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March 23, 2015

MUST READ REVIEWS: Rejoicing in Lament (J. Todd Billings), In God's Hands (Desmond Tutu) AND Ghettoside (Jill Leovy) ON SALE

I want to list three more books that would have fit well in our last post, books that facilitate our own self-reflection during this time of Lent, books which are honest about the pain and hurt of this hard world.  Such books, if they are raw and real, can be liberating, as they resist our tendency for pat answers, glib faith, superficial sentimentality. Rather, these honor our own brokenness as we try to cope with our wounds and fears and find ourselves found by the God who is there. The books I listed yesterday were each well written and life giving.  Here are three more, each very special in its own way.

We show the regular retail price, but will deduct 20% off when you order. Use the link below which will take you to our secure order form page.  Thanks.

rejoicing in lament.jpgRejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ J. Todd Billings (Brazos Press) $18.99  In yesterday's BookNotes post I highlighted the eloquent and moving collection of meditations for the dying, written by the exceptional wordsmith and poet Marilyn Chandler McEntyre called A Faithful Farewell (Eerdmans; $15.00) and the feisty and almost fun narrative about having cancer called Fight Back with Joy (Worthy; $15.99) nicely told by the young adult ministry leader and author, Margaret Feinberg. Although Ben Palpant in his extraordinary indie-press release A Small Cup of Light (Ben Palpant; $9.99) was not dying, he did not know that; his was a strange and frightening chronic illness and his telling of it showed exceptionally artful writing. Beloved blogger Kara Tippetts, whose book The Hardest Peace (Cook; $15.99) I celebrated, died yesterday, as we noted. These books are each tender and poignant and each immediately connects with the reader as we are invited into these hard but holy episodes in their lives. (The others we described are about God's distance, about other kinds of loss and grief, or about the paradoxes of faith, not illness or death, A Glorious Dark by A.J. Swoboda, and Aloof by Tony Kirz, and Between the Dark and the Daylight by Sr. Joan Chittister, and these are also exceptionally well written and very, very good.)

Todd Billings, whose new Rejoicing in Lament book can only be described with numerous, glowing superlatives, is not a hip ministry leader or a poet, and does not have an international following on line. But yet, like these other authors, he has chosen to be vulnerable by sharing his deeply personal story, and to do so in a way that is (like the others, like any good memoir) uniquely his own. And what a curious angle he brings to his now very messy life.

Todd Billings, you see, is a theologian. His impressive Th.D. is from Harvard Divinity School and he teaches at the renowned Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is ordained as a pastor in the Reformed Church in America but works, rather inconspicuously, I gather, as a scholar and seminary prof.

Professor Billings tells us in the beginning of the book that he was just starting a sabbatical, and was entering his next season of scholarly research, when he got the blood cancer diagnosis. (He has done very important work on Reformed theology, documenting how John Calvin's notions were received, understood, misunderstood, and disseminated in the generations after Calvin's own work, a book on the theology of Scriptural interpretation, and has done an exceptionally rich book called Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church that has been very positively reviewed from many quarters and which we often recommend.) His next research and writing topic was necessarily adjusted upon his severe diagnosis, and he proceeded to write about his own story of illness and of suffering, offering theological reflections about his cancer, live, as it were. (In deed, it was his blow-by-blow reflections, both medical and theological, that he was sharing in a blog that lead friends and colleagues to encourage him to expand those thoughts into a major book.)

Dr. Billings writes,

This book was written during various stages of my cancer treatment process; that process has not ended but continues with chemotherapy as I write this preface now. Some sections of the book were written in the hospital. Other parts were written while I was in quarantine from public places because of a compromised immune system after a stem cell transplant. All of it was written amid the physical and emotional turmoil derived from both my cancer treatments and my new prospects as someone diagnoses with an incurable cancer at the age of thirty-nine.
But, yet, this is not only a memoir of a person with serious health issues. Rejoicing in Lament is written by a theologian, after all, and while I suppose he couldn't really help himself, it is his particular vocation to think well about deep stuff, with and for us all.  He talks about his project by showing "the way in which I intertwine my cancer story with the exploration of a much weightier story - the story of God's saving action in and through Jesus Christ."

And for a guy like Billings, this implies a whole, whole lot, beautifully considered, carefully explored, and passionately articulated. I sometimes call this sort of effort "practical theology" or "theological spirituality" -- a hybrid genre, serious, systematic, but written for the people of God, fresh theological ponderings applied to daily life, not only for the academy or guild of professional scholars. Add to this practical, pastoral flavor, that it was written in the very human place of suffering and fear of dying -- literally some of it composed in the hospital! -- and you can see that this isn't your typical theology text.

Billings explains,

After my diagnosis, I prayerfully immersed myself in Scripture, especially the Psalms. New biblical and theological questions were becoming urgent. Since my diagnosis took place in the middle of a sabbatical semester of research and writing, I had the time and space to turn my attention to biblical and theological works that pursue these questions as I began chemotherapy... I wrote this book for others but also as a part of my own process of coming before the presence of God in my new life after the diagnosis. I decided to honestly take on the tough theological and existential questions rather than dodge them. They are the questions that I live with. And frequently, they are the questions that other Christians who have experienced loss live with as well. There is an urgency underlying this book that is analogous to one that many reviewers experienced in the 2013 movie Gravity. Dr. Ryan Stone in desperate conditions says it this way: "I know we're all gonna die. But I'm gonna die today."
He continues sharing a bit about what it means to do theology when "my hopes toward the future cannot be what they used to be." Whew.

This is a loss not just for me but for my family, for my friends, for my community of faith. How does this sudden loss, which sinks in gradually, relate to the abundant life we enjoy in Christ? Does Scripture give us the "answer" to our pressing questions about why this is happening, or does God give us something different - even better - than that through Scripture? How do the psalms of lament, the book of Job, and the New Testament witness to Jesus Christ and life in him testify to the loving power of the Triune God? The most potent questions, when one pushes deeply enough, are ultimately not about our experience but about the story of God made known in Jesus Christ.
Not all of us say things like this; some of us don't even read things like this (or hear such theologically substantive phrases from our pastors or preachers.)  I'd invite you to revisit those last lines to be clear what Billings is saying. He is telling us that he is going to develop this book, using the psalms of lament and other portions of Scripture that address human loss and grief, and see how they  -- comfort us? Give us courage? No, that is not what he says. He will show how they witness to Jesus Christ and his redemptive work in the world, the world made and held by the Triune God of the Bible.

He explains,

I sought to give a window into my life as a newly diagnosed cancer patient as a step along a larger path of faith seeking understanding, a disciple joining with others to follow Jesus Christ. I do develop a set of biblical and theological arguments related to praying the Psalms, providence, and life in Christ as chapter builds on chapter in the book. But I do so as a way that relates my cancer story to the story of God's promise and ongoing action in Christ, by the Spirit.
As Billings puts it, he is writing Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ not only for scholars and students (although there are great footnotes providing hints for those who want to explore the more academic issues these concerns raise) but for  -- get this! -- "inquiring Christians who struggle with questions about how the Triune God's story in Scripture could possible relate to their calamities of cancer or other trials that seem to leave us in a fog, in lament, and in confusion about God's deliverance." The book is dedicated to those who "cry out to the Lord amidst the fog."

Has that ever been you? Anyone you know?

I suggested that Dr. Billings is not a poet, like the splendid Ben Palpant whose book title comes from a Billy Collins poem, or isn't a practiced literary writer, like Marilyn Chandler McIntyre. I am not sure if he is known as a captivating, audacious storyteller like Tony (the Beat Poet) Kirz or the exceptionally clever AJ Swoboda.  But, please know, this book is very well written, not only as he offers exceptionally clear and cogent arguments about the nature of prayer or God's intervention in the world, or the implications of our convictions of God's restoring work in the world, or how the doctrine of the Trinity is important in our suffering, but also in his great gift of being allusive and artful in how he gets it all said. Not every scholar, even under such poignant and gut-wrenching circumstances, can craft lines like appear in this fine work.
Rejoicing in Lament quote banner.jpgOne chapter title is called "Walking in the Fog: A Narrowed Future or a Spacious Place?" Another is called "Joining the Resistance: Lament and Compassionate Witness to the Present and Future King." Yet another is called "The Light of Perfect Love in the Darkness."  (Ha - let that sink in!) You can see he is exploring some deep stuff, and he has a good eye for a good phrase.

In the hands of a bombastic fundamentalist or one without much nuance or graciousness, some of this may seem a bit heavy handed. But yet, there it is, one of the truest truths: "I Am Not My Own" which is the first part of a chapter called "Our Story Incorporated into Christ's." Perhaps in our hyper-individualized, consumer culture, we want to be our own, to own our own self. Could this declaration - we belong to somebody else, "body and soul" as the Billings's beloved Heidelberg Catechism puts it - be good news? Perhaps it is even subversive.
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This book of serious Biblical and theological exploration also unfolds like any good memoir. There are stories that are shocking, stories of prayer meetings, stuff at work, hospital crises, family affairs. He has riveting excerpts of his personal journals offered as sidebars and pull quotes, making the book nearly multi-dimensional. It is a good, good read, if a bit demanding at times, and I cannot say enough about it for thoughtful readers.

Gerald Sittser says, "Rejoicing in Lament is a profound witness to the gospel. I can hardly find words to express its intelligence, honesty, and richness."

Other endorsements on the back come from a variety of corners of the theological world: Kathryn Greene-McCreight of the Episcopal Church at Yale, Cornelius Plantinga of Calvin Seminary, Marianne Meye Thompson of Fuller, and Carl Trueman of WTS.
Michael Horton says,

Every chapter brims with pools of insight, pointing us beyond platitudes to the God who has met us -and keeps on meeting us - in the Suffering and Risen Servant. This is a book not just for reading but for meditation and prayer.

Certainly Lent is a proper time suitable for asking how our own human stories of joy and grief can be incorporated into the larger Biblical story. But it is, of course, essential for all of us, any time, to do some of this kind of work. I hope you get this book soon, reading it as a guide for your own struggles, or - if you are fortunate enough to not yet have had too many harsh waves surging over you - to read now while you can, to build a foundation for how best to cope, when that time comes. Rejoicing in Lament will offer very much for your life of discipleship and hopefully - as the publisher promises - point you to "a joyful entry into life amid loss."

HERE is a youtube video trailer for the book, a nice explanation from Dr. Billings.

In God's Hands Desmond Tutu.jpgIn God's Hands Desmond Tutu (Bloomsbury) $23.00 I hope you know that every year the Archbishop of Canterbury suggests a book to read during Lent. It may be (given the world-wide nature of the Anglican communion) one of the most popular "book club" reads of which we know. We usually carry this Archbishop's Select (which makes it sound like a fine wine) and we were especially glad this year that the 2015 selection was a brand new one by Desmond Tutu.
The Revered Doctor Tutu is, of course, a South African Anglican priest, an exceptionally admirable person, an internationally recognized leader of the struggle for peace and justice, one who has written widely about (and served boldly promoting) public policies and social initiatives of reconciliation and forgiveness. He won the Noble Peace Prize in 1984 for some of this kind of work. Tutu has spoken out passionately about human rights and social justice but he has also created moving prayer books and a delightful collection of children's Bible stories called Children of God Storybook Bible (Zondervan; $18.99) and a great creation-story picture book, illustrated by Nancy Tillman, called Let There Be Light (Zondervan; $16.99.)  His most recent book, co-written in 2014 withbook of forgiving cover.jpg his daughter, Mpho Tutu (who lives in the US and is also a priest) is a fine book called The Book of Forgiving The Four-Fold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World (HarperOne; $25.99) and that would itself make a wonderful Lenten read for the next week or so.

Much of what has influenced Tutu over his many years of public service is his unshakable conviction that humans are made in God's image, and so, are created with dignity and worth. (This comes through in a beautiful way in his children's Bible, by the way, and especially in Let There Be Light, where the children are crowned with light as they live in the good creation, bearing God's own regal stamp!)  "Each one of us is a God-carrier, a tabernacle, a sanctuary of the Divine Trinity," he says. What are the implications of being the beloved of God?

Tutu writes, sounding themes with language that is dear to many of us,

And humans were given dominion over all of creation. That is why we were created: to be God's viceroys, to be God's stand-ins. We should love, we should bear rule over the rest of creation as God would. We are meant to be caring in how we deal with the rest of God's creation. God wants everything to flourish.

After some clear preaching about the degradation the created order is now facing, he nearly sings the truth:

For us, who hold the Bible to be central to our faith, these are issues that should not be peripheral, or the concern of people who are regarded as a bit peculiar. These are the issues that are made central to our lives because the Bible is central to our lives - or it should be.
I don't know if African Anglicans shout out "Amen!" but right here, I wanna ask - do I hear an Amen?

After a foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury, we have six chapters in Part One of In God's Hands:

·      The Subversiveness of the Bible
·      We are Created for Complementarity, for Togetherness, for Family
·      The Biased God
·      You Are Loved
·      It's All of Grace
·      In the Beginning, God; At the End, God
The second part is an extended discussion with the author, an interview in which he delightfully talks about his younger days, his spiritual influences (including the great Trevor Huddleston) his boyhood bout with TB, his reading Cry the Beloved Country, the anti-apartheid movement and his life today.  It is all very interesting, leaving me wanting more. I guess I might revisit his big, authorized biography, Tutu.

(And I love his acknowledgments to some assistants who helped work on the book. "Poor dears, my hieroglyphics must have driven them round the bend." Ha.)

Ghettoside- A True Story of Murder in American .jpgGhettoside: A True Story of Murder in American Jill Leovy (Spiegel & Grau) $28.00 I have written in the last BookNotes column that Lent is a time to be honest about the brokenness of our world, lamenting our own complicity in sin and attending to our own pain and sorrows. The Bible authorizes this among us, and healthy piety and spiritual practices always allow us to be more honest, more authentic, not less.  Perhaps it isn't wise to always "air dirty laundry" as the elders among us used to put it, and maybe we need not wallow in our own miseries, such as they are. But, again, at least in this season of the church year, we follow Christ towards his own great passions, and are fortified to take up the sadnesses of our lives, and the sacrifices of our own callings
One of the Via Dolorosas of our time - and certainly one some of us have walked down this last year - has been harsh, inner city streets; we recognize the growing awareness about racial inequities in our criminal justice systems and many confusions about race and racial animosities in our land. There is tension on the streets, and tensions in the blogosphere and among friends who see these things very differently.

We have promoted books about multi-ethnic ministry and racial reconciliation since the day our bookstore opened, and we continue to want to point our customers and supporters to important books in this field, confident that it is as needed now as ever.

(Last year we named as one of the most important books of 2014 the stunning, exceptionallyforgive us .jpgjust mercy.jpg informative and deeply moving Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by a young hero of ours, Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau; $28.00.) Also, we promoted often the collection of essays inviting the church to public repentance, a book I even read in manuscript form, to offer an endorsing blurb, called Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith edited by Lisa Harper and others (Zondervan; $22.99.) Either would make an excellent read over the next week or so and we commend them both.)

Yes, these would be good to read as we walk this road the next week or so. So would Ghettoside, a very new book that I am highlighting here, now. I don't know, but it just might be the book God wants you to read during Holy Week. Not at all religious or spiritual on the face of it, Ghettoside: A True Story of a Murder... allows us to get a detailed glimpse of the behind the scenes story of racially-charged crime in America. And what a glimpse Ms Leovy provides! Oh, my.

One reviewer, Michael Connelly, says,

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 of our journeys. That's what makes this not just a gritty-heart-wrenching, and telling book, but an important one. From the patrol cop to the president, everyone needs to read this book.
The acclaimed writer Martin Amis says,

Jill Leovy writes with exceptional sharpness and tautness, and her pages glow and glitterJill Leovy.jpg 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.
David Baume, author of the bestselling book about New Orleans, Nine Lives, says it is "A thoroughly engrossing true life policier full of vivid and sympathetic characters," which is a great endorsement, I'd say, but then he simple says this: "but also the bravest book about race and crime I've ever read."

More and more, the endorsements have raved. The prestigious Publishers Weekly gave it a coveted starred review, saying "Absorbing... Readers may come for Leovy's detective story; they will stay for her lucid social critique."

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy is a detailed true crime investigation that has been applauded by folks from a variety of quarters, police and anti-racism organizations, policy wonks and street level activists. It has been endorsed by reviewers from both the cultural left and right, so to speak. It was, in fact, this widespread appreciation for it that first attracted me to it; I wondered how this book might be used to bridge some of the harsh divides that have appeared particularly since the rulings on Ferguson, etc. It is gritty and it is compelling, literary journalism at its best.

Want to walk down that urban road, perhaps a Jericho Road where you are called to understand and show empathy and care? Perhaps it will be a road to Jerusalem, where there is trouble and danger, a world of unjust arrests and trumped up trials? Or, perhaps reading might take you to the Calvary Road, leading to that place of the skull, Golgotha, where we see self-sacrificial suffering?  This amazing and gripping book will help us understand how homicide investigations work especially in our troubled urban centers, how those stuck in poverty in places like South Los Angeles experience life. If we want to contribute to the on-going debates -- the sort raised so beautifully and faithfully by Lisa Sharon Harper and her co-authors in Forgive Us, or in Stevenson's heroic Just Mercy -- this kind of true story could help us understand the complexities of urban life, at least, and especially about what some call "black on black" crime, what some tell us is a forgotten sub-culture, those who are the victims of "ghettoside" killings.

Here is a two minute clip of her talking with Tavis Smiley. It's provocative.

lent journey road.png
 I don't know how all this will work for you, but it seems that entering into these kinds of specific scenarios for a time might allow us to understand our world a bit more, holding its hurts somehow even as our own, and maybe becoming more reliable interpreters of how injustice works and how things might be reformed. Maybe books like this will help us on the way, even now, during Lent.

Thanks for reading, thanks for caring. Let us know how we can help.



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March 22, 2015

TWO AMAZING MUST-READ BOOKS A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A.J. Swoboda AND A Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert by Ben Palpant (and a list of 5 others) ALL ON SALE

My pastor started her sermon last week citing Walter Brueggemann, saying that Lent is a time for honesty.

"It's all good" somebody said a few days ago, even though we both knew it wasn't.

A person I care a lot about told me that something I said in a presentation not long ago about embracing the brokenness, the darkness, of our lives, was more helpful then the other stuff I had proclaimed about the Kingdom, about all of life redeemed, about the hope of new creation. 

We can admit to the messiness of life -- in fact, as Biblical people, we must; it is part of our story to tell, bearing witness to the sin, dysfunction, idols and disordered loves we all foist on this world, this world that is not, as the famous book on sin puts it, "not the way it's supposed to be."

Tonight I will mention in a program at a church the classic book from decades ago Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey, which I was looking at recently for a friend, realizing again that it is one of the great books of our time -- honest, poignant, true, a must-read.

Watching the news the other night I was struck (again) at the way in which politicians of nearly every stripe seem to live by the story of progress,believing that we are somehow on an upward spiral (more and more, bigger and better) and that the God of the universe endorses our American exceptionalism, since, well, as the story goes, we bring progress to the world. Even bomb makers like GE are known for sweet ads that say they "bring good things to life."  Such evangelists for the myth of progress, especially when it is measured, as it usually is, so crassly by mere economic growth, seem to me to be helping us towards one big river.  You know the AA joke: denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

If we are in the grip of denial, it is absolutely liberating to speak the truth.

Yes, Lent, indeed, is a time for honesty. It is for naming our issues, owning up. Lent is like spring housecleaning, as some have called  it. So, let's get busy, being honest about our stuff, our fears and doubts and hurts and screwy values. There are books that will help you, and these below are all exceptional.

For instance, I have recently read a very new book that gets at the personal pain of living in a broken world in as beautiful prose as I have ever read in this genre. It is a quiet, little indie-press release called A Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert by Ben Palpant, about which I will tell you shortly.

I have started another, what is surely another of the very best books of the season, but am holding off reading more, wanting to savor its finish two weeks from now. I want to tell you about it now, though, the extraordinary, excellent and very thoughtful work on the pain and joy of the end of Holy Week, A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A. J. Swoboda, a charismatic writer, colorful, bold, passionate. This is a perfect book to read during Lent, and you should consider getting it right away. Let me tell you why.

glorious dark.jpgA Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience  A. J. Swoboda (Baker) $14.99

 A Glorious Dark is one of those books that if you are a book lover, you will want to get and start right away. One customer of ours -- a really smart guy who reads a lot, and knows a good book when he sees one -- called to be sure we had this, as he wanted to drive right over, right on the spot, because he has read a sample chapter somewhere. That reminded me of how I like this author, and how I wanted to start this new one.

