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August 24, 2016

15 RECENT BOOKS THAT YOU SHOULD KNOW. Stuff you can use, books you'll enjoy. ON SALE

I've done some lengthy reviews of some very important books lately.  I hope you've enjoyed knowing about them; it means a lot to know of those who have shared the reviews, who have considered the authors and the books.  As Chris Smith's Reading for the Common Good so wonderful reminds us, books can make a difference in people lives, and in the visions of "social imaginaries" they help us adopt. What we long for, what we work for, how we come to perceive our lives is all informed and revised and clarified by (among other things) the books we read.


We do not take it for granted that you invite us into your own lives, allowing our bookselling ministry to shape you. We realize this is very important stuff, sacred ground, even.

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Here I will offer descriptions of a handful of great books, 15, if you don't count the ones I note in passing, that have come out lately. Sometimes just seeing new releases so inspire us we want to tell you about them even before we've read them. These all deserve to be known, I'm sure of it. We think you'll like hearing about them.


All are on sale for our on-line friends; use the secure order form page by clicking on the link below. If you wander into the  Dallastown shop and mention that you are a newsletter reader, of course we'll do the discount, then, too. 


present over perfect.jpgPresent Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living Shauna Niequist (Zondervan) $22.99  This will be, I assure you, one of the biggest selling religious books of the fall, but it will be popular in more general market bookstores, too. She has a way with words and is a poignant, moving storyteller. I hope you knew her lovely reflections, memoiristic ruminations about finding God in the ordinary of life - Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet.  Her Bread and Wine is truly a glorious, beautifully written, fabulous book about food, friends, fellowship (with recipes.) Her collection of pieces, taken mostly from other books, arranged as a handsome daily devotional is Savor. One can see this trajectory, and as a church worker and Christian speaker (and Bill Hybel's daughter) she has developed a workaholic obsession, and this gut-wrenching and beautifully written manifesto is her big effort of saying no to some of the craziness this frantic way of life creates.


Beth just finished this and loved it, and I'm almost halfway through, deeply moved and grateful for her message. I need it - believe me, there are days... Still, I'm rolling my eyes just a little - in the preface she tells of meeting Brene Brown, who invited her into her home for a meal (I know) and she writes touchingly about falling apart as she tries so, so hard to keep up appearances with her friends and family, even as she is sitting with her feet in somebody's backyard pool pulling icy drinks out of an cooler. She isn't unaware of the privilege and unique way this problem manifests itself for somebody with her upper middle class sensibilities and a large extended family (of high achievers) and a lake cottage. Still, even for those of us with more pedestrian aches and pressures, Present Over Perfect is a gift.


Endorsements on the back are from Jennifer Hatmaker, Donald Miller, and Glennon Doyle Melton (who says it is "equal parts elegant and urgent.") This book, they all seem to say, moves us to something better than merely keeping at it, shoulder to the wheel, toughing it out. It reminds us of our beloved-ness, that we belong, and it's going to be all right.




a call to mercy.jpgA Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve Mother Teresa; edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk (Image) $25.00 This handsome hardcover collects previously unreleased (and in some cases, previously unknown) writings of the woman who will be soon become the next officially canonize Saint in the Roman Catholic Church.  Of course, it also coincides nicely with Pope Francis' "Year of Mercy" as it guides readers to see how mercy and compassion can be shown in our day-to-day lives.


Father Brian was the postulator of Mother Teresa's cause for sainthood and knew her well. Included are some testimonies of people close to Mother Teresa and prayers and suggestions for putting the reflections into practice. 


By the way, the good folks at Paraclete Press recently released a small paperback version of the much discussed account of the saint of Calcutta and her good humor and her dark side. See I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta, a Secret Revealed by Paul Murray (Paraclete; $11.99.)




poets & saints.jpgPoets & Saints: Eternal Insight, Extravagant Love, Ordinary People Jamie George (Cook) $16.99 Speaking of saints, one of my favorite books in recent years is Accidental Saints by emergent Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber in which she tells the stories of messed up and graced people in her rag-tag House of All Sinners & Saints faith community in Denver. Well, Jamie George isn't quite as colorful, but he's a fine writer. He founded Journey Church in Tennessee as a safe haven for the religiously wounded. (An acclaimed worship band, All Sons & Daughters, was birthed in that church.) As one of the singers of that band puts it "Jamie George is one of our generation's most inspired storytellers... it was a privilege to read his words and be reminded that God has woven the past and present together in a remarkable and vibrant way."  Yep, here the exceptionally hip J. George tells of eleven historic Christ-followers, from Saint Therese, George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis, to Calvin, Luther, Saint Francis - with a lovely interlude on the architecture of great cathedrals. Poets and Saints offers a cool and inviting reflection on these characters who can helps us "love like poets, live like saints."  Looks great!


The Dwelling Place of Wonder Harry L. jpgThe Dwelling Place of Wonder Harry L. Serio (Resource Publications) $19.00  Harry is a legendary, now retired UCC pastor in Berks County, PA, and the founder of the fabulous (and famous) Berks Jazz Festival. It isn't uncommon to see Facebook pictures of this Pennsylvania Dutch-ish E&R pastor with some of the hottest jazz stars playing today. It shouldn't surprise us, though - Harry has apparently always been a bit of a card, a colorful, inquisitive, open-minded, big-hearted guy. He is a bit of a mystic, interested in the research about consciousness (and after-death experiences.) This collection of pieces is a lovely cross between a memoir and a true autobiography, although it is episodic. He grew up in a feisty, fascinating family outside of New York City, with charming - and occasionally breathtaking - stories of early 20th century urban life.  (For instance, they knew Betty Davis!)


 As Maren Tirabassi writes:


Harry Serio transports us to many places - a kitchen table in a cellar surrounded by paint cans, the drawer a toddler escapes to see a star, an old woman's doorstep with a loaf of bread, a highway diner with a French waitress in the middle of the night. But more than those, his reflections on wondrous dwellings invites each reader to remember personal holy moments, sacred streets, and occasions of spontaneous laughter.


I have a little blurb on the back of this, too - it is a real treat to be able to tell Harry's many friends and fans about this nicely written, interesting collection of reflections and memories.


Renewing the Christian Mind- Essays, Interviews, .jpgRenewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks Dallas Willard (HarperOne) $24.99  This collection of some previously unpublished or published in obscure places makes this feel like a brand new book, and in a way, a greatest hits - so good!  It has been called the "definitive collection" and it cannot be understated how important and transforming this all is. There are chapters here that appeared in other anthologies, papers presented at conferences, good interviews (like a fabulous one conducted by Luci Shaw for Radix magazine) and wonderfully-written pieces that were forwards or introductions to other people's books.  This was curated and edited by Gary Black of the Azusa Pacific University Honors College who co-wrote with Willard The Divine Conspiracy Continued, edited a collection of Willard's stuff called Preparing for Heaven, and is the author of a book about Willard, as well as one about calling on Fortress Press.) I often tell people to begin their journey reading Willard by starting with Renovation of the Heart or Spirit of the Disciplines but this, this is wonderful. Highly recommended.


closer than close.jpgCloser Than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ Dave Hickman (NavPress) $14.99  As a Presbyterian, I learned a long time ago that one of John Calvin's deepest teachings and a nearly constant motif was "union with Christ." Of course, all of our best spiritual teachers, from the monks and mystics to those highlighting a lively encounter with the Holy Spirit have all talked about this key topic. It is a rich Biblical motif and there is much to gain from pondering it.  For those who want to go a bit deeper into spirituality, without drifting away from solid Biblical approaches, this new work by a young and thoughtful church planter (founder of Charlotte One, a huge network of churches) could be very, very helpful. It is rooted in the gospel -- we don't have to conjure up, let alone earn intimacy with God. God takes up residence in us, inviting us to be a new creation in Christ. I need all the help I can get, and if the Dallas Willard (above) seems a bit daunting, this could be a similar sort of approach.  Good reading as we move into the busy fall season!  Nice study/reflection questions, too, making it useful.


By the way, in the acknowledgments, Hickman mentions the majesterial Life in the Trinity by Donald Fairbairn (which draws on the early church fathers) and that's a good sign. When he mentioned J. Todd Billings, I knew it would be good stuff -- his book Union With Christ is brilliant. And then he notes he was listening to Bon Iver and Iron and Wine as he wrote, and, well, I was all in.


Praying for Your Pastor- How Your Prayer Support.jpgPraying for Your Pastor: How Your Prayer Support Is Their Life Support Eddie Byun (IVP) $15.00  Byun is a pastor of a church in Seoul, South Korea and wrote a book on how his church has been involved in fighting sexual trafficking (Justice Awakening) which was very good. Here, he writes a book that we've needed for a long time - serious, but not overbearing, deeply spiritual, but not weird or off-putting, handy, but not simplistic. I'm very excited about this, looking for its guidance in helping us pray for our pastors, and pray for them wisely.  It has good and informative chapters about 7 key areas for which we might pray -- from rest to strong families to "a yielded heart" and the like. It is a good glimpse into the lives of ministry about which some of us don't know much. In fact, I might suspect that some clergy don't think deeply about some of these things...


I wonder what would happen if a handful of people in every church had this book? Somebody in your church?  


us versys us.jpgUs Versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community  Andrew Marin (NavPress) $14.99  I have been touting this wherever I can as it offers tremendously fascinating - groundbreaking and historic, I'd even say - research into the religious beliefs and attitudes of the GLTBQ community in the US. Andrew Marin (who wrote the excellent Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community) has a huge heart and a serious passion to repair breeches between the religious community and GLTBQ folks. He commissioned a scientifically serious (the largest ever done) research project on this topic, and got some of the best statisticians and sociologists to crunch the data. What they discovered is breathtaking, indicating that (by far) LGBT persons report to be more interested in religion than any other subculture in America. Surprisingly, 86 percent of LGBT people spent their childhood in church. More than half left their religious communities as adults. And 3 out of 4 would be happy to return.  I couldn't put this down.


As my friend Jonathan Merritt, a senior columnist for the Religious News Service (and author of Jesus is Better Than You Imagined) says of Us Versus Us


No conversation in the church is more explosive than the sexuality debate, and no voice in this conversation is more effective than Andrew Marin's... A page-turning collision of stats and stories with the power to revolutionize the modern debate.


A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution says this "richly textured book will shatter stereotypes and help us all think better. And love better, too."


Brian McLaren in Focus- A New Kind of Apologetics.jpgBrian McLaren in Focus: A New Kind of Apologetics Scott R. Burson (Abilene Christian University Press) $22.99 This book deserves a very careful review and I hope it is widely read - what a great bit of research where the author does a gracious, critical read of Brian's roots, writing, trajectory, based not only on his many books, but on lengthy conversations and interviews (some of which are included in the book.)  Brian was remarkably important to the postmodern and postcolonial movements that influenced what was called for a while the emergent village and the emergent church movement. (Phyllis Tickle was one of the many who documented this trend in books such as Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters.)


Brian has increasingly become known in mainline denominational circles that are less averse to progressive theology but remains a widely read and influential activist, blogger, author. Even if he is not the trailblazer he once was, he is a genuinely good guy and a very interesting writer, somebody to know and understand. This critique is a balanced appraisal, attempting to move beyond seeing him as either a "villain or hero." As Jerry Walls of Houston Baptist University says of Brian McLaren in Focus "this probing analysis is both critical and charitable. Burson pulls no punches in assessing McLaren's theology from the standpoint of classical orthodoxy, even as he recognizes that there are valuable lessons to be learned from his work."  Part of Burson's interest is Brian's early days as a Calvinist (he listened to hundreds, if not thousands of hours of tapes by R.C. Sproul and Francis Schaeffer) and his eventual rejection of the basics of Reformed theology. (Burson himself is not a Calvinist so the Reformed vs Armenian debate comes up a lot.) This is all really interesting and it a good example of the shifts in theological discourse in these days.  The very nice, and very informative forward, by the way, is by none other than Brian McLaren himself, who likes the book a lot.


great spiritual migration.jpgBrian McLaren's next book is due out September 20, 2016 and are taking pre-orders. I haven't seen it yet. It will be called The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent Books; $21.00.) 


Check out these advanced blurbs: 


McLaren continues to have his finger on the pulse of a new kind of Christianity that challenges familiar and limiting structures of faith. A prophetic and winsome invitation for all to the join the work of the Spirit in spiritual, theological, and missional transformation.
Peter Enns, author of The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our Correct Beliefs

Brian McLaren is a leading thinker in articulating the disenchantment so many of us feel regarding Americanized Christianity and the hope we have that there is, as McLaren says, "a better way to be Christian." The Great Spiritual Migration calls us, not to wander aimlessly in the wilderness of pseudo-spirituality, but to follow Jesus forward into the promised land of a more authentic Christian faith. I applaud this important and encouraging book!
Brian Zahnd, author of A Farewell To Mars 


Embrace- God's Radical Shalom for a Divide World.jpgEmbrace: God's Radical Shalom for a Divide World Leroy Barber (IVP) $16.00  I read anything this good brother writes. This is co-sponsored by the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) and is under the Missio Alliance imprint. Barber, who once directed the urban "Mission Year" project, and now is the chaplain of Kilns College and director of the Voices Project, has written passionately about racial diversity, about urban ministry, and about how all of us can develop a missional vision of daily, whole-life discipleship. (I highly recommend his Everyday Mission book as a great read or small group study.)


We hear much about the Christian practice of hospitality, and how we ought to be more inclusive within our faith communities. But how to we get to true peace and unity? How can we embrace one another when the walls seem impenetrable? Jo Anne Lyon (General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church) asks "Could Embrace be a groundbreaker for the racial healing that is so desperately needed and that our Lord desires to accomplish? An unequivocal yes!"


The Wired Soul- Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconencted Age.jpgThe Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age Tricia McCary Rhodes, PhD (NavPress) $14.99  I am always on the lookout for faith-based books that are nuanced, wise, thoughtful, inviting us to think critical about our accommodating to the fast-paced, hot-wired, digital world. Almost all of us struggle to figure out a more sane use of our energy and time, to pray, to be attentive, to "be still and know that God is God." We have our idols, our bad habits, and these are not made easier by our on-line habits. But shutting down and going off the grid isn't necessarily helpful for most of us. What we need is a critical but also appreciative analysis of technologies.  I like what Quinten Schultz years ago called in his book "habits of the high-tech heart." This new book written by a very fine writer of contemplative prayer practices (The Soul at Rest and Sacred Chaos) looks to be like one of the very best I've seen. Gary Moon says it is "a beautifully written book for digital immigrants, digital natives, and second- generation net-surfers." The Wired Soul uses the language of "slow reading" and "receptive reading" and offers guidance for meditative spirituality for those shaped by digital cultures.


Next Door As It Is In Heaven- Living Out God's Kingdom in Your Neighborhood .jpgNext Door As It Is In Heaven: Living Out God's Kingdom in Your Neighborhood Lance Ford and Brad Brisco (NavPress) $14.99  Wow, is this wonderful and I am very, very excited about it.  It is not the first book this year that has explored a sense of place (see, for instance, the fabulous Staying Is the New Going by Alan Briggs or Leonce Crump's Renovate,) but yet it brings more insight and more energy for this down to earth, missional vision; it is not redundant. In the early chapters he cites classics like Ray Oldenburg (The Great Good Place) and James Howard Kunstler (The Geography of Nowhere) so he had me there. Soon enough they are exploring the important work of Peter Block - are we the only Christian bookstore that carries that stuff? 


I'm sure this is not just one more re-hash of the incarnational, "the good news is more than words" call to love our neighbors, although that is obviously the heart of it. Like these other localistisa books, they are linking this to a study of place, a critique of placelessness, and inviting us to consider how to be citizens in a place who have learned the art of neighboring well. Next Door As It Is... uses phrases like "common grace" and has a robust theology of the Kingdom of God.  Yay. I'm excited, and hope you'd consider it, sharing it with your own church or fellowship. The retro cover is fun, but was a design risk, I think.  I hope it isn't dismissed or not taken seriously because it really, really is good.


Saving the Bible From Ourselves Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well.jpgSaving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well Glenn R. Paauw (IVP) $18.00 I mentioned this earlier in the season and I felt like somehow it may have gotten lost in the shuffle of other books by better known authors. Paauw is vice president of global engagement at Biblica, which used to have connection to the American Bible Society. Anyway, he loves the Scriptures, is very interested in how people are reading and using the Scriptures, and offers here 7 "kinds" or sorts of ways we think of the Bible, and counters each with a more faithful sort. (For instance, in contrast to our presumption that the Bible is essentially "complicated" he unveils the "elegant Bible." Instead of a "snacking" Bible he invites us to "savor the feasting Bible." He says we need saved from "my private Bible" and speaks of "sharing our synagogue Bible."  Of course, instead of "our otherworldly Bible" he says we are to be "grounded in the Earthly Bible."  On great problem, "our de-dramatized Bible" takes two sections to refute. He shows how we can "rediscover the stroiented Bible" and then shows how we must "preform the stroiented Bible."  There's more and it is rich, solid, creative, helpful stuff. Blurbs on the back and long and rich themselves, by Walter Brueggemann and Mark Noll, who both commend it earnestly.  Yes!


The Mission of the Church- Five Views in Conversation .jpgThe Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation edited by Craig Ott (Baker Academic) $22.99  Wow, is this every useful, with great, great discourse around one of the most urgent questions of our time (or of any time, I suppose, but particularly urgent now.) It is asking what is the very nature of the church, and, therefore, what is the fundamental mission or task or calling of the local church. Few would disagree that there needs to be an outreach and service component to the church; but if it is only a side bit, then it ain't really 'missional.'  So, what are people saying about this debate?  Are we to be mostly externally or internally focused? About building community or doing mission? how does formation happen? What are the roles of worship and sacraments? Can we agree on this or that or what?  This is stimulating stuff as five major "camps" or views are presented. The second half of the book is a "response" chapter by each author, offering his or her evaluations and replies and feedback.  Kudos to Baker and to Craig Ott for pulling together such a one-of-a-kind, urgent resource!


Here are the five perspectives and the scholars:


1. A Prophetic Dialogue Approach - Stephen B. Bevans, a Roman Catholic priest and scholar
2. A Multicultural and Translational Approach - Darrell L. Guder, a Presbyterian professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary
3. An Integral Transformation Approach - Ruth Padilla DeBorst, a Latin American evangelical leader, activist, scholar
4. A Sacramental Vision Approach - Edward Rommen, a Rector of an Orthodox church and professor at Duke Divinity School
5. An Evangelical Kingdom Community Approach - Ed Stetzer, the Director of Lifeway Research and author of many books


Listen to what Christopher Wright of the Langham Partnership and author of The Mission of God and The Mission of God's People writes: of The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation:


I know that I shall read this book again and often. The contributors provide both a breadth of perspectives and a depth of historical background that are illuminating, instructive, and challenging. The book has increased my understanding of and respect for divergent confessional views on Christian mission, while compelling me to re-examine and clarify my own. Like the Bereans, I am motivated afresh to search the Scriptures to see if these things are true--and such an effect is surely the mark of a truly stimulating and worthwhile book.



Overplayed- A Parent's Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports.jpgOverplayed: A Parent's Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports David King & Margot Starbuck (Herald Press) $15.99 We've recommended this before, telling about it when it first came out this Spring. What a great book, and what a great idea to combine the clever, upbeat - dare I say energetic - writing of the playful Margot Starbuck and the sporting expertise of David King who is the Director of Athletics at Eastern Mennonite University. For years, we've stocked a book or two from Dordt College Press (such as Christianity & Leisure: Issues in a Pluralistic Society) that were collections of academic papers presented by Christian scholars who work in physical education, sports, coaching, and leisure studies in order to nurture the Christian mind to reform our practices about faith and athletics and playfulness.  Most of those pieces were fairly academic, and wonderfully important work such as Paul Heintzman's Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives seemed to be more for sociologists and others who wanted scholarly reflections. We've needed a book that was thoughtful, but practical, for ordinary families, seeking to figure out this whole big deal. This is it!  Overplayed: A Parent's Guide is informed by a healthy appreciation of sport, but is brave enough to be critical of the ways in which we've come to embrace athletic culture; again, it is designed for ordinary families (although I could see church groups reading it together.)  Three cheers for Overplayed. Mom and dad, you need this.  Pastors, children's ministry professionals, youth workers, coaches, sports fans - you need this.


The very fun journalist Scott Dannemiller says "every page of this book screams common sense." The beautiful writer Caryn Rivadeneira (author or Broke) says "this is the book for parents of any kids involved in the abundance of activities our culture offers (demands of!) our kids. Overplayed offers biblical and developmental wisdom to help our children grow appropriately into the people God mad them to be."  I think you'll enjoy it, it will help many, and it will, finally, help us learn not only about setting boundaries regarding overdoing sports, but helping gets obtain more healthy sources for their identities. 



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August 22, 2016

50% OFF recent Jim Wallis book "America's Original Sin" (Brazos Press) SPECIAL OFFER

Wallis and AOS book, 2.jpgWe have mentioned the most recent Jim Wallis book a few times since it released earlier this year and are thrilled to partner with Brazos Press (part of the Baker Publishing Group) to offer it at a bigger discount.  I know it is a hardback, and not a light-hearted read, but we think it would make a fabulous book group title, a fine book for an Adult Sunday School class or a small group. Heaven knows it is a topic which deserves some extra attention here near the end of a very hard year.


We are here offering a special rare deal (an offer cooked by the good people at Baker Publishing) for anyone buying at least 20 copies. 

You can get 50% off if you buy 20.

That makes them just $11.00 for a nice hardcover.


AND you get some special resources to help you process the material, including free access to a good study guide and an exclusive, six week on-line webinar conversation with Mr. Wallis. It's a really good deal, and would make for a very special small group event.


You can use our link below and if you order 20 we'll hook you up with the extra connections.


Jump down to the link to our order form right away, if you'd like.  If you aren't sure about this title, though, let me tell you all about it.


America's Original Sin.jpgAmerican's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Brazos Press; usually $21.99) is a book that has been long in coming with Jim Wallis finally visiting a topic in a book length treatment that has been on his heart for most of his lifetime.


