games played. There is a chapter about a refugee family from despoiled East Africa playing soccer in a suburban American backyard. You may like the chapter telling of a group of college boys who are challenged to a game of basketball by the women's varsity team. You will smile hearing of Westphal's first home run, hit when he was thirty-three years old.  These are not ordinary games.

run home and take.jpgRun Home and Take a Bow: Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals  Ethan Bryan (Samzidat Publishing) $14.99 I have mentioned this before, but want to name it again for several reasons.  Ethan is a friend and customer, and we think a very fine writer.  The book is nicely crafted and very enjoyable to read; what a great thing for many of us to read a baseball book or two each summer! So, yeah, on a list about leisure time reading this summer, this has to be included.

The heart of the book is about going to a summer's worth of home games at the (then losing) Kansas City Royals stadium, and something the author observed, a lesson learned, a moral to the story, of each and every game he attended. He narrates some fun baseball, and some sad baseball (it was KC, after all) but it is much more than that -- the book is partially a memoir about Ethan's own sense of calling, his own love of sport, and his enduring desire to share his passion for the game with this daughters, and how that fits in to his own life of faith as a follower of Jesus.  Run Home and Take a Bow even mentions me -- Ethan suggests that reading books and having open minds (even about controversial authors)  is a good thing as it can help us see things from a different perspective, which is the point of one chapter as he and his daughters watch a game from different seats, getting a fresh perspective on the field and the unfolding game. This is an enjoyable book, with lovely lessons, and although it is mostly about baseball, it is really, finally, about other stuff as well.  Enjoy.

Going Driftless- Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times.jpgGoing Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times Stephen J. Lyons (Globe Pequot Press) $16.95  I didn't know that there was this portion of the United States known as the Driftless -- the portion of the Upper Midwest covering parts of four states (Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.) This journalist here reports on his journeys throughout this region, all near the upper Mississippi. (Mark Twain, Lyons reminds us, lamented that this part of the river isn't better known. The part below St. Louis, he said in a Chicago newspaper in 1886, "is the least interesting part."

There are at least three reasons some readers will enjoy this book. It's just a fun read -- a guy stomping around this region that was spared the glacial activity that leveled the rest of the midwest landscape. There is a bit of natural history, and while this writer isn't exactly Annie Dillard, there is nice writing, fascinating maps and photographs, and it makes for an enjoyable trip.

driftless map.jpgSecondly, there is something going on among the people and culture of the Driftless, and, at least as Lyons tells it, it has to do with populism and small town pride and localism and community renewal; that he cites Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry is no surprise. Tucked away in these hills and valleys are remarkable examples of small-scale farming and food co-ops and CSAs and close-knit communities who value their unique ways. If you are alarmed by the homogenization of the American Way of Life, these indie-minded folks may have something to teach us. There are nature preserves and organic famers and local markets and any number of 21st century manifestations of the 1970s back-to-nature movement that took hold these parts.  It is fascinating to see how they've endured, adapted or how a new generation is working out their creative spirits in this new era.

Thirdly, not only do you learn about the natural history of this curious bio-region and watershed, and not only do you learn about innovative ways to keep older aways alive but you meet the people doing so. The back cover promises that you will meet "seed savers, off-the-gridders, birders, famers, musicians, artists, and writer., all who share a common bond in a separate nation called the Driftless." From the founders of a Permaculture Center in Wisconsin called Dancing Waters to folks that organize land cooperatives in Minnesota to the spiritual master of a Zen monastery in Iowa,  to more than one indie bookstore owner, these are colorful characters, doing curious work, in interesting places. What fun to listen in on their stories, told by this natural-born storyteller.  

Crafting Calm- Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation .jpgCrafting Calm: Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation Maggie Oman Shannon (Viva Editions) $16.95 This is a fabulously interesting DIY book, with spiritual quotes and lovely sketches and tons of ways to "craft your way to inner peace." The author is a spiritual direction in the Unity Church, so there are some interfaith and new age touches, but it still is useful for more orthodox Christian believers, I'd say, who want to "knit love and hope into every stitch" and use handicrafts as a way to achieve serenity and good intentions. This really is a lovely book, and trust it could help increase the mindfulness of those doing these interesting craft projects as a fun and creative spiritual discipline.

bread & wine by s.n..jpgBread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table With Recipes Shauna Niequist (Zondervan) $19.99  I thought it would be a fine way to end this list with a book on food and fellowship -- we have a large section in the bookstore on the theology and spirituality of food and eating and have made lists of just those sorts of books. But for this leisurely list of fun summer reads that help us frame our sense of joy away from employment, this handsome book is one of our favorites. I hope you have some picnics and parties this season and I hope you have some time to read.  This is one you really will enjoy.  Part memoir, part theology of eating, part celebration of hospitality and friendship (and even part recipe book) Bread and Wine is an excellent, pleasant and important read.  Highly recommended.  Cheers!