It is, of course, about "finding hope" so it does get at that longing to have deeper faith, faith that works, a spirituality that enables us to experience God's grace in ways that actually make a difference. What do we do when all our good rhetoric, our best-formulated doctrines, our sincere trust in God begins to crumble? What happens when God seems distant, or worse?  What do you do when, as it says on the back cover, "what you believe isn't what you see"?

"Real, raw, and achingly honest, A Glorious Dark meets us right in those uncomfortable moments when our beliefs about the world don't match up with reality."  That is what this book promises. 

And Swoboda pulls it off better then nearly any book I've read lately.  As Jonathan Merritt writes in his review of it, "Too often Western Christian churches focus only on the sunny side of life. Why? Because it takes far more courage to walk into the darkness." 


There are two or three things you should know about this amazing resource. Firstly, although it can be read any time, it is arranged in three parts, simply called Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It is about the three-day Triddum (although he does not start with Maundy Thursday, which he explains.)

There aren't many books available, and certainly not on this topic, that are so very interesting, and so accessible, reflecting on these awkward days, standing within the great tradition of liturgical thinkers about this topic, but who writes for ordinary folks.  It does't feel like a respectful, stuffy liturgical study, but a real-world, honest guy coping with the realities of this part of our story, grabbing at the big questions but with a bit of manic gusto.  There isn't much on Holy Saturday, anyway, so it is worth having this book for that portion alone. It is that good. Kudos to the funny and deep AJ and his editors at Baker for bringing these reflections on this to us. 

(That he doesn't quote the magisterial, brilliant Eerdmans book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday by Alan E. Lewis is a bit of a mystery to me. That is a superb work,  a true classic, and I'm sure he knows of it.)

Secondly, besides the useful structure of Good Friday-Holy Saturday-Easter Sunday, A Glorious Dark is written with exuberance -- with what Len Sweet says is "fiery wisdom and icy wit" -- and it includes a playful lot of pop culture references (Scooby Do!) and allusions to great literature and music.


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Not too many authors draw on such great and diverse theological guides -- from Jorgen Moltmann to Orthodox monks, from Hans Urs von Balthasar to a hero of mine, Bob Goudzewaard, from David Wells to Madeline L'Engle, from Leslie Newbigin to Charlie Peacock. So, yes, he draws on women and men of faith, great writers, interesting voices. Even the title seems to echo other mature works -- it makes me think of The Magnificent Defeat by Fred Buechner or maybe his Hungering Dark, which Swoboda cites.

And he talks about Scooby Do. And Charlie Brown.  And James Brown. (Well, maybe I made that up since I was on a roll. In fact, maybe he doesn't mention that soul singer, since he has a chapter called "Numb" and he doesn't even mention the U2 song off of Zooropa. What's the matter with writers who draw on pop culture these days?)

Still, this is a truly witty and wonderfully engaging and very cool book. In fact, how cool is a book that talks about John Wesley and Martin Luther and Rumspringa  and SuperHero Red Rider and relates the Trinity wisely to Chewbacca? There is a chapter called "The Gospel According to Lewis and Clark." This is way cool, and very, very interesting. 

Clever as it is, it is also serious. It isn't exactly written with gravitas, but it is, as I've suggested, looking at some heavy concerns. It is mature. It is solid.  As Jon Tyson writes of it,

A.J. Swoboda has written a beautiful book. It felt like reading the Psalms. He touches on the full bandwidth of the human experience with compassion, honesty, and humor. And this book ruminates with love for God. Not the sentimental love of evangelical culture, but a deep clinging to Jesus through all the complexities of faith and discipleship. This book will resonate deeply and inspire faith to walk boldly into the glorious dark.

I respect Swoboda a lot as he was contributed some very important work to our religious discourse. he co wrote a book we named last year as one of the Books of the Year, a book called Evangelical EcoTheology (BakerAcademic) and edited a remarkable, radical volume called Blood Cries Out: Pentecostals, Ecology and the Groans of Creation (Pickwick Publications.) (Did you know the founder of Earth Day was a Pentecostal Christian? Wow!)  This new book, on these last three days of Holy Week, and what it all may mean for this messed up world, is just tremendous, and he should be a well known name in our BookNotes circles.

A Glorious Dark is a prefect book to move you from Lent into Holy Week, and, obviously, perfect for the days of Easter weekend. Experience the Triduum unlike you've ever had before. Get this book!

small cup of light.jpgA Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert Ben Palpant (Ben Palpant) $9.99

Oh my, this book truly "blew me away," (as we sometimes say), keeping me up late at night several nights running, as I dipped in and pondered its unfolding story. The plot is simple, but beautifully told, with nuance and mystery and a richness that is hard to explain. That the title comes from a Billy Collins poem might give you a hint of the calibre of writing that is in store.

But little will prepare you for the odd and chronic illness that debilitates him, and his exceptionally candid telling about his own interior life as he coped with his pain.

Palpant experienced for no apparent reason, an attack of extreme pain in his head, and the book opens with a breathtaking scene of the onset of what remains a nearly inscrutable illness. From headaches and disorientation to numbness and loss of the ability to speak (and even some memory loss) made me think it was serious Lyme Disease or maybe early onset Parkinson's. He doesn't give readers an adequate sense of his medical visits or the doctoring he did or didn't do -- a drawback in the narrative, I thought -- but this is not a conventional memoir. It is a slice of his life, narrated mostly around the theodicy question.  Why, God, why? What is going on? What should I do? What can I do?

This guy is in severe pain and is equally paralyzed by shame (he doesn't want his fellow teachers and school colleagues to know) and, in what seemed a bit odd, even guilt. (I don't know why I say it is odd; it seems it isn't uncommon for those with severe chronic pain to be ashamed, and to fear they somehow brought it on themselves. Or at last they feel guilt for the inconveniences they cause their loved ones. So I get that.) He is a very smart guy -- Palpant teaches literature at a classical school and knows his stuff -- and a pretty serious lay theologian. I admired his weaving together literary citations with, oh, say, stories of Puritans or other serious Christians who wrote about these very matters. How many books quote poets such as Li-Young Lee or Edna St. Vincent Millay alongside brain studies on, say, REM sleep cycles, coupled with insights from Thomas Merton?  

Palpant is a great storyteller. He has locked into his mind -- and now exquisitely rendered in what almost feels like short stories -- some remarkable episodes from his  young life.

I happen to know a little bit about a small portion of his life; his sister, Andrea Dilley Palpant, has also written a memoir that I have raved about before. Her story, Flat Tires and Other... is about their their earliest years in Africa (their parents were medical missionaries there) and her subsequent struggle with faith, and her rocky road out of the safe evangelical subculture while in her tumultuous, artsy college years. I loved her book, and came to respect her family very, very much.  A respected Christian author who has written what may be one of the best books about grief ever penned -- Jerry Sittser, who wrote A Grace Disguised -- befriended Andrea in her years of tough questions, and they remain friends. She is left with an open-minded faith, I guess it is fair to say, a bit sobered and less confident. It is a fantastic story by a thoughtful young writer, and I recommend it. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see that Sittser interacted with Ben, too. In fact, he makes a few cameo appearances in A Small Cup of Light. 

Of Ben's book, Gerald Sittser writes that it is, "Stunning.. a superb book in every way."

Wow.  Coming from Sittser, this is a great acclaim.

J.I. Packer, who appreciates more than most solid, Reformed theology, and playful, good writing, too, says it is "Haunting, deeply pondered, and beautifully written."

That is, friends, what some in the book biz might say is a blurb to die for. If that doesn't inspire you to want to read this, I'd be surprised. Knowing that Ben did almost die, I guess, may ramp up the drama a bit, too.

Watch this great video which is a trailer for the book.

Small Cup...  though, is not a medical drama. As I noted, I wished for a bit more about the mystery illness, and how he felt not having a good diagnosis. Mr. Palpant is obviously a fairly philosophical gent; the theological questions haunted him, as did the experiential, spiritual ones-- where is God and how can I know God better through this, for Christ's glory! -- so there was less attention to the medical details than to the existential ones. I gather this is a true rendering of his years with this horrible condition, but we know this much, as least: he is telling the tale in light of his haunted, soul-wracked questions. And although these questions came to him in humiliating attacks leaving him bed-ridden and wracked with pain, they come to us all.  We all must learn to come to terms with our lot in life.

There are gloriously written passages here, and the near climax of the story includes a time of him sitting in a red, plastic kitchen chair outside in the falling snow, where he explains that he finally is able to let go of his obsession for control and give in to the truth of God's great sovereignty. This surrender was beautifully written, although nearly plain: he was sitting, stuck with wonder and awe of the still beauty, nearly unable to move, and he somehow knew that this was it, the moment of his resolution. He was able to yield to God, giving him over to the arch of the universe, held in the hand of the One who made it all and knows the hairs on our head. His tremors were not healed in that moment, but something important had transpired.

Some readers will disapprove of his strong emphasis on God as the One who oversees the universequote from Ben Palpant.jpg. He is in a camp with the likes of Jonathan Edwards and John Frame and John Piper, here, and it was a great comfort to him, knowing that even suffering is redeemed by an all powerful God. (This comes through in the powerful trailer video, above.)

Those that are taken with a more ambiguous approach -- I think Barbara Brown Taylor's two exquisite books on preaching about absence and pain, When God is Silent or God in Pain are good examples of a less rigid view -- will disagree with Palpant's conclusions when he is a tad didactic near the end of this fine book. But so be it. It is his memoir, his testimony, his story. His conclusions make sense to him, and will stretch some readers, challenging others, perhaps annoy others.  Yet even those who do not fully agree with all of his large conclusions will be deeply grateful for this God-centered, Christ-glorifying, Spirit-led direction, allowing God to teach and shape and mold him, even in his distress.  To use the Psalms of lament to passionately, to feel the horror of his situation and not grow bitter, oh my.  This is mature, spiritual stuff, told wonderfully.

There is a story near the end, a memory crisp and good like a few others he tells, that is worth the price of the book, a parable for him, and for us all. It cannot be summarized elegantly, but it is a memory of his father taking him deep into the bush from their home in Kenya into dangerous territory in war-ton Uganda.  They were going, of all things, to see a large, hand-made, improvised, wooden and communally-played xylophone. How this energetic and joyful artistic expression -- nearly the whole village singing and clapping to the music -- pushed back the darkness of his fears is so beautifully told, it will be, I am sure, read out loud in book groups, and re-told in sermons from pulpits across the world. What a story-teller, and what a story.

And what a story this whole book is, a mysterious illness, chronic depression, anger and anxiety healed -- at least a bit -- as one comes to the hard truth that the God of the universe is near us all. As he says more than once, all of history is God's story. And what a story of goodness and grace that is.  

Palpant ends the book, remembering the fear he had in Uganda, the stress of his malady, the ongoing struggle with is health and happiness. He writes for us a benediction of sorts:

Rejoice with me. In this valley of tears, this valley of the shadow of death, God has given us songs to sing. We are singing pilgrims, so sing with all your heart. God is our song. When we sing in the darkness, our songs reverberate back to us and make us glad.

May this book be a small cup of light for you, dear friend. Take and drink. Lift up weary hands and frightened faces to God. Lean into his story. Even in darkness, he is there. He is the one beside you, singing you. Remember. And this is my prayer: May you find his light in your darkness, his life in your death, his joy in your sorrow. Forever and ever.

glorious dark.jpg

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I think these two books -- A Glorious Dark: FInding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience by A.J. Swoboda and A Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert by Ben Palpant -- are two of the most moving books I've read in quite a while. They are both about hardships and disappointments, making them exquisitely timed, perfect for the end of Lent.


Here are others that deserve their own mighty reviews. I regret that I can only name there here, choosing them over many other worthy ones. Here are some I have to list.

the hardest place.jpgThe Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard Kara Tippetts (Cook) $15.99  I have had this book on the stack to tell you about for several weeks now, waiting till this column. You may have been following the amazingly poignant, deeply sad blog of the dying Kara Tippetts, called mundane faithfulness. You may have heard that she died today, and we name this book, now, published less then a year ago, in her honor. I don't want to say much more about this, am sorry for her husband and family, but it has been very moving for many and we wanted to show it. She started the book before she was really well known, and includes more than just her time of dying. Rest in peace, honest sister.

A Faithful Farewell- Living Your Last Chapter With Love .jpgA Faithful Farewell: Living Your Last Chapter With Love Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Eerdmans) $15.00 You may know my profound admiration for this writer, whose book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies is an all time favorite, often mentioned in workshops I do on reading and books. (They were the Princeton Stone Lectures a few years back, knowingly standing on the shoulders of Kuyper.) She did another wonderfully written set of ruminations on phrases of the Bible (What's in a Phrase?) that was wonderfully done. This just came in, reflections for the dying. She has volunteered in hospice work and may have had the loss of a family member recently. These first-person essays have fantastic endorsements, from Richard Lischer, Michael Lindvall, Harold Koenig and others who are well acquainted with the night.

Aloof- Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides.jpgAloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides Tony Kriz (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 Years ago, Tony was most known as Tony the Beat Poet from Blue Like Jazz. I raved about his memoir Neighbors and Other Wise Men.  Here he has taken spiritual memoir to a new level, reflecting honestly about God's absence, or our experience of God's absence.  Frank Schaeffer says of Aloof, "It is a work of art."  Randy Woodley says "Tony Kirz asks difficult questions and shares sacred stories that find their way into our souls, drawing out our hidden questions and helping us to voice our sacred stories. Tony's style reminds me of someone...sometimes his words are in red!" There are pages and pages of endorsements on the front -- from edgy activist friends like Lisa Sharon Harper and Tim Soerens and Sean Gladding and Leroy Barber, and more established figures like Dr. Andrea Cook, the President of Warner Pacific College and Kevin Palau Oregon State Senator, The Honorable Jason Atkinson. In a way, this is brave stuff, shifting away from any formulas, and sharing doubt with honesty and passion. Kudos.

Between the Dark and the Daylight-.jpgBetween the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of life Sister Joan Chittister (Image) $20.00 This, too, is brand new, and I've not spent much time with it. But Sister Joan, a Benedictine who I met years and years ago in Erie, has grown to be one of the top and most beloved religious writers of our time. (Sometimes people ask me who has taken over the spot left by Henri Nouwen. Joan's name always comes to mind.) With endorsements from Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr and James Martin, you can imagine that this is progressive, gracious, well written, Catholic spirituality. Judith Valente (who wrote the great memoir Atchison Blue) says "Joan Chittister has written what promises to become a spiritual classic -- a guide for those of us who have ever spent sleepless nights wrestling with our own frustrations, fear of the unknown, and pain of loss and separation... This is the most poetic writing yet from a woman who is a modern prophet."  I like what Barbara Brown Taylor says when she insists that "these are the questions that make you human, and can make you more joyously human if you choose." And right there's another seeming contradiction, a paradox, if you will.  Reading hard books about complicated things that don't have easy answers can be enjoyable, and give us great joy. How 'bout that?

Fight Back with Joy- Celebrate More, Regret Less, Stare Down Your Greatest Fears.jpgFight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears Margaret Feinberg (Worthy) $15.99  Dear Margaret does not write like Henri Nouwen or Joan Chittister, although I am sure she appreciates them. She is more lively, more funny, more conversational about real-world daily stuff (her dog, her hubby) and although a bit Pentecostal, it seems, she brings a down-to-Earth faith that always leaves me buoyed. Except here, which tore me up as I read an advanced manuscript. Margaret, who we learn in the very beginning, is setting out to do another book, and it is to be on joy. She experiments with some typical Feinberg stunts -- saying yes to everything!  Joy is going to be her "one word" etcetera -- and too soon, on page 9 to be exact, she gets the dreaded call. She has serious, serious breast cancer. I am overcome sitting here, thinking about it, even though I've read that damn page a dozen times.  Still, she concludes she should carry on with her joy bit, and, indeed, it saves her life. Fighting back with joy becomes a serious study of the costs of discipleship, the "dangerous duty of delight" as another author once put it. She is not Ben Palpant, debilitated and paralyzed with existential and poetic questions, she is a go-getter and, cancer or no cancer, is convinced God wants her to be joyful, to share good news with others, to be a blessing. She's like Bob Goff on steroids, bringing helium balloons to others and overcoming depression by reigniting her imagination using laughter and goodness. 

I do not want to sell a book that is glib about something as dangerous and death-dealing as disease. Margaret may seem a bit light-hearted, but this book is at once tragic and sad, and, yes, inspiring. She "discovers freedom from the past by learning how to turn mourning into joy" and rises above "endless demands" to become "more winsome, cheerful, and thankful.

I wondered if I should list this here with other books that have a decidedly more somber tone (even though Swoboda and Kriz are funny, and Palpant is such a good writer I am sure you will smile at places.) But even though the theme is joy, it is a narrative of a friend coping with cancer. It is about this Lenten journey, after all, allowing ourselves to feel the pain of these days, not covering up, being honest. That "spring housecleaning" can lead to some amazing stuff, and Feinberg helps us, as she puts it, "we awaken ourselves to the deepest reality of our identity as beloved, delightful children of God." 

There is, by the way, a brief but very helpful portion as an afterword of sorts, called "Six Lessons I Learned from Crisis" and another from her husband, Leif. Again, this illustrates how seriously real this all is. I think I maybe isn't the book to read during Holy Week, but, you know, it just might be perfect for the week after. Fight Back With Joy will draw you to Christ Jesus. 

Did you know that the first book written in English by a woman (circa 1395) was Revelation of Divine Love by the mystic Julian of Norwich?  She wrote, even then, "This life is a muddle -- I know it myself, a mix of well and woe." She continues on to remind us that we are held by a God who loves us, writing that "we all feel miseries, disputes, and strife." 

So, don't we need some help with Lenten honesty? Spring cleaning? Digging a bit deeper and hosting our hurts, our losses, our sadnesses, including our anxieties about God? This is a safe season to do so, and we trust these books will help. Perhaps they will help somebody you know. We are very glad to be able to tell you about them here. 



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March 16, 2015

MUST READ: Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World - ON SALE

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World by AmyRunaway-Radical-Cover-in-High-Resolution-672x1024.jpg Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth (Thomas Nelson - regularly $15.99) is a book that is very well written, exceptionally moving, of interest to many different sorts of readers, and, I think, is very, very important. I could hardly put it down, except when I had to stop to talk to Beth about it. (And boy, did it cause me to ponder, to pray, to confess, even. It struck fairly close to home, for some reasons I need not describe here.) I think it is the best book I've read so far this year.  

RR is a quick read, although one will want to ponder it, maybe talk with others about it. It is a book worth having, worth sharing. I want to describe it to you, dear H&M friends, as it is a fascinating story, co-written by a mother and her son, (itself a winning combination in this case as both are good writers, characters I've come to care about.)  And both have a story to tell; do they ever! It's a mother watching her son, and her son's own recollections as his life goes haywire.  The slogan on the cover shouts, "When Doing Good Goes Wrong." Wow.

Of course, you can order this at our 20% off discount by clicking on the order form below, which takes you to our website's secure order form page. I think that many BookNotes readers will be drawn to this wise and poignant book as the concerns it raises are, as we say, on your radar screen. I know they are very much on ours.

The subtitle gives a hint of what is to come: the young man, Jonathan, is drawn to a radical sort of missional faith, and is eager to show the world what genuine Christian compassion looks like. He has read books, attended conferences, come to realize that bland and ordinary faith pales in comparison to a lively, sacrificial, culturally-engaged discipleship, and that the fruit of such a radical vision is seen in serious acts of selflessness and caring outreach, showing love to the loveless, tending the wounds of the broken, befriending the homeless, serving the poor.  

A youthful mission trip to Central America leaves him stunned, wanting to do more long term work to alleviate brutal poverty.  He deepened his passion for such things, inspired by the likes of our friend Shane Claiborne who a few years ago was particularly known for calling on young evangelicals to give away their wealth and live among the poor, or the titular Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (David Platt) that pushed theologically conservative young adults to renounce the idols of the status and wealth and normalcy and give their lives to missionary service. Jonathan deepened his friendship with the local poor, gave even college money away, shaved his head as a sign of renunciation, and started a rigorous process of meditating on quotes from recent books  -- sources that some might call "radical Christianity" or new monasticism, perhaps.

Runaway Radical, you might surmise, doesn't end well  and you wouldn't be far off in that judgment.