He opens the book with the story (which he has shared before) of having grown up in the 60s in the suburbs of Detroit very involved in a mostly healthy, friendly, tight-knit if rather fundamentalist Christian denomination.  As racial discrimination and social inequities deepened, as Dr. King preached and racial troubles become more known (if still not particularly understood among white church folks) and the voices of African American writers, poets, rock stars, and activists became more strident, Jim asked tough questions within his own faith community. His parents were leaders in that evangelical congregation and they seemed to unite in one voice with the other adults in the church: such questions not welcome. God didn't care much about politics, and faith was personal.  Hearing this drove Jim out of his church and those years were painful as he sought a faith that was personal "but never private" and a renewed conversion to the ways of Jesus by hearing the voices and taking seriously the views of the oppressed.  Matthew 25 became a key to his new spiritual search.  


Importantly, in those high school years in Detroit he was hanging around other teens and young adults, like Butch, with whom he shared a job in downtown Detroit. Butch was black and he allowed Jim into his home to meet his parents, into a family that was in some ways similar and yet in some ways very different than his own. In those days "social location" was a fairly new idea in contemporary theological studies and Jim wandered into it squarely: where you stand, where you live, what you see day by day, colors how you experience life and how you see society (and faith!) Given his early, intense experiences with families that lived in urban ghettos, who had dangerous encounters with the police, who mistrusted the government, who saw Christ as a liberating King with exceptional relevance for their daily social and political life, I would suspect he didn't need Francis Schaeffer to tell him by the early 70s about worldviews. He didn't need to overcome the evangelical dualism of separating faith and culture or prayer and politics because he was so very informed by the experience of his new black friends and their lively, socially-engaged faith.


call to conversion.jpgpost american covers.jpgJim, I suppose you know, didn't stay out of the church for long. He found other like minded friends who were reading Thomas Merton or Jacque Ellul or Bill Pannell and started an underground-type rag called The Post American; I am proud to have a copy of that first controversial edition.  He attended a firmly evangelical seminary (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and wrote a book entitled Call to Conversion which is still in print, and still one of the most important for my own journey.


If you look carefully you'll see the cleverness of the cover of this second edition -- the newspaper and the Bible being read together -- which, of course, plays with the famous line from Karl Barth and those who were resisting Hitler out of Christian conviction.


I didn't know it in the early to mid-70s that Wallis's story was a larger more dramatic version of my own, but I resonated deeply with the new authors and writers and young evangelical leaders I was learning about in what eventually became Sojourners. Their appreciation of some of the voices of the counterculture drew me in and their theological vision made sense.  It was Jim and his scruffy band of renewed and radical evangelicals who introduced me to names like John Perkins, Caesar Chavez, Dan and Phil Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Senator Mark Hatfield, Richard Mouw and other 'zines like Daughters of Sarah and The Other Side. That the woman I would soon marry was visiting Koinonia Farms in Georgia and meeting Ladon Sheets and Millard Fuller and learning about Baptist integrationist Clarence Jordon is fascinating--those were people I came to admire, too, and some are now discussed in Wallis's new book.  The book is dedicated to an African American leader we came to appreciate in those years and who was nearly an Uncle to Wallis's own children, Dr. Vincent Harding.  His books such as There Is a River and Hope and History not only documented the civil rights movement but implored us to keep telling the stories.


And so we do.


Such voices compose the backstory of much of Wallis's very contemporary study, America's Original Sin. In some derivative, third-hand way, it is part of the backstory of Hearts & Minds and why we carry this book and why we are encouraging you to form a group to study this book. It's a good story we all could stand to be a part of.


Which is all just a way of saying that we care about the work Wallis does, have read all his books, have hosted him here at the bookstore, and think that this new one is truly worthy your consideration.  Agree or not with every detail, it is a great, great book to discuss together.


Especially with this limited time offer of deep discounts and an opportunity for your group or class to actually converse with Jim about the book.



America's Original Sin.jpgAmerican's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America is among his best. It is, as they say, his wheelhouse. Some of it was surely written on a quiet study retreat.  It's good he took the time and effort to share more thoroughly the fire that has been in his bones a long, long time on this topic.  Few writers today can tell stories from his friendship with Desmond Tutu or Alan Boesak or Dr. William Barber II or Cornel West.  It is beautiful to see white evangelicals like Mark Labberton and black church preachers like Otis Moss and Cynthia Hale global leaders like Geoff Tunnicliffe offering endorsements. Wallis has studied and learned and written well.



wallis, cornel, sharon in march.jpgBut some of it was surely scribbled out in the streets, interviewing people in Ferguson, discussing issues of mass incarceration and the need for reform in community policing, learning in workshops and activist teach-ins about racial bias, profiling, and the like. The stories that have emerged in recent years that have found their way into the book show that there is a new generation of leaders and Wallis is not only offering us good information, but he's learning new stuff as he goes, listening well to this new movement for social change.


I suspect that many readers of BookNotes know a bit about the Bible's call to the church to be more multi-ethnic, the spiritual need for racial healing and reconciliation, the gospel truths that point the way towards the beloved community. I trust that you know about some of my earlier writing on this topic, and the books we've most eagerly recommended. I hope you've used them.  See some of our previous BookNotes lists here and here and here.


living in color.jpgGracism- The Art of Inclusion.jpgIf you have never tackled this topic before, and desire a deeply gospel-centered, evangelically-minded, Biblical reflection on this race and racism, maybe Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity by Randy Woodley (IVP; $18.00 or Gracism: The Art of Inclusion by David Anderson (IVP; $17.00) might be great to start with. I certainly think Chan-Rah's Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church (Moody; $14.99) is useful, a good overview of our situation and the many colors.jpgshifts in The Very Good Gospel.jpgthe cultures of the West.


We really promoted Lisa Sharon Harper's The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right over and over this summer (and loved hosting her at a special Hearts & Minds lecture out in Pittsburgh.) I do hope you recall our review of that.  


A recent one which I reviewed at BookNotes the week it Heal Us, Emmanuel- A Call for Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church.jpgcame out earlier this spring is Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church edited by Doug Serven (Storied Communications; $16.99) which emerged out of pastors in the conservative Presbyterian Church of America (PCA.)  We know some of the contributors to this book full of honest lament and struggle, and commend them for putting it together. It is an important contribution and we highly recommend it.  


Any number of these basic sort of guides to a wholistic gospel that offers insight into racial diversity and a move towards deeper understanding would be great.


But Wallis's recent book goes deeper, even though it isn't difficult to read and is not dense or dry.  


America's Original Sin.jpgAmerica's Original Sin goes deeper in three ways.


First, it examines the recent tensions created by - or brought to a head by - the police shootings of the last few years. He explains the crisis situations in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore, looking at the backgrounds of those places, reporting on things he learned from interviews with folks on the ground, and citing the reports and documents that came out of the investigations after those tragic situations. 


It is obvious that Wallis is wanting to stand with those who have been oppressed, he wants us to repent of complicity in systems and structures of injustice (including police misbehavior) and he is blunt in his denunciation of racist undertones in the hard stuff we see day by day by day. Some folks will think his bias gets the best of him at points, but fair readers will certainly give him credit for wading through lots of conflicting testimony and many perspectives on these episodes. He is careful and attempts to be balanced. He listens to conservative journals and cites preachers and pundits like the Southern Baptist Russell Moore and, in a chapter about restorative justice and prison reform, Chuck Colson. 


A few hot-heads on the internet have jumped to awful conclusions about Wallis, insisting he is not to be trusted, but I'd advise you to read the book and make up your own mind. Valid and thoughtful critiques can be made, and not everyone will find all of his evidence compelling. There's a few things I wish he might have said that he underplays.  Why not read it with others and with the help of a discerning community of readers, together form your own opinion?


Again, this great book offers more than moral rhetoric about unity or spiritual talk about reconciliation. This is a step deeper into the conversation, studying the President's Task Force, evaluating documents that comes the U.S. Department of Justice, and helping us appreciate some of the data and proposals that has emerged from some of the best think tanks and civil rights research agencies.


If you read modern magazines or listen to media outlets like NPR you've certain heard good scholars and pundits and researchers opine on topics related to this question of race in America, and Wallis seems to know about the best thought leaders out there. I think of him as a passionate prophetic preacher, a bit of a public theologian, but he's studied this policy stuff well, and he knows how to bring just enough data and scholarship to help us know what we need to know. It is very informative and I found it very compelling.


just mercy and b.s..jpgHe cites data from nonprofits like the Equal Justice Initiative and The Sentencing Project and quotes thinkers such as Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson (who wrote the forward) as well as some of our finest historians about things like Affirmative Action. The footnotes are remarkable, drawing on articles about Community Policing and Restorative Justice. This stuff could be daunting but Jim navigates the social science and the policy proposals deftly, and he brings this call to reform always back to the Biblical call to repent. That is, he nicely makes this book a very useful handbook to up-to-date evaluations of our troubled current state of race relations, but roots his evaluation in a classic, solid of foundation of Biblical teaching and spiritual conversion.  


One chapter in AOS called "From Warriors to Guardians" is an excellent overview of questions of race and policing.  There is a chapter on mass incarceration and more faithful ways to think about crime ("The New Jim Crow and Restorative Justice") and there is a chapter in immigration reform.


This whole book is a great case study of exploring "through the eyes of faith" the policy reforms we need to consider, ideas that need to be embodied in our social architecture. That is, he is taking seriously Christ's call to be agents of public justice for the sake of the common good; he is showing us how to take steps as a people to rectify some of our broken social systems.  Good feelings about racial diversity aren't enough;  talk about forgiveness and grace aren't enough; we must educate ourselves about what can be done, what needs to change, how to resist the tendency to be complicit with unjust practices and social organization.


Part of this -- one very, very good chapter -- reflects on what we call white privilege.  I'll come back to that in a bit, but it is another example of how American's Original Sin is inviting us to an experience of study that is a bit deeper.


For those who were able to join us in Pittsburgh when we hosted Jim's colleague Lisa Sharon Harper, you may recall she highly recommended that we take the Harvard implicit racial bias test.  Jim recommends a webpage hosted by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University as a "great place to start to get valuable implicit bias information." (Did you know there is even an annual report on the "state of the science" reviewing the implicit racial bias social research? Wallis cites it. Fascinating.)


talking to each other banner.jpgAOS goes a bit deeper in a second way, not just by exploring serious policy documents and research and interpreting them for church-based readers, but by calling us to a robust interpersonal conversation.


america's orginal sin poster.jpgHe insists that it is long past time for white parents to invite their black and other minority friends to level with them about their own experiences. This is hard stuff and although any number of books have recommended better friendships and more candid conversations, Wallis is clear and wise and helpful in saying what this might entail, how to pursue it, and what it might cost us all if we move in a direction of having such awkward, hard conversations. In a way, even though this book includes complex analysis and plenty of informative facts, it is a deeply personal book. It is about beginning or renewing conversation.


And then there's that social location thing, again: we have to be in some kind of proximity to people unlike ourselves, and we have to have some sort of social intelligence to learn to reach out well across differences.  Jim talks honestly from his own experiences of  moving out of his own comfort zone over the years, from church planting in urban DC , being mentored by Gordon Crosby of Church of the Savior, and being inspired by the call to live among people of need coming from John Perkins and the CCDA.  He affirms the younger voices such as Shane Claiborne and his Simple Way Community in Philadelphia. 


He opens the book with a plea for a new conversation, and talks about "the talk" parents of black children have to have. He comes back to it later, too:


It's time for a new conversation on race in America, and this time it will be a new generational discussion. The old talk is the one that black and brown parents still have with their children about how to behave in the presence of police - to protect themselves from them - an almost universal conversation that white parents know little about, as we discussed in chapter 1. The new talk is to make that old talk known to white parents and to together have a new conversation about the kind of country we want for all our children. Again, the issue is proximity. Our separated racial geography prevents those new talks from ever happening, so the changing of our geography has to be deliberate. 


jim wallis coaching b ball.jpgHe then looks at three great venues for such new conversations (even talks about "the talk") where that can happen: schools, sports, and local congregations.


He quotes his wife Joy who reminds us that "diversity doesn't just happen."  She and Jim have been PTA parents and he has coached his two boys and their teams in serious baseball. (If you don't know that Wallis likes baseball, you don't know Wallis!) These are good suggestions and down to Earth ideas for those of us who can't go heading out to national protests or who aren't asked to work with faith leaders in cities throughout the county. This is Jim writing out of his experience with global experience -- from Detroit to South Africa, from DC to Ferguson -- but also as an experienced localist, a coach, a parent, a guy in the neighborhood, and it is good stuff.


So America's Original...  goes a little deeper than some good books on racial reconciliation and multi-ethnic ministry by interpreting the social science on this and giving us the data and insight about the policy debates around urban policing, racial profiling, implicit bias, structural matters of historic injustice and the like. There's plenty of theology and Bible, but there's this good guidance into the latest literature and research and analysis.


And it goes a little deeper than some books by inviting us into conversation, guiding us on how to have heart-to-heart talks with others in generative, redemptive ways.


Lastly, one of the ways AOS goes a bit deeper is how it helps us grapple with what is called white privilege. Some may react to this phrase, but I beg you to hear him out.  He offers some remarkable data and insight from good studies and helpful social critics that show us how this works.


One of the very helpful insights comes in a few pages about what multicultural educator Robin DiAngelo has termed "white fragility." (Why do some folks seem to be nearly unable to handle tense conversations about race; why is there so much indignation when this stuff comes up? I've noticed that some people are more angry about any slightly overstated accusation of racism than real, brutal, racial violence. What is going on here with this intense defensiveness?)


I found this section really helpful, and I am still pondering it. We all have heard the phrase white privilege and while the book doesn't dwell on this, it's insights and suggestions are valuable. In setting the stage for thinking about white privilege, Wallis writes that we:


... simply have to admit that the experience of people of color is very different from the experience of white people. White people tend to see racism as an individual issue, about good and bad behavior by moral or immoral people. And because most white people don't think we are "bad" or "immoral" and certainly not deliberately "racist," racism can't be applied to us. As I said above, "I am not a racist" is a regular response in the white community, either expressed or strongly felt. And defensiveness is a common reaction, as opposed to trying to really hear what black coworkers or fellow citizens are saying. 


This section includes some vital theological contributions and calls us to expose idols that may be operative. He parses what is commonly meant by supremacy and privilege, naturally doing a bit of a history lesson. And this matter doesn't just effect black and white relations in American, but the dominant culture's relationships to Native people and, of course, to immigrants.  Ugly stuff keeps happening -- I learned of a hurtful episode just this morning -- and we dare not pretend otherwise. By drawing on some helpful sociology (helping us understand "where white privilege comes from") and how different cultures construe and construct the social realities of race and difference, we can begin to see aspects of this matter than we perhaps didn't see before. Like a fish knowing it is in water, it isn't easy.  This chapter helps us gain new insight and then make commitments to stand against radicalized systems and structures.  As Wallis puts it, citing the radical Pentecostal leader of ESA (Evangelicals for Social Action), Paul Alexander, "we can no longer 'indulge in the luxury of obliviousness' to implicit bias and the embedded history of white privilege." 

Like I said, this book is a bit deeper than some.


And reading it will be a fascinating learning experience, a good ride, especially if done with others.  We invite you to take advantage of this limited time offer of half-off for an order of at least 20 copies.


Wallis asks if we are "a segregated church or a beloved community"?  He asks us how we are doing in the Christian practice of "welcoming the stranger." 


Selma_poster.jpgAmerica's Original Sin.jpgIn one inspiring chapter near the end he talks about "crossing the bridge to a new America."  The cover of the book has historic photo of folks crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, that bridge named after a Confederate general who became a Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan.  If you know your edmund pettis bridge 50th.jpghistory, or if you say the excellent, award winning film, Selma, with David Oyelowo,  you know that that infamous bridge was "a powerful and threatening symbol of white power and supremacy in Selma Alabama." 


Mr. Wallis was there on Saturday, March 7, 2015 for the fiftieth anniversary of that "Bloody Sunday"and his few pages on that are beautiful. He met a woman there who asked if he had seen the movie The Help and she talked about her own grandmother making 25 cents per day. She was a teen during the Montgomery bus boycott and they talked about that. Wallis, of course, knows Rep. John Lewis (who had been beat very badly on the bridge that day fifty years earlier) and they got to chat.  Of course, Wallis shares some of President Obama's speech that day -- including a wonderful line that "America is not yet finished."  The whole telling is fascinating and makes a great, inspired ending to a challenging, illuminating and important book. 


Thanks to Baker Publishing Group and Brazos Press for allowing this limited time half off deal. We are glad to particpate and will be happy to rush to you your order, at the extra discounts.


We will happily send out any other orders of any other books mentioned here at a 20% off.


TO ORDER BOOKS:



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Smaller quantities, or any other book mentioned -- 20% off.
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August 15, 2016

Listen in to an audio podcast where I talk about books about Christians and politics. ALL BOOKS MENTIONED 25% OFF this week only!

I love writing about books and really appreciate those who have encouraged us, bought books from us, sent our BookNotes reviews out to their friends, pastors, church leaders, campus ministry staff. I know I often get a bit wordy, but, hey, that's half the fun, eh?

Well, as they say, you ain't seen nothin' yet.  


byron talking to a guy.jpgNow you can listen to me talking about books, talking fast, trying to squeeze bunches of helpful book descriptions into an upbeat, 45 minute interview.


mike schutt w mic.jpgMy good Texan friend Michael Schutt works in student ministry with law students through the Christian Legal Society (and is on staff at Regent University School of Law) and is the beloved, funny, emcee at the annual CLS national conference; Mike authored the serious-minded, one-of-a-kind book called Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession which shows just how smart he is.



cross & gavel bigger.jpgMike hosts a bi-weekly podcast called "Cross & Gavel."


It is designed for lawyers and others interested in the interface of religion and law. In a recent edition, for instance, he interviewed Professor John Inazu about his new University of Chicago Press book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference and they've hosted other excellent conversations about legal theory, justice, and issues of interest to those living out Christian conviction in the field of law. But sometimes offers conversations on less specialized topics. You can see the whole list of archived talks at itunes.


This new edition of the "Cross & Gavel" podcast features 45 minutes-worth of Mike asking me about books which I think are useful to help people of Christian faith sort through what to think about politics.


I start off talking about how we started the store and give quick descriptions of a few of my favorite books of this year -- You Are What You Love by Jamie Smith, Andy Crouch's Strong and Weak, Chris Smith's fabulous Reading for the Common Good , the new Os Guinness, Impossible People -- and then implored folks to pick up and study Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World by Richard J. Mouw.  It is one of my favorite books and it will give you many "aha" moments as you work through it.  Could a book possible be more timely?  I could have said more, but the clock was ticking and I had more than a dozen other books to talk about.


So here ya go:  listen in to Mike and me chatting about authors from Yuval Levine to James Skillen to Miroslav Volf, naming a couple of older classics about Christian views of government  to a few very new ones.  If you download and listen to podcasts often, you know the drill; you can even take this in the car with you.  (Or so I'm told.)  Even if you aren't used to doing this, it's simple. Just click on the link below and you'll enjoy this fast-past chat about important books to help us "think Christianly" and approach our citizenship through the eyes of moderate, wise, winsome, interesting Biblical faith.


I love giving my quickie summaries of oodles of books, and you'll hear a bit about us here at the shop, and you'll learn about thoughtful Christian books that just might help us survive the crazy-making election season.


(Of course, even though we really packed a lot into that conversation, there are others I'd wished I had mentioned.... write me if you need a more thorough or diverse list. Really. But listen to the list, first.)


HERE IS AN INCENTIVE TO LISTEN TO THIS SOON:

25% OFF ANY BOOK MENTIONED.


You can get a 25% off discount on any of the books mentioned there at the "Cross & Gavel" podcast if you order by Saturday, August 20, 2016.  Just use the link below that takes you to our secure website order form page.

After 7/20 we will still offer a discount to our faithful on-line friends, a more customary 10% discount.
But order now and get 25% off.


cross & gavel bigger.jpgClick this link here to listen to the interview hosted by Mike Schutt.


Or, go to the nice Cross & Gavel site: http://crossandgavel.libsyn.com/byron-borger-talks-books-on-politics-more






TO ORDER BOOKS:



SPECIAL
PODCAST
DISCOUNT
ANY ITEM MENTIONED

25% off**
**offer expires Saturday, August, 20, 2016
order here
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                                      Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313     717-246-3333


August 11, 2016

Books for students heading off to college: TOP FOUR (on sale now.)

college bound logo.jpgThe other day a well-educated friend asked me about what book to give her soon-to-be heading off to college daughter. Just a few short months ago, she was mostly known as a high school graduate; within a few weeks she will be a first year college student. It's a big transition and a new identity, freighted with all kinds of joys, concerns, fears, excitement, opportunities, shaped by that biggee: change. Ch-ch-ch changes, indeed.

I won't wax on and on about all this -- you probably know I've written a lot about college ministry and young adults and such before.

So, without further ado, here is a quick little list which I think you can trust. Four great books to give to any kid going off to college this month.  I bet they'd appreciate it. Order from us today by clicking on the link at the bottom.  We'll do a 10% discount, and ship your order out right away. See how easy we're making this for you? You were wondering what to give her or him, weren't you?

FOUR BOOKS FOR FOUR YEARS
These are listed in order of their "level" so that you could give the first to a first year student, the next to a sophomore, the next to a somewhat more advanced (but still young) student, and the last to a more serious senior.  More or less, anyway.  Sound good?

Make-College-Count-Hardcover-218x300.jpgMake College Count Derek Melleby (Baker Books) $12.99  Okay, okay, I've mentioned this a lot over the years. Derek is one of my best friends. Our bookstore is mentioned in it as a resource for young adults trying to make their way as a responsible, thoughtful faithful college student. Still, as unbiased as I can be, I want to insist that it truly is the best book of its kind, the only really great book I know of that I'd give to a recent high school grad that is a general sort of introduction to the biggest questions to ask and answer as one is entering college.Melleby's MCC is Ideal for those heading to school for the first time although some entering their second year might even like it.

I know many a parent or youth pastor or older sibling wants to offer this kind of profound (but not preachy) encouragement to a student they love, helping them to make the most of these so-called critical years. This book will provide you with this great opportunity to raise these good questions and offer some last-minute guidance. I think you'll feel good sending it.

In this lovely, interesting, compact-sized, hardback, Melleby invites students to consider these seven questions (notice the subtitles to each chapter which illustrate where he's going with each inquiry.)