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May 29, 2015

Three books on Paul by Michael J. Gorman -- and more! (Or: the missional hermeneutics of "Becoming the Gospel") ON SALE NOW

It was a privilege to get to provide books at a recent lecture at the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore. It is always good being with them as they blend academic rigor and faith-based hospitality and graciousness, all in a very diverse, ecumenical setting.

Gorman at 2012_Dunning-624x416.jpg

michael gorman head shot.jpgBecoming the Gospel.jpgThe star of the evening was a friend and customer, the widely respected Biblical scholar and theologian, Dr. Michael J. Gorman.

We were gathered to celebrate Dr. Gorman's most recent book, Becoming the Gospel: Paul Participation, and Mission (Eerdmans; $28.00.) I've mentioned this book here at BookNotes before, but after hearing Mike lecture on it, explaining some of the backstory and his hopes for the book - -and hearing the other panelists respond, which was inspiring in equal measure -- I just had to promote his work again. It really is rich, good stuff!

Kudos, first, to the two respondents to Gorman's presentation on the book. First there was the joyful, thoughtful, missional theologian, Barth scholar, and Director of the Gospel and Our Culture Network, Dr. John R. Franke, who wrote, among other things, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth (Abingdon; $17.99. ) Also responding to the lecture was the always energetic World Relief President Stephan Bauman, whose new possible.jpgmanifold witness franke.jpgbook on social change, Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World (Multnomah; $22.99) was also a big part of the night. 

It would be like Mike and the E.I. (Ecumenical Institute) to have a culturally-engaged theologian and a global justice activist responding to his exegesis of the Apostle Paul.   What an evening it was!

To give you a further hint about Gorman, you should know that not only has he served St. Mary's and the E.I. (formerly as Dean, now as holder of the Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology) but he has participated in national and international working  groups and forums within organizations such as the Society of Biblical Literature. He knows everybody in the field, and regularly brings world class leaders to the E.I. such as Eugene Peterson, Miroslov Volf,  Ellen Davis, Rowan Williams, James Dunn -- they have N.T. Wright coming yet again this November 18th, doing the 2015 Dunning Lecture (and another day of professional development, November 19th.)

Mike himself is known and respected widely. I was joking with a scholar in the room about how Mike's new book on Paul does not have a blurb on the back from world-famous N.T. Wright.  We made some friendly Tom Wright jokes, and he suggested that Gorman could blurb Wright, but didn't need that world-renowned scholar to endorse him.  Ha.  It is true, for the record, that Mike thanks Tom in the acknowledgements, along with other luminaries in New Testament studies, such as Richard Hays, Beverly Gavanta, Steve Fowl, Joel Green, and the like.  He is involved in lovely networks of collaboration and even has some further Hearts & Minds connections:  Mike is friends with Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, authors and scholars and activists whose work we regularly mention.   

If you don't know Gorman's books, you owe it to yourself to read a few.  It is curious to me that although he is so esteemed in the scholarly world and so many important scholars like and respect him, that his name hasn't become as well-known as it should be.  So, here ya go: if you don't want to wade through N.T. Wright's massive two-volume masterpiece on Paul, try these. They really are just as good and equally important.  I think Tom himself would agree, even if they quibble about some fine-tuned disagreements here and again.

So, Gorman is a wonderful guy and an important figure. As both Franke and Bauman acknowledged at this book release event, his work really is significant, and, importantly, generative and inspiring, worthy of study because it can help us live differently, more faithfully.


cruciformity.jpgThe first thing you should know about the exquisite Becoming the Gospel: Paul Participation, and Mission is that it stands (almost un-intentionally, as Mike explains it) as the third in a trilogy of books on St. Paul.  Mike has been studying and teaching and preaching on the great "apostle of the heart set free" since his PhD at Princeton in the 1980s.