Although, actually, it ends beautifully -- the eloquent, wise, painful and joyful last chapters are to be savored, maybe through tears; the Epilogue ("Saving the World") is worth the price of the whole book.  Jonathan is no longer the self assured, (arrogant?) evangelical solider with zeal and confrontational, hard truths, but humble, sobered, a bit tentative, even, with the tone, perhaps, of reoriented Hebrew faith after the exile -- restored, yes, joyful, even, but a lot wiser for the wear. 

To get to the end of this story, and to share this new found comfort being in a place of some woundedness and with no easy answers in sight, other then the confidence in God's great mercy, one has to go through some exceptional weirdness and some very sorry stuff. His own interior life is transformed (not to mention those of his parents) as his missionary experience goes very wrong, he is abused by a toxic home church, his faith and much of his worldview dashed. The book unfolds wonderfully, bringing together these themes and chapters of his downward spiral, from his mother's point of view and then in his own recounting. There are poignant and revealing journal entries and some lovely memoir - Amy recalling stories of Jonathan's childhood, prayers the parents prayed for their children, questions he asked them as a child, the faith journey of Jonathan in high-school and his first year of college before he left to serve in Africa.  Much of this will sound familiar to anyone who has watched the faith development of serious young Christians these days.

Amy, as the mother of this boy who grows increasingly religiously obsessed, is an excellent writer (and no stranger to the evangelical publishing world) and pours out her admiration and concern for her son. She sees the red flags, she notices some peculiar traits, but she also knows that great missionaries or social reformers of the past have appeared critical of a church or culture given to trivial pleasures or cultural accommodation or American nationalism. It is hard to argue when your son is writing quotes from the church fathers or Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King or heroic world missionaries on his bulletin board. Her telling of her own navigating all of Jonathan's changes is itself part of the brilliance of this story and not to be missed. Any parent concerned about their children, I think, will resonate with much of this, and be glad for her pleasant memories and her shocking revelations.

The family's faith seems to be a bit charismatic and they are part of a lively evangelical subculture, eager to follow the promptings of the Spirit.  Despite the warning signs and the rather judgmental attitude their son develops, they are supportive. (How could they not be: she recounts wonderful memories of Jonathan's tender conscience as a child; they have been attentive to his dreams, both his passions and interests, and the literal sort.  More than once, Amy recalls and dissects haunting dreams with profound self-awareness.) There were moments in her narration that I was struck by what a good parent she seemed to be. She and her husband, despite Jonathan's furious foray into a radical movement that proved to be unhealthy, can serve as good role models for how parents of young adults can accompany their adult children, and I commend the book for this reason, too.

For instance, she tell us,

One Sunday morning before church I began to pray for him. The kind of praying that starts out very noisy, then the words fail and trail off and you end up mostly listening.  And what I heard was that my husband and I were to pray about whether Jonathan should take a year off school to serve overseas. Of course I didn't remember at the time that Jonathan had predicted this, had asked for it two years before when he started college. A lot had happened between then and now, including the false starts and missteps. At the moment it wasn't in Jonathan's plans; he was filling out applications to transfer to a new college in the fall. I told my husband right away what I had heard in prayer, asking him to hold the arguments against the gap year until we had more time to talk about it. I had the same concerns. Leaving college midway doesn't always end well. There was a real chance he wouldn't finish his education. And the timing on previous attempts to go had always been off.

A few minutes later Jonathan came down for breakfast and he and Jeff were alone in the kitchen together. "Are you excited about starting a new college in the fall?" my husband asked. "No," Jonathan answered. "I really think I'm supposed to take a year off to serve instead."

In a paragraph on the next page she writes a simple observation that nearly brings me to tears as I re-read it now:

Then the whirlwind began. Inquiries were made, and the first agency he asked accepted him. The money was raised in six weeks. Every detail fell into place. It was the first of many milestones, the first of many lessons. It was also the year we learned the cruelest of paradoxes, that a young man can be both called and led astray.

I want to say a few things about this book, and the matters it raises, and we invite you to order it so you can see for yourself the beauty of the writing, the honesty of the narrative, and the significance of this conversation.

First, the way in which Jonathan became obsessed with his own wealth, his own need to show himself to be more literally committed to Christ's ways, and his passion to make a difference in the world became harsh and twisted, and this distorted approach is discussed with raw integrity and much candor. As he tells it, he realizes now that he was stuck in a view that was "the antithesis of grace" and missed the truth that Christ came "to liberate us from the need to be radical."  I am not sure why he took to books like Radical and Crazy Love and The Irresistible Revolution, and then read them in such a legalistic and graceless manner, but he did. "If it was legalism that shut me out," he finally writes near the end, "it was grace that snuck me in." In many ways, this is the heart of the book -- what some call "works righteousness" versus free grace.  It is vital and sweet stuff, lessons hard learned, important for suburban moms and conventional, older pastors as well as culturally savvy and radically committed young adults.

god of the mundane.jpgordinary horton.jpgThis is not the first book, by the way, that has named some of the problems of what may be a "new legalism" (as Anthony Bradley has called it) and the apparent disdain among many popular authors and leaders to an "ordinary" kind of faith. This is directly discussed in the new book by Michael Horton called Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan; $15.99.) We have promoted here more than once the lovely little book called The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People by Matthew Redmond (Kalos Press; $10.95) which anticipated some of these recent concerns and, to be honest, it is why I did the column a few weeks back on books that celebrate the common pleasures of life in God'sbecoming worldly saints.jpg good creation, with titles such as Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? a must-read book by Michael Wittmer (Zondervan; $15.99.) 

I could (and perhaps should) write much more about this, but I shall say this much for now: even though some have misinterpreted the call to resist the idols of our American culture and the need to serve and distorted it into a new more-radical-than-thou form of self-righteousness or a new kind of gruff legalism, we should not blame the call to fight poverty, to love the unlovable, to forge a church that is missional and outward focused, or those who offer those calls, for how some may misapply the challenge. Perhaps the call to the cost of discipleship in our time isn't being given with enough joy and grace, making it easier for some listeners to turn it in unhealthy or self-destructive directions or to disturbing extremes. Still, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, here.

We don't typically blame authors who call us to pray and stop promoting books about prayer when some oddballs start peculiar practices that turn intimacy with God into weird mysticisms. We don't stop hoping for fruitful evangelism even though some are pushy and rude, and we still promote the best books on the subject, perhaps even more so, to counter the negative practices; we don't quit searching for healthy and wholesome sexuality because some have turned to nasty negativity or liberal license.  In each case, the possibility of somebody taking good books and twisting them into attitudes or lifestyles that are not intended by the authors shouldn't keep us from pushing those ideas. Like anything, good ideas can be warped and lived out in unhealthy imbalance. 

In other words, there is a lot of discussion we need to have, especially around this question of how countercultural our faith should be and in what contexts radical lifestyles should be pursued and in what ways a wise group of discerning friends in a local faith community can help us remain winsome and healthy even as we commit to serious sacrifices. Those of us who promote these sorts of books and invite people to more dedicated sorts of discipleship, especially around social concerns, need to be thinking about this, and we need to be talking about the possibility that we may be liable for leading impressionable younger adults astray if we don't offer them a solid, grace-filled and healthy foundation out of which they can make life-transforming decisions. This book gives us a lot to ponder, so I commend it especially to those who work with younger adults, youth and campus ministers, and anyone involved in developing social activists or missionaries.

Such urgent conversations could be stimulated by Runaway Radical even though it isn't the task of this memoir to give us a healthy and balanced and Biblically-wise view of how to go about joining the fight for a better world or what to think, theologically and practically, about stuff like John Perkins calling us to "relocate" or John Piper saying "risk is good" or Ron Sider calling us to a more simple lifestyle, inspired by the Bible's demand for charity and justice. (I loudly praise God for Ron Sider and his Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger book, by the way, and will happily celebrate yet another new edition this summer. He is a mentor and model of a balanced, fair-minded approach to these matters.) 

We dare not throw under the bus the jovial gadfly Shane Claiborne, The Simple Way and the new monastic movement, or activist authors like pastor Eugene Cho (Overrated), Chris Heuertz (Friendships at the Margins and Unexpected Gifts) Jeff Shinabarger (More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity,) Scott Bessenecker (The New Friars and LivingPursuing-Justice-Blog-Image.jpeg Mission), Christine Caine (Undaunted and Unstoppable), Jeremy Courtney (Preemptive Love), Ken Wystma (Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Greater Things) or the good folks at Mission Year, say, inviting young adults to a year of voluntary service where they can see, as their latest, wonderful book puts it, God is in the City: Encounters of Grace and Transformation (by Shawn Casselberry.) Who would ever want to silence the always whimsical, Jesus-centered, if sometimes audacious Bob Goff, author of the popular Love Does? I'm glad for extraordinary DVD curriculum like the World Vision produced Start.  Or the compelling book by their director, Richard Stearns, The Hole in the Gospel. And glad for the publicity given in recent years to those who fight sexual trafficking through groups like A21, The International Justice Mission (IJM) or Not for Sale.

Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey... does not suggest that any of these authors or organizations knowingly misguided anyone, and I do not mean to imply that the Hollingsworths have given up on making a difference in this sad world, or blame any particular book or author for seducing Jonathan into his misguided Africa trip. But some readers might, so I say, again, that we shouldn't throw these prophets in our midst under the bus. For my own part, I had to ask myself tough questions, since we have so promoted these exact kind of books, and have been eager to see these sorts of young voices picking up the causes of global justice.  In my own years of campus ministry decades ago, I had these very kinds of conversations and figuring how to be grace-filled and balanced and sustained by Christ-like virtues as we engage the powers has been a long-standing concern of mine. 

(I recall reading in the 70s something by John Stott about being a "conservative radical." I love a book that we still stock by Ron Sider called I Am Not A Social Activist which is about keeping Jesus at the heart of our efforts for social transformation. There is no new legalism in these kinds of works, but many of us have struggled hard to keep this all in balance. It is in some respects, the heart of Steve Garber's Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, that asks how we can love the broken world God so loves without growing bitter, jaded, cynical. Oh how I wish I could have pressed these into the hands of Jonathan years ago... and oh, how I will press the Hollingsworth's RR book into the hands of the latest generation of  young radicals.)

Recently, interestingly enough, I was interviewed by a reporter for a trade journal for the publishing industry, asking about changes we've seen in our 33 years of book-selling. One of the top changes on my list? Evangelicals robust and thoughtful and characteristically energetic embrace of the Biblical call for peace and justice, racial reconciliation and creation-care, grounded in a consistent ethic of life. What Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action were crying out about 40 years ago is now commonplace among most young evangelicals, and this is surely one of the most interesting sociological phenomenon of our lifetime.  We should be very glad for this trend, a faithful move of young authors and leaders calling us to care, to take up serious work, and to be more involved than we often are in the call to help heal the broken, hurting world. I am glad for events like The Justice Conference or the sophisticated Urbana world missions conference and even the risky Christian Peacemaker Teams who are giving folks options for social involvement. (I am even more glad for the way our beloved Jubilee conference raises up equal passion for daily jobs and vocations in the marketplace and the arts, one of the great contributions they make to the feisty project of tapping fruitfully and wisely into youthful idealism and desire to "change the world.") 

So, to be clear: I am glad for these recent books about changing the world, serving the poor, working for social justice and such, even if our dear Jonathan recklessly misread or misapplied some of their challenging invitations.  And we should, as perhaps Jonathan didn't (the book's greatest weakness is that it does not say) have wise friends around us, committed equally to social change, global justice, and balanced, beautiful, gracious, understandings of a mature interior life, that would help discern the ways in which we live into these big, big matters. I do not mean to digress to far afield, but this is why books that remind us of the communal and intimate nature of the local church are so important. Do you recall our discussion of Slow Church by Chris Smith and John Pattison last fall?


The self-destructive legalism and desire to prove to God that he was fully committed isn't theJonathan-with-Cameroon-Children-First-Photo-Higher-Res-Copy.jpg only sad part of the story of Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World. A significant part of the story is a surprising twist in the plot: the mission agency in Cameroon where Jonathan goes is, to put it simply, corrupt.  He sees abuse of funds, abuse of people -- domestic violence and spiritual manipulation and emotional abuse. He cannot blow the whistle; he himself is seemingly caught in a nearly tragic situation. (Oh, the irony, that the Cameroon church leaders, all men, in that place, are preaching an extreme version of the false "prosperity gospel" and living large at the expense of their impoverished flocks. It is widely known that this troubling North American teaching has found significant inroads in many parts of the African church, and I was surprised that the Hollingsworth's had apparently not adequately vetted this particular ministry or expected these sorts of troubles. How this mission agency was chosen is not explained although it becomes clear that it was connected to folks Jonathan knew, perhaps in the church in which he was involved. It is a slight hole in the narrative, but I suspect they are trying to be discreet and honorable.  Throughout the book no names or authors or churches or ministries are named, which I suppose is to their credit.)

The book has an active facebook page and Ms Hollingsworth has been writing a bit about the reception the book has gotten since its release just a few weeks ago. She is a lively and good writer, as I've said, and she is in communication with readers of all sorts. Not surprisingly, others have poured out their stories, she has said, telling their own tales of missionary service gone awry, mission agencies that have been abusive, and more. They are stories that need to be told.

There is a large shelf here at the bookstore of books of missionary biographies and autobiographies - some tell of evangelism and church planting, others talk of medical missions or social service efforts, and of course we have books about those who have started relief or development projects in the developing world. Some document the history of mainline denominational churches and their long-standing work (my friend Mark Englund-Krieger just released a history of Presbyterian (USA) missionary work called The Presbyterian Mission Enterprise: From Heathen to Partner) while others write of edgy, fresh projects, such as Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis which tells of her unusual solo journey to Uganda to adopt dozens of children or Preemptive Love by our friend Jeremy Courtney who is networking medical missionaries and others to perform life-saving pediatric surgeries in Iraq as they try to reform the complicated health care problems in a war torn, religiously conflicted land. A few tell about the great sacrifices and hardships endured, but end well. Or, maybe they don't, and they are less sanguine then the success stories. 

Few, though, so honestly share these kinds of stories of the really dark side of missions, the misappropriation of funds and the harsh treatment of incoming missionaries. Jonathan knew in his gut something was wrong when a building he was to work on was nonexistent, when the class he was to teach had just let out for the summer, when a large number of guitars that he had lovingly collected and personally shipped there for children were absconded for other uses. His hosts were strict bosses, even forbidding him to spend time at a nearby medical mission hospital as it was staffed by more mainline denominational Christians. Of course he wanted to be culturally sensitive to his new colleagues, submissive to their expectations of him, but he grew to believe that what they called "the African Way" was a crass justification for patriarchy and domestic violence.  When they captured his visa and airline ticket home, he realized he was in some very deep trouble.


Runaway R news story.jpgAnd so, the book continues -- Jonathan telling of his experience in Cameroon, some of which is quite touching, occasionally delightful, even, while some becomes exceptionally disturbing. His mother shares her own memories of the sparse communications during those months, chapter by chapter they take turns, moving the narrative on. 

The story gets even more complicated and even uglier -- oh my, can it possibly get worse? -- when he arrives home to a toxic congregation, and strict orders from a head pastor to be utterly silent about the mistreatment of money and soul from the African mission leaders.  The church was apparently committed to saving face and thought Jonathan was derelict for coming home prematurely, and did not appreciate at all he and his families concerns about misappropriation of money or the unbiblical, dangerous practices  and dysfunction so prevalent at the mission compound. I needn't explain it all here, but this harsh stuff back home in his Maryland sending congregation is demoralizing and infuriating. They tell the story well, and with a fair amount of grace and balance -- I think other writers might have justifiably shown more bitterness.  It is not a tell-all screed, but the manipulation and mistreatment back home is an important part of the story, and another contribution to the struggle about faith in this young man's life. So they report it and at times it feels surreal. They bring you effectively into their world as only the best writers can.

This RR book, then, is about three big things -- and a fourth.  

First, it is about this radical movement of idealistic, costly discipleship which seems to be being understood by some as extreme, lacking in grace, a new Pharisee-ism. These books are being read by many young adults, inspiring some to a zealous and sacrificial dedication that is both exemplary and distressing. It is explored mostly not in the abstract as a theological movement, but as a set of influences that played havoc in the tender soul of this one young man. It is, after all, a memoir (in two voices) and you learn about Jonathan, less about the books and ideas and movement which informed him.

Secondly, Runaway Radical is about the experience of a missionary compound, staffed by indigenous folks in Cameroon, which was heterodox and dysfunctional at best, and toxic and dangerous at worst. Few mission stories speak of this down side, and it is as revealing as it is riveting.  

Thirdly it is a bit about an unforgiving and manipulative church leadership team that did not offer support, let alone grace, to the troubled and hurting young man that came home broken from his failed missionary call. That some churches are grossly inadequate in welcoming home missionaries is known in the biz. That they would be manipulative and dishonest and threatening is tragic. This proved to be a "final straw" that broke dear Jonathan and outraged his parents, but they do not outline too much about this.  If the book ended here it would be a very good book, honest and informative, enjoyable, if distressing.  But it becomes a truly great book because of the final, fourth theme.

And it is this: heavy-handed, black and white thinking of the aggressive sort that guided thegrace.jpg fiery young man's faith left little room for doubt, let alone failure. Yet, in his journey into tough questions, a failed discernment of his call, and his experience of spiritual abuse at the hands of fundamentalists, he has emerged with a sober, gentle, and lighter sort of faith.  He has not renounced the gospel, he has come to understand it more profoundly.

Some will applaud his new, tentative if grace-based faith, while others will fret that he has shifted towards a more ambiguous, less didactic and certain form of faith. He laughs more, now, it seems, and is healing. He is moving on. Neither mother or son seem cynical, even though they have reason to be. The book's call to this more open-minded and grace-filled approach is beautifully rendered and the book ends well.  

You will have to go along with the Hollingsworths on their journey, the ups and downs, and live the Paschal rhythm with them, I think, to see for yourself. Can this death of a previous faith be the fertile soil for new birth? Can a more sustainable faith rise out of the shell of the old? What is better, too much confidence or too little? Tight fists grasping  onto truth or open hands?  This is the old, old story, or so it seems to me -- life from death, resurrection after crucifixion. Runaway Radical: A Young Mans Reckless Journey to Save the World is a great book to read in this Lenten season, and it is a revealing study of serious faith, serious global needs, serious misunderstandings and confusions, and serious, glad, if less ambitious, new understandings of faith, and renewed appreciation for grace.  What a story, so well told! 




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March 8, 2015

BRAND NEW: Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective by Brian Jensen & Keith R. Martel ON SALE

Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective by Brian Jensen & Keith R. Martel (Falls City Press) $18.00

storied leadership.jpg

I can't wait to tell you about this new book on a new indie press, written by two friends of mine. I am a huge fan of this title, but I have to set it up by saying some stuff I want to say about the recent Jubilee conference.  These two authors spoke at Jubilee 2015, so, well, they won't mind if I ruminate a bit about a key idea or two from that event, and mention some more titles for those that want to explore a bit more deeply.

As you will see, I'm going to suggest that this book is connected to all of this and in a way is a watershed, indicative of a new generation of scholars and practitioners building on the shoulders of "visions of vocation" they inherited from CCO and Jubilee, and their respective influences. 

I can hardly believe that the CCO's big Jubilee conference at which we had such a large book display was two week ago. Beth and I are still exhausted and exuberant about it all, and still wishing I could help our non-Jubilee friends to more fully appreciate the significance of this lively, catalytic, college ministry event. I want to mention some books -- it's why you read BookNotes, after all --  that would be good for any of us, but especially for CCO staff or mature students following up the conference.  I hope you saw my last post about Jubilee and that list of books and that limited time offer for some great deals.

You won't be surprised to be reminded that we think that studying books (especially if done with others) after events of this sort helps carry the vision back home. Retreats, conferences, revivals, seminars, and workshops can inspire us and motivate us to make changes in our daily thinking and living, but we have to take steps to process and apply the new insights and commitments gained at such events. We should all ponder the moral seriousness needed to respond well to the verse in Philippians charging us to "work out our salvation"  -- which is to say we must somehow embody the implications of our Jubilee vision. Of course we don't do this out of any sense of legalism or guilt, or to earn God's love -- Christ's Kingdom is about grace, if it is about anything -- but there is a joyful lot to explore, much to learn, and new ways to work for shalom in our time.  To a large extent, this is why we opened our bookstore decades ago, trying to help others find resources that will help them ponder and work out the implications of our faith for all of life.  Read for the Kingdom we sometimes shout!