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

2. Why Are You Going to College?
    Finding Your Place in God's Story

3.  What Do You Believe?
     Taking Ownership of Your Faith

4.  You Are You?
     Securing Your Identity in Christ

5.  With Whom Shall You Surround Yourself
     Connecting with Christian Community

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

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

I like this from the publisher's promo info: "There's more to college than classes, credits, and a nonstop social life. It's more than getting a degree to improve one's job prospects. College is a time where students develop into the adults they will be for the rest of their lives, a time to explore the big questions about life and human destiny, a time when they form their character and faith."

I'm not alone in promoting this great little volume.  Here's a few rave reviews from some of the most knowledgeable and reliable voices in young adult ministry:

"For years I have been looking for the right book to give to Christian high school grads: readable, real, honest, grace-focused, Christ-centered, and practical. Finally, I've found just the ticket--Make College Count is that book."  Chap Clark, author of Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers; professor of youth, family, and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Christian college students hear a lot about what to avoid during their college years. So it's refreshing to encounter a book that explains what students should embrace in college. It's clear that Derek Melleby understands the world of today's students." Joseph M. Stowell, president of Cornerstone University

"Make College Count is just right! What Derek Melleby has done is find a way to come alongside someone on the way to college and offer guidance about things that matter most."  Steven Garber, director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; author of The Fabric of Faithfulness and Visions of Vocation.

"Make College Count offers an accurate preview of college life and encourages and equips students to thoughtfully make the most of college (and the rest of their lives) by embracing a real and vibrant faith that's not an extracurricular add-on but a foundation for all of life. This could be the most important book students read during their college years."  Walt Mueller, president, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

Here is a link to an previous, longer review I did of this great book, Make College Count.

King of the Campus Stephen Lutz.jpgKing of the Campus Stephen Lutz (House Studio) $14.99  Again, I've suggested this before and carry it to any event where we sell books to college students. My own blurb on the back shouts my enthusiasm: there isn't any other book on the market that does what this very cool paperback does. Yeah!

What I mean by this is that there are some books that ask foundational questions (like Melleby, above) and some that are mostly about basic Christian discipleship, how to not party or have sex or stop going to church.  And some excellent ones that offer a reminder that God cares about the classroom (see below) and the life of the mind.  Lutz, in his missional vision to invite students to join with God to honor Christ's Lordship and discover God's redemptive purposes on campus and at college, does all of the above. Yes, there's solid stuff here about basic discipleship, helping readers understand grace and revel in gospel good news.  Yes, there's some practical advice about habits and character and growing in personal faith -- but wise and thoughtful, in the context of the kinds of stuff Melleby writes about. It's solid.  And, happily, there is a nice section about studies, about academics, about thinking well and studying faithfully, for God's glory and our neighbors good. Yep, King of the Campus is a gospel-centered, Kingdom-vision kind of book about living for Christ in college. And it is fantastic, mature, interesting, and a great study. I really do recommend it.

Here is what the publisher says:

God's purpose for you at college isn't merely to get an education. It's to join him in the work he's already doing there. You have been gifted and shaped to participate in the kingdom of God right now, on your campus.

In King of the Campus, author Stephen Lutz considers why the kingship of Christ really matters, and examines what it looks like to have Jesus as King over five key areas of university life:

Church and Christian fellowship

Relationships

Academics and work

Organizational leadership

Partying and pleasure

The story God has for you is bigger and more compelling than a list of do's and don'ts. Learn to thrive as you partner with God in the change he is bringing to your life,to your campus, and to the world.

Sounds good, eh? Steve has worked at Penn State University with the CCO and I know him and trust him.  This book emerges from his own intense work on campus and his own passion to be a church planter amidst the university culture.  If you know a Christian student, this hard-to-find, little known book (colorfully written by a Reformed guy, on a Nazarene publishing house, quoting pop culture and N.T. Wright!) would make a fantastic gift. 

Here is a link to Steve Lutz's webpage that shows more about the book. You will see some really great endorsements there, including my own. Enjoy.

learning for the love of god.jpgLearning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide to Academic Faithfulness  Donald Opitz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $14.99  I wonder if there is any other book I so enjoy selling, feel so glad to get into the hands of young students? It is not ponderous or weighty but has the potential to revolutionize lives, faiths, and futures.  I really believe in the power of this book, and want to invite you to send some out to college students you love.

Just last week I was doing a three hour workshop with an energetic group of college students, using some of this material to invite them to think about using their minds more deeply and thinking well about how to be a student for God's glory. They had the book, and were not unfamiliar with some of its themes. ("Recall how Bach signed all his music soli dei gloria," I said, quoting a section of this book, and then asked what it would be like for them to see their academic life -- writing papers, doing textbook reading, lab experiments, studio work, computer stuff, class projects -- in a manner that naturally integrates a Biblical vision of life and a Christian worldview into the work they are doing. What obstacles would have to be overcome to serve God in the classroom.  In fact, we went over a list of things that other students came up with that is an appendix in the book. It was a really interesting conversation, believe me.  Time ran out so we missed to the "liturgy for learning" that is also in the book.  Oh how I wanted to read that out loud together as a closing blessing on these  young scholars.

I got a little choked up explaining (in a way I suspect they didn't fully grasp) why it is so very, very meaningful to me that this book is dedicated to me. I'm not bragging, but affirming that these two authors gave me a great, great gift and a boatload of affirmation in doing that. Optiz and Melleby are esteemed friends -- Optiz  is surely one of the smartest guys I know with an advanced theological degree from Gordon Conwell and a PhD in sociology under Peter Berger, and a gifted, colorful writer, and Derek is truly one of the most energetic, thoughtful, and impactful young men I know; his work with the CCO, and the the Center for Parent & Youth Understanding and now with the OneLife gap year program is nothing short of extraordinary. (Oh yes, did I mention he wrote a lovely little book called Make College Count?) Interestingly, both have a pretty stellar former basketball careers, or so I've heard.

Both of these authors are excellent translators of often daunting concepts gleaned from serious philosophical reading, allowing serious stuff into accessible and even enchanting lines. That is, Learning for the Love of God is a fun read, even funny at times, with tons of stories and lots of "on ramps" for learning and pondering and taking fresh steps. It's not heady or dry. Yet, this whole idea -- academic faithfulness, as they put it -- is considered "outrageous" by many.  They make it sound normal, or at least a high and holy adventure: learning for the love of God.

I have explained in greater detail elsewhere why I think this book is so very important. I sure hope somebody sends some out to some college students this week. It is good and it is important; it is a vital rebuttal to both sentimental faith that implies Christianity is mostly about one's inner piety and not intellectually interesting and a rebuttal to the dualisms that suggest God doesn't really care about art or science or engineering or communications or business or physical therapy or law or education.

I'm not alone in saying this, that this book is life changing and useful. The wise and good little book isn't as known as it ought to be, and others who follow and study the world of nurturing young adults making the transition to college say so, too.

James K.A. Smith (author of You Are What You Love) says:

What does discipleship have to do with learning? How do I follow Jesus "as a student"? What does the Lord require of me at university? This marvelous book answers just these sorts of questions. It's one of a kind, an expansive vision of Christian learning written not for professors but for students. Best of all, this is a book that can profit students in any educational context, secular or religious. Buy a box of these and give them to every high school senior you know.

And listen to CPYU founder and director Walt Mueller, again a person I respect very, very deeply, who knows better than most the need for this sort of stuff to be written for beginner students:

This book addresses numerous timely issues related to college transition, the place of academics in the life of the Christian student, and the development of a lifelong Christian perspective on issues of calling and vocation. Nothing I have seen yet addresses these particular issues with the combination of theological depth and easy accessibility that marks this book.

Here is one review
of Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide... written by a former campus worker, Bob Trube from his "Bob on Books" blog -- very fair and nicely explanatory.

Here, I ruminate in a longish essay on a large handful of books (including Steve Garber's then brand new Visions of Vocation, and tell quite a bit about why I so love Melleby & Optiz and their then brand new Learning for the Love of God.  Pull up a chair and enjoy.

WHAT'S NEXT? FOLLOWING THE FOOTNOTES

Okay, if by some grand blessing in life your beloved young one read Make College Count before their freshman year, and took up serious Christian discipleship in (but not of) the ethos of the college campus by studying King of the Campus and then moved on to buckle down with Learning for the Love of God in their second or third year, what next?

Well, let's just suppose they read the books recommended by those authors -- for instance, Greg Jao's wonderful, brief, inexpensive must-read booklet Your Mind's Mission (IVP; $7.00) or Neal Plantinga's eloquent, profound, beautiful Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Eerdmans; $16.00.) They've picked up some curiosity from those books, checked out the footnotes seeing who they drew upon and circled back and read some things on worldview -- most likely The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton (IVP; $22.00) or Al Wolter's Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans; $15.00.)  Hopefully, they've noticed Andy Crouch's Culture Making: God's Creative Calling (IVP; $22.00) along the way, as his books have been influential. Maybe they've discovered Os Guinness' rich, rich volume, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (W Publishing Group; $17.99) and certainly reading something on discerning vocation has entered their heart and mind.

They noticed in some of these books that the authors recommend reading BookNotes, so your eager learning student maybe ordered from us Reading for the Common Good by C. Christopher Smith and know that I've been insisting that You Are What You Love by Jamie Smith will be our pick for 2016 Book of the Year.  They've noticed that we describe books on racial reconciliation and social justice. They've understood the need to read up on community. Probably they've read something on spiritual formation - perhaps the books of Ruth Haley Barton or the spiritual resources by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun -- or at least a daily devotional or a book about praying. Since they've gotten involved in a healthy, learning-loving Christian fellowship group and local campus church they've heard of other books that have touched other students. Real Sex by Lauren Winner, hopefully. C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, Tim Keller, John Perkins. They have -- inspired by Melleby and Optiz, no doubt -- sent me an email asking for a book on their major, offering some Christian reflection on nursing or teaching or architecture or art or biology or environmental science or business or engineering or design or writing or economics or psychology.

Man, these students are taking their faith seriously, wisely, growing into real flourishing and for the common good. Wow.

What next?

fabric of f.jpgFabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior Steven Garber (IVP) $17.00  Again, I have written about this often, and some know that although it is a serious book to read carefully, to savor the rich sentence and ponder the incisive cultural analysis, it is, certainly, one of the great books of our time. I would rank it -- if I really had to do such a thing -- in my own top ten of best books I've ever read. You may know his somewhat more popular and recent Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (which I named as the book of the year when it came out in 2014.) 

Here is the very short version of this wonderfully rich and wise book: Garber -- always the good listener -- interviewed a handful of folks who were approaching or in the beginning of their mid-life years, people he seemed to think were living well, their faith intact and lively, inviting them to think back on their college years. What happened to them, he wondered, that shaped them when they were in those "critical years." Ends up, almost everyone who had "kept on keeping on" over the long haul of their lives, with their idealistic vision of culture-shaping and whole life discipleship, said the same sort of things. People whose faith was integrated into their real lives, those who had a robust vision of vocation and related their discipleship to their careers and callings and public lives, who were active in church and even through hardships were not giving up or "privatizing" their faith, all had profound and shaping experience in college. They all in on way or another told of the same three things.  I was one of those people interviewed in that book, and it rings true. Exactly.

Those profound experiences, the sort of faith formation that lasted in healthy ways, were -- in his research developed from these many interviews -- described as learning to (a) have a commitment to true truth, (2) having a mentor that showed that these Biblical truths could be lived out in the real world (moving, that is, from head to heart, or from conviction to character), and (3) the experience of finding and forging life-long friendships in those years.  And so it is that Fabric of Faithfulness shows that these three things -- to use Stanley Hauerwas's alliterative phrase, "conviction, character, community" -- should matter to those who are in college. The first edition of the book actually had as the subtitle "weaving together belief and behavior in the college years" indicating it was perhaps written for collegiates.  As it was.

Alas, FoF may be a bit too serious-minded for many young students (although there are good stories, references to movies, novels, discussions of pop music and the like.) It is a classic within this genre of formational work for young adults and it is well, well worth studying closely for those who have some basic vocabulary and cultural awareness under their belts. It is no accident (and certainly no exaggeration) that each of the above books for students have been significantly informed by conversations of consequence with Steve and with close readings of his work over the years.

VoV.jpgThe authors listed above, and this Dallastown bookseller agree: Garber's work is important, mature, sophisticated, and eloquent.  Fabric... is well worth reading, and would make a great book to give to a mature student, perhaps a college senior or one going off to grad school.  In fact, give her or him both of Garber's wondrous books: a little set of FoF and VoV.  Both books are, among other things, about this fundamental question: what does it mean to care, and, then how can we learn to care well, and what do we do with what we know? In other words, what difference does education make if it doesn't touch our deepest desires and habits of heart and how we live.  Wow.



BONUS: FOR PARENTS OF COLLEGE AGE STUDENTS OR OLDER TEENS

It's not too late.jpgIt's Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen's Faith Dan Dupee (Baker Books) $15.99  Okay, I know some of you now are fretting, worrying about making that long drive back from taking your daughter or son to college for the first time.  Or, maybe -- as some of us know - you are maybe looking forward to sending 'em back to school; maybe the summer home was a bit stressful at times. This empty nest thing is a crazy roller coaster ride of emotion, even if the nest isn't empty yet.  Maybe you are wondering if your role as a parent has pretty much reached its climax, that from here on out you'll just have to hope for the best.

As we've explained in another review, Dupee's first hand research from hundreds of conversations with many focus groups and gathering input from teens, college students and their parents, parenting of older teens obviously changes from the parenting skills we exercised when the kids were little. But this book is very good news for most: it is not too late. This is the best book of which we know for parenting the college age teen, the young adult transitioning out of the house. They do want our involvement, parents, and Dan shows you how to stay sane and influential in these so-called critical years. It's Not to Late is a one-of-a-kind resource and it would be great for some parents to have it early this fall.  Believe me.



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August 8, 2016

10 (mostly new) books to follow up the exquisite memoir Ruined ALL ON SALE

ruined.jpgThe book I told you about in the last H&M newsletter, Ruth Everhart's Ruined, was (as Kirkus Review put it) "everything a reader would want in a memoir." It works especially well for those of us who are intrigued by stories of those struggling to figure out what they believe and why; call it a "faith journey" or a "spiritual coming of age" narrative, such books about forging a coherent faith amidst personal struggle are almost always inspiring.  Ruined is about more than the rape and its aftermath in the life of a Christian college woman, much more. But her life in those years was obviously shaped by this horrific event, so we follow her journey, cheering for her as she is called into ministry and into a life-giving marriage. 


Those who work with others in ministry - pastors, campus workers, youth ministers, parents, guidance counselors and the like - should read these kinds of stories often, to become more attuned to how people narrate their lives, how they make meaning in their search for a story that makes sense.


I recall Frederick Buechner writing somewhere that the best theology, in fact, comes in the genre of autobiography.


TEN

Here are 10 more books that came to mind last week as I was reviewing Ruined: A Memoir. I didn't want to clutter up that column but was itching to name some other titles.  Hope these short descriptions inspire you to think about these good ones.


Maybe you'll be inspired to share this post, perhaps. These are books that deserve to be known. I am sure they could be life-giving and helpful to many. And we love the idea of our recommendations getting to those who need them. We love getting new subscribers to BookNotes, too, so thanks for passing this on.


healing the wounded heart.jpgHealing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation Dan B. Allender (Baker) $16.99;  Workbook; $14.99 Our biggest selling book on helping survivors come to terms with sexual abuse in the past has been Dan Allender's 1989 book Wounded Heart. We have long respected Dan and have devoured many of his other books - The Healing Path is about the recovery of faith, hope, and love, for those who have experienced trauma and deep hurt; To Be Told has the subtitle "God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future" and it is brilliant; Leading with a Limp is counter-intuitive and right.) I am not alone in appreciating his self-help stuff like Wounded Heart; it is considered nearly a classic in some circles.


Listen to what Shauna Niequist says: 


Through Dan's skillful and tender writing, I've been given a vision for how to love and walk well with the members of my community whose stories have been marked by sexual abuse. I'm so very thankful for his gentle, prophetic voice, and for the many ways his words have been healing and life giving for generations.


The new one, Healing the Wounded Heart, is nearly a sequel to Wounded Heart although the publisher assures us it stands alone. It does seem like it could be read without having read the first one. Here is what the publisher says:  "Now, more than twenty-five years later, Allender has written a brand-new book on the subject that takes into account recent discoveries about the lasting physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual ramifications of sexual abuse."

"With great compassion Allender offers hope for victims of rape, date rape, incest, molestation, sexting, sexual bullying, unwanted advances, pornography, and more, exposing the raw wounds that are left behind and clearing the path toward wholeness and healing. Never minimizing victims' pain or offering pat spiritual answers that don't truly address the problem, he instead calls evil evil and lights the way to renewed joy."


If you do ministry at all, befriend others, work with young adults, or do any sort of counseling, I hope you have one of these one hand for that moment when you will need it. Tragic as it may be, it is true; if you are open to the pain of others, you will need to share this (or something like it.)  I'm not always a fan of workbooks, but it looks very, very useful as well.  Both are highly recommended!


Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife- My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse .jpgBlack and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse Ruth A. Tucker (Zondervan) $16.99  This compelling and anguishing book deserves a more lengthy review than I can do here, but you should know at least a bit about it. Firstly, Dr. Tucker is an important Christian writer, having penned books on women in leadership, on famous women of church history, and a magisterial, award-winning history of global missions (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.)


As she was writing on world-class publishing houses and teaching seminary courses at solid evangelical divinity schools and speaking in debates with her friend John Piper (who holds an exceptionally conservative view of the roles of women in the church and world) she was literally being beat black and blue and bloody by a man who comes across as a psychopath.  She attempts to be generous and discreet in the telling of the tale but she explains forthrightly her husband's obsession with male headship and his brutal ways which seemed connected to his harsh reading of the Bible. Her "submission" to him was harsh and bizarre -- he would withhold her book manuscripts until she changed certain lines, she would be pummeled if she disagreed with his particular interpretation of an obscure Bible doctrine, she would be forced to have demeaning sex before heading out to lecture on women in the mission field.


This book is more than a memoir, though. Much of it is Tucker's good Biblical teaching about mutuality in marriage, about the theological issues surrounding discussions about the roles of men and women in the church and world.  And it is reminder that domestic violence occurs even within the most seemingly devout religious homes, sometimes even minimized by those who have narrow Biblical interpretations and weird attitudes.


She bravely talks about her efforts to work things out, her faith in reconciliation and Christian counseling, and how none of that worked. The allusions to complicity among pastors and dangerously unprofessional pastoral counseling are staggering.  This is a hard book to read, but includes dispassionate counsel and Bible teaching. I very highly recommend it.


Perhaps you know someone who needs hope for overcoming the devastation of domestic violence, or maybe you know someone who would benefit from Ruth's story, another example of good theology coming from autobiography.  The story is harrowing, the expose of the theological abuse of Scripture important to reflect upon, and her lovely testimony of a new marriage and a truly decent marriage is inspiring.  Kudos to the publisher and to Ruth Tucker for daring to share this shocking story.  We hope many order it and are helped.


Notice the damage on the wall in this handsome, important book cover. Well done.


Scars Across Humanity- Understanding Violence Against Women.gifScars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women Elaine Storkey (Cascade Books) $16.00  I announced this when it first came out in England, and then again when the US edition came out earlier this year.  Elaine is a well-known Christian thought-leader and social activist in the UK (as is her husband, Alan Storkey.) Elaine has written excellent books on the roots of feminism, on our understandings of worldviews and gender, and why Christian faith ought not be used to oppress women.  Her connection with Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies and the US policy think tank the Center for Public Justice illustrates her thoughtfulness and rigorous scholarship weaving together lively faith and public life. (She spoke at the CCO's Jubilee conference years ago and we are glad to be long-distant friends.)  In this new book (years in the making) Elaine documents the global impact of various sorts of oppression faced by women throughout the globe.  From forced marriages, sexual slavery, "honor killings" and religiously-inspired domestic violence, there is much about which we should lament and much we can do. Through compelling research and great personal stories, she not only investigates the problems but points us towards renewal and hope.


As is Dr. Storkey style, she not only offers an overview of the problem, but surveys how different worldviews might respond to this crisis and discerns the value of the answers most commonly offered. She looks at those who approach the problem from the point of view of evolutionary psychology and those who offer a critique of patriarchal power structures.  As it says on the back, "she also considers the role that religion can play -for good or ill - in the struggle against this universal evil."


Suffering and the Heart of God- How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores.jpgSuffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores Diane Langberg (New Growth Press) $24.99  Dr. Langberg is globally recognized for her with trauma victims.  We have heard her lecture and stock her previous books (both serious textbooks on counseling and more popular level resources such as On the Threshold of Hope a book for those who have been sexually assaulted.) Again, this "master-class in counseling and pastoral care" (Richard Winter) deserves a much more thorough review - allow me simply to note that it is very nicely written, very thorough, and - as it should be - passionate. She has, as one reviewer notes, "looked into the eyes of those4 wounded by evil and been a powerful voice for healing, justice, and truth."  The wounded heart, damaged by abuse and betrayal and unspeakable evil, can be healed through the power of the gospel.  This is Christ-centered, grace-filled, deeply Christian stuff and her insight is profound. The body of Christ, if we are to express his love for the hurting, simply must pay more attention to those who are silently suffering. We can say that trauma and abuse - painful as it is, never to be minimized or treated with glib clichés - do not have the last word. 


This is an excellent book for anyone and feels a bit like a resource one can dip into on and off as the needs arise. The first six chapters of Suffering and the Heart of God are about suffering, God's solidarity, and the spiritual impact abuse, are brilliant and moving.  The next seven chapters are about doing ministry with the hurting in the context of Christian community; these pieces include wise insight about trauma memories, living with grief, and the pathologies of bad leadership and the abuse of power within churches and Christian organizations.  There are then several chapters for clinicians on understanding complex trauma and sexual violence. The book ends with three great chapters under the heading "care for the counselor." There are two appendices "A Survivor's Expression of Faith" and a lament.


Oh if only Ruth Everhart had this kind of uniquely Christian counselor during her years documented in Ruined. And oh, if Ruth Tucker had these kinds of allies in her years of harrowing abuse.   Storkey's book is a bit broader but Langberg is certainly a resource for her work, as well.  