His first major book on Paul, Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Eerdmans; $38.00) came out in 2001 and remains an essential volume for anyone with a serious library on Pauline studies.  

That book with the evocative title threw down and explored Gorman's primary thesis, at once simple and yet one which could take a life-time to embrace and embody: Paul's own spirituality was based on his desire to experience the cross of Christ, to embrace a form of piety that is cross-shaped.

The first sentence of the book is from 1 Corinthians 2:2 -- "I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified."  Or, as Gorman shows with a quick grammar lesson, Paul's words are explanatory and urgent in the last phrase, which should be rendered  "...know nothing among you except Jesus Christ - that is, Jesus Christ crucified." This is Paul's extraordinary point, and Gorman helps us see it: Christ being crucified,  known as the suffering servant, He comes not to condemn but to die, and to thereby show us how to live. (Indeed, at the end of his own life, Peter writes in his letter a reminder that Christ's nonviolence in his arrest [which Peter, at the time, embarrassingly misunderstood, cutting off that soldiers ear] is an example of how we are to live!) Few scholarly books have as much vibrant piety and live-it-out-in-the-real-world wisdom. And few are, dare I say it, as revolutionary!

 I ought not oversimplify this 400+  page magisterial work, as it rigorously engages most major Pauline interpreters (past and present) but Cruciformity does come down to this, pondering why Paul so often used "the cross" as shorthand for a whole way of life, a spiritual ethos of discipleship that is counter-intuitive, glory by servanthood. This big book does offer ways into this cross-shaped way of life and reflects some of the missional energy of the popular-level Tom Wright (or more so) and offers some of the suggestions of Biblical nonviolence and peacemaking from those like Richard Hays. This is nearly a subversive spirituality, a revolutionary Paul. Gorman's anti-Empire readings were pioneering ( think of Chad Meyers on Mark or Walsh & Keesmaat on Colossians.) He is not Girardian or overly indebted to Walter Wink, but if you appreciate their insights you will value Gorman's work as well. This is a new perspective beyond what some call "the new perspective" on Paul. And it matters.

Listen to what Stephen Fowl says of it.

In an age when spirituality is often simply a mask for self-projection and self-assertion, Gorman's Paul reminds Christians that such vital matters as faith, hope, love, and power should be shaped by the story of the crucified and resurrected one rather than by our own whims and desires. This book is readable and timely, and it will enhance the lives of contemporary Christians.  

Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross includes some serious cultural critique, and invites us to ponder a "charismatic and prophetic" spirituality which is shaped by the ways of the Cross.  As M. Robert Mulholland of Asbury Theological Seminary writes, "Gorman... provides cogent arguments against some of the special-interest readings of Paul. This book has the potential to challenge both the academy and the church to a reconsideration of Paul that could revolutionize Pauline scholarship and transform the life of the church in the world." 

That, my friends, is one of the reasons we sell the books that we do, and it is why we request your support, buying books from us that, as Mulholland put it, can challenge the scholarly world and transform the life of the church, for the sake of the world.  Gorman is an ally in this bold project, and we commend his work to you.


Inhabiting the Cruciform God.jpgInhabiting the Cruciform God is the second in the trilogy, and I am afraid that the allusive cove art and the theological lingo in the subtitle might turn some people off.  But it shouldn't!  Again, Gorman is on to something big, here, and it makes sense.  If, as he argued in the earlier book, the cross is the heart of the gospel and shaped Paul's own sense of spirituality and mission, then - get this - it must not just be Paul's understanding of the way of Jesus but it is the very heart of God.  With a proper Trinitarian view of Christ (He is God, as the early creeds insist) then what we know from Jesus is a revelation of God's own self.  And so, if Jesus comes to give His life as a ransom for many, if he comes not to judge the world but to save it, if He is the grand lover, healer, restorer, crucified Lamb, redeeming King, then that must also be the attributes of God the Father and God the Spirit and constitutive of their holy way and work. The subtitle of Inhabiting the Cruciform God is dense, but even those of us not trained in theology can figure it out: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology. (Somebody joked at the EI forum that Tom Wright, known for long and thick books, "needs an editor." Ahem. What were they thinking up at Eerdmans when they cooked up this subtitle?)