And so, I recall with joy the lecture given at the start of Jubilee by Dr. Anthony Bradley, ablack scholars in white.jpg conservative, Reformed theologian and public intellectual who has written widely about racial injustices, black theology, and just released a volume he edited, Black Scholars in White Space: New Vistas in African American Studies from the Christian Academy [Wipf & Stock; $26.00.] that includes pieces by a number of African American scholars and leaders in higher education, including some who were at Jubilee.

With his classy bow tie and his Nutella jokes, Dr. Bradley unpacked what it means that we live in a good creation, and that the foundation of any Christian engagement in culture or sense of vocation and calling, is rooted in the conviction that we are made in the image of God, designed to open up the potential, in creative stewardship, of the stuff of life that God embedded into the creation order.  From science to art, law to education, from family life toAnthony-Bradley-3.jpg political life, we are to honor God by opening up the potentials of the created order, designed and upheld by the Triune God of the Bible. 

I hope you know that one of the most important books of the last 30 years that has helped many, many churches, mission groups, nonprofits and educational institutions develop this very notion -- and its mark on the Jubilee conference is legendary and palpable, probably second to none other -- is Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview by Al Wolters (Eerdmans; $18.00.) Every year, it seems, Dr. Wolter's profound chapter on creation (and the equally profoundc-r.jpg ones on the fall, and redemption) helps frame the conference.  His chapter on discerning God's creational ordinances, in contrast to the distorting and disfiguring misdirection caused by sin, idols and ideologies -- he uses the distinctions between "structure" and "direction" which is to say that we must know what is good, ordered by God and creation and what is sinfully off, twisted, not as it is supposed to be -- is nothing short of brilliant. It was great to hear Dr. Anthony Bradley preach around these themes, knowing he is familiar with this key text, Creation Regained.  That Dr. Bradley is one of the stars of the For the Life of the World DVD didn't hurt, either. That DVD is so, so solid on this very matter.


For those wanting to explore further this sense that God's world is ordered in such a way that we can gain real insight into it, studying not just the Word, but the world, allow me to name four serious books.  I've named these all before, had them at Jubilee, but think they deserve special consideration now.

The Bible Speaks Today- The Message of Creation.jpgThe Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Creation: Encountering the Lord of the Universe David Wilkinson (IVP Academic) $20.00  I trust you know the commentary series "The Bible Speaks Today." In recent years they have branched out, doing Biblical exegesis, as you would find in a solid, mid-range, useful commentary, in books about a theme. This one, systematically commenting on all the Biblical texts about or alluding to creation, is extraordinarily useful as this Bible scholar traces the theme of creation through the rich tapestry of Scripture and brings it into lively conversation with contemporary concerns.  There is even a several week Bible study guide in the back making this ideal for small groups or adult Christian education classes.

wisdom & wonder_front.jpgWisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art  Abraham Kuyper (Christian's Library Press) $14.99  The spectacular Saturday night speaker at Jubilee, Jon Tyson, co-wrote (along with Gabe Lyon) an excellent  foreword to this recently translated book which was written in Dutch in the early 20th century by the famed Dutch theologian and statesman. Jubilee conference friend and regular speaker there Vincent Bacote wrote the very helpful introduction. This is Kuyper explaining more about common grace and the goodness of creation, especially as a key to understanding a Christian view of work in the sciences and in the arts. To think this rich work was written more than 100 years ago and is still relevant for those who want to dig deep for a sure-footed foundation.

god's good world.jpgGod's Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation Jonathan R. Wilson (Baker Academic) $25.00  I raved and raved about this when it came out in 2013 and continue to think it is one of the more helpful (and important) books of its kind. There are large implications for the robust Biblical view of creation, and this explores many of them.  It is serious, but just wonderfully written (and even includes some artistic touches, which are not incidental.)

This is a profound, yet entertaining, and handsome study -- very highly recommended. 

God's Wider Presence.jpgGod's Wider Presence: Reconsidering General Revelation Robert K. Johnston (Baker Academic) $25.99  Here is how the publisher describes this outstanding recent work: " a senior theologian explores how Christians are to understand the wider revelatory presence of God, mediated outside the church through creation, conscience, and culture."  You should know that Johnston wrote a book years ago on play, and has written three very influential, insightful books on film. He understands that the fruits of human culture --- modern cinema, for instance -- functions in the world graced by God, and is, in many ways, a good example of the implications of a high doctrine of creation.  

Okay, you get the picture. This is important stuff, fresh territory that theologians haven't explored as much as they might in our generation.  

(An aside: I talked with Dr. Walter Brueggemann decades ago about why this is. He was talking about "new creation" and I asked why we haven't had this explored in modern theology much, the implications of that we live in a God-sustained creation which is being recreated in Christ. He said the German theologians, especially, were understandably afraid of legitimizing Nazi ideology, which made a lot of the motherland; blood and soil and the like. Later, in a famous exchange in a scholarly journal, he and Richard Middleton debated whether a robust doctrine of creation is necessarily conservative and counter-revolutionary, as he feared. Richard showed him otherwise, which he happily conceded. You can download Richard's article from the Harvard Theological Review here and read some of his other indebtedness to Brueggemann here.)  

If we are to live out our faith -- working out the implications of Christ's claim over "every square inch" as Kuyper put it, and as the Jubilee conference relentlessly proclaims -- we have to notvisions of vocation.jpg only realize the good news of the gospel, how we are forgiven in Christ and made new by His Spirit, and invited into the new community called the church, but how this narrative of creation/fall/redemption makes sense of our world. As Steve Garber often suggests in his must-read Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good this is the world we live in. It is a world of wonder, true, but also a world of ache, and we need the gospel not only to save us from ourselves but because in the Scriptural story, we get the "truest truths of the universe."  If we are to take up our callings in the world with any integrity and longevity, we need these visions, and these visions come from the greatest story every told, which is also the truest.  


N.T. Wright has been singing that song lately as well, and his new, very accessible worksimply good news.jpg Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes it Good (HarperOne; $24.99) really does help us see how this narrative of the Kingdom coming simply must shape and direct our lives. After that, if you haven't, be sure to read his How God Became King (HarperCollins; $24.99) and his much-discussed Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne; $24.99) which further develops these same themes.  

Of course, you know that in my last post I celebrated the role of Richard Middleton at Jubilee this year, not only for his early, significant books (The Transforming Vision and Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be) but for his must-read, incredibly important new book about which he preached, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic; $26.99.) Here is a link to Richard's new heavens and new earth.jpgown blog  which offers all sorts of good pieces. A while back he mentioned the influence his co-author and friend Brian Walsh has had on Tom Wright's early thinking. Yes, this game-changing stuff -- Walsh & Middleton studying with Al Wolters, writing Transforming Vision as he was writing Creation Regained,  influencing N. T. Wright, all while the Jubilee conference was being named and developed in conversation with them and others in their circles back in the mid-70s -- and is part of the story we share here at Hearts & Minds. (Oh my, and I just noticed, while getting these links to his Creation to Eschaton blog, just now, that Richard has a post about Beth and I and our Jubilee book display even with some pictures.  Now I'm sort of embarrassed, but might as well share it with you.  Thanks, Richard, for the encouragement.)

And, friends, I guess you should know that as a BookNotes reader and mail-order customer, it is, like it or not, I suppose, part of your story, now, too. 


We must move from this talk about the big story of God, the redemption of all things, and this "wholistic eschatolgy" to how it works out in our main callings in life, our families, our citizenship, our work and our play. For all of us, but certainly for college students and thoseevery good e.jpg whose callings take them into sophisticated professional careers, the next step in all of this is to take this story of all of life redeemed and do a lot of thinking about what all that means for the particulars of our work lives and the work-places we inhabit. It is essential to know the doctrine of vocation and calling from visionary books like The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness (Nelson; $17.99) to theologically substantive but practical books like Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Faith to Monday Work by Tom Nelson (Crossway; $150.99) or Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work by Timothy Keller (Dutton; $16.00) or others I describe at this large bibliography, here.


And then, after realizing and being able to articulate a Christian view of vocation and the calling to work (and good luck with that, since most preachers rarely mention such things, although it is changing) it is vital to be willing to "think Christianly" about the details of your particular academic area of study or your specific job.  That is why we always (always!) promote to Jubilee students the essential Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guidelearning for love of god banner.jpg to Academic Faithfulness by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby (Brazos Press; $14.99.)

If you know any church kid who has gone off to college, I sure hope you have sent them this book. Every year, I push it hard at Jubilee, and every year we hear of students who are struck, even surprised, to hear that God cares about their studies, and that there is a particular set of practices that would help them learn to be faithful in their academics.

For a reflection on what I mean by "thinking Christianly" perhaps you could read my column from a few years back where I write about books about politics that I think are exemplary in this effort.

I like the C.S. Lewis quote, "The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism and education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters; just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists -- not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time."

The Jubilee conference, just for instance, and our bookstore, are both designed to help the "unionists and educators, novelists and dramatists" who Lewis mentions, to be inspired to do this work, to think through the principles that should inform them in their callings. It seems to me that pastors need to read some of this stuff, too, learning how to inspire the folks in their congregations to be thinking about the Godly principles that might help be restorative in the world world and society at large.  As I have sometimes lamented, not many people buy these books, and I wonder if it is because they just have never heard of the need to do so.

Student or professional, newbie or executive, we must ask: what are the ideas and values, the beliefs and assumptions, about what is true and good in your field or profession? What does it mean to have the mind of God for your occupation? What difference does being a person of faith, inspired by the Biblical narrative, make for the principles and practices that are influential in your field? Do truths learned in Sunday worship spill over to Monday work? (Indeed, can we say, as former Bethlehem Steel executive and Lutheran lay leader William Diehl taught us to say at Jubilee years ago,Thank God It's Monday"?)  Can you name something of the goodness of God's creation that you see in your field? Or, also, must you renounce certain values or practices that are not right in your work world? Can you discern the good foundations built into God's creation that cause your work to exist, and also name the harmful misdirections where your profession has gone awry? Are there ideas that Christian authors (or others) have observed that might make you a reformer, a whistle-blower, an agent of gracious change within your field? 

Why not find somebody in your own field and read a book with mature Christian insight in yourreading books makes you better.jpg discipline or career area -- health care, business, architecture, video game design, psychology, counseling, art, music, theater, writing, math, engineering, education, social work, law, economics, sociology, advertising, family studies, child development, sports, outdoors education, physical therapy, urban design, computers, history? 

We surprise people each year at Jubilee and Jubilee Professional when they see our display, when they realize that we are a Christian bookstore that has books offering faith-based insight and wisdom into these various spheres of God's world and professions in modern society. That people are surprised is telling, eh?

All of this is a reminder of why we get so fired up about Jubilee, and why we are encouraged to know that many are trying to think faithfully and live in faithful ways, even in their jobs and work, by realizing -- for starters -- that they live in an ordered world, a creation that is coherent and blessed (even if fallen and wracked by sin.) We are not at liberty to do whatever we want in art or science or business or families because we live in a world that is made by God and upheld by His Word.  Engineers and politicians and novelists are not free to make up meaning in any way we want. We are called to be shaped by the details of living in a real world.  This is one of the great benefits of reading Wendell Berry, by the way, who seems to intuit this beautifully. We live in the world God has made and must not think that our abstract theories can wish away the facts, literally, under our feet.

To say it bluntly, the story of God should shape how we think about stuff, even if the best sellers and popular opinions about things don't.

Take, for instance, the meaning of leadership.


I know it was an long and winding road to get to day's new review, but all of this important in order to best explain the utter importance of this lovely new book, a book that I want to heartily recommend. I have been kicking myself for two weeks for not having adequately shouted out about it at Jubilee -- it arrived the day we were setting up and was so very new I just hadn't been able to get the slides made to put it on the big screen as I gave my book plugs. I talked off the cuff about it at Jubilee Professional (and I assume groups like Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation will find it helpful as they develop leaders in their own work.)  But I so wished I would have given it a big celebration at Jubilee.  I had read it in manuscript form, and new how appropriate it would have been for nearly everybody in that big hall.

storied leadership.jpgI refer to the wonderful little book named at the outset, above, written by two dear and well-loved friends, Keith Martel and Brian Jenson, Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective. Both of these men have worked at Geneva College, just West of Pittsburgh, for many years, and both have been influenced by the CCO. (Keith and his wife had worked for CCO before working at Geneva.) These guys have poured their lives into their students and graduate students, mentored many, and taught and inspired many more.  They have cared about the institutions for whom they have worked, they have been active in their local churches, and they have invested in their own local town. In every way that matters, I find them exemplary Christian leaders, and, further, I know them to be fun and funny, joyfully serious, deep thinkers, and great storytellers. They are energetic and inspiring. In other words, I respect them so much, and find them so interesting, that I'd read anything they wrote. And you should too.

keith m w_ painting.jpgStoried Leadership is easy to read, and not long, but it is deceptive in its breezy conversational style and upbeat illustrations and stories from their own colorful lives. Not every book that so easily captivates readers with good writing, whimsical and moving stories -- sneaking out of children's church to listen to Casey Kasem, getting to know a small town luthier who restores old guitars, leading outdoor wilderness trips, having heart to heart tender talks with their Brian-Jensen-413x232.jpgchildren -- also offers a substantive, serious biblical theology.  But this book does both; it is chock full of gratifying episodes, helpful insights drawn from crazy stories, and truly wise comments (not to mention a few wise cracks) as it offers what has to be called a robust, narrative, Christian theology. Perhaps I could say it offers a subtle, Biblically-informed, Christian philosophy. (They quote, most helpfully, the Dutch Kuyperian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, for crying out loud, which gives it away as a particularly thoughtful project.) Like I say, this is a fun, but serious work.

They make a few really good points, and they do so wonderfully. They insist (in a chapter that will be beneficial to anyone) that our lives our lived out influenced and made sensible by the story we find ourselves in. They use good lines from a lot of good books, including from Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew (you should know their magisterial overview of the Bible, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story and their very astute study of worldviews, Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview.) They help us understand the role of narrative, how stories matter, and why storytelling is important as we make sense of our lives, and communicate a coherent vision of life to others. They don't cite the renowned philosopher Alister McIntyre, but they could have. They do quote James K.A. Smith. If you like Donald Miller or Bob Goff, this "storied" approach will be appealing. I assure you, this first chapter is fantastic.

In the next several chapters they show how the Biblical drama is the one that most makes sense ofour lives, and how we so often mis-use the Bible by taking texts out of their storied context.  They offer a Jubilee-esque telling of the Biblical story as the foundational narrative to make sense of our lives, and to shape us if we are to see ourselves as leaders.  Much of the book draws on this narrative approach to the Bible, but they always show how this influences how they think about leadership. 

For example, they are insistent that -- since we are all called into this true story of the whole world -- it is not helpful to talk about a few chosen and skilled leaders, while the rest of us are somehow consigned to be mere followers.  No, their vision of leadership -- itself informed, they argue, by the Story of God as heard in the Biblical drama itself -- is one of collaboration for purposeful change. We are all called into this cosmic dance, reflecting God's own image, being stewards of the gifts and potentials in the creation and in our own lives. In different spheres and times and places, different ones of us have different insight, authority and power, and together, we cooperate and collaborate to create normative social initiatives that push back the darkness and allow in a little light. They grappled with other definitions of leadership and, without weighing us down in arcane scholarly debates, the posit their view in distinction to other views that may be familiar. It is so helpful gift to have such clear and succinct prose, with a few stellar footnotes, perfect for younger readers, and, I am convinced, instructive even for those who read widely in this field of leadership studies.

It is significant that they insist on a multi-faceted, wholistic view of the human person, and so therefore, leadership isn't conferred only on those with great intelligence or charisma or power. Leadership certainly isn't mostly about techniques or skills. In a few fascinating pages they expose as unhelpful this view of leadership that grew to its high water mark in the modern, industrial era.  They help us realize that we all are called into callings of leadership, and we don't usually travel that journey alone. We are in this together, and they inspire us to great solidarity and collaboration throughout the book.

Donald Opitz, the College Pastor at Messiah College, puts it well in his colorful forward,

These authors are weary of books that turn leadership into a technique or a program. They recognize that leadership is not a form of coercion or a mode of control; rather it is a relationship. It is a pattern of social life and that pattern emerges in a narrative context.   

In the great, great chapters unpacking the Bible, they camp out on some of my favorite passages, and teach things that I myself have been saying for years, so I am greatly encouraged to see these good lines and important proclamations and couldn't be happier then to commend this to you. Although they weave stories about leadership development and offer insights about servanthood and the wise nurturing of what Brueggemann calls "the prophetic imagination" throughout, much of the book is informal Bible study.  They know their stuff, they offer remarkable insight about many key passages, and I am sure that you will learn something new if you read their work.

In fact, I promise that in my own inside cover endorsement of the book, betting that you will shake your head and wonder why you never noticed that about a passage or text or idea in the Bible.   After saying that, I continue

You smile as you read their stories, and, more importantly, you will be engulfed in and shaped by the truest story of all.  Few books combine big picture transforming visions and down to Earth, practical advice.

Many other women and men endorse it in glowing ways. Steven Garber writes,

Jensen and Martel's conversation ranges across the whole of life -- thinking as we must about why we lead and how we lead. Reading widely, they are as familiar with leadership theory as they are with biblical theology, and offer a seamless, story-formed vision of what a good life looks like. I hope that people read it, and read it again.


After the first two thirds of the book -- their argument that the Bible is a story, and that that story should shape and inform how we think about leadership and calling and our work together in God's Kingdom -- they then end the book with a good set of short chapters which they call "Practicing the Story." 

Here, they give no-nonsense advice, drawn from their own years in ministry, in higher education, and in church work.  They know that folks need more than the rhetoric of "living a better story" but to inhabit their own local places and spaces in healthy, normative ways.  We need to rebuild among the ruins. They know that people do not need techniques or formulas, not even exactly spiritual disciplines, but life-giving practices. Drawing on the most innovative learning theories (and face-to-face conversations with Wendell Berry and others of his localist perspective) they fashion a set of refreshing practices which will help anyone pursue their leadership over the longer haul of their lives.  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction says Eugene Peterson, drawing on the clever line by Nietzsche.  Jensen and Martel get this, and want to offer their readers on-ramps and hand-rails, guidance for doing life in better ways.

These last chapters are clear and sensible and very helpful, even if they are mostly nothing new. 

I say mostly, as there are some ideas in this part that may strike some as very new. This bit of good advice accompanied by great illustrative stories was more moving then I expected. (Two of these chapters, in fact, nearly moved me to tears.)

Importantly, they frame these spiritual practices as ways of "practicing the story" so even in their telling, they offer them in fresh and compelling ways.  This stuff at the end is really good.  The discussion questions are very good, and the  exercises are practical and not to be missed.  Living out new practices shaped by God's redemptive story is the point, and their guidance in these things is helpful indeed.


Briefly, I will tell you that in the first of these storied practices, they talk about vision and vision casting. Then there is one of the great chapters called "Networking for the Common Good" (in which they talk about one of our mutual friends, Scott -- you know who he is if your in those circles.) The "Expectation Gap" is a wise and honest chapter, worth its weight in gold. And then there is the other one that too me by surprise and blew me away, a hard practice, being "Disarmingly Honest." "Restorative Conflict" is the next, followed by wise teaching about sabbath and "Rhythms of Rest." 


For what it is worth, I wanted to start this BookNotes post by writing about Jubilee once more. I wanted to declare how books like Al Wolter's Creation Regained have given a generation of younger activists and scholars and speakers a foundational framework for thinking about the narrative nature of Scripture, how we can find the meaning of our own unfolding stories by being found by to be a part of the story of God. I wanted to assert how the doctrine of creation -- and all its implications for culture making -- is essential for Christian scholarship about various careers and aspects of modern society. This "Christian mind" stuff as we work out the details of our vocations and callings is at the heart of our business here, and the CCO and their Jubilee event celebrates that with such enthusiasm. 

In starting there, though, I also wanted to show -- as one shining example of young authors writing fresh books inspired by this very vision -- Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership From a Christian Perspective as a book that has unique connections to the CCO and to the Pittsburgh Jubilee conference. It takes the doctrine of creation seriously, and it explores how the how narrative arch of Scripture should inform even the way in which we think about (in this case) leadership.  And it doesn't end with highfalutin' philosophical ruminations on leadership, it ends with embodied practices that help us dig in and learn the craft of being in God's world in a particular way. 

As Keith's wife says in her great new Storied Leadership blog for moms, "every practice emerges from a story about reality."

Storied Leadership is a great little book good for anyone wanting to see how the story of God shapes our efforts to serve God.  But it also is a case study, a great example, of what we most need: intentionally thoughtful but down to Earth, communal reflections working out the details of the rhetoric of "creation-fall-redemption", "creation regained" and "all of life redeemed" that so many of us thrive on.  This books is a treasure and I tip my hat to the authors for "working out" the implications of this in such nice ways.  And for their (storied) leadership.