Unashamed- Drop the Baggage, Pick Up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny .jpgUnashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick Up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny Christine Caine (Zondervan) $19.99  By now, I hope you know the name Christine Caine.  She is a tireless speaker, an upbeat, Spirit-empowered communicator who lives to help others find a big hope and a destiny of world-changing influence. Her own story is thrilling, having been trusted and empowered by the Hillsong Community in Australia to work with at-risk youth (see her fun book Undaunted) which soon led her to the A21 Campaign, a global movement to fight sexual trafficking.  In 2015 they also founded Propel Women, an organization designed to "honor the calling of every woman, empower her to lead, equip her for success, and develop a sense of God-given purpose."  Unstoppable tells the story of her becoming a leader and how we can "pass the baton" on to others. 


I'm very excited about this very new book, even though it is about a topic that seems so trendy - shame. There may be more clinically-informed books, and you know we love The Soul of Shame by the neurologist and psychiatrist Curt Thompson.  And if you haven't read Daring Greatly and Growing Strong yet, well, you ought to get on that right away!  Caine's Unashamed seems to combine the best of several of these books, written with her fast-paced, story-telling and motivational style, inviting us to allow God to set us free from the limits of shame and take up new freedom.  I like!


Listen to what Lisa Harper writes, as she recommends that you pass these out widely and wildly:


I memorized the verse from Romans about there being no shame or condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus when I was a little girl; unfortunately, I was still crippled by shame as a grown woman decades later. From my experience, shame is one of the most effective tools the enemy uses to oppress believers and emasculate the church. Which makes this book a must read. 


Unashamed DVD set.gifWe also have the brand new DVD presentations of this content as well -- it would make a great resource for a small group, an adult ed class, or home or dorm group.


We have a pack with the DVD and one participants guide for $38.99 before our discounted price.  Five sessions. Fantastic!



How to Survive a Shipwreck- Help Is on the Way and Love is Already Here .jpgHow to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is on the Way and Love is Already Here Jonathan Martin (Zondervan) $16.99  I am three-quarters through this passionately written, eloquent book and I'm already wishing my experience of reading it wasn't almost over.  I have read portions out loud to Beth (including his long excerpt of one of my favorite, moving parts of Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church.) Martin is a crazy dude - a young, hip, Dylan-quoting church planter, a son of a Pentecostal preacher, himself Pentecostal, with a degree from Duke Divinity School where he studied under Stanley Hauerwas. His book Prototype: What Happens When You Discover Your More Like Jesus Than You Think makes a couple of big points, mostly around the humanity of Jesus and how salvation and union with Him causes us to flourish as real humans, incarnated in the messy, beautiful, broken world which we are to relish.  I was really, really struck by it, surprised that such a feisty, profound book was being written by a Southern mega-church guy.  So much for my prejudices.


Well.  This super smart and driven guy apparently hit the rails and although I don't know exactly the shape of his existential crisis and marriage problems, he came to realize he wasn't the person he once was, wasn't able to continue on pastoring the church he found, and had to admit he was a ghost of his former self.  What does one do when one can't do the only thing one knows to do? (Believe, there are times I relate!) Was he becoming more human, less willing to fit into the constraints of and expectations for a charismatic church leader, finding himself, truly? Or, what he just becoming burned out from legitimate callings, and making stupid choices, standard fare dumb stuff, drifting from his true self and real faith? I'm not done with the book yet, but I can say his metaphor of being ship-wrecked - in his case, he seemed to run his ship aground himself-- was very compelling.  Shauna Niequist's beautifully written and wise foreword notes how she and her family are sailors, and sailors take shipwreck very seriously; nobody jokes about the dangers of the water.  So she appreciated his heavy tale and was glad for the lessons learned. 


There is a bit good of storytelling here, although it is mostly not a memoir of his wreckage. There is pathos and lament and new hope and new birth emerging from the scummy, dark waters.  His practical guidance and his bigger picture stuff rings true to me and will be valued by those going through very hard times who like a creatively written, raw, poetic approach, that is, helpful pastoral wisdom offered with visionary artistry.  Although there is much good Bible study here he brings in other colorful authors - from James Joyce to Parker Palmer, David Bentley Hart to Thomas Merton, Rene Girard to Elisabeth Lesser.  I like an author who uses good citations, and love one who can shift from Gustavo Gutierrez to Margaret Wise Brown.  If you are in the midst of failure or loss and want to discover the love at the very bottom of things, How to Survive a Shipwreck could be life saving.


soul bare.jpgSoul Bare: Stories of Redemption edited by Cara Sexton (IVP Crescendo) $16.00  I suppose given that this wonderful anthology is published by the "Crescendo" imprint at IVP we should assume it was written for women. There are men authors here and I found some of these chapters (mostly by women) gorgeously crafted and helpfully wise.  From provocative to painful, these testimonials by some published authors (Emily Freeman, Sarah Bessey, Trillian Newbell, award-winning Seth Haines) and many who are known as bloggers and speakers, show in artful, creative ways just how God works to bring healing and hope to the befuddled, hurting, wounded or lost.   Idelette McVicker (founder of SheLoves Magazine) captures the experience of reading through these pieces when she says "I held my breath...I whispered prayers...Most of all I fell more deeply in love with Jesus through these words and stories."


One of our staff (herself a youngish woman who has seen her share of hardships) loved it; another friend assured me it was "just what she needed" after only having read a few chapters. These authors are brave baring their stories, taking the risks of exposing their sins and foibles and fears - "real life laid bare" - but believe there is beauty and redemption in these short writings honed in the deepest places of the heart.  


In a helpful move, the editor has arranged these soul-baring stories in three units. Firstly, "Letting Go" and next there are those under the rubric of "Leaning In." Lastly, the tales are about "Hope and Healing."  


I like how these mostly youngish authentic writers talk about it all: "To tell our truth is to link arms across the divides that keep us out, to close the gaping lie that says our wounds do not matter."  Their advice through it all?  "Even if your edges are chipped, your story is beautiful. Tell it."


9780830846085.jpgThe Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places Mark Yaconelli ((IVP formatio) $16.00  We stock everything in the IVP formatio line and I have read almost every one. I cannot wait to dive into this, but am waiting: it will be a sacred experience, I am sure, and I'm wanting to create the right space and time to consider it well.  It is what I am positive is a very well-told set of stories, with spiritual practices and actionable steps that emerge from them.  I want to work with this, and I suspect many will benefit from its artistry and poignant storytelling and spiritual guidance.

Yaconelli, you may know, is an impressive author of serious youth ministry books whose contribution has been largely around a call to center youth ministry in contemplative practices. Fun, funny, but also weighty, Yak 2 as I call him (his famous father, Mike Yaconelli, was called Yak) may be as edgy and creative as his dad, but he is deeply rooted in ancient, serious stuff.   He is also a moving, raw, honest poet whose reflections and prayers (Wonder, Fear, and Longing is truly extraordinary.) Mark has been written up in mainstream media outlets (from the Wall Street Journal to ABC News Tonight) which I mention only to indicate that he's an important voice and to help convince you to take him seriously. Perhaps his most legendary (or notorious) bit of fame was as a Presbyterian youth pastor who befriended Sam Lamott, Anne's famous son.


In fact, Anne has a beautiful blurb on the back of The Gift of Hard Things which is worth hearing in full:


To my thinking, Mark Yaconelli is one of this country's most important and articulate spiritual teachers. Anyone seeking knowledge and union with God will be informed, edified, nourished and utterly charmed by The Gift of Hard Things. I savored every story and was nurtured by the expression and depth. It is a book absolutely after my own heart.


As it says on the back cover, "using extraordinary stories from his own life and the lives of others, Yaconelli offers a narrative journey through ways in which disappointments have turned into gifts. In these pages are a wealth of spiritual practices that will carry us deeper into the grace we find in unexpected places.


Night Driving- A Story of Faith in the Dark .jpgNight Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark Addie Zierman (Convergent) $14.99  I have mentioned this at least twice before, and I'm going to alert you to it again - I think it is a heck of a good read, a fun and moving story, by a woman who can write circles around many current memoirists. Her first book, about leaving a strict and nearly toxic sort of fundamentalism was called When We Were On Fire and was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the top five religious books of 2013.  I loved most of it; it drew me into the story as a really good memoir does.  This new one showcases her storytelling once again as she takes an emotionally-charged spiritual road trip, literally, searching for God as she takes her little ones on a trip to her roots, her homeland, down South. Do you have to "run away to find home?" What does one do when one doesn't feel God's presence? (Lauren Winner's Still, anyone?)


At book workshops I did this spring I so enjoyed reading some of this memoir out loud -- it's funny, curious, poignant, and mostly hopeful in a desperate kind of way as she "stumbles towards a faith that makes room for doubt, disappointment, and darkness." I'm creating this list, you know, as somewhat of a follow up to Ruined, the memoir of Ruth Everhart and her own coming of age at Calvin College after a searing rape and the lack of a supportive network to help her think through the theological implication of her story. Addie's story is not Ruth's, but it is a glimpse into a woman turning 30, no longer able to claim as her own the sort of faith she once had.  A memoir about a woman's road trip, searching for a coherent faith, living out a story that is haunted by God even if no longer shaped with certitude and the simple joy of her youth?  Yep, Night Driving is a fine slice of life road trip tale and I think you (or somebody you know) would enjoy it -- it's quite a trip and quite a journey of the heart.  Although less didactic, it would fit well for those who like the popular writing of Sarah Bessey (Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith) or Rachel Held Evans (Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding Church.)


after college - erica young reitz.jpgAfter College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith by Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $16.00  It was a truly great joy a few weeks ago to be with Erica and her colleagues from the campus ministry organization the CCO to celebrate the release of this brand new book.  Erica is one of the most gifted and insightful and caring campus workers we know, and we've watched her over the years as she developed a program at Penn State University to help college seniors prepare to exit well, to transition out of their academic experience and into the so-called "real world."  Her program has been immensely valuable for many, and in this new book she offers insight learned in those years with seniors preparing for the post-college years. She offers stories, insight, guidance and the clear voice of a stable, trusted friend as from a wise older sister, inviting young adults to take their faith seriously in their 20-something years.


You may know that I asked Erica to write in my own collection of essays -- graduation speeches, really -- called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life; I was confident her short piece would stand up alongside Nicholas Wolterstorff, Amy Sherman, Steve Garber, John Perkins. I trust her immensely and love her clear, reliable writing style that has just a bit of zest.


Perhaps the above memoirs or studies of abuse or  stories of seeking an allusive faith after struggles are a bit much.  Maybe you have need of something a little less intense, but still a very good guide to help young adults navigate the transitions and inevitable rocky roads facing life after college.  I can't say enough good things about Erica's book, and I thought I'd list it here since Ruined itself is, in many ways, a story of late college life and life after college. Erica's book will help those who are hurting, but it is designed really for anyone who is seeking a lasting faith, meaningful vocations, and a renewed passion for honoring God in the way their young adult years unfold.


Please read my comments about it here, back when I was inviting folks to pre-order it.  I tried to explain how excited we were.  Now that it has indeed been released, we are eager to continue to promote it, letting folks know it makes a great, great gift for any young adult transitioning out of college life. http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/booknotes/pre-order_after_college/


 Congratulations, Erica, and thank you for sharing your wisdom and good, good writing.



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August 2, 2016

Ruined: A Memoir by Ruth Everhart ON SALE

a-womans-place-.jpgRuined: A Memoir by Ruth Everhart (Tyndale House Publishers; $14.99.) Our sale price = $13.49

Our last Hearts & Minds BookNotes newsletter was well received and we are grateful for those who cared about the lovely, interesting, thoughtful work by Katelynn Beaty, A Woman's Place.  It is a rare sort of book that offers insight and stories, sprightly told, about not only the role of women in our culture - leaning in and daring greatly and all that - but does so within a nicely worked out view of vocation and calling. By bringing together these two topics, based on lots of interviews and astute observations about gender and work, Beaty, a gifted journalist, offers us a very great gift. It is highly recommended for men and women.

Ms. Beatty attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan. That she learned much about gender justice and the doctrine of Christ's Lordship over all of life, lived out within the context of conversations about the imago dei, culture-making, and vocations in the work-world, while at that respected liberal arts college run by the Christian Reformed Church is notable; perhaps it is an indication of some things that have changed there in the last generations. It is true that their world-and-life view (as they used to call it, drawing from their heritage in the culturally-engaged public theology of Abraham Kuyper) has long emphasized forming the Christian mind for all-of-life-redeemed service for the common good, but, not that long ago, women were not central to that project. Like at most Christian colleges, the last decades have seen more women scholars with PhDs, more female students taking up philosophy or science or engineering, and a much more lively conversation on campus about gender, date rape, the problems with purity culture, and the like.

It was not always so.

ruined.jpgI did not plan it this way, but the book I am eager to tell you about today begins at Calvin College, starting in one horrific weekend in early November 1978, when two young men from Grand Rapids raped four female students living together in an off campus house.  As the riveting, occasionally gruesome, first 50 pages of Ruined: A Memoir describes, the young women were tied together, taken to the cellar floor, back again to their bedrooms, and terribly violated. Two of the women were raped twice, two only once, while another housemate was oddly spared.

Given the statistics of how many women are molested, raped, or abused in our society, it is nearly a certainty that you, as you are reading this, know women who have been assaulted; I feel a knot in my gut even as I type this, knowing this is true in my own circles. Even in our little Christian bookstore the small cards from a local rape crisis center offering assistance, which we have in the restroom, are routinely taken.

I am a bit surprised, actually, that we don't sell more books about this topic.  Like the upbeat Beaty book on work, Everhart's Ruined is another book that I want to promote widely and press into the hands of many. It is illuminating about so very much, and a captivating story; hard as it is on several different levels, it is, truly, a good read. (The prestigious Kirkus Review said it has "everything readers should want from memoir.")  The crime, the aftermath, and the trial are the narrative center of the memoir, but it is - as most coming of age stories and spiritual memoirs - about so much more. At times I wanted to cheer, and at times I wiped away tears from my eyes.

Everhart is herself a respected Presbyterian (USA) pastor and a good writer. (We loved her previous book, a story of her travels through the Middle East, called Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land.) Her style is not flamboyant and her prose is sensible, solid, not at all purple, for which I was grateful. The book carries us along not on sheer brilliance of the dazzling language, but on the strength and integrity of the story.

And what a story it is.  Any narrative of such horror and the quest to bring the perpetrators to justice is bound to be suspenseful and gripping, but what is also quite moving is her telling of her story of doubt, the struggle about God's presence in the middle of the evil perpetrated, and her honest, logical rejection of simplistic language of God's blessing. There is an understated scene that captures this: in their fear during the hours-long episodes they recited the Lord's Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm. Yeah though I walk through the shadow...  Of course they cried out to God for protection. Weeks later in the school coffee shop where the victims gathered daily for support and to nurse their fears and anger, Ruth heard the roommate who was not sexually violated say that she was thankful God her heard prayers.  Can you see how weird this kind of talk is: does that mean God did not hear the prayers of the other girls?  Did God choose to spare the one but inflicted the evil upon the others, cowering in fear on the floor?  Is God playing some game with human lives, doling out suffering here, helping some, hurting others? It's a fair question.

faith and other flat tires.jpg(By the way, coming of age spiritual memoirs written by those trying to make sense of their lives are useful for all of us to read and sometimes useful to share with others, as a friend or road map or guide to the journey. I think of Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt by the very fine writer Andrea Palpant Dilley which I reviewed a few years ago, also set on a conservative college campus, just for instance.)

This is the quandary of the ages, but it was particularly vexing for Ruth and the others there in Grand Rapids in the middle of the 20th century; God's electing sovereignty is prominent in all Reformed theology but is perfected to a staggeringly systematic cornerstone among her branch of Dutch Calvinists - more so than in the writings of the famous Reformer himself, Ruth later suggests. But this was apparently the heart of the Sunday school and catechism and formation within the CRC and the girls had absorbed clichéd truism after clichéd truism with their mother's milk: I have been a good girl, so things like this won't happen to me.  If God allows - sends? - such trouble, am I to be glad that He (always a He) is chastising me? Am I being punished? Are we to rejoice in all things No Matter What? Do not question these things.

Oh, how these toxic clichés hurt, oh how majestic and grand theological notions can be hardened into Slogans and Truths that do not match our lives lived East of Eden. Oh how selective some of our faith traditions (and some of our most vocal leaders) can be, citing this text, but not that one, telling this Bible story, but ignoring that one. Such theology becomes simple and firm and, while helpful to a few, necessarily unhelpful to most tender hearts or inquisitive minds.  One major theme of Ruined is how this dogma from her CRC past was ruined for her. Bad advice, cheap slogans, failure to listen, refusal to host pain and doubt and lament, all plagued her (or at least this is how she tells the story.) The college was less than helpful - I am positive they handle such matters very differently now - and the Student Affairs staff and the chaplain himself were not helpful, let alone comforting and wise.

Ruined tells well the story of the criminal investigation, the trial, the delays in the trial, how each victim - it took a while and some doses of empowering feminist theology to help them learn to describe themselves as survivors - responded to the publicity and the eventual indictments. Still, although this reads at times like a true crime story, it is mostly a faith journey. How does a young woman steeped in conservative evangelical and Reformed theology cope with a worldview crisis, when the things she assumed she believed no longer seemed to work? How do young women in the evangelical world remain in a denomination that (at that time) refused ordination to women? What social classes and associations and friendships can help a young woman come into her own?  What kind of insights and churches allow such daughters of Sarah to flourish in the bosom of Abraham?

Another part of the story is explored carefully (although I would have wished for just a bit more, although it may not be my place to make such wishes known as it is her story to tell) is her struggle, in post-traumatic stress fashion, to be fair to African American men.  Even though her assailants where a certain age and build, Ruth's visceral response to black men was informed by what we now call triggers. At one point her rapist wiped a tear away from her cheek, showing even in the dark the pink of his palm. How does one untangle the maleness and the blackness of her assailants? She could not, she understood, hate all men. She could not, she also understood, hate all blacks. Her father, interestingly, worked as a principle of a very urban, multi-ethnic Christian school, so she grew up comfortable around folks of various socio-economic status and diverse races. Her coping with what felt to her like racist instincts after the attack as she continued to live in racially mixed neighborhoods is candid, raw, remarkable.  ("My capacity for hatred bothered me," she tersely writes. "I hadn't known I was capable of such a thing. But I was.") There were times nearer the end of the book that I had to put the book down just to ponder her experiences, rejoice in her honesty, glad for her desire for growth, wholeness, healing, justice.

Ruth-Everhart-memoir-challenge.jpgYet another part of this tremendous book is how Ruth's faith journey led her to a new friend and an inner city Lutheran church community that indeed offered a safe place to grapple with theodicy, with questions about the role of women in society and church, to explore her love for philosophy and theology, kindled in spurts with good professors at Calvin. She attends an upstart seminary in a ramshackle building in Minneapolis, learning more about more mainline denominational voices, women's theology, liberation theology, and more.  She develops a sense of call into ordained ministry, blending her evangelical and Reformed heritage, her experiences in charismatic renewal, and her newly discovered contemporary theological skills with a keen pastoral sense.  I needn't tell you the rest, but it is always a delight, I think, to lean over the shoulder of one who is discerning a call, trying honestly (through a glass darkly, even, at times) to hear the voice of God and to pursue discipleship in a way that is coherent and faithful.

I loved Everhart's story at this point, even details about how she shared these new directions with her parents and extended Dutch family.  These were painful days for the CRC and anyone whose faith has moved in somewhat different ways than one's own beloved family will relate to her telling of her family dynamics.

How much of Everhart's theological views of "divine mysteries" and sense of calling into the ministry came about because of the awful rape and the less than admirable response among many in her conservative Calvinist setting?  Can this story that begins with an unspeakable act of violence - as the promo copy for the book says - "end with tremendous healing and profound spiritual insights about faith, forgiveness and the will of God"?
 
Yes, this is a story of coping with the aftermath of a rape. It is the story of struggling with the perennial questions "where is God when it hurts?" and "why is God silent?" and "why does God allow evil?" and "will I ever be whole again?" It is the story of doing theology, live, in real time, trying to make sense of one's assumptions about faith, about what the Bible does and doesn't say, about how to articulate in helpful ways stuff about faith, life, suffering, gender, justice and God's will. This is a memoir about faith and about life.

And, I might say rather gladly for some of us, it is a snapshot into life in the decades of the 1970s and 80s. She mentions her fashion choices, and little details - bean bag chairs, listening to Gordon Lightfoot, the names of cars she drove, the phone booth wire coiled in steel - made me smile. That she mentions hangout spots in Grand Rapids was fun (we have good friends there, and a daughter who lived in Eastown where some of the book is set.) Her moving around the country - including a beautifully crafted episode of canoeing on Lake Superior where she meets (spoiler alert) her husband - rings true as she navigates her transition after college.

ruth everhart head shot.jpgThere is an epilogue to the book, set off in italics, that, even though only a few pages, have haunted me and touched me.

These pages are an open letter written to her daughters, one in college, one in high school. The girls apparently didn't know that their mother was raped and their own response to this awful discovery was complicated. Her letter to them about being loved, about God's grace, about possible hurt and trauma in life, was beautiful and poignant and powerful, the words incredibly moving. God will, she testifies, bring something new and beautiful out of the pain.  You are loved no matter what. They are words I wish every parent could say to every child.




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July 27, 2016

A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World by Katelyn Beaty ON SALE NOW

In the last few BookNotes I've alerted you to new, important books about public justice, a wholistic gospel of radical reconciliation applied to the most burning issues of the day, a punchy set of reflections and liturgies around the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, and some heavy stuff about how to live out uncompromised faith in the late modern world of choice and change and increasingly secularization. A long review about two new books about the arts rounded out a flurry of what I take to be a truly stellar season of extraordinary books.

These are themes that are central to our work here.  Justice, Bible study, historical and cultural analysis, and an attention to books about aesthetics and the arts.

I do hope you've read and shared those columns, helping us get the word out to churches and book clubs, study groups and classes. These books are simply too good to read solo.  Get some friends, a cold drink or two, and turn some pages.