Well, it is substantive, like the book.  And it does illustrate exactly what this slimmer volume (under 200 pages) is teaching us: God becomes Christ, Christ gives up his Divine privileges (a la Philippians 2 which Gorman calls "Paul's master story") to serve humankind and the creation itself. If this is true, Gorman writes,

then cruciformity is really theoformity, or, as the Christian tradition (especially in the East sometimes calls it) deification , divinization, or theosis. It is conformity to Christ, or holiness, understood as participation in the very life of God -- inhabiting the cruciform God. This conclusion is implicitly in Cruciformity but not fully developed there.


This is a fundamental category for understanding Paul - "participation." For Gorman, this theosis is a bit more than the classic Western construct of "union with Christ."  We get to join in to his life, death, resurrection, and live into the story of His redemption "for the life of the world" and this is linked to how we understand salvation and how we become what we are meant to be.  There is a fascinating paragraph early on in this book suggesting that Richard Hays saw that the study of Paul's soteriology needed to move in the direction of theosis, and suggested ways E.P. Sander's work could be helpful, and could be improved "by a careful study of participating motifs in patristic theology, particularly the thought of the Eastern Fathers."  Fascinating and worth pondering, even though my words here don't do it justice at all.

Again, for those of us who aren't used to this theological lingo, it could seem daunting. But it makes sense, it really does, and you will be blessed by a careful reading.  Gorman is an able teacher, delightfully ecumenical, deeply desiring to be faithful and helpful.  He writes,

For Paul, to be one with Christ is to be one with God; to be like Christ is to be like God; to be in Christ is to be in God. At the very least, this means that for Paul cruciformity - conformity to the crucified Christ - is really theoformity, or theosis. The argument of this book about these claims will also suggest that Paul's famous phrase "in Christ" is his shorthand for "in God/in Christ/in the Spirit." That is, his christocentricity is really an implicit Trinitarianism.

Okay, again, don't let the curious words scare you off.  This is rich stuff, with lots of explanatory footnotes and a few good suggestions for living all this out, showing the difference it makes for ordinary discipleship and congregational life.  Gorman is not interested in the arcane world of scholarship for its own sake, or nitpicking. He is showing us how if the insights of his first book about being cross shaped inform our very understanding of our oneness with God and our role in God's redemptive love. At times it brings to mind the rich poetry of old, doctrinally heavy but beautifully rendered hymns. Love Divine, indeed!

Here is how Frank Matera of Catholic University of America describes this potent book:

In this pioneering work Michael Gorman offers a fresh way to view Paul's understanding of justification and holiness. Cutting a new path through old territory, Gorman leads us to a vision of holiness and justification rooted in the transforming power of nonviolence and the cross. His work will provide pastors with new insights for preaching and scholars with new ways to address old questions.

Which leads us to the book we celebrated the other night at the lovely event in Baltimore, the book John Franke and Stephen Bouman joined in affirming, sharing their great belief in the significance of Dr. Gorman and especially of this, his crowning achievement in his energetic work on Paul.


Becoming the Gospel- Paul, Participation and Mission .jpgBecoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation and Mission is not only a great book on Paul, not only a creative and fruitful approach to understanding Paul's themes of spirituality, salvation, discipleship, living in the Kingdom, and a fine capstone to his logical progression about cruciformity and participation in God, but it is a major contribution to what we might call the missional conversation. This book, even more than the others, has Pauline zeal, a passion to reach the nations, a hope for social transformation via a renewed and Christ-like church.  Not unlike Gorman's friend Tom Wright, this is scholarship in service to the church, offered with a desire to see God's people be shaped by the things of God, the very gospel.

The ideas of the earlier books have really grown legs and here we see where it is all going.

As you can guess from the title, and as you can see from the trajectory from the other books, if we are joining with God in Christ, we are therefore agents of God's reconciliation, transformed people, for the sake of the reign of God, pointing towards, bearing witness to, the restoration of all things.  God is a missional God, and we are joining God by participating in God's work in all of life. We don't just think about or understand or desire God and the gospel, we are not even just shaped by it, but we become it. How Gorman comes to see that, and the implications of it, are truly remarkable and are spelled out in Becoming the Gospel.