Which does, in fact, circle back to the CCO and the Jubilee conference. Jensen and Martel write in their foreword

We are both grateful for the influence of the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) and the important work they do in the lives of college students. We are different people because of this organization. The CCO's Jubilee conference is perhaps the most important gathering of young people in America. For decades it has helped students understand the connection between the grand biblical story and their lives and vocations. 


You obviously don't have to go to Jubilee to know that God is rescuing the beloved and blessed creation.  

Scholars from all sorts of theological viewpoints have long held this. 

God Dwells Among Us- Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth .jpgan altar in the world bbt.jpgflow package.jpgJust think of the Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemenn's book For the Life of the World and the upbeat, artful DVD with that same name which was produced by Reformed folks at the Roman Catholic Acton Institute. Or recall the book I've often touted Salvation Means Creation Healed by Wesleyan scholar and former missionary, Howard Snyder, co- written by Anglican Joel Scandrett. Or pick up the themes creation-fall-redemption, seen as homemaking, exile, and homecoming in the extraordinary and generative work of Brian Walsh & Steve Bouma-Prediger in their groundbreaking Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. Or catch the vision of the recent overview of the Bible by former emergent leader Brian McLaren developed as a year long devotional in The Road Is Made By Walking and its quest for "formation, reorientation and activation."  From a recent study of the promise and perils of technology in Biblical perspective by Dallas Seminary tech guy John Dyer called (get this!) From a Garden to A City to the likes of Barbara Brown Taylor's exquisite rumination on the goodness of creation in An Altar in The World: A Geography of Faith to the serious Biblical theology of Greg K. Beale & Mitchell Kim in their God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth we are seeing an ecumenical renaissance of how all this works together to help us live more missionally and faithfully for the life of the being-redeemed world -- living a long obedience in the same direction towards the new Jerusalem. 

These books are laying the groundwork from which and out of which fresh work can be done in different fields.  Storied Leadership takes this vision and perspective and knowingly explains it in accessible terms, and shows how it shapes and influences a new vision of leadership. As I said, I think it is well worth buying. Thanks for considering it.

storied leadership.jpg



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March 4, 2015

Post-Jubilee wrap-up and CLEARANCE SALE -- up to 55% OFF DEEP DISCOUNTS on SELECTED TITLES (and a free book, too.) 5 days only

 jubilee book room (sunny).jpg

                                    It was freezing outside, and pretty cold setting up, but the room was sunny.

SOME customers have told me that they enjoy my annual recap of the Jubilee conference, thethis changes everything.jpg biggest thing we do all year (with 3000+ college students drawn together in Pittsburgh by the CCO, a campus ministry with which we are associated.)

The Jubilee conference is a high-energy, life-changing event with all kind of shenanigans, craziness, powerful (and multi-ethnic) worship and sophisticated, serious teaching about a few core truths. Jubilee has (since our early involvement with the formation of the conference in the late 1970s) talked about how college students can serve God in their various studies, preparing for careers, by developing a sense of calling and vocation, by deepening the Biblically-influenced mind, and by entering into a desire for a prophetic imagination. Perhaps they will become social reformers or dream up cultural initiatives to be salt and light and leaven in the world God loves, but we hope they will see themselves as agents of gospel reconciliation, wherever they end up. They will be God's agents, in the world and in the church. 

Another routine theme proclaimed and modeled at Jubilee is that there is no divide between the so-called sacred and secular; we can have a life of celebration and joy, knowing that in Christ, God's grace not only allows us to know forgiveness, liberating us from the power of sin, but causes us to experience the Spirit's presence in the day to day of our ordinary lives.  Call it the "spirituality of the ordinary" or the Lordship of Christ over all aspects of life, but Jubilee - not unlike the cultural shalom promised in the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 --  invites us to a wholistic faith, based on God's own promises to restore and make new all of the good but fallen creation. This was the theme of Jesus' first sermon, you know (Luke 4.) The upside down logo and slogan this year shouted that "this changes everything!"  And, indeed, it does!

There are always lots of authors at Jubilee, whose books we celebrate, and many of the workshop leaders and seminar speakers who are not authors recommended books to their listeners. From books on science and engineering to theater and the arts, from criminal justice to special education, nursing, counseling, math, business, computer science, environmental studies, social work, politics, media studies, we sold a lot of books  to these idealist young adults. Hours and hours we talked with students. 

You should be glad, too: it is from the learning and inspiration that goes on in these generative conversations and relationships that faith development deepens and matures. Look at it this way: these are the school teachers and engineers and judges and TV show script writers and drug manufacturers and shop-keepers and public servants and journalists and doctors you will be interacting with over the next decades.  Aren't you glad that young Christians are learning to relate their faith to their careers and callings? That they will become people of character, integrity, principle and kindness, and that in these ways they will be bringing stabilizing, leavening influence into the very places you and your children will inhabit in the decades to come?  This, dear readers, is momentous. (And a good reason to financially support the good work of the CCO, by the way.)

This is a slow cook reformation we are a part of, selling our books in venues like this, where research can be done about how the brokenness and dysfunction and idols and injustices in various spheres of society can be slowly overturned in our lifetimes. Thanks be to God for these young students who may not necessarily feel called to church ministry or the mission field, but will nonetheless be vehicles of the reign of God as they are scattered across the vocations and professional associations of this land. 


Here is a promo video that helped recruit students to attend this event. Watch it now, and make a mental note to look for next year's promotional material and then spread the word to college age folks you know. 

Here is a quick highlight video with a montage of scenes from Jubilee 2015.  It's fun.

Here is a link to the conference program book. There are good articles by James K.A. creation is a manifesto.jpgSmith, Skye Jethani, Vincent Bacote and Diane Paddison, a significant book list Beth and I curated, and a bunch of ads from innovative mission and educational organizations. Not to mention descriptions of all the speakers and workshops.  It's really worth seeing.  And do notice that book list - good stuff, in several key categories.

all things new from J program.jpg

Here is a link to the adult, pre-conference called Jubilee Professional. Again, it is a remarkable gathering, and we are grateful to get to speak there each year. Maybe you and some of your colleagues might consider attending next year.

Watch this video, winner of the High Calling short video contest held at Jubilee. This year the winner was a Purdue engineering student, telling how "engineers are makers." Wow.  

Here is the video of last year's winner of the High Calling Jubilee video contest. It is a wonderful look at a student's desire to be a rancher on a working farm. Thanks be to God for this!

Here is a long, breathy article I wrote last year telling about our launch of Steve Garber's important book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $17.00) at Jubilee 2014 and about Steve's many connections to the themes and leaders that were at the conference last year. If you like Steve's book, or you appreciate our work here, I'd commend this to you as it suggests some of our deepest loyalties and our appreciation of the stuff Steve, his book, and the Jubilee folks are reaching for. I know, it's long.  Enjoy.

Here is a previous, older BookNotes sale offer, reviewing the conference and listing books we sold two years ago. It reminds you of the big themes of Jubilee and the kinds of books we sell. Pretty interesting,no?  You just don't see this spread of titles most places. If anywhere.  Sorry to brag a little...

Here is a passionate piece I wrote, "3 Take-aways From Jubilee" (2012) where I work up a head of steam talking about the significance of these themes and the implications of the Jubilee vision for all of us. There's an epic book list, too, for you biblio geeks.

Byron and Michael Thornhill.jpg

A very special thanks to emcees Michael Chen and Michael Thornhill for helping me do the book announcements.



For random reasons only known by our accounting firm -- wait a minute, we don't have an accounting firm. So, for reasons perhaps known by no one, here are some great titles we want to blow out the door, so we're selling them at holiday door-busting savings, even below our cost.  This post-Jubilee inventory clearance sale is for a limited time only, a quick chance to get big savings, while supplies last. Do this, and we will be grateful: if you buy a bunch, we free up some space underfoot. Even the office dog, Rory the Bichon Frise, will be happy.

Here's the deal. 

DISCOUNT LEVEL  A:   Buy any array of 5 or fewer -- get them at 30% off.

DISCOUNT LEVEL  B:   Buy any array of 6 or more -- get them at 50% off.

DISCOUNT LEVEL  C:   Buy any array of 10 or more -- get them at 55% off.

This offer is good for just 5 days.  It expires March 9, 2015 at midnight.   While supplies last.


Anyone who buys books during this sale will get a free book (of our choice.) We'll throw in something good absolutely free, to express our gratitude for your support.  Enjoy!


We will continue to stock all these books, of course, so we will then offer them at our more customary 20% off for BookNotes readers.

We show by the title the regular retail price. 

We will then deduct either 30% or 50% or 55% off, depending on your discount level. We'll do the math, you get the savings.

Deepening the Colors- Life Inside the Story of God .jpgDeepening the Colors: Life Inside the Story of God  Syd Hielema (Dordt College Press) $14.00  This is one of the best books I've read in a while that invites us, with clarity, whimsy, and a substantial theology (influenced, it seems, by the Dutch neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper) into a meaningful life in God Kingdom. This beautifully explores basic Christian living, finding one's identity, and taking up one's days as part of the grand redemptive story of the Bible. The Bible reveals God to us, and in Christ, we come to know ourselves, our direction, and a deeper (more colorful) view of life itself.  This is really good, useful for teens, young adults, or anyone wanting a richer, more vibrant life picture, seeing the relationship between faith and life. I'm a big fan of this new book and invite you to form a book club around this, give a few away, and help us spread the news. Hielema has gifted us with a great, useful book!

Christian Worldview - A Students Guide .jpgChristian Worldview:  A Student's Guide Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway) $11.99  This is the most succinct but still substantive exploration of what we mean by a Christian worldview, and how the major themes of the Biblical narrative - a good creation, a wrecked creation, a redeemed creation - can color and shape how we think about life and how our discipleship can naturally be lived out in all the various aspects of life and culture.  Look: if you have never read any book on this, why not try this one? If you do know this material, you will realize how vital it can be, and you could pass a few of these on to those whose faith is constricted or truncated or needlessly grumpy.  Ryken is the very literate and astute President of Wheaton College, and we are glad to promote this fine, small work.

philosophy a student's guide.jpgPhilosophy: A Student's Guide David Naugle (Crossway) $11.99  This is another in the great little series called "Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition" (which includes titles, which we had at Jubilee, on the liberal arts, on psychology, ethics, the arts, politics, the natural sciences, all quite nice.) This one, you should know, is a personal favorite, and it is featured at Jubilee out of our conviction that if one wants to think well about anything, it pays to know a little about basic philosophy.  No one does this big job as well as our friend Davey Naugle, who teaches at Dallas Baptist University. He has spoken in other years at Jubilee, and we tried to promote this little volume this year, too.  Don't be scared away: it is not too obscure, and it is truly beneficial. Naugle is the author of the magisterial book Worldview: The History of a Concept and the all-together wonderful, must-read Reordered Love, Reordered Lives. Start with this short, informed, provocative one in the "students guide" series.

rumors of god - tyson.jpgRumors of God: Experience the Kind of Faith You've Only Heard About Jon Tyson & Darren Whitehead (Nelson) $15.99 Between Beth and I we have been to every Jubilee since the founding of the conference in the late 70s and have heard most of the major addresses there.  After Tyson's 2015 Saturday night talk, I exclaimed that this was the best one-time presentation that explains the theological overview of Jubilee in the history of the conference. With his clear-headed, no-nonsense style, it wasn't, perhaps, the most passionate or the funniest or the most immediately stunning. But, it was exceptionally well received and I think both students and old-timers new this was as historic moment. With tears running down my cheeks I joined others in the holy applause. Faith does relate to all of life, and the lack of a robust vision based on the Biblical scope of Christ's redemption will continue to haunt us if we don't grasp these bigger, transforming truths. I've been a fan of Tyson and his Trinity Grace church work in New York. His Aussie accent is cool, too.  This is his only book, a wonderful overview of Christian faith made real for today. The video of the Jubilee talk will be up at the Jubilee website before too long, I trust, and that content isn't exactly spelled out simply in this volume. But this is a great, great book, and we were happy to promote it at Jubilee.  

Here is what Shauna Niequist said about it:

Darren and Jon invite us into a hopeful, exciting way of looking at both the world and the church. I was captured by their stories of what's happening all around us and also their dreams of what could be. I have little interest in reading an account of what is wrong with the world or what is wrong with the church, but in this book, I've been inspired and energized by what's right with both. With a passion and wisdom, Darren and Jon are guiding us to a better future.

disunity in christ.jpgDisunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart Christena Cleveland (IVP) $16.00 CCO has long been committed to working on issues of racial reconciliation. Tom Skinner gave a life-changing call to racial justice in the mid-70s that remains one of the decisive moments in my own life, and John Perkins has been a regular at Jubilee in the subsequent 30 years.  After Ferguson, etc. it was very important that the sadnesses and injustices and confusions about race be dealt with in a straight forward, non-ideological way. Christena Cleveland is a black sociologist at an evangelical college, charming and kind, upbeat and winsome. And she knows her stuff, as a professional who has done research and who has thought hard about how evangelical faith can shape and inform her own work in cross cultural communication theory. She did a very good, but - I think more importantly - her book is absolutely excellent. It is a major resource, and we very highly recommend it.  This explores a variety of things that hurt efforts for church unity - gender, class, theology - and offers very practical insights about engaging in better communication and conflict resolution.  Jubilee was delighted to host Dr. Cleveland, and we are happy to continue to promote her wonderful book.

long obedience.jpgA Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society Eugene Peterson (IVP) $16.00  I hope you know that we esteem Gene Peterson as one of the great writers of our time, and that we commend all of his many  books. He has always proclaimed and exegeted a down-to-Earth, practical faith, drawing on the likes  of the Hopkin's poem that reminds us that "Christ plays in 10,000 places" or G.K. Chesterton's phrase "earth and altar."  Yes, daily life and worship go together. Faith and work go together; personal prayer and public policy are somehow related.  Our culture, and often, our churches, don't help us see this, so we need help.  Pastor Peterson's eloquent ruminations on the Psalms of Ascent in this early work of his remains one of his most popular and respected books.  If you haven't read this, you owe it to yourself. I was delighted to promote it from the main stage at Jubilee, and introduce Peterson to a new generation of young readers

following jesus n.jpgFollowing Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $14.00  Of course we had most of Tom Wright's important books on display at Jubilee. I wish folks knew this one as it is just lovely. Here, he offers insights about daily Christian living by way of showing how Christ is perceived in different New Testament texts, from the gospel through many of the epistles. Each chapter is meaty, but not too difficult, and makes a great small group study. We have celebrated all of these older Eerdmans titles by Wright, and the new covers they got last year. We sold a handful of most of them, but this one deserves a special shout out.

just mercy.jpgJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau) $28.00 I raved about this serious book when it first came out this fall, took it too a few conferences where I routinely said it was one of the most gripping and page-turning books I've ever read. I sometimes noted that -- even though he is now famous, reviewed in the national press, on NPR, having done impressive TED talks and such, we first met Bryan a number of years ago when our friend Tony Campolo suggested him as a speaker for Jubilee.  Stevenson's eloquent, passionate presentation about racial injustices in the racially-tainted systems of criminal justice, and his concerns about what has become known as mass incarceration, was game-changing for some of us. His story of graduating from a small Christian college and then from Harvard Law School  and then serving in a small, non-profit legal aid clinic was inspiring to young students wondering how their own callings and careers might develop.  Now that his book is out, on a prestigious publishing house, we can be very, very grateful.  We of course had a big stack of these at Jubilee, and I only wish I could have talked to more students about his own Jubilee connections.  One of the most urgent books of our time, by a real-life Atticus Finch.

journey w taking.jpgA Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World Charles Drew (P&R) $12.99  We have a small handful of books on our shelf about vocation and calling. There is the classic The Call by the always elegant and eloquent Os Guinness. There are more detailed theological studies and there are more practical self-assessment tools.  And then there are any number (post-Purpose Driven Life type titles, I call them) inviting us to life large and find our sweet spot in God's world.  This, quite simply, is the best of all of these, bringing together the broad Biblical themes with more clarity and nuance than any other, and the essential, life-giving doctrines of vocation. Grace-filled, passionate, but not overstated, this is solid, helpful, a must read for anyone interested in these themes, and certainly for any curious young adult wondering about her calling.

imagination redeemed.jpgImagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind Gene Edward Veith & Matthew P. Ristuccia (Crossway) $16.99  When one starts to think about the imagination, one necessarily starts to consider the field of aesthetics. You may know that we think the serious philosopher Calvin Seerveld is, by far, the most astute and important scholar in the field. But this accessible book is a real delight, upbeat, informative, challenging. There is a study of imaginative themes in the book of Daniel in each chapter, too, which works well as a Biblically-based sort of case study. David Kim (who did a keynote at Jubilee Professional and a workshop at Jubilee) writes of it, "Through their seasoned pastoral and scholarly gifts, Veith and Ristuccia have done the church an incredible service in lifting up the critical role of the imagination in the Christian life." Heavy weight British composer and writer (Resounding Truth may be the best serious book on a Christian philosophy of music) says "it deserves to be widely read." Agreed.

joy to the world greg forster.jpgJoy To The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin to Rebuild It Greg Forster (Crossway) $18.99  Forster was a keynote presenter at the adult pre-conference, Jubilee Professional, and did a smaller workshop for students the next day.  He is a mature, sophisticated and nuanced scholar, with a PhD from Yale. He is program director at the Kern Family Foundation (and has done innovative work, which I appreciate greatly, about educational choice policies, by the way.) While this book tilts to a conventional, classic conservatism that may raise the eyebrows of some progressive friends, I think it is a marvelous, provocative, challenging, interesting read. He happily draws on lines from the beloved "Joy to the World" hymn and explores the implications of some of our most cherished but undeveloped phrases.  Does sin really distort and damage "far as the curse is found"? Does redemption really bring freedom and hope that far, as well?  I named this as one of the Best Books of 2014 and we're glad to offer it here, now.  Who doesn't want a way out of the culture wars based on joy and deep faith, not mere ideology? Who doesn't want a better alternative then the dead ends of the typical left and right-wing models?  Our friend Amy Sherman (Kingdom Callings) is right when she says,

Forster's deft grasp of history, philosophy, and theology enables him to offer up this rigorous yet accessible book. He offers rich, unique insights into the story of how Christians lost their civilizational influence.

Tim Keller, in his very good foreword, is getting at something important when he says of it,

Greg Forster's new book does a marvelous job of showing us a way forward that fits in with Paul's basic stance - not just preaching at people, but not hiding or withdrawing, either. Within these pages, believers will get lots of ideas about how to "reason" with people in the public square about the faith and how to engage culture in a way that avoids triumphalism, accommodation, or withdrawal. Paul felt real revulsion at the idolatry of Athens - yet that didn't prevent him from responding to the pagan philosophers with love and respect, plus a steely insistence on being heard. This book will help you respond to our cultural moment in the same way.

breaking old rhythms.jpgBreaking Old Rhythms: Answering the Call to a Creative God Amena Brown (IVP) $15.00 If you watched the little video montage above, the Jubilee 2015 highlights reel, you'll have heard Amena's strong black voice at the start, a hip hop poet doing her spoken word reading of Genesis one (and, wow, did she take off from there!) This book includes some of her amazing spoken word poetry, and great chapters ruminating on it all. A wonderfully fresh, inspiring book pointing us all to a more vibrant, alive, creative faith. Looooove it.  Glad to cross paths with Amena and her DJ hubby again.

Here is a great video sample of her work (which you could use) somewhat like one she did at Jubilee.  Nice.

Yeah, she did this at Jubilee. So good! Watch it!

Just for fun, here is a live piece she did at a mom's conference a while back -- beautiful! They crowd loved it, too.

Now you can see why we so regularly promote this fine book. Buy Breaking Old Rhythms now while we still have some left at these good prices.

Love_Does_240_360_Book.625.cover_-196x300.jpgLove Does: Discovering a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World Bob Goff (Nelson) $16.99 It is not common to run out of a Jubilee book - we bring a ton! But we sold out of Goff's upbeat classic. Students loved his fun stories, his funny style, his simple truths. We don't have to judge or demean anybody. We can love all. We can do this. We have this back in stock, so you might want to buy a bunch now at this great discounted price. You won't regret it. Although it may cause you to become a bit more fun and a bit more happy and that just might raise some eyebrows around you.  We dare ya. Do it.  By the way, the Love Does DVD curriculum he does is pretty great, too.