(And, please, if I might: I recently was in a professionally looking, pleasant Christian bookstore in another town, and they seemed not to have any of these books. I suppose  you know that many of the large and most influential Christian bookstores chains just don't promote these kind of serious, important, thoughtful books.  For them to get the sales they deserve, caring  readers concerned about the state of religious publishing must share the reviews, support those stores that do carry these sorts of authors, helping them become known and their work discussed.  We sometimes forget what our best friends and customers tell us, that the selection we curate here at Hearts & Minds is a bit unusual and that many bookstores just don't  sell this stuff. Interestingly, few weeks back, Beth and I were in one of the nation's most iconic, wonderful, old, indie bookstores and, surprisingly, their religion section was pretty bad.  We hate to pat ourselves on the back, but if you like what you see here, spread the word, and send us some orders!)

And now, I'm thrilled to tell you about a book that is one of the very best of the summer, one of the very best of the year, that we have long awaited, one that is on another theme that we are known for, a topic about which we have almost too many books: a Christian view of calling and career, vocation and work.  However, it has a particular slant, a certain way into the conversation, that makes it nearly exceptional.

A-Womans-Place.jpgAllow us to tell you about A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World by Katelyn Beaty (Howard Books; $22.99.)

As you can tell, it is indeed about the integration of faith and daily work, informed by a solid and generative view of vocation. The primary audience of readers, I suppose, is women, as it is a book about the life of women in our culture, and the need for women to take up places in every zone of life and society; there is here much wise insight to be found and oodles of stories of Godly women doing good stuff and the struggles they uniquely face, but, over and over, I kept thinking that men and women should read this; that is, it is not only a book for women. Endorsers on the back - folks I really respect like Karen Swallow Prior and Dave Blanchard and Ed Stetzer  and John Stackhouse and Tom Nelson - all insist it is for men and women and that, in the words of Presbyterian pastor Scott Sauls, "it will have a profound influence on women and men alike."

Actually, that Scott Sauls blurb actually says that he "prays that it will have a profound influence on women and men alike."  We echo that prayer, as this is a matter of real urgency.  I pray that this book  becomes  known. I sincerely pray it finds a wide readership within various denominations, various life stages, and among those with different callings into different stations in the world.  We all need to hear the winsome but profound message of this finely crafted book.

In fact, the last chapter of A Woman's Place is called "Where Do We Go From Here: How All of Us Can Equip Women for Work."  It is must reading for anyone involved in faith/work conversations or marketplace ministries, but is also useful for those within higher education -- she has a section for those who work at colleges or universities (she herself learned about good mentoring from helpful leaders at Calvin College.) There is a section for "bosses" and a section for church leaders offering them advice in a portion called "What All Churches Can Do." But I'm ahead of myself. 

I will not rehearse here as I have often that our own bookstore was developed in part to equip Christian people to serve God in their work and callings, and that we have books that offer faith-based insight about what some call "public theology" or "Christian perspectives" in science, business, writing, parenting, art, law, engineering, teaching, architecture, journalism, and more. But these categories of books are woefully under-appreciated; Ms. Beaty's lovely call to serve God well in every area of life and her documentation of the growing faith and work movement, citing organizations and ministries (some which we have resourced) will be a fun reminder, a fresh call to engage, another piece adding up to some tipping point where churches become known for equipping members to take up a missional vision of work in the marketplace.  Insofar as this really is part of our faithful response to the gospel, and insofar as we've neglected to really promote conversations and thinking about work-world discipleship, we simply must repent.  This is not incidental or a curious tangent for the few, but central to our living out our faith, moving from Sunday to Monday, relating worship and work.

Beaty tells of good folks who are doing this well and, since it is a book about women's roles and unique obstacles to doing this these days, naturally, she tells the stories of women.  She has interviewed dozens of women, led focus groups, researched ladies doing Kingdom work all over the country. Part of the benefit of A Woman's Place are the occasional two-page inserts, each telling the stories of this woman here or that one there,  a teacher, a CEO of a fair trade import company, a stay at home mom, a filmmaker, a social science researcher, a YA novelist, a Native woman who started a leadership training organization, and more.

WnKwSiur.jpgMs. Beaty is a great reporter and writer (she is, by the way, the first woman and youngest ever Senior Editor of the globally-respected Christianity Today) so she has the writerly skill to artfully bring these mini-stories to life. They will be inspiring for anyone, I'd think, revealing how folks discern a call, move towards doing good stuff, and overcome (or at least cope with) hardships along the way. I loved these sidebar case studies of real women, although, truth be told, she tells even more stories on almost every other page.  A Woman's Place, which is mature and thoughtful theologically with a fair amount of Biblical study and great quotes from very interesting sources, is just loaded with real-world examples and helpful case studies. In that regard, its tone and balance and style is nearly pitch perfect.  I can't imagine anyone not liking it.

The stories and illustrations give real life heft to the urgency not only of visions of vocation and the call to be salt and light in careers and callings, but to the unique ways in which women must rise to these opportunities.  There is a great chapter drawing on the best seller Leaning In called "Why 'Leaning In' is Good - But Not Enough."  Her survey chapter "Women Have Always Worked" is very good,  surprisingly informative, and truly interesting. Her chapter on ambition is excellent, and, although designed uniquely for women, I think it is useful for most of us. (Beaty wrote the forward to the wonderful memoir by Jen Pollock Michel, Teach Us To Want, a full book on women and ambition and it, too, is fabulously rich, insightful and rewarding for male readers! Gladly, Jen Michel makes a good appearance here as Beaty tells her story and offers a few quotes from her book.)  Also happily, Beaty cites the lovely little "Frames" book by Kate Harris, Wonder Woman: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, an eloquent and sharp women who has, as part of that navigation, learned to embrace constraints.

This is brilliant stuff, and nearly revolutionary, for men and women. What does it mean to be human, to be aware of our creatureliness, by nature bound by space and time; limited?  We cannot do it all, and men and women fail to attend to their limits at their own peril. (By the way, Mandy Smith is a female pastor and writer I greatly admire  who wrote The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry, a book for pastors about honoring our God-given constraints. It is beautiful, honest, sobering, and nearly stunning in both its raw honesty and liberating grace. Zac Eskwine does a similarly good job ruminating on this topic in The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy In Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus but his book is flawed by the assumption that the pastor/readers are male.)

Again, Beaty is wise, drawing on healthy, often colorful writers.  As a good writer herself - please note the rare Oxford commas in the subtitle on the book cover! - she knows how to pull a good quote and use it helpfully.  Her own writing is substantive but full of wit, maybe just a step away from playful snark a time or two.  It is not silly or edgy, but she does wisely use film and pop culture and helpful cultural allusions even as she draws on excellent theologians and serious scholars.

I mentioned that this book will be enjoyed by folks in different stages of life will find it beneficial.  I cannot emphasize this enough.

 Kara Powell, youth ministry specialist and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary says:

Women in all life stages will benefit from Katelyn Beaty's holistic and positive theology of work, whether that work is carpools or corporate board meetings - or both. 

In my favorite and most eloquent book about vocation and calling, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling Your Life's Purpose by Os Guinness, the famous author notes that the gospel so decisively transforms us and sends us as salt and light and leaven into the world so that we have disciples of Jesus serving in every zone of life and culture. As one chapter succinctly titles puts it, "Everyone, Everywhere, in Everything."

gender and grace.jpgI learned decades ago from a book that Beaty does not cite, but I am sure she has read and absorbed, (Gender and Grace: Love Work and Parenting in a Changing World by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen) that in the generative Genesis creation narrative which offers the charter for full humanness, dignity, creativity, work, rest, and relationships, we learn that humans are made together in the image of God offers all of this equally to women and men.  Some misread Genesis 1:26-28 as if it teaches that men are to work ("have dominion") and women are to raise families ("be fruitful and multiply.") Of course, as Van Leeuwen explained as powerfully as anyone, this is dead wrong. Men are to be engaged in family life (and it is not normative for males to be missing from the raising of boys and girls)and women are to be engaged in social life (and it is not normative for women to be missing from the running of corporations and governments.)  Together we of different genders image God. The Genesis cultural mandate - create families and run the world as culture-makers! - is  given to all. It is a hurt family that is devoid of men and it is a damaged culture that is devoid of women's leadership in social, business, educational, or political institutions.

And so, Beaty helps us think about healthy families and healthy workplaces and healthy steps towards cultural renewal, especially drawing out the gifts and strengths of women for home and the wider world both.

As the always interesting John Ortberg puts it: 

Work is an essential part of being made in God's image, and women are essential image bearers. Katelyn Beaty's A Woman's Place brings reflection on Scripture and an informed mind to help answer the question implied by the title - a woman's place is to be an agent of shalom working with dignity and strength in all the spheres of God's redemptive plan for a flourishing creation.

I mentioned that I couldn't imagine anyone not like this excellent book.  From those interested in the doctrines of calling and vocation to those involved in work-place ministry, those equipping believers to integrate faith and the quotidian things we do day by day to anyone interested in the role of women in church and world, this is a grand, delightful, thoughtful work.

But I must admit, there are some who will disapprove.

Beaty tackles head on, with succinct rebuttal and considerable grace, the wrong-headed views of Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Owen Strachen of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who insist that the Bible's ideal is that married women are to stay at home and not enter the work-world. Given the usual high level of scholarship exhibited by these sorts of conservative leaders, it is bold of this evangelical woman to refute them. 

She is blunt:

Calling work masculine and relationships and networking feminine, as Mary Kassian has, threatens to keep women from knowing the good and holy purposes of work, whether inside the home or outside of it.  Ultimately, such teachings keep women from understanding a crucial part of bearing God's image.

I will let readers discover how she handles basic Biblical matters (although she does draw on part-time Inkling, mystery writer and Oxford grad Dorothy Sayers, who wrote incisively and enduringly on work, and a small book called Are Women Human which we still stock!) The book is not primarily engaged in the work of Scriptural exegesis, but there is cogent and helpful Bible teaching.

Importantly (once again, possibly drawing somewhat on early work of Van Leeuwen) Katelyn Beaty looks at the social history of things, as well.  She observes that:

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was founded in 1991 expressly to counter feminism's influence in the evangelical church. But maybe it's not the Feminist Revolution of the 1960s and '70s that has undermined the family unity. Maybe it's the Industrial Revolution." 

What follows, then, is a brief but very helpful overview of an important bit of analysis with which we should all be familiar.  You will learn a bit about the history of the division of labor, the rise of jobs away from the home, be inspired by her interesting observations, and be able to put these profound theological questions in a bigger context. It may stretch some readers out of their customary assumptions, but for many, it will be a sure delight.

I like how Amy Sherman - author of the must-read Kingdom Calling:Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (not to mention a fabulous chapter in Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life) - who describes not only the importance of Beaty's invitation for women to think about vocation and calling in this fresh way, but how she is able to address those who are hindrances to women.  She suggests that A Woman's Place offers good answers and ways to move forward.

It give us:

Incisive commentary on cultural mores that have been overlaid on biblical texts should help the Christian community to pry off those faulty 'how it is' assumptions and free us to explore the reforms needed to get to 'how it ought to be.'

This is yet another reason we think this is one of the finest books of the year. It will help rekindle visions and hopes and dreams for many of us, it will remind us of glorious opportunities and some obstacles that, with faith and hope, we can overcome. It is a pleasant book to enjoy even if at times a challenging one. And it will help us get to 'how it ought to be.'

And who among us wouldn't  be more sane if we take Beaty's advice about shifting our language away from "balancing" home and work and church to the languages of "integration" of various aspects of our one seamless life? Of course this is often, in our culture, particularly stressful for women, especially if there are young children in the home. Beaty is aware of this, of course, and offers  creative ways to think about these complex lifestyle questions.

On the last pages of A Woman's Place Beaty tells again of Rev. Tom Nelson, a pastor we admire whose book Work Matters: Moving from Sunday Worship to Monday Work she described earlier. She helps us draw inspiration from the shifts in Nelson's church.

Beaty writes:

After a major theological shift around the eternal value of work, Tom noticed that Christ Community Church's "cultural icons and cultural language" began to shift. They began commissioning different individuals and different vocations, and they began using prayers to honor and bless labor. One of their regular benedictions - the prayer of blessing over worshippers at the end of a service - is Psalm 90:17:

 

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;

Establish the work of our hands for us -

Yes, establish the words of our hands.

God made us rulers over the works of his hands. As we go about our work he is mindful of us; he cares for us (Ps. 8). When we recover this vision for all Christians, I imagine that more and more women will find God's favor resting upon them.

This is the sort of lovely and truthful and faithful stories and implicit suggestions made within A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World.  It is not just for women, and although it may mostly be read by individual women or their book clubs and reading circles - certainly it would make a great gift to young adult women, maybe a recent college grad --  it will be informative for older church leaders and anyone wanting to be reminded about gender justice, opportunities for both women and men to serve the coming of God's Kingdom, or for those who want to advance the growing conversation around the meaning of vocation and calling. We couldn't be happier with this wonderful new book, and hope you consider reading it. Do help us spread the word.  Sadly, this one wasn't in that other shop I visited the other day, and I doubt it is as widely available as it ought to be.

Let's go, Hearts & Minds friends: this is one of the best books of the year. Send us your orders today!


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Continue reading "A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World by Katelyn Beaty ON SALE NOW" »

July 14, 2016

Join us for the Fifth Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture featuring Lisa Sharon Harper -- author of "The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right"

You are warmly invited to spend an evening with nationally-known author and Hearts & MindsFifth Annual Pittsburgh Summer Lecture.jpg friend Lisa Sharon Harper at our Fifth Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture, Tuesday evening, July 26th starting at 7:00.


We will host this public lecture, conversation and author reception at Robert Morris University, in their lovely Sewall Center - they are located in Moon Township, right off the main drag there, out near the Pittsburgh airport.  We are thrilled to have Lisa presenting on themes from her book The Very Good Gospel: How Everything That Is Wrong Can Be Made Right (recently released by Waterbrook Press; $19.99; on sale for 20% OFF; $15.99.)


There is no charge to attend, we'll have some snacks, a time for her to autograph books, maybe even a few other surprises along the way.


If you know anyone in Eastern Ohio or Northern West Virginia, or anywhere in Western Pennsylvania we hope you will share this invitation with them.


Or, if you want an autographed book but cannot join us, you can let us know and we'll get one for you.


Beth and I view this as a way to say thank you to our many Western Pennsylvania-area customers and our friends there; in a way it is a Hearts & Minds party, with friends from churches, the CCO, camps and conference centers, denominational folk, nonprofits and para-church ministries, regional seminaries and schools, Christian radio, and friends in the publishing world, joining up to hang out a bit, shop at a huge book display we'll have set up, and meet an author we truly esteem.


It really would mean a lot to see y'all.  And you'll love hearing Lisa Sharon Harper.


A portion of our bookstore business is mail order and while we aren't as faceless as some on-line providers, we still long to truly greet our supporters. At this summer lecture series we've connected face-to-face with some of our mail order customers who we've never actually met. What joy!


Some of our business involves doing off-site events -- Wee Kirk, Presby stuff, APCE staff, college talks, UCC clergy gatherings, Lutheran Synods -- and, again, we value seeing our "on the road" supporters. We cherish our diverse and ecumenical friendships, customers from throughout the area.

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TO JUMP TO MY NEW REVIEW OF THE VERY GOOD GOSPEL

PLEASE SCROLL FURTHER DOWN


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WHY WE SPONSOR THE ANNUAL PITTSBURGH SUMMER LECTURE:


Most of our friends know that we used to live in what was then a gritty East Liberty neighborhood and worked in Pittsburgh - Beth for a while in the CCO home office and in a residential home for persons with special needs, I with the Thomas Merton Center, in a Christian bookstore in Monroeville, and on staff at a Presbyterian church in McKeesport, just outside of the 'burgh. We were born and raised in Central PA and have lived here now for going on 35 years, but our time in the Steel City was formative.


When we started underwriting this annual Pittsburgh event part of our dream was to honor a theological truth we learned through CCO, through an itinerant Christian philosopher and Abraham Kuyper scholar with whom we studied named Pete Steen, and from friends who had studied with Francis & Edith Schaeffer: God cares about all of life, about every sphere of life; it is this world Christ is redeeming, and therefore we need to "take every thought captive" (2 Corinthians 10:5) in order to not only "think Christianly" but to live faithfully, working out with redemptive practices the implications of God's gift of salvation for every zone of culture. The life of the mind and the project of cultural renewal are part and parcel of any mature vision of Christian spirituality.  Sometimes we called it "whole life discipleship."  According to Colossians 1, the old song is wrong: the "things of earth" do not "grow strangely dim" but are illuminated, made more important and lovely as they are being redeemed by their rightful King. As Colossians 1:18 puts it, Christ is to be preeminent in "all things."


But, we've learned, that not everyone has learned to think about "all things" -- or even most things -- as the servants of the Lord Psalm 119 says they are.  From rocks to rockets, from city streets to science labs to laws to recipes to films to all manner to technological gizmos, the Bible says "all things are they servants, Lord." What in the world does that mean?  It seems to me we need Christian thinkers to help us learn to think like the writers of the Bible did.


So our years in Western Pennsylvania were significant, raising life long questions for me, even as they are farther away in the rear view mirror these days. It is one of the reasons we enjoy hosting an author appearance with a lecture like this every summer (at the same time our friends at the CCO are having their own staff training gathering there at Robert Morris University.) It honors our past and celebrates what we are trying to do by curating the sort of book selection we do.


We do hope you can join us, or at least help us spread the word.


Also in those years, significantly, we learned from the CCO about the importance of racial reconciliation; even in the 1970s they regularly featured conversations about what was later called "diversity" by the culture at large. The leader of the CCO in those years (Robert Long) had done urban ministry in Harlem and introduced us to radical followers of Jesus like Bill Milliken - who is still showing God's love for urban kids as a nationally-known advocate for educational reform in high-risk schools. (For the few that recall that name from late 60s Western PA you John-Perkins.jpgmay enjoy knowing that Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC hosted him not long ago at an event where we were selling books -- it was such fun to re-connect with him, talking with Milliken about Bob Long and Reid Carpenter and Mon Valley urban Young Life guys and reformational thinkers like Pete Steen.) In those years CCO introduced us to black leaders such as Bill Panell, Tom Skinner, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Carl Ellis, Elwood Ellis, John Perkins (whose connections in PIttsburgh even figures nicely in one of the biographies about him.)


The awful state of race and urban justice in our land -- from Alton Sterling, Philado Castile and the snipers who killed Dallas police officers to the systemic disorder of mass incarceration documented so powerfully in Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption -- is something we've been talking about, and selling books about, for decades.  It is, sadly, as pressing now as ever in my memory.


martin luther dates.jpgI recall a quote by Martin Luther that I used often in our Pittsburgh years - Lutheran scholars might tell me if it is apocryphal. He is said to have said something about relating the gospel to "the burning issues of the day" or, in another version, "where the battle most rages" and that to fail to do so is to fail the gospel itself. 


Christ is Lord, the gospel of grace is true good news of a Kingdom breaking into human history; if Christianity offers a message of salvation coming via incarnation, then we must, we simply must, relate God's grace and the teachings of Jesus not just to human hearts but to human hurts, not just to abstract spiritual things but to real life in the real world, including debates about politics, economics, structures and systems, ideas and initiatives. Social concerns and cultural engagement are not incidental or tangential to the work of the church but are its end-point: we proclaim God's redeeming work in the cross of Christ and with Holy Spirited resurrection power we bear witness to the substantial healing and surprising hope seen as we erect signposts pointing to God's renewed creation. Evangelism is a recruitment effort for the rightful King's epic rescue project and we invite people to experience God's mercy and enjoy eternal life, which starts now, as we take up citizenship in His Kingdom, "on Earth as it is in Heaven."


This is why we do the annual summer lectureship, to remind those of us who have been talking and living out these things for decades that it is true, and that it matters, even if sometimes our own churches don't always proclaim such a down-to-Earth, fully Biblical, Kingdom vision.  As C.S. Lewis reminded us, we sometimes settle for lesser visions, content with other stuff, mere mudpies.


We must learn to live "in the world but not of it" as it says near the end of the Gospel of John.  As the famous fourth century African bishop put it, we live in the tension of inhabiting both the city of man and the city of God. 


I like what Calvin Seerveld wrote in Rainbows for the Fallen World, his dense book about aesthetics, when he said "culture is not optional."  That is, we can't decide not to "engage culture" because it is something we always do as humans made in the image of the creator God -- one way or another. Even the monks and the Amish, in their rejection of culture, are, in their own way, being social creatures and interacting in some manner with the world. We are all always either serving the true God in ways that are coherent and proper or we are serving some kinds of idols, living disordered lives, "worldly" and tainted by idols. This is the only world we've got, and live in it we must, for better or worse. The question is how our understanding of the gospel informs us, transforms us, and what that means for our daily living, our insight about the world, and the nature of faithful lifestyles in the deformed society in which God has placed us. 


As that Pete Steen character used to ask, do we assume a dualism between the so-called sacred churchy and spiritual parts of life and the secular, seemingly profane parts of life? If so, we are "functional atheists" living mostly as if God didn't really matter much in the rough and tumble of the real world of daily life. If Jesus is Lord, we are to be His ambassadors in all of life, being impossible people.jpgsalt and light and leaven, as Jesus Himself put it.  We are to seek first God's reign, Christ's Kingdom, His glory.  There is much wrong with the world to which we must say "no!" (Perhaps you recall the long review I did recently of the challenging new book by Os Guinness called Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization; he helps us think this through in necessarily serious ways.) And there is much good, or course, to which we may say "yes!"


We need discernment, insight, wisdom for, as the old hymn puts it, "the living of these days."


To do this, or so it seems to us, we need books.


Please allow me to write that line again.


To do all this, we simply must be readers. We need books and helpful booksellers.


Reading for the Common Good.jpgAs C. Christopher Smith argues in Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish books can be transforming for us as we slow down, think about important things, take in new ideas, allowing the cadences and insights to shape us as we form bonds that reading together can create.
(Read a short piece Chris just published in Sojo making a lovely case for reading and talking together. Yes!)


I know you reading this realize that good readers become the best leaders. Heaven calls us to think well, care deeply, get involved. Reading matters, and meeting authors of good books is a very special treat. It is one reason why organizations like the CCO hold their big Jubilee conference, so good content from wise leaders can be passed on, face to face.  We hope you agree.