This book is a fabulous tool to help us read Paul rightly. But it is also a case study of how to read the Bible, any of the Bible, really.  As Dean Flemming (author of Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing, and Telling, a book Mike mentioned in his own talk) says, "This book is a tour de force in missional hermeneutics." You know what a tour de force is, and that should make you take notice (we can't buy every good book that comes out, not even every good book I most heartily recommend. But the few that garner this kind of rave? You should really consider owning such respected works!)  Okay, it's awesome; got it. But what does he mean by "missional hermeneutics"?

The definition is hermeneutics pretty easy to grasp.  Doing it well is an art and a science and we need guides and a lot of help, being self-aware and intentional of our own approaches and biases, in community.  For some of us it will come rather naturally, for others, this is a real paradigm shift.

Hermeneutics is simply the philosophy of interpretation. (Here are some mostly reasonable guidelines about Biblical hermeneutics of a fairly conventional sort; it is curious, though, that they seem to presume these principles and methods are just givens, natural and right.) 

woman-reading-bible-op-800x533.jpgReading well and understanding and applying (any book, including Holy Scriptures) always happens from within a certain set of presuppositions, with assumptions, values, attitudes; this implicitly draws out what is seen and what isn't, what is considered important and what isn't, what is underscored and what is minimized, how we understand and make sense of theMisreading_Scripture_with_Western_Eyes_Removing_Cultural_Blinders_to_Better_Understand_the_Bible-74635.jpg words and sentences on the page, and - if one has a sensible hermeneutic - the way things fit together, the context of the text. But these "rules of the game" are themselves contested.  Everybody reads and interprets by some rules or working assumptions, and there are certain philosophical and theological presuppositions that are taken for granted, usually, that are operative and shape how we interpret. Nobody is objective, obviously, and everybody has a lens through which they make meaning of things, and they interpret, then, consciously or not, shaped by those habits of heart and believes and practices that color and shape us. 

(One interesting way to learn a bit about this would be to consider the fine book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O'Brien, published by IVP; $16.00.)

That is the art of hermeneutics, reflecting on the rules of reading, the way in which interpretation happens. It's not all that complicated, really, but it's a handy five dollar word; there are various "schools of thought" that shape different hermeneutics.  Gorman stands in the energetic tradition which interprets the texts in light of God's overall redemptive plan, God's own missional self-giving, the Big-Picture Story which ends in the redemption of God's people and the reconciliation of enemies and the restoration of all creation, and which calls forth our participation in that missio dei. The vocation of receiving God's gift of grace (in Christ) in ways that transform us into partners with God is central, and thereby shapes how we interpret the Bible itself.  Call it an active, missional hermeneutic, with a cross-shaped lens.


And, by the way, we do that dance together. The church -- past and present --  is the primary location for missional hermeneutics.  That is, we can't really explain to the world what the Bible means until we see what it means, living among us.  "Lookie here," we can then say, "this is what the coming Kingdom sort of looks like and here is then how we make sense of this story, this law, this poem, this text, this parable, this letter.  We're a pilot project of the new creation and joining us here enables us to see up close what it all means." We engage the world, to be sure, but the local community of place, standing with the global church and the communion of the saints, too, is the space to interpret the texts, together, in light of what we are becoming. This missional hermeneutic, it seems to me, favors the embodied and the communal. Church matters, even to help us understand the living Word.


paul icon.jpgThe big question, of course, is if this hermeneutic is the most faithful, fruitful, proper and wise lens through which to interpret the Bible. Oy vey! We need to ask the Bible itself how to interpret the Bible itself, and different hermeneutics will lead us to answer that almost circular question differently. Well, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation and Mission offers a splendid way to read and makes sense of the Bible, including, and especially Paul.  On display here is indeed a missional interpretation, a hermeneutic that sees in the text the stuff that (or so Mike claims) is what is most truly intended, and most faithfully embodied now. His approach to Paul is true to Paul and wise for our own discipleship as we are shaped into missional communities in our own context.  Other readings may be less so, and this is the reason to know this book, to grasp his take on things, and to appreciate the "method in the madness" - that is, the "missional hermeneutic."  

 I'm no scholar, and certainly Gorman himself stands open to correction, but I think Chris Tilling (author of Paul's Divine Christology) is really right when he says that "Gorman writes in ways that resonate with the missional concerns of the gospel itself."