Here is a four minute video trailer of Bob talking about the book. I am sure you'll enjoy it.  Don't miss it.

Pray for (or donate to) his work starting orphanages and schools in Mogadishu, Somalia and ISIS territory in Iraq, and his beloved Uganda, where he happens to have been given the cool job of being the Ugandan Consulate in the US. (Yep, his house in California actually is legal, Ugandan territory. I don't even want to know how his diplomatic immunity effects his parking ticket situation.) Check out Restore International which he founded in 2012 which works in India, Nepal, Uganda, Somalia and Iraq. His team just keeps doing amazing work, with great joy.

Overrated- Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World.jpgOverrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? Eugene Cho (David C.Cook) $15.99  I promoted this from the main stage near the end of Jubilee, reminding students that the conference vision now had to be embodied and lived out, in faithful, ordinary ways. When I first read this I could hardly put it down, and could hardly stop grinning, so glad to hear an evangelical leader say this mature, wise, honest stuff about the recent rhetoric about changing the world, transforming the culture, serving the poor, et cetera, et cetera. We happily sold a number of these, and have some more for you now. While supplies last -- it's a good one, by a guy I really respect.  Jubilee 2016, perhaps?? 

Welcome to the Revolution- A Field Guide for New Believers.jpgWelcome to the Revolution: A Field Guide for New Believers Brian Tome (Nelson) $12.99  There are oodles of books for new believers, seekers drawn to the church for the first time, the newly committed or newly baptized. Some are very brief, some more heady. This may not be for everyone, but for a feisty young adult who wants to get grounded in a faith community with a missional vision, and be enfolding into a community to learn the ropes of gracie-filled discipleship, it is our best choice.  I give it a shout out every year at Jubilee -- Brian Tome, you should thank me for putting shoes on your kids feet -- and many have been inspired by his upbeat tone, reminding readers of helpful, basic stuff (how to pray, why to read the Bible, the importance of church) in a way that does feel like a welcome to a world-rocking revolution.

abraham-kuyper-short-personal-introduction-richard-j-mouw-paperback-cover-art.jpgAbraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction Richard J. Mouw (Eerdmans) $16.00  I know my regular references about Kuyper sound a bit odd to some, but he was a major church leader, writer, pastor, and eventually the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and really important in come circles. For instance, he was a great influence over the Christian Reformed Church (you may know their well-respected Calvin Institute on Christian Worship, or Calvin College's beloved Festival of Faith and Writing or Festival of Faith and Music, each which bears a uniquely Kuyperian tone.)

AKs name should be as known as Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Francis, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, Neibuhr.  His claim that Christ is even now reclaiming "every square inch" of the beloved, if damaged, creation, has inspired all manner of unique, faith-based initiatives, from early voices in the faith/science conversation, a Christian Democratic political party in Holland to an alternative labor union in Canada; from the philosophically-oriented graduate school, the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, to the reasonable, public-square work of Cardus and their must-read Comment magazine.  Perhaps you have read Andy Crouch's great Christianity Today review of the For the Life of the World DVDs that we have so promoted; although the DVD title comes from a book by Alexander Schmemann, a Russian Orthodox scholar, its Kuyperian imprint is so clear that Andy called his rave review "Kuyper Goes Pop." (And yes, Evan Koons wears a Kuyper tee shirt in one of the episodes! And, yes, he was at Jubilee. More on that, perhaps, later.) Dr. Kuyper has been an influence on the CCO and upon Jubilee from the beginning, (not to mention on other conferences like Q or the Redeemer CFW events.) In this very interesting little volume, the former President of Fuller Theological Seminary briefly explains in simple prose just who this guy was, and why his insights matter today for those of us that care about the common good, and faith-based human flourishing.  I wish this book would sell more at Jubilee.  Why don't you buy some now, and help us make this old Dutchman and his fresh ideas a bit more known in our time? (By the way, for the record, we have a number of Kuyper works in stock, and the large, definitive and highly regarded 2014 biography of him by James Bratt. Here I mention a few, after the cool picture of me and Michael Card.)

Jesus on Every Page- 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament .jpgJesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament David Murray (Nelson) $16.99 I highlighted a handful of books about how to read the Bible well, and had long conversations about how to handle the quandaries and confusions about the Bible (obviously, questions about the violence in many of the stories always comes up.) This book offers ten different strategies for reading the Older Testament well, with various ways to see the inter-connections within the canon, the relationship of the Old and New Testaments, and how a sane, Christo-centric approach can help.  I think there is a lot in this book that is very useful, and even if one isn't convinced at every turn, we're happy to recommend it as a good guide to a covenantal reading of Scripture.

liberating image.jpgThe Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 J. Richard Middleton (Brazos Press) $27.00 Richard rocked Jubilee Sunday morning with a Biblical studies talk based on his new A New Heavens and a New Earth, which I have rave about over and over. I'm also glad we sold some of his early co-authored books, books very, very deeply important to me, The Transforming Vision and Truth Is Stranger Than it Used to Be. But this one, a scholarly study of what it actually means to say we are made in the image and likeness of God, is not as well known, but, for those who study this topic, it is considered a seminal masterpiece.  Walter Brueggemann has suggested it is one of the most important books ever written on the subject. I certainly think pastors, theologians, and  every serious Bible scholar should own it, and I think its weighty, vast implications simply must be grappled with. We're happy to sell it at these sale prices now. We are grateful for the chance to remind you of it now.

new heavens and new earth.jpgA New Heavens and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology  J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic) $26.99 Of course, as I mentioned, Richard gave a meaty, mature message on Sunday morning, and it brought the conference's structure -- keynote talks on the goodness and potentiality of creation, the seriousness and wide-ranging impact of the fall, the decisive redemption bought by Jesus in His death and resurrection, and the promised hope of full-orbed restoration -- to a beautiful, coherent finale. I named this book as one of the Best of 2014, and did a long BookNotes review, here. (You can see Richard's own rumination and summary of his talk at his fascinating Creation to Eschaton blog.)  You can get this book at our clearance sale price, the best anywhere.  Do it now, because, unlike God's good, restored creation, this deal does not last forever.



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March 1, 2015

SPECIAL SALE - God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent & Easter by Pennoyer & Wolfe

God for Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter  edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press) $29.99

SPECIAL SALE PRICE - 30% OFF - OUR PRICE $21.00 while supplies last

In December of last year we did a review of the wonderful Advent book God With UsGod-with-Us-9781557255419.jpg and it became our biggest selling item during Advent.  We have raved each year about the very handsome, artful, mature volume, and said important about it was that it "emerged from the mature writing in the pages of our best literary journal, Image, a sophisticated, faith-based quarterly of literature and art and criticism; Pennoyer & Wolfe are extraordinary thinkers and writers themselves, and have put together what is without a doubt one of the most glorious books you could own. (Except, perhaps for the long-awaiting, luxurious sequel, God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter which Paraclete released this past Spring..."

god-for-us-rediscovering-the-meaning-of-lent-and-easter-7.jpgWell, it is now Lent and we simply must remind you of this full color volume, the Lenten sequel to God With Us, called God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter with its glossy pages, breathtaking artwork, and very good writers offering what may be the nicest book for Lent and Easter of which we know.

The introduction to this slightly oversized book is by the respected Catholic writer about spiritual formation, Rev. Ronald Rolheiser (author of the exceptionally good Holy Longing and more recent Sacred Fire.)  One could hardly ask for a better preamble to this season, and I suspect it will be read and re-read often through weeks ahead. I actually enjoyed quite a bit the next essay by Beth Bevis ("The Feasts and Fasts of Lent") which is very helpful for those less familiar with the historic spiritual rhymes of this time of the church year.

Each of the following weeks offers short daily meditations by one author (accompanied by excellent artwork, classic and contemporary, which enhances the readings and prayers in intangible, exceptional ways.) The first week's worth of meditations and prayers are by the popular activist Richard Rohr. The great writer (and now Episcopal priest) Lauren Lauren Winner offers the next week's reflections, followed by a week's worth of meditations by the Orthodox poet Scott Cairns. Next we read the work of the Dordt College prof, novelist and short story author James Schaap. The entries for the fifth Week of Lent are by the beloved poet Luci Shaw. The remarkable Holy Week reflections are by none other than Kathleen Norris, author of so many moving memoirs about her own faith journey, including her time as a Protestant living among cloister nuns. 

An additional feature, besides extra touches like the deep purple end pages and ribbontintoretto-supper-in-house-of-simon-the-pharisee-where-woman-sinner-mary-magdalene-anoints-feet-of-christ.jpg marker, includes very nice short pieces on the history of various customs and Feast Days within the time of Lent. Beth Bevis offers more than a dozen of these extra one page ruminations that are delightful and inspiring, perhaps especially for those of us not accustomed to thinking much about Shrove Tuesday, the Annunciation, Maundy Thursday or Holy Saturday.

Like the Advent one, God With Us brings to us some of the finest writers of our time, ecumenical, clear, artful. We are very grateful for Image and Paraclete Press for this fine release.

Here is an interview with James Schaap writing about the season of Lent, the title and message of the God for Usgaugin-christ in.jpg book.  Here you can read an interview about it with poet and spiritual writer Scot Cairns. And don't miss this interview with Luci Shaw about her role in God for Us as well.

As I noted in our announcement of the book's release last year in BookNotes, "they insist that Lent is not "a time of vaguely spiritualized gloominess" and who better to help us realize the "bright sadness" of Lent than good poets and deep thinkers and those gifted with artful skills of offering rich and evocative meditations on the Bible?  

What an absolutely great gathering of perspectives, from an a Orthodox poet to a Presbyterian contemplative, Catholic mystics, an Episcopalian priest and writer, a Dutch Reformed short story writer and a scholar of Victorian literature.  And dear, beloved Luci Shaw -- oh how her work thrills us!  There is art and iconography aplenty, useful for lectio vizio, and delight.  

On the back cover it says "Lent and Easter reveal the God who is for us in all of life - for our liberation, for our healing, for our wholeness. Lent and Easter reminds us that even in death there can be found resurrection.



God for Us: Rediscovering the
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February 24, 2015

You are invited to hear (or order an autographed book by) David Naugle, author of "Reordered Love, Reordered Lives" speaking Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Sponsored by Hearts & Minds, Dallastown PA


Beth and I are exhausted from the last weeks of heavy planning, prepping, packing and setting up our gigantic book display at the truly extraordinary Jubilee conference.  Each February I write passionately about it, and will again soon.  After the actual Pittsburgh event -- with 3000 college students, hearing about the call to evangelical, gospel-centered cultural renewal, the Biblical story of the restoration of creation, and the invitation to true spirituality, finding God in our callings as we serve Christ's reign in all areas of life -- we bring back the rented truck, still half full from unsold books, supplies, and bushels of paperwork, not to mention exquisite, lasting memories. More on all of that later (including a big sale on some Jubilee-ish books.) But first...


an evening with david naugle.jpgOur weariness is tempered by our great enthusiasm for our next little project: hosting a visitor to Dallastown from Dallas, Texas.  Dr. David K. Naugle will join us this coming Tuesday, March 3rd at 7:00 PM.  Davey, as he likes to be called, is an esteemed author and a good friend and a great guy. He has, by the way, spoken at Jubilee.

His first book is very important -- the only book of its kind -- a big, fat overview of how the word "worldview" has come to be used, and its linguistic genealogy. Who introduced this mysterious and potent word to the English language, and how did certain sorts of Christian folks come to appropriate it? From Holland's Abraham Kuyper to Toronto's Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton, fromphilosophy a student's guide.jpgworldview.jpg the Philly born, Swiss Francis Schaeffer to Wheaton-area James Sire, from Scottish James Orr, to American Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey to so many more, the word has been used, mis-used, abused, tweaked and written about, celebrated and criticized (think of Jamie Smith, just for instance) and Naugle's Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans; $34.00) tells you all you need to know, and more. It is fascinating, a major contribution to Christian and Reformed cultural studies, and we are, as you might guess, true fans.

He also has written Philosophy: A Students Guide (Crossway; $11.99) which is a nice little book in the brief, but serious series series for students called "Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition" published by Crossway. (See the whole series, here.) Naugle's is obviously on philosophy (which is what he teaches at Dallas Baptist University) and is one of the best in the set.  It is, in my view, the best very brief introduction to why philosophy is important for Christian thinkers, and a fine proposal for what it means to develop a uniquely Christian philosophy.  Philosophy, in a way, is more fundamental and basic than theology, and the need for foundational Christian rumination on philosophical subjects should precede (some would say) serious work in theology. Anyway, it's a lovely little book, making a fine and helpful argument for a distinctively Christian mind, informed and strengthened by a faithful and intentionally integrated Christian philosophy.


reordered love.jpgAlthough we value these two other books books of Dr. Naugle, and commend them with great gusto any time we can, these are not what Davey will talk about when he visits with us on Tuesday.  He will be talking about his most general book, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans; $18.00.) It is a mature and thoughtful book to be appreciated by any educated Christian reader, or anyone who seeks a deep and good life. As the subtitle suggests, it is a book about being happy. It promises to unlock the deep meaning of happiness.  

It really is one of our favorite books, and we are delighted that Davey can be with us to share a bit about it.

If you are anywhere near Central Pennsylvania you are very warmly invited (no pun intended: we'll make sure it is plenty toasty if you come) to join us to hear a brief presentation by Dr. Naugle (held near the shop at Living Word Community Church) and then to listen in on a conversation between him and me. I'll interview him a bit, and then we'll have plenty of time for questions and replies. It will be a fun and inspiring evening, I'm sure. Naugle is a great communicator and a good teacher and a really pleasant, joyful leader. Just listen to what Steve Garber (of Visions of Vocation fame) says of him, 

I regard David Naugle as one of the most gifted professors in America. Perennially his students learn to think and care about the most important things -- remarkably so, in fact.

Garber continues, "Reordered Love, Reordered Lives allows all of us the grace of learning over his shoulder and through his heart; listening in on the unusual pedagogy that is uniquely his. Amazingly wise, incredibly well-read, he is always attentive to what matters most, and his book should find its way into hearts and minds, courses and colleges, far and wide."

Listen to what James K.A. Smith, author of Desiring the Kingdom writes of it:

We Protestants tend to have hang-ups about happiness. We know God wants us to be good, but we're not sure whether he wants us to be happy. David Naugle obliterates this dichotomy. With the clarity and wisdom of a master teacher, Naugle invites us to become everyday philosophers in pursuit of the good life. And with the help of a range of voices -- Gerard Manley Hopkins to Stephen Colbert, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Johnny Cash - he accomplishes a veritable coup d'etat, showing that a fourth-century African bishop has life-shaping insights for an iPod generation. This book is a winsome invitation to rethink discipleship, whether your 17 or 70.

The African bishop he refers to, of course, is one of the most famous Christian thinkers, writers, andThe-Confesssions-of-St.-Augustine.jpg leaders in all of church history, beloved (mostly) by Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox alike, Saint Augustine of Hippo.  

Augustine once quipped that if one wants to really know a person, don't ask what he believes. Ask what he loves.  What a person loves, you see, what he or she desires, is what is most fundamental and will shape them profoundly.  As Smith himself has shown in recent books, we humans are not primarily, firstly thinkers, but lovers. God made us to love, to worship, to serve, and while we of course need to think well and rightly, having the right ideas (even the right theological ideas) simply will not fundamentally change our lives. We are oriented and pushed along by desire. We want what we want.

And so, dear friends, come out and join us (or tell others, if you can't make it) to hear this fine author reflect a little on this extraordinary book, a book about our loves. Loving the right thing in the right way is the key to faithful Christian living, and the key to happiness. We must (as Os Guinness writes in his rave review) "disentangle the true longings of our hearts from the false seductions of our culture."  It isn't easy, but it is fascinating, and vital. This book can help.


As the poster shows, we will again partner with our friends at Living Word Community Church to host Dr. Naugle, so join us there (2530 Cape Horn Road, Red Lion, PA) at 7:00 PM.  Some of our very good friends who are staff members there (Brian Rice, Aaron Kunce, Gordon Carpenter) adore this book and are eager to have their own young singles group (meeting as Liquid Tuesday) hear more about it. So we are sneaking in on their weekly Liquid Tuesday gathering as they willingly yield their regularly scheduled program to us. There will be some opening worship music (loud, no doubt) and then the Hearts & Minds Naugle talk and discussion. We'll have refreshments, we'll have books for sale, and a good time will be had by all.  I trust that we all shall grow a bit in faithful happiness. 

Davy Naugle poster.jpg

Sponsored by Hearts & Minds / Hosted nearby at Living Word Community Church, 2530 Cape Horn Road, Red Lion, PA

Love, virtue, character formation, spirituality, desire, relationships, nature, worldview, justice, pop culture, discipleship, church history, Biblical studies, a touch of continental Dutch philosophy and some US rock and roll.  Did I mention love? Naugle brings it all together.  This is a truly great book, and it will be a very good evening.  Join us, please, and help us spread the word.

If you would like to order the book, we have it at our customary 20% off for mail-order BookNotes readers. Here is a BookNotes review I did of it a few years back. If you want an autographed copy, we can send it after the event.  Just tell us if you just want it signed, or if you wanted it inscribed to someone special.  We're happy to try to make that happen.



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February 14, 2015

FOUR BOOKS ABOUT PLEASURE: "From Tablet to Table" (Leonard Sweet), "The Things of Earth" (Joe Rigney), "Becoming Worldly Saints" (Michael Wittmer), and "Pure Pleasure" (Gary Thomas) ON SALE 20% OFF

Although I despise the perversions and violence against women that pornography embodies, and Ireal sex lw.jpg have no interest in finding anything redemptive about the Fifty Shades books and movie, I have been asked by a few customers to write about sexuality, or at least to write about books about sexuality.  We've done that before, and we have a wide and hearty selection here at the shop, from a wide spectrum of views within the church universal. We still think Lauren Winner's Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity (Brazos Books; $14.99) is a must read.  We just got in Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity by Dianna E. Anderson (Jericho Books; $18.00) a book that is complicated -- I really, really appreciate much of it. She shows the troubling consequences and even weirdness of some of the evangelical fetish about sexual purity, what with the daddy daughter dances and  sexual purity rings given to tweeners and tedious courtship rituals and gender assumptions and a whole ton of shame.  But, I also think some of it seems  pretty muddled, perhaps the proverbial pendulum swinging a bit in over-reaction... Of course, there are some progressive Christian feminists who are fairly conventional indamaged goods.jpg terms of normative Christian sexual ethics, so it certainly needn't be a black and white binary in being either fundamentalist and misogynist or progressive and sexually healthy, even though any number of recent books by former evangelicals seem to have that caricatured and tone.  Anyway, there are great books and fascinating books and candid books and, yes, some weird ones out there.  I think Damaged Goods is worth reading carefully, even though most evangelicals will think she's a bit too casual, now.

One of the things that comes up in this book, and others, is the matter of pleasure.  Do conservative religious traditions set out to stamp out pleasure?  That's the real topic I'd like to tell you about, and I'll (eventually) describe four books that approach this wonderfully. Three are brand new; one is older, but so very nice. I don't know if this is some of what underlies the discussion about Shades of Grey...  I am staying out of that for now, as so much ink has already been spilled.  There have been fifty shades of reviews, and I haven't read the books nor will I see the film, so I'm leaving it to other, wiser voices. 

But I do gather that some religious folks are being portrayed as kill joys.  We just stymie life's pleasures, zapping enjoyment, resisting fun. Girls just want to have fun, after all; daddy is such a drag. Poor Lou Albano, who plays the clueless, uptight father in the classic video. When I hear that fun song by Cyndi Lauper -- especially the all-acoustic one with a Caribbean rapper from The Body Electric -- I almost believe it.

But no.  There has been a large and robust tradition within the historic Christian tradition that does not hate the body, that does not hate the created order, that certainly does not court pain for its own good -- those guys who beat themselves in the Middle Ages (or the guy in Orphan Black) have beenTeach us To Want.jpgeve's revenge Barger.jpg considered heterodox, mostly. Lilian Calles Barger, by the way, has written brilliantly as an evangelical feminist on this topic, and how weird views from church and culture have effected women's lives, even women's views of their own bodies. In her Eve's Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body [Brazos Press; $18.00) she studies this thoroughly, and offers a healthy and classic view, sane and good. Christian faith does value great joy, and good pleasures, even bodily pleasures.  You know that C.S. Lewis line: "God must love matter. He made a lot of it."