The Christian church has long seen books as tools for discipleship - of course the solas and the new catechisms of the Protestant reformation were promoted by the newly invented printing press; Luther himself nearly became a celebrity for his prolific writings, distributed widely by the antecedents of pamphleteers and Christian literacy campaigns and modern day religious booksellers. Methodist John Wesley's "method" was to form reading groups, of course, small bands of folks reading and talking and praying together. This gave rise to groups of readers such as the ones formed by William Wilberforce in their efforts to reform morals and stop slavery in eighteenth century England. Did you know that US pilgrims brought a printing press along on the Mayflower as they set out to create a culture in the new world?  Books are important for anyone wanting to make a difference, anyone seeking to love their neighbors and engage culture well.


Serious Dreams cover.jpgThe authors in my own little collection of essays for young adults, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life say this over and over: we need a Christian mind, we need to take up our vocations with intentional consideration; African American leader John Perkins in his chapter congratulated college graduates for learning to develop their personal libraries -- this from a man who only went to third grade! My own chapter, delivered to graduates of the graduate programs at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, drew on I Chronicles 12:32 which mentions those who "understood the times and knew what God's people should do."  Oh how we need books today, to inform and guide issachar poster.pngand provoke us to deep conversations about "what God's people should do."


And so we offer books for world changers, Kingdom of God citizens, I Chronicles 12:32 people, dreamers of dreams. We describe important titles to make us think, authors to help us along the way, resources to enlarge the heart and stimulate the mind, to help us relate Sunday worship and Monday work, as we sometimes say.  Books to help us relate prayer and politics. 


When we get a chance to honor authors by bringing our customers and friends into live conversation with them, we feel like we're doing our good part of our job.  Or, conversely put, when we bless our customers by giving them a chance to meet a real, live, nationally-known author, we think we're doing a good part of our job.


We love selling books, but there is something pretty wonderful about introducing our customers to those who write the books.


lisa head shot real.jpgLisa Sharon Harper is one of those authors we want our friends to meet.


She is, in the language of 1 Chronicles 12:32, a "daughter of Issachar."


Lisa has co-written two books, one with a point/counter-point approach, done in collaboration with a conservative political thinker and OP pastor, D.C. Innes (Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, recently revised and re-issued by Elevate Books) and the powerful, multi-authored Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith on which, by the way, I have a long endorsing blurb. It was nicely published by Zondervan.  We will have them both there the night of the 26th.


The Very Good Gospel.jpgHer brand new book, which I've mentioned before, is The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook; $19.99.) We have it at at special sale price, too -- 20% off, making it just $15.99.


list sharon harper talking.jpgLisa Sharon Harper is the sort of author who writes with a fire in her bones, a deep desire to tell her story, a passion to get us to think, to raise questions and point a way forward.  As a black woman who now works for our old friends at Sojourners - Jim Wallis did the first author appearance we ever did, I think, offering a talk at our store for 25 people in the early 1980s - she has a lot to say about "the burning issues of the day." She has a remarkable amount of experience -- she has organized in Ferguson and preached at national racial justice events these past months; she has prayed on the streets with environmental activists and she has gone on pilgrimage along the infamous "Trail of Tears." She believes deeply that God's grace shown in Christ Jesus is the key to the mysteries of human life, from the most personal poignant matters to the most complex public affairs, and that the gospel offers the truest vision of hope for a very broken world. 


The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right is a splendid book, easy to read, full of stories as well as profound analysis of the way the gospel relates to the world in which we live. At some parts it is simply glorious.


Given that Ms. Harper is known for speaking about racial justice and being an advocate for the poor and marginalized, it is a delight to hear so much here about her own inner life, her struggles and personal faith journey.


She talks about her girlhood, her joys and fears and sadnesses (she went to an almost all-white school, so there are the not-uncommon experiences of being teased, concerns about her hair, her skin tone, etc. etc. etc.) Lisa bravely shares how Christ befriended her and yet how she struggled - she writes about her anxieties about weight and some subsequent eating disorders and about coping with the anguish of a broken home. She is vulnerable, sharing her longing to be deeply loved and truly accepted. I was moved to tears at one point as she tells of praying for healing, of her inner anguishing and how she learned to increasingly trust the God who loves her so, who wants her. Issues of shame circle around and around, it seems, and even though she is a national leader for a progressive sort of social action, her deeply felt, evangelical faith is, time and again, her balm in Gilead. Citing Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1:5, she writes, "The whole of our lives is a journey to return home."  Oh, if we all felt such homecoming assurance that we are the beloved of God with a place at Christ's table.


Near the end of the book she is led in nearly miraculous ways to minister to a dying friend, to share in a ritual of grieving with others in their time of bereavement.  When Lisa talks about God's real presence and leading in daily life, about the way Christ's gospel is the basis for renewal and hope, she isn't just spouting a cheap social gospel or trendy liberation theology. She walks with the God who loves her, she serves the King who claims her, and she brings a candor and clarity about how hard it is to live into these promises of God's presence and peace. She beautifully reminds us that we can experience the occasional miracle and know the in-breaking of spiritual renewal.


lisa praying on the street.jpgHarper is admittedly a professional organizer, equipping church folks to be more intentionally involved in matters of peace and justice, environmental stewardship and multi-ethnic ministry, but The Very Good Gospel is more than a handbook to social change. It is a testimony of one woman's journey, a story of God's healing, of the Spirit's presence and power, even as it guides us into confrontation with the principalities and powers.  This is full gospel ministry!


very good gospel partial cover .jpgLisa's book is largely arranged in two major sections.


The first part is her systematic telling of the overview of the Biblical story, drawing much on Genesis 1 - 3, talking about a good, good creation, blessed and well-ordered with God's shalom, managed by humans made in God's image; a torn and vandalized shalom, cursed by the fall, and a promise of redemption, offered in mercy and hope by a covenant making God.  Some of us talk about the "chapters" of the unfolding drama of redemption, naming them creation/fall/redemption/restoration, and she does this with close attention to the Biblical text.  She does this with lively and fresh language.  She highlights the gift of shalom and the gospel of reconciliation.


In a great foreword, Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes,


Lisa Sharon Harper has written a bracing, generative exposition of the elemental narrative of gospel faith. She has done so by sharing the sequence of the "very good" of creation, "the wreckage of the fall," and the "very good" of the gospel of reconciliation and restoration.


There are lovely reflection questions at the end of each of the chapters in Very Good Gospel, making it an ideal book for small groups or adult Bible classes or campus ministry studies. She asks us to enter the story of creation, marveling in the wonders of God's good world, be honest about our sin and brokenness, and embrace the deepest questions Jesus himself asked.  She asks us to ponder how we have said "yes" to God's invitation, to consider the resurrection, to do an exercise to help us experience the gift of living water.  I do hope this book is taken up by small groups and classes - it is well worth talking about.


These opening chapters - taking us from a good garden to a new City -- provide the strong and essential framework for the rest of the book which works out some of the implications of God's plan for restoration and healing in every area of life.


Very-Good-Gospel-720x470.jpgAs the book unfolds, Lisa wisely and insightfully offers ways to apply the goodness of this grand narrative and the gospel to the complexities of modern life. Each chapter draws on the image of restoring shalom, of embracing and living into God's work of reconciliation.  For instance, there is a chapter called "Shalom with Self: Shame and Freedom" and another on shalom between genders. 


Her study of Paul's writing on women is insightful, a moderate sort of Biblical feminism; she draws on Carolyn Custis James and her recent book Malestrom  who "marvels at Paul's conversion and its impact on how he engaged with women. She points out," Lisa tells us, "that not only did Paul's conversion catapult him across ethnic barriers into ministry with gentiles, but also across gender barriers into equal partnership with women."


In a powerful section called "Restoring Ezer" she tells us:


All the way back to the days of slavery in America, every women in my mother's direct line of ancestry suffered sexual violence. This include me. My great aunt died in the woods after being raped by her uncle. My third great grandmother, the last adult slave in our family, bore seventeen children by five "husbands." Family lore says her husbands kept dying or being sold away. It also is possible that she was forced to breed children on a plantation in South Carolina. She herself was half-white, likely the product of a rape. Most of the women in our family suffered in silence, and some suffered again when they raised their voices to name their perpetrators. Fathers, cousins, even sisters and pastors minimized the pain and chastised the crushed ones for disturbing the peace.


Later, when she talks about God's empowerment after she rejected her evangelical leaders forbidding her to teach (because she was a woman) and God's healing when she attended to her own sexual molestation, most readers will want to cheer! It is always good to see folks move away from toxic faith towards empowerment and health.  This is an honest book, but one with much gladness as the gospel of Christ over and over offers transformation, new chances, fresh starts, real hope.

 

There is a good chapter on shalom restored in our relationship with the Earth. It is very, very good.


There is a chapter about shalom restored among broken families, there is a powerful chapter on race. As I might say regarding the other chapters, these are worth the price of the whole book - well worth reading carefully and talking about together.

 

In yet another she shows Christian principles for creating international policies that could enhance national security and global peace. Her views on Godly governance and principles for good citizenship are themselves very helpful  these days; her telling of being on a learning tour to the Balkan war zones and visiting the Nazi death camps is moving although most of this chapter is Bible study without venturing much about policy.


Her chapter on how to be witnesses to this kind of Biblical vision of peace is generative for anyone wondering about how to do full-orbed evangelism in these modern days.  Her stories of public justice work done faithfully by local churches are inspiring, helping us relate word and deeds.  Again, the discussion questions are useful.


Lisa Sharon Harper's final chapter on death and dying offers a wonderful, moving close to this grand telling of God's work in the world and the Spirit's presence in our most tender, deepest moments. But, again, even here, she doesn't miss the public and social consequences of thinking about life and death.  Her linking the "small deaths" of change - letting go of death-dealing ways and "choosing life" is extraordinary.


fix our eyes on jesus.jpgMs Harper's reminder to turn to Jesus (she cites Hebrews 12:1-2) and the need to embrace a humility that leads to repentance and  renewed trust in God - as risky as it may feel--is beautiful.  For some of us, we can "hear" this evangelical truth and spiritual counsel because she has shown us how relevant and real it all is. These are no pious bromides or cliches, offered abstractly away from the context of our raw world of injustice and idols. Lisa brings together the best of  social justice thinking, lots of Biblical exegesis and theological reflection, and classic spiritual formation practices to bring us to this very place where we choose life.  We have genuine hope because alienation and brokenness and separation does not win. Christ reigns and this is very good news indeed.


Her closing words, after another fine set of reflection questions to help us ponder and process all these inspiring words and challenging insights, are these:


There is a way back to shalom. It is the way of God, demonstrated through the person of Jesus and made possible through his death and resurrection.


This is the good news. This is the very good gospel.

Fifth Annual Pittsburgh Summer Lecture.jpg

IF YOU CANNOT JOIN US IN PITTSBURGH FOR OUR EVENT BUT WANT AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY PLEASE LET US KNOW BY TUESDAY AFTERNOON (7-26-16.)  WE CAN HAVE HER SIGN AS MANY AS YOU NEED  -- TELL US IF YOU WANT IT MADE OUT TO ANYONE SPECIAL -- AND WE WILL MAIL THEM OUT TO YOU WHEN WE GET BACK AT THE END OF THE WEEK. NICE, EH?


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To show that we are not alone in thinking this to be a very wonderful book, please read these very impressive endorsements by some very impressive leaders.


Lisa Sharon Harper has presented the gospel, the good news, as it was meant to be whole and complete. Our world has compromised so many elements of the good news that we are left with a divided gospel. We need to recover the whole Christian gospel, the wholeness of the church, the wholeness of relationships. Lisa has unleashed the whole-ism of shalom. Her application of the good news for America, for our culture, in the world, reminds us that God is bigger than our problems. My wish is that Christians and non-Christians alike read this book. 

Dr. John Perkins, co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association, founder of the John   and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi, and author of many books, including Let Justice Roll Down


One can scan across the landscape of the church and not find a better articulator of the essence of the gospel in the twenty-first century. Lisa Sharon Harper follows a rich tradition of reformers and iconoclast theological practitioners who deeply love the gospel and God's people. She has made it her life's project to challenge lethargic and cynical people to live love and practice justice. Our world is richer and more vibrant because of her compassionate and strong voice. 

Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ and author of Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World 


Lisa Sharon Harper is so smart and interesting she s a wonderful leader. I respect her immensely and am passionate about the message of this book. 

Jen Hatmaker, speaker and best-selling author of  7 and For the Love


Part mountaineer, part miner, Lisa Sharon Harper has somehow ascended the mountain of Scripture to survey its entirety while also digging deep into its core to extract raw truth of immense implication and conviction. Lisa s revealing stories, scriptural depth, and prophetic voice make The Very Good Gospel a very good read one you won t want to miss. 

David Drury, chief of staff for the Wesleyan Church World Headquarters and author of nine books including Transforming Presence


In a world that has legitimate reasons to question the possibility of a good God, Lisa Sharon Harper reminds us what is in fact not only good but beautiful about the God who loves us more than we want to be loved. Her winsome words wash over the reader with gentleness, while simultaneously striking out with a fierce love that is corrective and healing. "The Very Good Gospel "is more than just a social activist s field guide; it is a road map to a better world one marked by faith, hope, and love.

Christopher L. Heuertz, author, activist, and founding partner of Gravity: A Center for Contemplative Activism"


To speak of the gospel as good news, it has to be good news for the oppressed, the impoverished, the brokenhearted. To embody God s shalom is to embrace and restore the image of God in all humanity no matter who or where they are. Chapter by chapter Lisa Sharon Harper builds the case for reading, understanding, and living the gospel as the life-giving, freedom-bringing, shalom-infused reality it really is. There are new, exciting voices coming from a new, younger generation of evangelicals, and they are turning the traditional meaning of that word around. Lisa Sharon Harper is such a voice and well worth hearing. 

Allan Boesak, South African human-rights activist and the Desmond Tutu Chair of Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation Studies at Christian Theological Seminary


Lisa Sharon Harper writes in a fresh and personal way, combining rich theology with deep experience working with contemporary issues to inspire us not to settle for a thin gospel but a thick gospel the fullness of the good news of God s reconciliation and shalom that touches all aspects of life. "The Very Good Gospel "is for all of us struggling with how the good news of Jesus should impact not just our own lives but also speak to the injustices in our world. This book brings all the threads together and weaves a glorious picture of God s redemptive work in creation. 

Ken Wytsma, President of Kilns College, author of Pursuing Justice and Create vs. Copy


The Very Good Gospel big.jpg


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July 6, 2016

Habakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament, and Hope by Brian Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast Community (and ten others listed.) ON SALE NOW

Habakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament, and Hope by Brian J. Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast community (Books Before Breakfast) $14.00


How should I begin this review of a book we are so excited to tell you about?


brian walsh.jpgThe-Transforming-Vision-9780877849735.jpgBeyond Homelessness.jpgShould I tell you about the author, my friend Brian J. Walsh, a former professor at Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies and now CRC campus minister at the University of Toronto, who has co-written a handful of books that have been among my all time favorites? Should I remind you of some of his other titles such as the earnestly recommended The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age or the extraordinary, hefty and wide-ranging social and Biblical analysis called Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement released in 2008 and as germane as ever, and many others, including the really, really interesting Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire? I treasure his books and maybe you do to. (Whew, I could work up a head of steam just listing his important books!)  Walsh's work has been provocative, stimulating, important. I should be able to sell any book he wrote, because he's that kind of author. I could start there.


St John Before big.jpgOr, should I tell you about the context of this project, the Wine Before Breakfast community, a weekly, early-morning group of students and others gathering around a creatively-curated liturgy and Eucharist in the heart of the University of Toronto?  Want to know about that -- young adults doing creative liturgy, campus ministry, folks worshiping together  before 7:30 am? Who does that?  That ought to draw you to this book, wanting to learn about these kinds of practices for renewal. 


Brian and his comrades put together a year or so ago a previous book of reflections, litanies, homilies and prayers, walking through the gospel of John that also came out of their morning WBB Eucharists called Saint John Before Breakfast. That's a way to start, saying this new one is like that one, that a lot of folks loved. Most reviews of sequels tell about the first one, and, man, that John Before Breakfast was something.


Maybe, I thought, I'd start off the review with a little meditation on the role of prophets. This new one is, after all, essentially a six week journey through the book of the Bible called Habakkuk, one of the more minor of the minor prophets.  Of course, they are called that not let justice roll graphic.jpgbecause of their meager message - au contraire - but because they are short. Jewish readers call all of them together The Book of the Twelve.  I could start off talking about how studying Amos in college rocked my world, how seeing verses like Micah 6:8 drawn in early 70s calligraphy spoke to me, about how just last week I got to introduce young Christians to Isaiah 58. I'd say how years ago Walter Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination became so vital for so many of us., Walsh, too. I like that line from Malcolm Boyd, saying that often in church groups we study the prophets but we wouldn't know one if one sat down next to us. He's right, I'm afraid, about our general lack of prophetic discernment, but he's mostly wrong that we study the prophets. I could start there.


But I have to start with the cover.  It may be the first thing you notice.


It looks a little hand-drawn, doesn't it - actually, not quite the classy and professional cover design look one expects from serious books these days.  New York book designer Chipp Kidd wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole, unless maybe it was considered an ironic look, a sketchy booze bottle for some noir novel, done old school.


But this isn't ironic. And I've grown to love it.


The cover choice speaks volume about this book and the community that gave rise to it.


habakkuk before.jpgThe cover of Habakkuk Before Breakfast shows a portion of a painting done by a First Nations artist who hung around the University of Toronto Wine Before Breakfast community, to whom the book is dedicated.  Gregory "Iggy" Spoon died as the sermons and prayers and liturgies and reflections that became this book were being prepared and experienced.  I recall reading a message from Brian about their pain and lament and anguish upon Iggy's unexpected death in March 2015. Iggy's death impacted their community (as did a few other deaths and tragedies that season) and Brian and the WBB community honored him as they mourned their loss.  As the Hebrew prophet three millennia ago railed about a pious religious establishment that seemed to have little room for humility and care for the outsider, Iggy stood in their midst as a suffering brother, with gifts and goodness and insight and pain, like anyone, but with a past that seemed to make evident, I gather, much that is wrong with a formal religion that doesn't understand hospitality, inclusion, or justice. Mostly, I guess, he was a beloved friend.


The painting Iggy made for them ended up on the altar as they celebrated communion, and, week by week as Iggy was in the hospital, someone in the community would receive the elements on his behalf: "The body of Christ, broken for Iggy." "The blood of Christ, shed for our brother Iggy."  


Brian continues:


Iggy's WBB painting.jpgHe had seen some pretty bad times in his life. And for some reason he kind of adopted Wine Before Breakfast as part of his extended community. Iggy would sometimes show up at the back of the chapel, or sometimes he'd be downstairs waiting for us when we came from worship to breakfast. And Iggy was a very fine artist. One day he showed me a picture that he was making for the community. A bottle of wine, a chalice, a loaf of bread, some fruit, an open book, a music staff with the name of our community written on it, and ... a butterfly, a symbol of transformation. This was his gift to the community. But it wasn't finished yet. He didn't know what to write on the bottle. What vintage of wine? Or might he put the time and place of our services? Or might he (reaching into his satchel for the bottle) put "Kelly's" on the bottle? Kelly's is the cheapest and most potent wine that homeless folks drink. "I don't know, should we put Kelly's on that bottle?" Iggy asked. Yes, I replied. That's exactly what should go on that bottle. If Wine Before Breakfast is about anything then surely we should be about taking such a terrible wine, a wine of such heartbreak and sorrow, and asking Jesus to make that a holy wine, a sacramental wine, the wine of the new covenant in his blood.


And so, the cover; the odd-shaped Kelly's wine bottle poured into a broken chalice.  In a way, it is precious just to own such a book, not mass produced, with no focus groups determining the viability of the cover art. This, my friends, is the real deal. This is a book that can help Jesus transform the terrible drink of "heartbreak and sorrow" into holy wine.


The book is great. It is arranged quite nicely.  You'll want to spend time with it, pondering deeply its often heavy message, maybe even with a group, it isn't complicated or too long or dense.


It really is a glimpse into the weekly Wine Before Breakfast worship services held at the University of Toronto at 7:22 AM; the book reproduces some of the insight and pathos and beauty of that small community, and it not only has the brilliant and passionate reflections and homilies (not all by Walsh) but the prayers of the people and the prayers after communion and such; in this sense, it is very much like their much-appreciated first book, Saint John Before Breakfast. Besides good exegesis and powerful preaching, it is a glimpse into a worshiping body, mostly young adults, graduate students, professors and friends, and some who, I think, feel disenfranchised from the conventional church. There's a lot written about that, but this is a ministry doing something about it.


Habakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament, and Hope is laid out on the page in such as way that it seems just a bit cleaner and clearer (with each section clearly designated) that their previous John one. Another difference, I think, is how interestingly it explains their music choices.  Deb Whalen-Blaize is the music director and her section in each chapter is nearly brilliant as she allows us in to her thought process and discernment about what music--pop, folk, rock, alongside Taize and standard hymns - they use to underscore and develop the theme of the service.  It is a really, really good portion of each chapter and hearing her so maturely interact with the Biblical content and Brian's pastoral leadership to find just the right songs is very impressive.


Each chapter is a fully collaborative project, and although different people take turns doing different parts (except Whalen-Blaize who does the music portion each time) they are all mature, consistently thoughtful, raw, real, as they share their particular portions of the Wine Before Breakfast Eucharist.


Each chapter opens with a long reflection from Walsh which was, in fact, sent out to the core members of the community before the service. It invites them - through his own spiritual discernment, as he's own dwelt with the Biblical text, informed, too, by things that were happening in their lives - to be prayerful and intentional about what is going to happen as they gather at their next fellowship meeting/worship service/Eucharist/communal breakfast. Hey, ya gotta love a group that has to have a "Bread Guild."


I think this practice of sending out a communication prior to the service is one that some churches or fellowship groups might borrow, offering a pre-service reflection, a warm-up to the service.  Walsh is powerful and poignant and his emailed epistles are themselves well worth pondering.  In each case, they really do set the stage for the communal reading of the chapter from Habakkuk they are about to encounter.


Here is how Brian describes this piece:


This is sort of a spiritual priming of the pump; a beginning reflection on the biblical text that invites the community both into the world of the text and to a worship shaped by the text.