GAOCN.pngInterestingly, this fascinating book of New Testament theology gleaned from careful attention to Paul's own missional vision, is the latest volume in an on-going series (the general editor of which is the aforementioned John Franke) of books from the Gospel and Our Culture Network. That network helped popularize the (now faddish and woefully misunderstood) phrase "missional" (first brought to us by Darrell Guder, I've heard) and remains a helpful voice and service to the church.  Yes, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation and Mission stands as a new volume in that important series.


Here is something you should know about the Gospel and Our Culture Network: it started years ago out of the vision and guidance of the late Lesslie Newbigin. Newbigin, as I hope you know, was a British missionary in India, whose influential work about the nature of cultures and the relationship of cultures and the gospel is still studied and carried on today. (Here is a very useful Newbigin website gathering together some of his work and here is a fantastic article about him and his views.)

newbigin.jpgEarly on in his work in India realized, obviously, as most missionaries do, that other cultures do things differently, and, as a guest to that foreign culture, he noticed so much that was different, even among the churches, and he wondered why.  Why does the Indian church think that, believe this, do those things, in those ways? Maybe with a bit of arrogance, he wondered why they couldn't see that their own cultural context was perhaps causing them to misunderstand some Biblical truths, to live in ways that were accommodated to their own South Asian world.  As he lived as part of the Indian church for decades and decades his orientation and worldview shifted, and his burning questions became focused on why does the West does things as we do? How has our modern, secularizing culture shaped (deformed?) our own understanding of the gospel itself? Are we accommodated to culture in ways we don't even see?

Certainly every culture has benign and delightful ways that can be used to proclaim and show forth the gospel. Missionaries are keen on contextualization, and we should consider how to do this well in our own postmodern, twenty-first century culture. Perhaps that is the more fun task, the endless, creative question of how to translate the gospel into our own culture, or subcultures, and live it out in faithful relevance. 

But, also -- and here we must not be naïve -- every culture has less than benign, maybe even harmful, assumptions and attitudes and beliefs and social arrangements and patterns and systems that distort our faith and our practices.  Every culture has good insights, surely, but in a fallen world, any society and every culture has idols and distorted ways of seeing and blindspots that are too often inadvertently smuggled in as baggage, sometimes becoming albatrosses around the necks of the churches in that land.  It's the old "be not conformed" bit from Romans 12: 1-2, of course: we are to live out in our bodies the spirituality of the new creation, but we must first have "renewed minds" that are "non-conformed" the the patterns of the surrounding culture.

gospel in a pluralist society.jpgfoolishness to the greeks - eerdmans.jpgPastor Newbigin asked, significantly, how the West, with its modernist influences (going back to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, at least) and its individualism and materialism and faith in progress and technology and the like have deformed our own understanding of and living of the gospel.  Newbigin's best-known books about these things are always in stock here at Hearts & Minds, published by Eerdmans:  Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, which is the one to start with, and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, parts of which are on many people's "must read" lists. We try to keep the entire list of The Gospel and Our Culture Network books in stock here as well. (The next, by the way, will be released and we will have in November of 2015 by Darrell Guder, entitled Called to Witness.)

Mostly we keep these under church life - they ask the question of how our churches can be appropriately missional, aware of and savvy about the ways (good and bad) culture shapes church and ways of living in our culture effects how we think about the gospel itself.


We here at the shop will not only display Becoming the Gospel there, as part of that GAOC series, but also under Biblical studies, since it is a bit of superb New Testament work and should be read by Bible students, whether one is involved in the missional conversation on not. Granted there is a feisty bit of scholarly evaluation, and a missional hermeneutic, but it is, firstly, a book about Paul.

But, be warned: unlike some scholarly Biblical books (even conservatively orthodox ones) this one by Mike Gorman does have this stimulating, challenging, prophetic, missional perspective, and invites us not just to understand or believe the gospel, but to become it.  It is not glib about language of transformation. It painstakingly engages the texts of Paul and invites us slowly into them, to inhabit the story, to become the gospel, in order to further and participate in God's redemptive work in the world.  You'll find some surprising stuff here, I bet, and you will be wiser for it.

I hope you realize this is foundational stuff for us here at the bookstore. 