Last month in BookNotes, I celebrated Teach us To Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel (IVP; $16.00) as one of our favorite books of 2014, naming it one of the best Books of the Year.  It is a beautiful memoir-like reflection about ambition, bring one woman's view, and it comes around to this question over and over.  Is it wrong to want? Is desire necessarily suspect?  It's a fine place to start. 

reordered love.jpg

Along these very lines, we are going to host an evening on March 3rd here in Dallastown with a favorite author of ours, David Naugle, whose profound book Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans; $18.00) is a wonderful, thoughtful rumination on the meaning of true happiness -- which has to do with enjoying things in the right way.  Not unlike Jamie Smith's remarkable recent books (Desiring the Kingdom) there is stuff here about longing, desire, love. It's about being happy, for crying out loud.  The title, Reordered Love, is a great phrase, insightful, itself.  We have to order our loves so that we learn to love the right stuff, the right way.  We can't wait to have him here, sharing with us about this book and how we can, indeed, have re-ordered loves and re-ordered lives. I bet he could tell us a thing or too about what's really going on in the Fifty Shades fiasco.

Okay, sorry for that preamble.

 I was just going to fire off four quick titles to whet your appetite.  I'm packing books and boxes for the big Jubilee conference next week, so have to be quick.  Here we go -- four books to help us ponder pleasure, enjoying life's beauties big and small, the right way, and finding ways to help us do that, and do it well.

Pure Pleasure.jpgPure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good?  Gary Thomas (Zondervan) $14.99  We write about Thomas from time to time here -- in fact, we awarded him a "Book of the Year" award for a recent book he did on marriage, A Lifelong Love.  We love his good books Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting and really appreciate his other books, like Glorious Pursuit about virtue, spiritual formation, and being -- as one of his titles puts it --  Holy Available to God.  He "practices the presence of God" as they say, and has this delightful way of bringing deep stuff from the historic saints and older mystics into very upbeat, popular conversation. In the midst of this fairly heavy stuff about spirituality, spiritual disciplines, being transformed by the gospel and such, he found this other theme -- some believers seem to have this peculiar guilt about pleasure. He's a deeply spiritual guy but he's lighthearted. He's a joy to be around.  Here in Pure Pleasure he offers the power of guilt-free pleasure.  As it say on the back,

Pleasure is a good thing. It s a powerful force that feeds your relationships, helps protect your spiritual integrity, and brings delight to our heavenly Father. Pleasure isn t something Christians should fear, shun, or disparage; it s something we should learn to cultivate in our lives. Acclaimed spiritual growth author Gary Thomas will guide you into this way of life, which is foundational to a healthy relationship with God, with your loved ones, and with the world. He ll show you that, for the redeemed, pleasure can be a powerful and holy force for good, leading to increased worship, spiritual strength, and renewed relationships. In this invigorating and liberating book, Gary Thomas will energize, inspire, equip, and challenge you to experience life as God meant it to be: overflowing with pleasure.

I think Mr. Thomas is really on to something here, and I enjoy his writing a lot.  See what I did there?  Have fun: read about pleasure!  That's a win, win.

The Things of Earth- Treasuring God By Enjoying His Gifts.jpgThe Things of Earth: Treasuring God By Enjoying His Gifts Joe Rigney (Crossway) $16.99  Rigney is a professor of theology and Christian worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, so is affiliated with John Piper, who wrote the great forward to this book. One needn't agree with all of Piper's passionate views to be glad for his regular reminder that we are to make much of God, but we do that -- pleasing God by exalting in Him -- by taking joy in God and in God's provisions for us.  That is, at least, his common grace in the real world.  Piper takes cues from C.S. Lewis, as does Rigney (whose previous book had the great title How To Live Like a Narnian.) It's meaty, hefty stuff, and it's a good counter to some of the goofiness in some religious circles.  I like what Gloria Furman wrote after reading it,

"This book makes me want to watch the Olympics while eating pumpkin crunch cake, rejoicing in the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. But there's a part of me that is a little bit wary. What if my heart gets lost in these things? If you're at all familiar with that hesitation, this book is for you."

This world is full of good things. God made us to posses things, even. You may know that I despise the chorus that says that when Jesus shows up "the things of earth go strangely dim" (I hope that's not true!) but rather -- as another hymn more helpfully reminds us -- "He shines in all that's fair."  Joe RIgney offers a breath of fresh air, here, giving us a serious, Reformed vision of the beauty and goodness of earthly life, and how to glorify God in it all. 

 becoming worldly saints.jpgBecoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?  Michael Wittmer (Zondervan) $15.99  Oh, wow, this is it.  It is the long awaited sequel -- or at least that's how I see it -- to his must-read, really great, gotta have Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God (Zondervan; $16.99.) That book frames all of earthy life and all our various callings and responsibilities in light of the over-arching drama of the Bible, which is to say creation/fall/redemption/restoration.  God made the world really good, it got messed up really badly, Christ's redemption really is cosmic in scope ("far as the curse is found" as the carol puts it) and the promised restoration really is a-coming. God is making "all things renewed" and we're a part of His healing hope, the Kingdom, "on earth as it is in heaven."  Yes, Heaven Is a Place on Earth is a fine, accessible, very valuable book about this whole Kingdom vision thing.  (You bet we'll be talking about it at the Jubilee conference next week, whose 2015 slogan is "this changes everything.")

So, this new book -- Becoming Worldly Saints -- carries out that theme, helping us live it, day by day, inviting us to live with joy, free from guilt, embracing the not-yet-redeemed world.  It is warm and Biblically-rich, and even clever at times.  (So much so, that Al Wolters, author of the seminal Creation Regained -- a heck of a nice guy, but not really known as a comic -- says of Wittmer's book "It made me laugh right out loud. This is popular theology at its best.") Now that's  a back cover blurb for some of us, at least: it made Al Wolter's laugh!

Wittmer, as the ad about it says, "brings your human and Christian lives together." Well, he'd insist they are one in the same, anyway: "when you grasp God's story, you'll understand that not only is it possible to serve Jesus and still enjoy your life, but it's the only way you really can."  I'm telling you, this is a very good book.

I wonder if this book was written somewhat inspired by some of the over-the-top and rather fashionable calls to commitment these days (Radical, perhaps?) Trevin Wax, in a good foreword, writes,

Becoming Worldly Saints conveys truths that are essential for following Christ faithfully. Mike Wittmer doesn't want us to lose sight of the world-affirming aspects of our Christian faith. He doesn't want us to underestimate the power of living an ordinary life of faithful devotion to King Jesus. he doesn't want us to feel false guilt for enjoying the good world God has given us. The truth of eternity doesn't obliterate our earthly experiences; it infuses them with heavenly significance.

Agree or not with all the details, this new Wittmer paperback is a fantastic example of what we're about here at the bookstore. We think books like this can be truly transforming, can be helpful to those who don't quite have an integrated, wholistic view of faith and the everyday. There isn't much mystical or odd here, just good common sense, radically Biblical sense, about God's good world and Christ's redemptive plan of bringing healing and hope to it. N.T. Wright's most recent book is right when it says the Biblical message is Simply Good News and then goes on to say Why It is News and What is Good About It." This vision of being surprised by Kingdom hope informs Wittmer, making this a lively, substantive book, but also a true delight, helpful and wise.  There is a great study guide in the back, making it ideal for book clubs, Bible studies, or adult Sunday school classes.  Hooray!

From Tablet to Table- Where Community Is Found and Identity is Formed.jpgFrom Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity is Formed Leonard Sweet (NavPress) $14.99  Wow, this is a fantastic little book, doing all the things that Sweet at his best always does -- lots of word play, clever sentences, bringing together various insights in surprising ways. He is breathy, upbeat, energetic, confident that he's got something that can change the world. I love authors like this, who believe in what they are saying, and put themselves into it. Sweet is -- postmodern semiotic scholar that he is -- it seems to me, at heart, still a holiness preacher. (The book is dedicated to his friends Bill and Gloria Gaither!) He reads The New York Review of Books and names all kinds of innovative technologies and futuristic potentials  -- for a while he branded himself as a futurist and consultant helping us "dance the soul salsa" in the "soul tsunami" of the hot-wired 21st century.  The books that are coming out now by any number of young bucks telling churches how to have a better engagement with social media, are merely making practical what Sweet has been saying for decades, now. He's sophisticated in his reading and, as I always say, the footnotes themselves are an education worth the price of the book.

So, Sweet's a bit of a super-techie, hip futurist, and he's a holiness preacher wanting to bring Christ's grace into everything. In recent years (and this isn't surprising, really, if you know him) he has been writing about play (see The Well Played Life, for instance, a fun book I reviewed a while back) and even in a recent book on preaching with a foreboding title (GIving Blood) he reminds us to have great joy in our efforts to communicate the gospel well.  Even the title of his new book on social ethics has a playful zest to it -- From Me to We. Sweet's a man alive, and there is no doubt about that.


So where does he get it? What does he propose in the midst of this fast-paced, digital culture of ours, to find the simple joys of daily life.  How do we do what these books above say -- live life with happy gusto, in and for the world God so loves?  Does he have a proposal or agenda, plans, even, for helping us live into this great and blessed story we've mentioned in the books listed above? Can we receive God's best gifts with great joy?  How?

Well, I'd be wrong to say "it is simple" but this book almost makes it sound that way. He makes the case -- and has amazing statistics to prove it (of course he does; where does he find this stuff?) -- that the simple act of eating together around tables in families is a major indicator of all manner of success in life. The capacity to thrive -- to have a well-played life, to understand "pure pleasure" -- comes from good relationships that are formed by eating together. Eating together at table.

Can a meal change your life?

Yes, says, Sweet. And the Bible seems to say, so, too.

"The story of God is full of references to food. From the Garden of Eden to the Last Supper to the wedding feast of the Lamb, God sets a table before us and invites us to join Him there."  In a way From Tablet to Table is a Biblical study of food, but also of meals and tables.

What happens when we "consume fast food in front of our smart phones"?  Do we engage in mealtimes, and other practices, where we sadly "never face each other, barely acknowledging the existence of one another. We consume bite-size Scriptures and reduce our world so that we can move through it quickly without being distracted by the activities that surround us."

This is a book about paying attention, about paying attention to food and meals and each other.  And to our own place, our neighborhoods. But to do that, we have to, in some ways, put down our ipads and tablets; that is, our fascination with technology. Ahh, the ironies here, of Sweet of all people telling us this! But he has always had a green thumb, interested in quality stuff that tells real stories and a spirituality of joyful appreciation of the stuff of earth.  There is a bit of an irony here since he is certainly no Luddite, but here he does warn us of "tabletizing" things, and, after repenting of that, how to "table-ize" things. Yep, he says that.

Sweet tells a story early in the book that, I gather, propelled him further to write this particular book, and it certainly propelled me to keep reading. He noted that a young fellow, a friend of his daughter, was staying over at their home for a few days. The kid seemed a bit awkward, maybe even a uncomfortable, and Sweet asked his daughter about it. 

"Was it something we did?" he asked.

"Sort of," Soren answered. "He said that he has never eaten with his family at a table, and so he wasn't sure how to act of what to do."


"A Christian teenager, attending a Christian college, had never eaten a home cooked meal at a family table." Interestingly, he notes how shows such as Modern Family rarely show families actually eating together (although, he notes, a show called Blue Bloods does.)  We are in a bit of a cultural crisis here.  The implications -- on physical health, on social bonding, or cultural capital --  are serious. The research shows that the more we eat out, and the less real meals we prepare at home, the worse off we are.

And Jesus comes along and invites us to table.

And that, Sweet shows, shapes our identity. 

This book is just loaded (or should I use a more foody type word, laden?) with great phrases (he talks about the power of story, and invites us to combine narratives and metaphors into narraphors) and colorful paragraphs, flowing into vital ideas to inspire us. For instance, he writes,

The Kingdom of God is not a geographic domain with set boundaries and settled decrees, but a set of relationships in which Christ is sovereign. At the table, Jesus moves us from ideas about life and love to actual living and loving.

Martin Luther was right.  Theology is table talk.

This is all in the first three chapters, the first half which he calls "Table It."

The second half is comprised of three more chapters, entitled "Life's Three Tables."  Here he explores the implications of a table theology and table ethics and "dining demeanor" at home, at church, and in the world.

He invites us to "set the table" in these areas, and gives us stories of what it might look like.  It isn't a heavy study full of vast details (like, say, 
Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by Christopher Smith and John Pattison which is truly a must-read if you have any interest in the intersection of food and church.)  But From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed is an extrapolation of a sermon, and we thing it is well worth reading, maybe with others, hopefully around a table, together.

Here is a brief interview with Sweet by Jonathan Merritt.  Check out the video at the bottom, a 20- minute talk which shares some of his ideas and ways with words.

"Len Sweet is singing a song I love, and he's doing it with intelligence and passion."  

Shauna Niequist, author of Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, with Recipes


"With his reflections on the Lord's table and the dinner table as central for Life and life, Len Sweet draws together heaven and earth in a celebration of the ongoing relationships of love. This is a splendid theology to live by."

Luci Shaw, poet, author of Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey

 becoming worldly saints.jpgThe Things of Earth- Treasuring God By Enjoying His Gifts.jpgPure Pleasure.jpg

From Tablet to Table- Where Community Is Found and Identity is Formed.jpg 

Want to enjoy life more? Read some of these books that authorize us to do all things with and for God, taking delight in the goodness of the good creation.  But learn to practice it, embody it, do it. Walk that talk -- have fun. And that means moving from our tablets a bit, to our tables.  Sweet can help you set the table.  Offer hospitality, be friendly, eat well, throw parties.  



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February 9, 2015

FOUR FANTASTIC BOOKS FOR EARLY FEBRUARY -- Donald Miller, Wendell Berry, Makoto Fujimura, Dallas Willard

We are so happy to be able to tell you about these four books, each brand new, each written with its own sort of elegance and integrity, each profound and good, by authors we respect. We want to commend them to you, all four, even. These are great gifts for us all, and we have them at 20% off for BookNotes readers and friends. (We show the regular retail price but will calculate and deduct the discount when you order.) Just use the link to the order form shown below -- or give us a phone call, if you'd rather. The order form page at our Hearts & Minds website is secure, so you can safely leave your information. Or, just ask us to send a bill and we'll happily do so.  We thank you for your support.  Happy reading.

Scary Close- Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.jpgScary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy  Donald Miller (Nelson) $19.99  I mentioned this new hardback in our last post, the one about the Turansky/Miller parenting books. It seemed to fit, since it includes some very good advice about parenting; this memoir is a lovely story about relationships, the arc of which is mostly about the popular Gen X author of Blue Like Jazz learning to be more authentic and develop skills and habits that would allow him to be more intimate and connected. Yes, it is mostly a love story -- Miller gets engaged and the book tells of his courtship, the ups and downs along the way (and there were some, believe you me.) I really want to remind you how good this is. It's a good sign when I can't stop telling Beth about a book I've finished -- we obviously read a lot, and much of our skimming and studying we don't have to share with one another much. Scary Close, though, is one I just have to keep talking about. She has now started it, but I've read some out aloud to her already. It's that kind of a book. 

There are memorable episodes here (some funny, some stupid, some tragic, some amazingly curious) and good stories and some understated points and a few jokes. There are a few Biblical insights, but the book isn't heavy-handedly religious. There are remarkable mentors that come alongside Donald to help him learn how to be real, how not to be so codependent, how not to be so much of a control freak. Wonderful folks like Mark Foreman, parent of the frontmen of Switchfoot, teach him about family love, about grace and resisting shame, about marriage and parenting. He tells about these conversations he has and they are all interesting. (This is one observation, almost a criticism, though, just a small one, something I experience sometimes when reading these kinds of books: I wonder what kind of lucky people have the very best leaders in the country come alongside them, be their friend, take them to dinner, give them support and advice? After the fifth or sixth really famous person gives Donald good advice I had to -- we're being honest, here, right? -- roll my eyes and get a little jealous. Okay, so you probably are more mature than me and it surely won't ruin the reading or the learning or the fun. But I had to say it. I do my own bit of namedropping, I know, but it is usually authors I saw or maybe briefly met, not those who come over for drinks and take me under their wing and offer tons of free advice.)

These other voices and good conversations maybe don't make the book sound that appealing or fascinating, but it really, really is.  When Miller talks about Bob Goff or that guy who wrote The Shack or "To Write Love On Her Arms" Jamie Tworkowski or describes his stint at a rehab kind of place, or cites psychologist Henry Cloud, it really does bring good insight. These people who figure into the story are some of the most remarkable people he knows, and of course he's going to ask them their secret for good marriages and good families and a healthy approach to career and calling. And it does make the book fun -- he's off at a retreat one minute, writing his next book the next, meeting with a TV star who just had twins the next, and, while planning a wedding with his remarkable bride to be, in pops a person at just the right time to give sage advise or a shoulder to cry on.  And it is really valuable advice. And there really is some reason to cry.  This is, after all, very serious stuff; it is his life!  And yours!

Miller is a brand name in hipster evangelical circles, speaks on the coolest circuit and knows a lot of edgy, engaged people. He lived in Portland, for Pete's sake. He has a soundtrack on-line to listen to along with the book; I doubt if Harper Lee will do that. And he owns a branding business, helping corporations tell a better story, and they rent houses to meet in when throwing splashy conferences. Of course he does. But that hip, upscale lifestyle aside, I love this guy, and love his vulnerability and his simple truths that he well learned. As it asks on the back, "in an age when we all act as our own publicity agents, would he be willing to impress fewer people to honestly connect with more?" (We all act as our own publicity agents? What an odd thing to accuse us all of -- again, this is his world, I guess, a bit bohemian, artistic, entrepreneurial. I don't know how many people really think they need a publicity agent; most people I know think I'm weird because I'm on twitter.) But there it is: can this guy who created this image as an author, speaker, social media player (etcetera) tone it down, learn to be more local, real, honest, and truly connect with people who love him?

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy is a memoir, and it's Miller's story, from his guy point of view. If you like the way this literary autobiographical genre gives you a glimpse into an unfolding life, then you will like this book -- get it on you stack right away. At times, you know, good memoirs feel like a novel, and although this would be a slow, quiet one, it is captivating, truly a tale I couldn't put down.

More than his other books, this is almost like a self-help book. He teaches in it, in his low key way, and he is teaching important stuff about relating well to others, about being a servant, about letting go of ego and control, of dropping the act, as he puts it. He fesses up to being a manipulator and tells us how to resolve the performance anxiety, at least a bit.  

Throughout, he helpfully quotes and explains good authors (Harville Hendrix, Viktor Frankl) and useful books like Safe People and Marley and Me.  (Okay, maybe Marly isn't all that useful, really, but it's wonderful, and he draws from it nicely. Not to mention the great movie We Have a Pope.

There are a few pages that approach the proverbial psychobabble -- did he really not know about co-dependency when he first learned it at the OnSite Workshop and their "centered living" program? Still, this is true, good material, and it touched a pretty deep place in me. Most of us have our issues, regret and sorrow, gladness and joy, foibles and frustrations. Talking about it -- especially for a guy who has written about his lack of a father and the hard stuff of his early childhood -- is scary. But it's the hard work we are called to, to be real, to be vulnerable, to be ourselves, our truest selves. It is a journey Donald is on, now with his lovely wife and her strong network of deep friendships and extended family, into which he has so graciously been grafted. He is a better man for it, and you will be a better person for having listened in to his simple story. 

You'll be thrilled to hear how the wedding at the end of ScaryClose turned out -- Betsy miller wedding.jpgconvinced him they could fix up a deteriorated part of a neglected old country club where she had fond and important childhood memories and, of course, it soon began to take shape. Donald's wry comment that "it's funny how a good story can start to remodel a place" -- was quintessential and a wonderful, potent summary of the work of restoration he and she are committed to.  By the way, they offer stunningly beautiful wedding pictures at their ScaryClose website, too -- although you shouldn't look at them until after you've read the book. I couldn't even see the hose in the gothic fountain, giving the impression it worked.

I was kind of jealous of that great wedding story and those pictures, too, by the way. 

Truly, this is that kind of a book, a wondrous tale of a life being slowly turned around, about fresh starts and new capacities and the holy grace of deep connection and down-to-Earth hope. It will make you want in on it all.  That is what a good memoir can do.  Enjoy and learn!

our only world wendell berry.jpgOur Only World: Ten Essays Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $24.00  I suppose it is a tad incongruous to list the decidedly unhip Mr. Wendell Berry from rural Kentucky right after talking about this psychologically driven story about needing to learn how to fine intimacy and trust by the jazzter brander Donald Miller, formerly of urbane Portlandia.  But there you have it, the diverse stuff we have here at the shop, and the diverse books we truly are excited about. It would be a blast to get to send out one of each, eh?  