It is after that opening reflection that Deb Whalen-Blaize works her magic. Having her write about false starts and final choices, inspired by a careful reading of the Biblical portion, is like watching a great chef cook up a fancy meal.  She tells us what songs worked, what lyrics she appreciated and why she chose them. For instance, she draws on Springsteen (what else but "My City in Ruins" when reading about the horror of a destroyed Jerusalem and the violence of Empire) and Leonard Cohen and the lovely "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard and Marketa. 


An old blues song or two make an appearance, even an outtake of Van Morrison wailing out "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" which surely worked well alongside great hymns and praise choruses.  Okay, not too many praise choruses.  But you've got to give props to a worship planner that uses Joe Pug and "It Is Well With My Soul" and "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less..."  or Counting Crows and "Be Thou My Vision." Naturally, Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" suggested itself for reading  Habakkuk 2. In fact, her reflection on the classic Dylan song is itself marvelous. (She is obviously a lover of all kinds of music, and her sophisticate and gift for picking stuff is a blessing. I wonder if her style of doing lyrical criticism was itself informed by Brian, who has always used music in his lectures and sermons. Heck, he wrote a whole book about it, Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination which some people read just to see his brilliant interplay of lyrics and Bible, even if one doesn't love Cockburn as he does.)  Anyway, Deb Whalen-Blaize is doing good work to keep this thing lively and poignant.


I mentioned how good her bit on "All Along the Watchtower" was. Very astute. Brian's pre-service reflection that week - "Standing on the Watchtower... With Habakkuk, Dylan, and Hendrix" is fantastic, as he reflects on Hendrix's re-tooling of Dylan's acoustic bit of apocalyptic fervor, even as he deftly relates Habakkuk 2 and Isaiah 21. The dude knows his rock music, and he knows his Bible - a lot better than most.


In his sermon, then, he goes farther, reflecting on Paul's use of Habakkuk in Romans. For those who follow New Testament studies, you'll realize that Walsh's quips and poetic lines in his homily that week are, in fact, informed by very serious study of the varying interpretations of what is meant by God's righteousness, and what it means that the just live by faith.  It's a hugely significant connection, and it's good. 


Anyway, as he says:


"All I got is a red guitar,

Three chords and the truth.

All I got is a red guitar,

The rest is up to you." 


So adds Bono to Dylan's' "All Along the Watchtower."
All I've got is an ancient text,

That has the ring of truth.

All I've got is an ancient text,

The rest is up to you.


Or, perhaps, the rest is up to us.


Here we are, three weeks  into Habakkuk, 

up to our necks in it seems.

Here we are, deep into the burden that this prophet saw.

And seeing through his eyes has had some terrible resonances...

He continues, after having named some of the unexpected hard stuff that has come up in the culture and world,

So we have taken our stand with Habakkuk on the watchtower.

We have resolved to not talk falsely,

to tell the truth,

and to put our complaint in the only place where it might get 

a response:

at the very throne of God.



Walsh and students.jpgAnd so it goes from each of the members of the community who preached and prayed, sang and read, honest, raw, free-verse homilies befitting the sort of oracles they are pondering there together and the sober setting in which they find themselves. These are not academic lectures or preacherly pronouncements from a big elevated pulpit, they are punchy, poetic, but right to the heart, in gritty, common language. It is rare to hear this blunt, Bible talk, offering lament and outrage and zeal for justice, honest about pain and confusion. It's what we need.


Week by week, they gathered in the cold (and dark) of winter and go through this somewhat similar habit-forming liturgy. A reflection, a reading of the text. Music, prayers, responses, bread and wine, more music.  The prayers and poems and reflective litanies in response to the homily each time are very, very good.  


These responsive litanies and powerful prayers in HBB are not designed or offered here just for you to use -- it's not that kind of a book -- although I am sure you could be inspire to craft your own informed by their process.  And some really could be swiped - they are that good!  (You can see some of the creative liturgies they've done in other settings, here. They invite you to use them with due acknowledgment, so no "swiping" is necessary.)


A few readers may wonder if this Wine Before Breakfast community is adequately orthodox, with proper emphasis on proper doctrine.  Maybe not, I don't know those details, although, let me assure you, they are committed to being shaped by the Word, in this case, the good news of the gospel of Habbakkuk, who is scary and hard and weird and somehow God's truth.  For what it is worth, here is a wonderful reflection Brian offered after being surprised for a party celebrating his 20th anniversary of doing ministry in that setting.  (They sure do like to party, and, in that regard, they are like their Master, who had a reputation for such things, you know...)


The subtitle of Habakkuk Before Breakfast, though, you will recall, is "Liturgy, Lament, and Hope."


As in other Biblical studies Walsh has done -- say, his marvelous book co-written with his wife, Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed or the densely succinct set of Advent devotionals co-written with three other colleagues, The Advent of Justice, or the spectacularly interesting Bible monologues in Beyond Homelessness (a high-point of the book for many) -- Walsh Is very, very committed to the authority of the Bible as the very Word of God.  But the life-giving revelation comes alive in community, and that is why he wasn't kidding when he said, that third week, riffing on that Bono quip, that "the rest is up to us."  We must grapple with the text, with understanding it, with hearing it, with living with it, and with living its gospel out in our own places. 


These litanies and prayers and liturgical forms are not incidental, by the way, they are key to framing the gathering community before God, in the Spirit, as they hear God's Word in the text.  Some of us may wish they'd just be done with the responsive readings and litanies and prayers, no matter how heart-felt and filled with yearning they may be; just get to the good Bible teaching, man!  No, this won't do.  These are curated short worship experiences, gatherings around the Word and sacrament, in an edgy sort of blend of contemporary and ancient worship. The Word of the Lord in Habakkuk comes to us in this real world context, and we are privileged to listen in on the preparation and the prayers and the homilies and their hopes of living into the text.  The Bible study is amazing, but it's not the only piece.


(I wish there was a closing section of each -- what in the heck did they talk about over muffins? How was the message received? In the next one, I hope they add just a little bit more to bring us into the lived community after the prayers and the songs and the Word.)


Here are the six chapter titles: of Habakkuk Before Breakfast.


habakkuk before.jpg1. Violence and Destruction: How Long?

2. Of Fish Hooks, Judgement, and Watchtowers

3. The Righteous Live by Faith, But Wealth is Treacherous

4. Idols, Glory, and Silence

5. Drinking Songs and Remembering

6. The Liberating Yet.


You just have to read these for yourselves, but just a quick few shout outs to alert you that this is pretty creative stuff, no matter who was speaking, praying, preaching. 


WEEK ONE  Here they make use of Tennyson's awesome poem "In Memoriam" which is perfect for the start of a New Year. One section of this sermon, by the way, explains a bit of what to expect, asking, "Habakkuk in Epiphany?"  Walsh had shared earlier how he had this holy hunch that this was the book the community needed for this upcoming season, and  about his risky decision to use it as they journeyed through the Toronto winter heading towards Lent.  Speaking of the "no holds barred spiritual honesty" of the "rich covenantal tradition" of the prophets, Walsh wrote, earlier,


Is there a particular text we need to hear? A word from God that might be calling us? A biblical author who will lead us more deeply in our ongoing wrestling match with God? Is there a certain place that seems to be an entry into the Story for us at this time? A biblical book that might serve to shape our imaginations, give voice to our longings, resonate with our lament, and engender hope in the midst of it all? 


So in the first full chapter (their first chapter back after Christmas holiday) he explains the violence and judgement in the texts they are about to gather around.  Whew. The prayers and litanies are perfect.


WEEK TWO:  Heads up: Walsh does something with the "fishers of men" line from Jesus.  I don't know if he's right, and I've not heard anybody say this before, but he linked it to the prophet and a typical use of fishhooks in judgement.  Check that out, but don't get distracted.  This is quintessential Walsh, explaining how Habakkuk is crying out in protest to God.  He draws on a WBB singer-songwriter friend, Martyn Joseph, and a song called "Not a Good Time for God" as well as "Apres Moi" by the powerful Regina Spektor. Wow.


WEEK THREE: I've already noted his use of Paul; it is brief but potent.  Here he draws us toward the deepest thing of all --  faith, God's faithfulness, our faithfulness.  Trust God, he says.  Wealth is treacherous, after all, and we know what is coming.... Heavy, good stuff, highlighted beautifully by the description of the music choices.


WEEK FOUR: This is wonderful, again, offering  solid exegesis and moving, creative reading of the Biblical passage, bringing together sharp observations about idols, economic growth, empire, and the need for a subversive imagination to stand firm against such corrupt ways.  That transforming vision is still on the horizon, though, and he preaches:


Glory replaces shame.

Intimate knowing replaces objectified control.

Silence overtakes the cacophony of empire.


WEEK FIVE: I don't want to spoil it, but they use a song by Bill Mallonee and VOL, and it involves drinking. As does the Biblical text. Walsh is honest, here, blunt, even. Who couldn't use a stiff one after all this stuff from the throne of God taking on the horrors of the world and our own need to lament and repent?   His take on drinking songs and what sort of memory comes from them is brilliant, although I'll admit I don't really know about that. But it sure sounded right. I doubt if you'd hear this kind of stuff in your local Presbyterian or Methodist church these days...


WEEK SIX: A young woman in the community preaches this week and brings it, naming her own inner sin even as she protests the violence and injustice of the world. I had to fight back tears, and you might too. And what does Habakkuk tell them to do?  This you've got to see. Again, the prayers and songs and litanies, and a closing pray by Philip Newell is very helpful.


This book is a gift to us all, and it is a fundraiser for the work Brian does there at the U of T. I hope you consider getting it.  


Just to remind you how urgent and important this is -- this community is, as I said, the real deal -- you may want to know that the launch party in Toronto to celebrate this book happened a day or so after the Pulse Nightclub murders.  Brian said he didn't intend to preach that night, but it seemed that, even before the book party that evening, they needed to pray and weep and think together. There are hurting students in their community, LGBTQ friends, naturally.  So in some ways, pastor Brian summarized the book and the things they experienced together in their series on Habakkuk. Here is a link to that sermon, preached just a few weeks ago and published in their Empire Remixed website. 


Here is what N.T. Wright says about the new book:


Habakkuk Before Breakfast is like no other book on the prophet. That's because it is, itself, prophecy -- and poetry, and preaching, and prayer, and liturgy, and lament, and a dozen other things melded together into a powerful, and powerfully disturbing book. A book to shake us up and make us realize that God's loving justice is the only firm ground on which anyone -- or any society -- can stand.


I like the blurb on the back by Karen Pascal, the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society & Legacy Trust. (Nouwen lived in Toronto, you may recall.) She writes:


Habakkuk Before Breakfast will both disarm you and make you thirsty with its honesty. It will meet you, refine you, and call you onward. A deep sense of community is woven into the pages of this genuine collaboration of the prophets and poets of the Wine Before Breakfast community. As a reader, you are engaged not just by the ideas but by the community. As they stand on the wall and wait, this book offers us a relentless wrestling with God who is ultimately and forever faithful.


And, listen to this, from Mark Wallace of the Christian Reformed Church:


Once again, the Wine Before Breakfast community invites us to join them at their table of gathered worship. These liturgies, written in the language of longing and lament, in the voices of this community, call us to engage with the works of Habakkuk, and with the prophets and poets of our time. These words, forged in shared experience, in joy and pain, call us to join in the radical resistance of sitting and eating in the midst of a bewildering age. Be warned, this is not comfort food, yet you will be longing for more.


TEN MORE YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT


St John Before big.jpgSt. John Before Breakfast Brian J. Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast community (Books Before Breakfast) $18.00  I mentioned this several times above -- I did a larger review when it first came out. What a great idea, sharing these Biblical studies and homilies and liturgies with us all.  By the way, this was to be a fund-raiser for them, so if you buy 'em from us, we'll have to order more from them (no publisher or distributor.) Get it?  If you want to support this kind of indie book publishing and serious Biblical study in a real community of young adults, this is a book you should purchase. Plus, it's darn good stuff, studying John in a way that will blow you away.



subversive 2nd.jpgSubversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time (2nd edition)  Brian J. Walsh (Wipf & Stock) $17.00  I've mentioned this often, and really hope you'd consider it. I've read these essays/sermons/talks/chapters over and over during the last decade and they are sustaining, powerful, significant. After The Transforming Vision but before Truth Is Stranger, as I recall, Walsh gave some of these talks furthering this worldviewish critique of modernity, capitalism, the idols and ideologies of economic growth, scientism, technocism, all bearing fruit in technologies of war and environmental abuse. How can we learn to name these things? What does it mean to image God in modern day Babylon? How does our dis-ease and confusion about our culture effect our faith?  What would it take to have faith truly be subversive of the idols of the dominant culture?  This is a power-house of a book, with a new chapter added a couple of years ago when it was re-issued. A must-read!


colossians remixed.jpgColossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire Brian J. Walsh & Sylvia C. Keesmaat (IVP Academic) $24.00  I've mentioned this above, indicating it shows mature Scriptural scholarship applied in exceptionally serious ways. I thought I should list it here. This really is an audacious, brilliant bit of work, with more than one viewpoint offered as a conversation occurs on the meaning of the text and as they bring the early church experiences to us in creative storytelling and powerful cultural analysis. This is solid Biblical exegesis, a specific book studied not only in it's own context, but within it's own place in the unfolding redemptive plan revealed in Scripture. They see echos of the Old in this letter of Paul's and they see within the struggles of these early Christ-followers hints of how we can live out our faith today. Endorsements include rave reviews from Tom Wright, Marva Dawn, Andrew Lincoln, Walt Brueggemann, Frank Thielman and other top notch Biblical scholars. And some bookseller guy from Dallastown who's stuck in there raving among the big names.  I still love this book and highly recommend it -- hold on to your hat, though. Colossians Remixed will challenge how you read the Bible, how you think about discipleship and church, and how you see the world.  


Prophetic Lament- Call for Justice in Troubled Times.jpgProphetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $17.00  I have mentioned this often; it is a lively and moving commentary on the Old Testament book of Lamentations.  If you resonate with Habakkuk's call to big picture stuff, global concerns, justice and our corporate brokenness, this could be really useful. If you like the way Walsh weave lament into his sermons about justice and hope, then you will realize the value in this sort of prophetic imagination, shaped by the Word and by modern day injustices. We need books like this, for sure. 



Reality,  Grief, Hope- Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks.jpgReality, Grief, Hope  Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $15.00  This is, in many ways, the book decades in the making, a simple and passionate follow up to The Prophetic Imagination. Like Walsh, Brueggemann highlights lament, drawing on the prophets own denunciation of ancient Israel, calling a remnant community to stand in covenantal fidelity, seeing thinks as God does, even if it puts us at odds with church and state.  Brueggemann does really help us see that what happened in 587 BCE is somehow generative for us now, after 9-11 and with the collapse of so many ways of doing things.  This is a great little book.



Saving the Bible From Ourselves Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well.jpgSaving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well Glenn R. Paauw (IVP) $18.00  I am quite taken with this and can't wait to really dive in.  Each chapter explains a posture or tendency that we have to make the Bible harder than it needs to be, or more confusing, or readings that are prone to cause us to miss the meaning of the text.  For each error, Paauw gives an alternative approach, fresh ways to save the Bible -- not because the Bible needs saving, but because we've learned bad habits of reading it wrongly.  I get it. This is good, good stuff. Endorsements on the back from Walter Brueggemann He calls it "puckish" but series. Another endorsement rings out from Mark Noll.





free for all rediscovering the bible.pngFree for All: Rediscovering the Bible in Community Tim Condor & Daniel Rhodes (Baker) $16.99  This was a splendid, generative book that came out of the "emergent village" imprint a number of years ago. It's out of print but we have a few left. I know Walsh liked it -- it's main point being that we must unleash the Scriptures among us, allow us all to share our thoughts, and struggle hard for a fair and communal reflection on the meaning of it all.  I think this is a strong resource, for those who understand that we need a communal reading and interpretation of Scripture and for those who have been hurt by more didactic and authoritarian teaching.  It seemed right to name it here. It had been rigorously endorsed with nice blurbs from Walsh, Will Willimon, Stanley Hauerwas, Phylllis TIckle, and John Franke.



called tocommunity EN.jpgCalled to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People  edited by Charles Moore (Plough Publishing) $18.00 This is a stunning new anthology of beauitful excerpts of books, essays, articles, Bible studies and sermons on the themes of community. This is a 52-week study, a great resource for anyone needing more insight about living together amidst our own foibles and the culture's pressures. Hear from Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier and John Perkins, Joan Chittister and Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Betty O'Connor, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Andy Crouch, Gerhard Lohfink, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and others.  So glad to see Plough publishing again. This is a treasure-chest!



slow church.jpgSlow Church Study Guide.jpgSlow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus  C Christopher Smith & John Pattison (VIP) $17.00  I have said over and over that this is one of the most significant books on the church I've read in decades. It brings a Walsh-like critique to the idols and ideologies of growth and status and efficiency and invites us to slow down, build community, learn patience and through God's grace, gather a human-scale sort of missional energy for our own neighborhoods. Learning a sense of place, having an eye for injustice, but enjoying the good things in our areas is all part of what it means to be followers of Jesus in a slower church. There's a good study guide for it, now, too.  


Subversive Jesus Craig Greenfield.jpgSubversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice, Mercy & Faithfulness in a Broken World Craig Greenfield (Zondervan) $15.99  I wasn't sure this was going to be all that profound  -- the word "subversive" is over-used and not every hip book about doing cool justice work is that good -- until an old CCO friend told me they knew this guy and assured me he was doing great work, and that we'd love his forthcoming book. And, wow, what a book -- I could hardly put it down. It is conversational but mature, and he is obviously involved in doing inspiring work. And Greenfield has some fun, too. His antics protesting cruise ship injustices by getting a group to dress like pirates was hilarious -- sort of a cross between Shane Claiborne and Bob Goff. (And they didn't just act up once, but entered into longer-term relationships with third world workers on these ships who are terribly abused. Who knew?)


His years of experience in Cambodian, his journey to serve the poorest of the poor, and how that mission involvement effected his own faith development was beautiful. When Jesus's teaching of love for enemies struck him, he and his wife baked cookies for local drug dealers (and none of them showed up -- our gestures of faithfulness don't always "work.") This is an upbeat, adventurous book, although the story of him getting cancer was grueling. If you like Walsh and this kind of lived out, joyful sort of mission in the, this will be a good read.  Great work, Zondervan, for offering this inspiring, healthy story about learning to weep at injustice, and do something about it. I hope they keep doing books like this, and I hope we keep hearing from Craig Greenfield.


habakkuk before.jpg



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July 2, 2016

A Reflection on Patriotism and a review of "If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Powers of American Liberty" (by Eric Metaxas) and five more ALL ON - SALE 20% OFF

Please see the link to our secure website order form page, shown below. We love doing these ruminations on books and making our suggested lists of important titles, but, of course, we make our living selling the books. Thanks for your consideration.  Happy book buying, and happy reading! 

betsy-ross.jpgFor this Fourth of July holiday weekend, I want to tell you about a book that I very much enjoyed, one that I can say even deeply moved me. There are layers of complicated backstory around the topic of the book that I mostly won't go into, but you should know that I found this book to be a surprisingly gripping read for me.

I like the author's previous writing, enjoy reading about history, but have an allergy to books about patriotism. I've reviewed books on the endlessly interesting history of the Founding Fathers here at BookNotes before, and enjoy telling people about this genre about civic life, the common good, public faith and the ideas and virtues that have given shape to our North American culture, and our United States, particularly.

Oh how I love the kind of patriotism that cares about a land and a place and a country, honoring one's own heritage and history - the good and the bad - without necessarily demeaning others. These lines written by Lloyd Stone after WW I, sung to the achingly gorgeous tune of Finlandia always choke me up:

            This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

 

I may not be in the majority, I am aware, although I know I am not alone, to say I worry about over-stated patriotism, both the cheap kind where people with flag-themed beer cozies think they are being honorable yelling slogans about American being Number One or the kind that insists we must be strong in military might and global influence as if we are an Empire that measures worth in sheer fire power.

I was raised in a very patriotic home - my family has lost loved ones in wars. The three older men I care about most (my father, my brother, and my father-in-law) all served in the military, proudly, as officers. (See, I have this reflex to say that because in my experience to say one is critical of unadulterated patriotism will surely be criticized, as if I don't care about vets. I don't know anyone who "blames America first" or fits the description of an "America hater" but so many right wing talk show hosts and conservative pundits tar us all with that inaccurate accusation. It offends me. Do you know what I mean?)

So, in part because of my own father's wisdom as a good conservative, I came to believe that too much misguided and uncritical patriotism is inappropriate, foolhardy, even, especially for Christians.  To use the language of Saint Augustine, perhaps channeled afresh through Davey Naugle's beautiful Reordered Love, Reordered Lives or James K.A. Smith's must-read You Are What You Love, it is distorted affection and perhaps idolatrous to love a government too much, or in the wrong way. We should give all things their due and love the right things to a proper degree, and each thing properly; love of state isn't a bad thing, and the Bible calls us to honor the proper authorities. In a good world, at least, it would be disordered not to love your land and government, somewhat, somehow.

The mindless saying "My Country Right or Wrong" suggesting that one dare not criticize one's own land was not promoted in my Christian home, but it was in the air everywhere in the late 60s and 70s when I was coming of age and thinking about politics, citizenship and the role of protest (in the Bible and in contemporary society.)  Large matters of public policy (the Viet Nam war, the nuclear arms race, America's role in propping up corrupt regimes from the Philippines to Iran to nearly every oppressive banana republic in Central America) were being debated.  I cannot tell you how many times I was told I should move to communist Russia for daring to say that my beloved land was doing evil in the Third world, or that we had issues like race and poverty and justice for migrant workers or corporate shysters polluting our air and water without consequence to deal with here at home.  Those stupid replies to legitimate social criticism still weigh heavy on my heart, decades later.

unclesam-god-229x300.jpgCivil religion became the phrase scholars used to explain the nearly religious way faith in one's own government, with no tolerance for critique, functions. Again, think of James K.A. Smith's analysis of "cultural liturgies" in You Are What You Love. Hand over heart pledges of allegiance and using Bible language of heaven ("alabaster cities gleam, untouched by human tears") to describe any temporal nation should give us pause. It is dangerous to allow the faith of the church to be used as window dressing for the secular state.