We sell books - about all areas of life (even leisure and recreation, as we wrote about in our last post) -- hopefully in the way of Christ, for sake of the world, for the glory of God.  We know to do this (by God's grace) because it is explained in the Book.  We are book people, but, supremely, we are people of The Book.  As much as we enjoy selling books about work and play, art and culture, politics and justice, health and wholeness, sex and marriage, science and technology, and so very much more, we cannot know what to think and do in this world without Christ, and we cannot know about Christ, who He is and what He did and what He calls us into, without the Book.  

bible spines.jpgWe are sad that we don't sell more books about the Bible, and apologize if we have ever given the impression that our bookstore is something other than a "Bible bookstore."  Of course we carry more than Bibles and have a dozens and dozens of categories other than Biblical studies.  But let us be clear: we are people of the Book.  Michael Gorman is a hero of ours, as it Tom Wright and Walt Brueggemann and  so many others who can bring Biblical teaching to life, showing how it shapes us, to be the missional Kingdom people He calls us to be.


apostle of the crucified lord.jpgPaul: Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Eerdmans) $44.00  Massive, comprehensive, important, useful as a major study.  It's view is moderate, ecumenical, engaged with the current literature, but in a way, classic. Jeffrey Siker of Loyola Marymount says succinctly, "This is the best textbook on Paul I have found."  Professor Siker notes that Gorman's ability to explain the backstory of each place to whom Paul was writing is very helpful, which is very important.

reading paul.jpgReading Paul (Cascade Books) $22.00 This is a small handbook, a lovely, useful introduction. Professor Richard Hays says it is a "splendid introduction to the Apostle Paul is the best book of its kind: concise, wise, insightful, thoroughly conversant with the best recent scholarship, yet thoroughly clear and readable."  That's an amazing endorsement! Some nice reflection questions at the end of each chapter, too.

reading revelation responsibly.jpgReading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Cascade Books) $25.00 This is a major contribution, and you really should own it. On one hand it is very accessible, almost introductory (making it great for congregational use, for small group Bible studies and book clubs) but also bringing some hefty missional concerns to the fore, reminding us also of the politics of redemption and the hope that should infuse us now as we trust in the final reign of God. Get that subtitle, eh? Wow. This is remarkable.

death of the messiah gorman.jpgThe Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement  (Cascade Books) $33.00 This is a serious work, emerging originally from his prestigious Dunning Lectures at Saint Mary's Seminary. This brings Gorman's keen understanding of the missional impulse in Paul to bear on his reflections on the meaning of the cross, the subsequent ways of expressing the mysteries of the atonement. It strikes some as a ground-breaking work, and Gorman asks why there is no theory or model of the atonement called the "new covenant" model, since this understanding of the atonement is likely the earliest in the Christian tradition, going back to Jesus Himself. In ways that point towards his work on Paul, he ends this book making a case that in this re-disovery of the ancient model of covenant atonement we are invited to a "life of communal and individual participating in Jesus' faithful, loving, peacemaking death." There are amazing blurbs on the back, from Scot McKnight to Willard Swartley to Joel Green. Cherith Fee Nordling says the book "sounds the clarion call of the New Testament."  I like the endorsement from John E. Wright, of Point Loma University, who notes "Thanks to Michael Gorman for taking us beyond endless discussion of the 'how' of Christ's atonement to its visible end. Christ's atonement as manifest in the life of the church, for the sake of the world."

Elements of Biblical Exegesis (Revised and Expanded Edition).jpgElements of Biblical Exegesis (Revised and Expanded Edition) (Baker Academic) $21.99 This is a substantial handbook, a serious guide to how to read, interpret, and apply the Bible, passage by passage. Very thoughtfully done.  Exegesis is another one of those fancy words, but it is an essential one, and knowing about it is helpful. Beverly Gaventa (Professor of New Testament Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary) says, cleverly and properly that "No one ever became an exegete by reading a book on exegesis. The gift of Michael Gorman's book is that he knows that exegetes are born through practice, practice, practice, and more practice. And he invites his readers into just the practice they need, providing them with a rich array of helps along the way. Beginners and improvers alike will benefit..."  If you are a Bible student, this book is hard to beat.  If you teach the art of reading the Bible well to others, again, this book is hard to beat.  It is a hand-on guide that breaks the task down into seven distinct elements., and suggests exercises to enhance your abilities within each. For what it is worth, he has his reasons to think that the ESV (and the old RSV upon which it is based) is useful, but not as impeccable as the promoters suggest. Fascinating.



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