It is a good season when there is a new book by Mr. Berry, considered by many to be, as Edward Abbey puts it bluntly, "The best serious essayist now at work in the United States." And there is a bit of a connection, too, to the Miller memoir, or so it seems to me.  Neither writer is glitzy or affectatious or breathy, even. They are calm, plain-spoken, deliberate. Miller is cooler and funnier, but both are interested in what is genuine. Both are willing to ask hard questions. If Donald "searching for God knows what" Miller appeals at least to young Christians eager to shed dogmatic fundamentalism, but still live into a solid, good, restorative, grace-filled story, Berry tells us, deeply, how to really think about that, rooted in profound, prophetic gospel. Granted, Miller may be best known in magazines like Relevant and Berry may be known in The Nation or The Atlantic, both are skilled writers who work hard to offer important essays and healing ways to live in a mixed up modern world. As the Washington Post has written, "Berry's words shine with the gentle wisdom of a craftsman who has thought deeply about the paradoxical strangeness and wonders of life." 

This collection, not unlike his many others, include previously published pieces, in sources such as Harpers and The Christian Century.  One was from Farming.  One is the transcript of an acceptance speech of a prestigious literary prize given in Dayton Ohio. You get the picture. The theme, again,  not very much unlike other collections, revolves around how our human economy does or doesn't fit with the economy of nature -- between economy and ecology.  He again talks about "forms and functions."  He laments that we do not know our place; we are filled with hubris.  "This misfitting has been dangerous and damaging" he insists, and a consequence of not just pride, but of our inappropriate thinking, our unimaginative perceptions of the ways of the natural order, and of our idolatries of the industrial/technological era which disregard creational norms.


Some say Berry is like an Old Testament prophet, and -- poets that most of them were (and at least one was a "farmer from Takoa") -- I am inclined to agree. Even though he at times speaks clearly as a Christian, his warnings are most often couched for all to hear, with plainspoken common sense (another similarity with the new Donald Miller book which seems to be written for a wider, more general audience then the typical religious book buyers.) For instance, Mr. Berry writes, "It is anyhow clear that if we are to do better, we will have to recognize the old mistake as a mistake: no more euphemism such as "creative destruction," no more "sacrificing" of a present good for "great good in the future." We will have to repudiate the too-simple industrial standards and replace them with the comprehensive standard of ecological health, realizing that this standard involves necessarily the humane obligation of neighborliness both to other humans and to other creatures."

mad farmer poems.jpg

Berry is an agrarian, a populist, an advocate for faith-based creation care, and he wants us to "submit" to limits and the requirements for a just use of things and places.  He is a philosopher and a farmer, an environmental activist, and a heckuva good writer. I hope you know his novels and short stories, at least the wonderful, wonderful Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter. His beloved Mad Famer poem is now out in a small, inexpensive paperback -- you should have that for repeated reading or reciting. I hope you know his essays.  

This new anthology of recent pieces look to be as fine as any, a handy place to start, a timely and challenging set of morally serious reflections, about life and times, about war and peace, and citizenship and the public good, about land and God and love. He is as specific as writing about the much-debated planks of The Farm Bill or being "caught in the middle" in his views of being pro-life regarding abortion, or a rumination on a walk through a particular forest and as broad as asking how we ought to best understand notions such as freedom.  He is right, you know: this is our only world. Our Only World: Ten Essays well help us care for and protect this beautiful place into which God placed us.

Culture-Care-Makoto-Fujimura-300x300.jpgCulture Care: Connecting with Beauty for Our Common Life Makoyo Fujimura (Fujimura Institute) $25.00  Once again, we are very, very proud to be able to suggest an extraordinary book, another example of the rich and wonderful volumes that are available these days.  Not mass marketed, but produced in-house by the famous abstract painter's organization, Culture Care is designed as a paperback with French folded covers, and a thin, but durable onionskin cover, giving it a dusty, translucent look. There is a full color reproduction of apainting, Ki-Seki, (that was first done in 2014 with mineral pigments, Sumi ink, silver, and gold, on Kumohada paper) which further enhances this indie-press release. It is a lovely book, unique and good. 

This written content of this fine book clearly holds together as Fujimura develops his call for us to care more deeply for culture, and about how to be more generative as those who want to conserve and develop the cultural potentials within our society. He is a good lecturer and has often spoken about his work as a lavish painter -- maybe you've glimpsed him in the stunning portion of the For the Life of the World DVD that we've promoted, on "beholding" -- and he has spoken more generally, as he has written, about culture, social concerns, peacemaking, how to offer a winsome witness in a postmodern world, and why people of faith should be engaged in supporting artists of all sorts. He opposes culture warring and he opposes stubborn ideology and pragmatism. He resists all manner of propaganda. And he builds a generous, positive case, chapter by chapter, for a better way to contribute to care of the culture in which we are to thrive.

mako striped shirt.jpg

However, this book could also be read as collection of essays, almost dipping in as the spirit leads, reading his insights here or there about "soul care" or "leadership from the margins" or about business or vocabulary or the inspired essay about the gospel-singer Mahalia Jackson's role, reminding Martin Luther King Jr to "tell 'em about the dream" during the famous March on Washington. You have to see the short but powerful list of "what if" near the end. If you have read Mako's splendid, and also handsomely designed book Refractions or have subscribed to his on-line newsletter through his IAM (International Arts Movement) you will know of his eloquence and subtle grace as a thinker.  This book is not unlike those.

We are very, very honored to be one of the bookstores carrying this new release, and suggest that is well worth owning, worth repeated reading, and a healthy, important contribution to what it means to be generative, to be of service to the common good, and how we can be "custodians of culture care." 

Listen to Mako's overview, from the lovely and provocative preface:

Culture Care, though a thesis I have developed, is a movement already afoot in culture in various circles. In one sense, this book is not new or unique; International Arts Movement and the Fujumura Institute are part of a whole ecosystem of a greater movement. But having acknowledged that, this is a book that addresses head-on a terrible rift in our society: our culture is broken and needs care to be restored to wholeness. Like the "Creation Care" movement that looks after the environment, and the "Soul Care" concepts provided by practitioners in mental health and spiritual growth, this book on Culture Care lays out a necessary conceptual framework and the beginnings of practical responses to repair that rift. This is a book meant to inspire individuals and to inform the wider movement in providing such care.

on becoming generative.jpg

Surely, Mako -- and many others -- are right about how urgent this is. Poetry and the arts in general and "generative thinking" (as he puts it) "are critical for our society to begin a shift away from our corrosive cultural battles." His book is both manifesto and starting guide, for artists, citizens, anyone taken with the high calling of culture-making.

By the way, we also stock the little pocket-sized and quite handsome booklet called On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care (which is the first chapter of the larger book, Culture Care.) It is also published by the Fujimura Institute and sells for just $5.99. It would make a nice small gift or conversation starter.

allure of gentleness.jpgThe Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus Dallas Willard (HarperOne) $26.99 This brand new book from the late Dallas Willard, philosopher, theologian, and spiritual guide, arrived today and it seems to be a perfect addition to the above trio of excellent titles. It makes the case, as you can see, that although the Christian faith is reasonable, and we can learn the art of thoughtful apologetics, the heart of winsome witness is -- what a phrase! -- "the allure of gentleness."  (It reminds me of the phrase which became an early book of Brennan Manning, the "wisdom of accepted tenderness.") 

I like Eugene Peterson's comments, here: "I grew up in a Christian culture in which 'defending the faith' was carried out by using the Bible as a weapon. Anyone who challenged my faith was treated as an enemy. As an adult I discovered Dallas Willard. Unfailingly gentle and respectful, he transformed the apologetics of my generation as many of us "laid down our swords and shields."  It is lovely to learn of another voice that is intellectually rigorous and yet humble. (Again, it was Francis Schaeffer who called love, after all, "the final apologetic.")  

J.P. Moreland says,

I have never seen a book remotely like this. It was Willard's habit to take an issue and cast it in a light that no one had thought of before; time after time, he does this here with key apologetical issues. And because he places apologetics against the backdrop of pastoral care, it makes it a practice everyone who loves people should master.  This is essential reading.


Of course we all need help understanding, and then sharing with our friends, neighbors, students, children, or curious colleagues, the best Biblical answers for questions about hell, the problem of evil, the nature of freedom, God's relationship with Israel, God's intentions for human history, the ways to know, and such. Mostly, though, the "wonder of Jesus."  And we must do that by embodying, nurturing, the character of Jesus, which Willard describes as gentleness.  And certainly we need humility. I think it is fascinating that in one chapter he explains that we even need to refine our ideas in the process of living them out.  That is, our ideas are shaped by our discipleship; the Spirit reveals more as we are conformed more to the ways of Christ. 

Can the Christian faith -- including the robust theology and philosophically-aware answers to tough questions reflected on here -- really meet our deepest desires? Can we not only argue about truth, but show a gentle, even beautiful way of living? Can we show that our apologetics include this humble journey, these practices of "living and acting" with God?  I think this book looks just wonderful, accessible, covering tons of topics, and offering an impressive and even playful approach of that appeals to the head and the heart (and the hands!)  Rejoice!



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February 2, 2015

Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent's Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told by Scott Turansky & Joanne Miller AUTHOR APPEARANCE and BOOKNOTES SALE 20% OFF

We are hosting two authors at 7 PM  this Friday night, February 6th, for a talk about their books. We hope you saw the facebook events page we created for it as it gives the time and address and such.  If you live nearby we'd love for you to come to this Hearts & Minds event. (Or, even if know anyone who lives near us here in Central Pennsylvania, we'd love to have share this info with them.) We are excited about this evening with writers and parenting experts Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, authors of many parenting books and we are looking forward to celebrating the brand new release of Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent's Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told (Nelson; $16.99) which just came out a few days ago. 

Please join us at 7:00 over at the nearby Living Word Community Church on Route 24 in Red Lion at their lovely coffee bar, where we'll hear thescott t and joanne m sitting.jpg authors, learn a bit about their philosophy of parenting, engage in some Q & A, and explore the subtitle of this new book, "A Christian Parent's Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told."  We'll have refreshments and a reception during which you can meet the authors and chat a bit, and, of course, get autographed books.

Thanks again to LWCC for partnering with us on this, and opening their very nice facility.  It's going to be an inspiring, helpful program.  Do help us spread the word, if you can.

From the very beginning, our store has offered a wide selection of marriage, parenting, and family books, not to mention resources for pregnant moms and dads, books on childbirth, books on breast feeding, child health and so forth, representing not only our interest in these things -- we used to host a home birthing class here at the shop -- but also out of a very real conviction that books can help us be better spouses and parents. Most of us need a bit of help, don't we?  We have spiritually-oriented devotionals for new moms, books for dads, blended families, single parenting, lots of books about raising teens, and more.  Our shelves here hold a a real variety of perspectives.  Besides some standard secular guides, we love Gary Thomas'sbook-stack-kids-4-225x300.jpg charming and brilliant Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls (Zondervan; $13.99), the gorgeously written The Mystery of Children: What Our Kids Teach Us about Childlike Faith by Mike Mason (Regent College Publishing; $19.95) and Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People by Bromleigh McCleneghan and Lee Hull Moses (Alban Institute; $17.00) which is written by two women who are mainline denominational pastors. We often suggest Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt by the great writer Leslie Leyland Fields (Waterbrook; $14.99.)  Although it is a bit more theological, with serious cultural analysis, and mostly about the role of the local church, we adore Marva Dawn's must-read Is It a Lost Cause?: Having the Heart of God for the Church's Children (Eerdmans; $18.00.)  If you ever need help learning more of what is available, let us know.  If you want to bless moms and dads that you know with a book or two, I am confident they would appreciate it.  Anyway, books matter, and books about family life matter a lot.

Among those that we have routinely sold here have been the books by our friends Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, which is why we are so glad they are able to be with us this Friday night. We got to know of them through Joanne's husband, Ed Miller, who for years worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Ed has picked up van loads of books from Hearts & Minds to sell to college students, has been a true encouragement to us and in our work, and he has invited me to speak to campus ministry leaders on more than one occasion. Ed loves books (as you can see in this delightful blog post  called "Books Are Wonderful and Fun!" where he kindly mentions Hearts & Minds.)  Yay.

Dr. Turansky and Miller are nearly unique among faith-based parenting authors, or so it seems to us. We appreciate a lot about their clear-headed books. Some are sooooo religious sounding and Biblically-based that they can hardly be appreciated by anyone other then the most conservative Christian.  Others seem to just adopt this or that worldly theory or notion, glossing it over with a bit of God-talk.  Some are a bit dense or dry, others nearly condescending. Some books in this field are heavy handed and too strict, and some seem so whimsical that they hardly offer any lasting change.  Turansky and Miller avoid nearly all of these missteps, and write clearly, faithfully, practically, with deep and radically Christian insight, without being overly simplistic or dripping with saccharine piety.  

This dynamic duo have other earnestly written guides, workbooks, and a very thorough website with videos and all kinds of ideas and options to apply their insights. We carry their workbooks and family devotional idea books and more,  but here are their key titles:


parenting is heart work.jpgTheir most core book, I think, is quintessentially Turansky/Miller, and is at the heart of their ministry, The National Center for Biblical Parenting. It is called -- get this! -- Parenting is Heart Work (Cook; $14.99).  As you might gather, it shows how the best parents are able not just to get kids to behave, or even succeed in exhibiting life skills, but to be people's whose hearts are transformed. In a way, this raising the bar, deepening the task of parenting, by worrying less about outward appearances and compliance, and more about the inner dispositions (that's sanctification for you theology geeks) of the child.  

And, of course (of course, I say with a sober roll of the eyes) this means that part of the task of parenting, if we are to hope for and work for heart change in the child, is to attend to the state of our own interior lives as adults.  If we want our children to honor us (think of that big ten commandment) we must honor them.  If we want our children to respect us, we must respect them.  This means we have to allow God's Spirit to challenge and change us.  Parenting is, indeed, heart work -- for us and our children.

They have two other fantastic books that we love to recommend that works out their basic perspective in two very specific areas, dealing with bad behavior, and dealing with anger.  What parent among us hasn't shed tears and lost sleep about these family blow ups that happen to all of us, fallen people that we are? Who hasn't wounded others, and who hasn't been wounded by others, even those we love the most? What do we do about this hard stuff?  Turansky and Miller can help.

say.jpgSay Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes... in You and Your Kids Scott Turansky & Joanne Miller (Waterbrook) $14.99  We love this book, and it is such a refreshing approach.  Again, this is trying to help us cope with bad attitudes in the lives of our kids, but it does so in part by helping parents learn to honor their children. I know that my own bad attitudes have made thing worse, and the first time I read this I not only learned a bunch, but wished I had had it when my children were younger. It's a great book that walks a nice balance between deep spiritual stuff and very practical ideas. 

One reviewer called it a "breakthrough" book in this field of family studies.  Almost everyone is glad for how very down to earth it is. Very, very good.

Good and Angry.jpgGood and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids! Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller (Waterbrook) $14.99  This book recognizes the very real emotions that parents feel and, as they say, it "taps into the constructive side of anger and teaches new strategies for addressing the things children do to drive parents crazy. It outlines seven routines to help children improve in these areas and, in the process, build both the parent's and child's relationship with God." 

This stuff is theologically sound, spiritually alive, full of grace, and very, very practical.  No one book can solve every problem with anger and hostilities in the home, but I do think this is one of the very best resources that every parent should have at their fingertips. 


christian parenting handbook.jpgThe Christian Parenting Handbook: 50 Heart-Based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child's Life  Scott Turansky & Joanne Miller (Thomas Nelson Publishers) $16.99  We promoted this book last year and reviewed it at BookNotes. We said that we loved how it offers strategies and ideas for getting "to the heart of the matter." We find that parents are hungry for good ideas, for guidance and techniques, even as they realize that techniques must be deep and wise, and not mere tricks or gimmicks. A nice thing about this handbook is that it does offer ideas for use with kids of all ages. It really is a thorough resource that can be helpful for many kinds of parents, and many kinds of children.


motivate - larger cover.jpgMotivate Your Child: A Christian Parent's Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told (Nelson) $16.99  As we said above, we are thrilled to carry this new book, which just released a few days ago. it is a solid, warm, helpful book, and is written with a calm and reassuring tone. All of their books are encouraging and clear -- you can do this! -- and they tell lots of stories from the many families they've helped, case studies, so to speak, which give the books are "real world" feel. This one, especially, includes lovely stories (some moving ones drawn especially from Scott's counseling practice.)  This is not a lost cause!  Kids really can change "from the inside out." We parents can learn a more gospel-centered approach, offering Biblical insight, opening doors for spiritual formation, and basic, old-fashioned common sense and maturity -- in parents and kids.  Although this book title suggests it is about getting kids to do things without being told -- and what parent doesn't need some help with that? -- it is, I believe, a book about more than just that.  In fact, they make important connections between a child who has internalized a desire to do the right thing (share a toy, be gracious in dealing with a sibling, doing her homework, helping with chores) and that child's ability to have moral imagination, to be able to take stands on issues.  What kind of a kid stands up to bullies? What kind of a kid learns to pray for others? What kind of a kid begins to think about his or her future career in terms of vocation and calling? What does integrity come from?  This practical book about seemingly mundane things really does lay important groundwork for bigger, heavier matters, matters that last a lifetime.  It has to do with courage and character and virtue and wisdom and such. 

One of the features of Motivate Your Child is its emphasis on a structured a consistently experienced family time.  They offer several models or approaches, but the primary thing here is for families to take up their responsibility to teach their kids to walk in the ways of the Lord.  It is not firstly the church's job to raise your children, it is not mostly the Sunday School teacher's job to educate your kids in the truths of the Bible. Parents have to step up, make a commitment, and do the work to help their children grow in knowledge and faith.  They help motivate you to do this with their great ideas about the benefits of a weekly family fun time of spiritual growth.

There are very concrete things suggested here, but the bigger picture is about informing the child's desires which they get at by way of talking about the conscience. They name four "promptings of the conscience" and teach how to coordinate your parenting to take advantage of them. They help children respond to mistakes instead of blaming, defending or justifying.  (As I read those portions, again, I felt like I, myself, continually need to work on this stuff.)  I've got some interior work to do.  Don't we all?

Not to switch gears too quickly -- okay, that's what I'm going to do, quickly -- I am also reading the brand newScary Close- Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.jpg Donald Miller memoir, a story of a year in his life as he was thinking about getting engaged, and his realization (with the help of a stint at a counseling center, sort of a rehab for wounded people) about how he uses all kinds of outer skills and strategies to keep himself from being deeply known. Many of us do this, I think -- put on an act for our public demeanor, but then forget to "drop the act" and end up with layers of false selves, performing, rather than "being."  True intimacy, Miller says in the brilliant Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy (Nelson; $19.99) can come as we shed some of these acts, these false selves, our masks, the armor we use to protect ourselves from the vulnerability of being close and real with others. It's a fun and funny book, with tons of great insight about knowing oneself and being in relationships. The touching forward by Bob Goff is almost worth the price of the whole book!

Here is a link to a youtube interview with Donald Miller about the new book. Check it out, and come on back here to place an order.

I am liking Scary Close quite a lot, and it has me thinking about how this full grown and very successful man had to relearn some hard stuff about relationships, and how this took some pretty intentional efforts at self-awareness, changing some habits, working (with God's help, and some trusted friends) on some interior matters.  I will tell you more about it later, but it is a refreshing, clear, and moving tale about one man's journey into being a better person.

raise kids poster.jpgparenting is the process poster.jpg

Which is, I suppose, what most self-help books are about: helping you become better.

But that is always related to your story, your issues, your perceptions of the world and what God is like and what God most wants.

Turansky and Miller know this: good parenting skills aren't enough.  We must work to shape and nurture and develop our children into the mature and wise and virtuous people God wants them to be. Which is to say it is "heart work."  And, as they make clear in Motivate Your Child, to be motivated to do the right thing isn't natural or simple, but takes the extraordinary work of God, which comes best as we are engaged in faith development in response to God's Word. If our life stories are to be fruitful and faithful, we have to find ourselves in God's story, Christ's redemption of the world.  So we have to find ways to offer spiritual training to our children that is creative, winsome, healthy and fun. This book will help motivate you to help change the way you parent, which could help change the way your family relates. It can help change the way your children live.

If you would like us to get autographed copies of any of their books for you, we can have them sign them on Friday night, and ship them to you next week.  Just let us know to whom you want them inscribed. They can just autograph them, or offer them to a particular person.  Just let us know what you prefer.motivate - larger cover.jpg



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