I shouldn't have to remind you that this kind of story of our own country as called and exceptional and somehow nearer to God than others is commonplace, but for Biblical people, unacceptable.  Biblical scholars and some brave pastors use the analysis of civil religion as they draw upon the Old Testament prophets who offered solemn rebuke to ancient Israel when the injustices of the land were legitimized by implying God was on their side, no matter what. "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord" they would chant, and Jeremiah, for one, would insist that even God's covenant people couldn't get away with murder by claiming to be exceptional.  Every nation will be judged by the sovereign of history, and no nation should be loved inordinately; patriotic sentiment or national loyalty ought never to allow us to overlook injustices or a lack of public righteousness. We must be careful that care for our nation doesn't turn into the idol of nationalism. Pride still goeth before a fall.

In Jeremiah 22 the prophet extolled a former king for doing justice and taking the side of the oppressed and hurting; liberal justice advocacy for the powerless caused it to be "well" with him and indicated authentic spirituality ("for is that not what it means to know me, says the Lord" v.16.)

Jeremiah confronts the King.jpgThen the prophet bluntly condemned the new king for building a fancy palace without paying fair wages, for living high on the hog and thinking his legitimacy was based on his profitable international business dealings (see v. 14-15a, although the NIV misses the market aspect of it, "competing in Cedar.") Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, take note! It isn't the point of this column to document the vast amount of Biblical material that calls us to be critical of our own beloved land and to resist civil religion, but it is important to at least recall the dangers of quasi-religious, overly sentimental and uncritical faith in one's own country, or its founding mythologies, a sin that is as old as Sodom and Gomorrah (see Isaiah 1: 10-17 or Ezekiel 16:49 to see how the prophets used the economic injustice in those cities as emblematic of the sins of Israel) and as recent as any belligerent political debate where U-S-A, U-S-A becomes a chant for greatness, without proper humility.

I say all of this on the fourth of July, to tell you that I am not one who generally likes the "God Bless America" cantatas or other red-white-and-blue celebrations that seem to me to smack of civil religion.  I detest "my country right or wrong" thinking and I believe, generally speaking, we have too much patriotism, or at least too much that isn't critically engaged in the realities of both the true goodness and evident evil of our blessed but broken land.

If You Can Keep It.jpgAnd, then, yet -- surprise -- to say this: I loved Eric Metaxas's new book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Powers of American Liberty (Viking; $26.00; 20% off sale price = $20.80.)  Mr. Metaxas is a born storyteller, a great communicator, and a fine writer. I was worried about this book, to be honest (see the aforementioned fear of civil religion and my concern as a Biblical person that no one nation should be honored with religious-sounding absolutes which closes off an possibility of critique and repentance.)

But, despite a few small quibbles, I loved it. And I commend it to those who, like me, maybe wouldn't be apt to pick it up.  Really, you should send us an order for this book - it's a great read, even if you want to push back on some points. It's a great time to read such a book.

I suppose many of you don't resonate with my concerns about misguided patriotism.

eric with book.jpgYou might be quite likely to buy this book and we would be delighted if you ordered it from us. I don't have to convince you that Eric is an amazingly sharp guy, a talk show host and pundit who seems to bring the wit and depth (well, almost) of a William F. Buckley and the gritty evangelical faith of Chuck Colson, and the interest in talking to intellectuals and thought-leaders about big questions as might, say, Os Guinness or Nancy Pearcey. Eric is a gifted writer, a funny, funny, guy, and agree or not with all of his views (or like his jokes) expressed on his daily radio show, he is an author I suspect you appreciate.

amazing grace metaxas.jpgIf you read even somewhat in conservative evangelical circles, you know his wonderfully-written and fascinating Bonhoeffer biography (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy) and his best-selling book about William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery from which they made the must-see, very moving film of the same title.

I hope you bonhoeffer.jpgknow his great pair of recent paperbacks, Seven Men: Seven Women And The Secret of Their Greatness.jpgseven men.jpgThe Secret of Their Greatness and Seven Women: The Secret of Their Greatness. He has a real knack for getting important things said by way of telling the tales of historical figures.  Without being didactic about it, he allows pretty conservative values and political tendencies to bubble up naturally as he tells us about this courageous freedom fighter or that justice advocate or that culturally-important poet or leader, telling us about folks from Jackie Robinson to Hannah More, from Mother Theresa to Eric Lidell. If you've read his books, you know he's got a knack for this and that his books are enjoyable and informative.

If You Can Keep It.jpgIt is the readers who might not want to read Eric Metaxas, or who aren't drawn to read about the Founding Fathers, that I want to persuade to consider giving If You Can Keep It a try.  It is a fast-paced book, serious but not dense, and, as I've said, I enjoyed it very, very much. Like reading David McCullough's 1776 or watching the TV adaptation of John Adams, it properly shamed me a bit, making me ask myself why I am reluctant to be clear about my appreciation of American ideals and the principles at the heart of the Republic. There really was a lot in here that I learned and a lot that made me feel some things pretty deeply.  I hope you'll appreciate my remarks about it; they are heart felt, and writing this out is better for me than grilling hot dogs on this national day of honoring a brilliant revolution.

THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

If you've read the books on civility and the public square by Os Guinness (most notably A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future) one of the central teachings of If You Can Keep It will be familiar. Guinness has made explicit the three-fold flow of traits that are central to keeping America vibrant and healthy.

There is the constitutional assertion of freedom of and from religion that is a building block to American culture. Religion, Metaxas reminds us, channeling Guinness's own reading of the framers and founders, must not be coerced. Only a freely chosen faith can be sustainable and profound enough to guide and inform and bolster civil goodness in the public square. So religious liberty was a huge matter, freedom of conscience, for everyone, regardless of conviction. Ahh, but how does one maintain such religious liberty? Only a truly religious people can step up and live out such religious freedom (again: a coerced faith or state church or civil religion simply won't do.) So there is this significant interplay between freedom of and from forced religion and a robust, lived faith that offers a solid grounding for public virtue.

And, as he makes clear, virtue is needed.  Otherwise, things fall apart.

This is, by the way, one of the great insights in de Tocqueville, the mid-nineteenth century Frenchman who wrote his amazing memoir of his journey to and impressions of America, called Democracy in America. He wondered, a century after the great colonial revolution, how the States were faring, what made America what it was. He famously found a deep religiosity at the heart of the culture, everywhere he went. He concluded that "liberty cannot be established without morality nor without faith."

Ponder it a minute: if we are free to do what we want but we are not moral people, then, inevitably, everyone will, in fact, do what they want -- for themselves, probably, disregarding the common good.  The founders were seriously well-read in moral philosophy, and somewhat in theology, and were deeply aware (more than any of our contemporary public leaders) of a realistic perception about the nature of the human person. The human condition is, among other things, that we are sinful, disordered, often selfish, and such an insight must inform how we think about social arrangements and our view of power and the rule of law and political theory and the like. (Yes, too, the famous "checks and balances.") This is heavy stuff and the brilliant leaders of the Constitutional Convention (sometimes called the Federal Convention) in the summer of 1787 were serious thinkers, debating well this kind of thing. I suppose you know of The Federalist Papers, written the following year, just for an example of the depth of their discourse, which Metaxas cites on occasion.

So the question looms: what makes people want to be good, or at least good citizens, thinking of the commonwealth over their own individual needs and wishes? Great sacrifice for the commons comes from people who have a moral compass pointing them to care about others, and, it seems almost empirically obvious, that this most naturally happens when people are guided by a religious faith that teaches the golden rule and the like.

golden triangle.pngSo there you have it, for starters, the bold claim that the Founding Fathers presumed a certain sort of worldview, if you will, and at least three things that they wrote about endlessly, but never quite so directly as when Guinness or Metaxas spells it out as the "golden triangle."

Freedom Requires Virtue

Virtue Requires Faith

Faith Requires Freedom

Metaxas notes that in recent years, this idea of the significance of faith and religious liberty for our public life is virtually unheard, at least in intellectual circles, and when it is, it is often dismissed if not mocked. The religious freedoms for mediating institutions and faith-based associations are woefully neglected (although Metaxas doesn't write about contemporary policy or court rulings much regarding this up-to-the-week topic.) Regarding his own education (his degree is from Yale) and the lack of awareness of the interplay of this necessary golden triangle of freedom, virtue, and faith, he writes, "Virtually no one seemed to understand what the founders had taken for granted as the secret center of their novel idea of self-government..."

Or as we might say today, the "secret sauce."

Metaxas continues,

If America was indeed a country created not because of ethnic or tribal boundaries but instead because a people had come to believe - and therefore embody - as a set of ideas, how could America be said to exist if almost no one anymore knew what those ideas were? If these ideas had essentially evaporated from our national consciousness for forty years or more, weren't we unwittingly but unavoidable becoming Americans in name only...

If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Powers of American Liberty draws easy-to-understand images, is chock full of illustrations and stories and episodes, offers primary source excerpts from speeches and letters, providing good summaries, (if a bit too sweeping at times) and gives mostly very solid insights about the nature of the ideas behind the Constitutional Convention and the framing of our founding documents. His point is that these genius thinkers - Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and the others - despite faults great and small - came up with a truly new and previously untried experiment in self-government. This was a remarkably new idea, and they were deeply committed to this new set of ideas, itself a remarkably new notion.

continental-congress-hero-A.jpeg

As a matter of small detail, a number of these great thinkers who were deputies at the convention did not sign the Constitution; Jefferson, whose influence was significant, was in France. Some of the gentleman, such as George Mason, and the interestingly named Catholic from Baltimore, Luther Martin, refused to sign on principle. Some awaiting a "Bill of Rights." Some had just gone home or fell ill.

Seeds that were sown through the centuries were taken up from the Greeks and Romans, through the Magna Carta, the Enlightenment, the Protestant reformation and the British revolutions, but no-where on the planet, ever, did anyone every come up with such audacious claims, and make such a bold and daring move to create a Republic such as ours.

I know this is often said, but it is nearly breathtaking to read of it again, and in Metaxas's hands, the radical and daring nature of this project (less, it seems, the Declaration of Independence, itself amazing, and the revolt from the King, dramatic as that was, but more so the new ideas to create a new form of government, rejecting monarchs or kings out of a whole new paradigm, so to speak) is utterly exciting. This book should be used in high school civics classes and study groups from sea to shining sea!

I could quote page after inspiring page of Metaxas writing about this stuff, but if you are a history buff, I don't have to tell you -- these eighteenth century revolutionaries were brilliant and eloquent, and even the small bits of their writings offered here are fabulous to read and ponder.  I appreciate how Metaxas not only quotes them liberally but gives background and color, as a fine storyteller and popularizer should. 

I appreciate how he surveys how old-timers have written about these assertions; his long and important chapter on the brilliance of the best Longfellow poem (on Paul Revere) and how it was written for deep social purposes on the eve of the Civil War, drawing on a sense of unity and the common good from the Revolutionary era, was tremendous!

VENERATING HEROES

He has a chapter called "Venerating Our Heroes" which I thought was fabulous - I didn't know much about Nathan Hale, that's for sure.  I would want to add a few other heroes that Eric might not, but his vision (or is it a strategy?) to keep virtue alive by telling the stories of virtuous leaders, is so, so necessary. (It is, by the way, the project behind his Seven Men and Seven Women books, each showing the "secret to their greatness" as a heroic sort of courage and integrity.) There is a lot to think about in this chapter, and it strikes me as urgent in our age of anti-heroes and sex-driven consumerism. (When will we grow tired of Kim Kardashians' boobs or Beyoncé's butt? And how bad has it gotten when even fundamentalist spokespeople like Jerry Falwell, Jr. happily pose giving a thumbs-up in front of Donald Trump and his framed Playboy cover?)

How to Survive The Apocalypse- Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the end of the World .jpgFor a more sophisticated treatment of the role of anti-heroes as an indication of the gloomy secularized times, by the way, see the book I've been raving about in the previous BookNotes posts, How To Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World by political theorist Robert Joustra and film critic Alissa Wilkinson (Eerdmans; $16.00.) The point, again, is that Metaxas reminds us in that good chapter about the role of virtue in leaders, and the need to tell the stories of heroism, a practice that has fallen on hard times (amidst the coming zombie apocalypse and whatnot.)

He reminds us that,

self-government entails far more than obeying laws. Tocqueville refers to something he calls the "habits of the heart" and the "mores" of the American people. He says that it is these things that are really at the center of keeping our republic. Going to church and obeying laws are important, but there are other things that also deserve to be mentioned and examined as central to keeping our freedoms...  we need to keep in mind that all of these things reinforce one another. We cannot pretend that one or another of these alone is sufficient. They are all part of a larger mind-set.

And so, he looks at the notion of the heroic in general, and the specific practice of venerating heroes.  Again, I think of Smith's "cultural liturgies" project, thinking about the formative influence of cultural practices; who and how we honor the heroic is fascinating, and Metaxas invites us to think about that, from storytelling to parades, from  public statues to how history is taught.

(And, yes, he addresses fairly, if not with quite enough gusto for my tastes, the important matter of hagiography, and of how to be honest about the large failings of past heroes. He is blunt about that, saying, "of course it is true that people can venerate heroes so much that they overlook important flaws" and he mentions, as examples, JFK, St. Patrick, and of course (given his expertise and passion for telling the tales of the abolitionists) the terrible irony that some of the framers were themselves slave holders.

In any case, in latter decades we have swung so far in the other direction that venerating heroes, which used to be part of our common vocabulary, is no longer a language we speak or really understand. But this has served to undermine the very idea of greatness and the idea of the heroic, which is deeply destructive to any culture but especially to a free society like ours, where aspiring to be like the heroes who have gone before us is a large part of what makes citizens want to behave admirably. Denigrating heroes, or simply failing to venerate them, has a cynical and toxic effect on the young generation, and we have now had fifty years in which we have neglected this "habit of the heart" so vital to our free way of life.

I think he is on to something, don't you?

PAMELA ANDERSON VIDEOS? REALLY?

Metaxas further illustrates how moderns have treated these things more generally -- our views of liberty and such -- sometimes with illustrations so vividly weird that one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, as when Joy Behar, one of the hosts of ABC's The View suggested after 9-11 that we should resist the Taliban by dropping blow-up sex dolls and Pamela Anderson videos over Afghanistan.  Yep, that's it - notice: freedom is most fundamentally understood as freedom from restraints of any sort, and, in the contemporary hyper-modern culture, that is most understood as freedom from sexual restraint. Eric notes, "It was a classically Freudian idea of the problem at the center of human life, and as far as she was concerned, that was what our American freedom existed to wipe out.

He continues:

This suggestion that raining pornography and sex toys might pointedly express American freedom was an important and bracing moment in television history, because the divide between the founder's view of "liberty" and the current misunderstanding of it had never before been more perfectly contrasted. But what happened in the centuries since the ideas based on Montesquieu and Locke and Jesus had devolved into what amounted to an airdropped "kiss off" to the medieval coelacanths in their Afghani caves? During previous wars we might have thought to drop Bibles or copies of our Constitution because we knew that these contained the ideological dynamite to free those cultures of their oppressive bindings.

LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE MISUNDERSTANDINGS

It is very interesting and helpful that Metaxas has good pages exploring this, what he calls the "liberal" misunderstanding of freedom.  We should pay heed of this somewhat philosophical question. But it is to his credit that he then also has pages looking at what he terms a "conservative" misunderstanding of freedom, where he is hard on the neo-con hopes that capitalism and economic growth will naturally bring about renewal and liberty and justice for all. The free market, he notes, "delivers what people want" and in that sense it is amoral, or at least deeply connected to what the people stand for, shaped by the values and desires of the culture.

Listen to him on this:

Gekko-the-Great-cvr-2-300.jpgNeither in voting nor in finance is pure self-interest always in the best interest of the nation. You may recall Michael Douglas's character's infamous statement in the movie Wall Street. With his slick-back hair, Gordon Gekko declared, "Greed is good." In fact it is not. It's not only not good, it is evil. But it is not only evil and morally wrong, it will in the end lead to the debasement and destruction of the free market, just as naked and selfish self interest in voting will lead to the debasement and destruction of democratic government.

Metaxas is clear about the problems with the typical liberal and typical conservative tendencies and errors - and the "golden triangle" comes to the rescue.  You see, the government cannot force us to be good. As people made in God's image with certain inherent dignity, we must have freedom, but for freedom to be sustained, to allow a culture that is healthy and a government "for" the people -- the common good, as Catholics tend to say --  we need good people, who will put common concerns above their own greed. And so we need religion to underscore morality, but we cannot have authentic religion without religious freedom.  It really is an endless, inter-related triangle.

What this supposes is that we may not be able to sustain our ordered sense of liberty, our structures for democratic freedom, for being a republic, given our current greeds and ideologies and markets. (Decades ago, Francis Schaeffer, a popularizer of intellectual history and a wide-as-life worldview of Christ's care for every square inch of His world, predicted that by the early twenty-first century people may become so committed to their own "personal peace and affluence" that they will permit a national security state, accepting too much law and order to protect their own suburban pleasures. Wow!)

THE STORY THAT GIVES US THE TITLE

So, can we sustain our forms of government, our freedoms?   Can we keep it?

As you may know, there is a historical conversation from which the book gets its title. 

In that summer of 1787, when those most brilliant men met to devise a new constitution - cited for centuries later, by leaders from Lincoln to Martin Luther King (who called it "a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir") to idealistic reformers all over the globe - they understood that "American would not flourish without great help from all Americans."  We must take up that "promissory note" and be good Americans.

That is the key take-away from the book.

"Future Americans depend on present-day Americans doing their duty in this," Metaxas writes, wisely.

(By the way, this was part of my approach in a recent Op Ed piece in our local York Sunday News paper criticizing a local knucklehead school board member making gross anti-Muslim comments and harassing a church that was reaching out in kindness to Muslim neighbors here in Dallastown. It was anti-American, I said, to be so ugly about fellow citizens' deepest beliefs, as if religious freedom is not for all or as if the common courtesy of wishing another well is somehow bad. I implied, sincerely, that this GOP delegate was a bad conservative and a bad American.)

Can we sustain the insight and virtue and freedoms dreamed about by the framers and founders? Can we be good stewards of these ideas and practices that have been handed down over time?

So do you know about the brief conversation between Benjamin Franklin and a Mrs. Powell, as recorded by Dr. James McHenry, a delegate from Maryland, the last day of the long, long convention in Philadelphia?  Metaxas tells it well:

Benjamin Franklin was 81 that summer, described by Metaxas as "the oldest delegate, the eminence grise who for his part in those hallowed proceedings came to be known as the "sage of the Constitution." Franklin had by that time lived in Philadelphia sixty four years since arriving there in 1723, aged seventeen, so for all we know, he knew this now mythical and otherwise forgotten Mrs. Powell, who has come to stand for all of American since that day when she spoke to Franklin in a tone that seemed to bespeak some degree of familiarity.

According to McHenry, Mrs. Powell put her question to Franklin direction: "Well, doctor," she asked him, "what have we got? A republic or a monarch?"

Franklin, who was rarely short of words or wit, shot back: "A republic, madam - if you can keep it."

eric pink shirt.jpgKeeping American constitutional freedoms, through careful attention to sustainable structures of freedom of religion and a robust, common-good sort of public morality, bolstered by sincere, lively faith, is not the only thing Metaxas writes about in If You Can Keep It. It is a good, good start, and worth reading this summer even if you know a bit about the Constitution and have interest in questions of public justice and religious freedom and the like. (And it is important to read if you tend not to read much along those lines - this is a lesson in patriotism unlike the simplistic and jingoistic stuff that sometimes passes for civic lessons and may inspire some of the jaded among us to take up this work of forging a healthy view of citizenship.)

Again, I was struck by how vital all this feels while reading Metaxas's energetic writing -- even when he overstates a few things. (He waxes eloquent noting how many good things have come from the United States, listing inspirational stuff from the invention of baseball and basketball to jazz to the invention of the computer and the internet, saying these things were made possible by "that one document written in that hot room in Philadelphia over the course of one hundred days  -- that promise to the future of the world." Okay, so he makes the point with some purple passages. Let it go - he's mostly right on most of this, and it is good to be reminded.)

PERHAPS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PERSON OF THE ERA

Some readers may find a few chapters to seem incidental, but I hope not, as I believe they are fully integral. There is a chapter, for instance, on George Whitefield. I thought I knew a bit about him, but this was a spectacularly interesting chapter. There are major historical biographies of the great evangelist, but for most of us, this will give us a helpful picture of his immense popularity in the colonies, and his unique friendship with Ben Franklin (even though they differed considerably on religious matters.)

george whitefield 1714 - 1771.jpgWhitefield could speak out loud, outdoors of course, to up to 30,000 people -- ever the science guy, Ben Franklin measured it out.  That up to 80% of the population of the colonies in the mid-1700s had heard him preach is extraordinary.  His sermons were published on the front page of the Pennsylvania Gazette. He was, in fact, what today we would call a major celebrity. Metaxas may be overstating things (I don't know) but he insists that in many ways, Whitefield was one of the most important persons in the whole founding of America.  He almost single-handedly spurred a great religious awakening (begun, of course, by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards a decade earlier) - creating fertile ground upon which the new ideas of self-government and self-restraint for the sake of the common good could flourish.

Whitefield's own story, from poverty to Oxford, and his consequential concern for the poor and the underclass (hence his unconventional outdoor preaching) created an social ethos later called by historians democratization; that is, there was a populist sort of leveling - all people of all classes and stations are equally loved as created by God, all are equally guilty before God and all are equally redeemed by God in Christ.  All had access to the throne-room of the God of the universe, only a prayer away. He loved the native peoples, preached to black settlements, and was respected by the rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, the learned and the unschooled.  The vivid revival preaching and renewal of faith promoted by the Wesleys shaped the gifted Mr. Whitefield and his own tireless travels and inspired speaking informed the North American continent in ways no one had previously, ever.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MORAL LEADERS

There is a chapter in If You Can... that is ever and always important, one that helped clarify things for me, called "The Importance of Moral Leaders."  He tells of a particular speech given by George Washington on March 16, 1783 in the middle of a very dramatic part of the war. I was moved by Metaxas's telling of it, what he calls "Washington's Finest Hour."

Washington, part way through the speech, "reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. He had been using them for some time, but never in front of his officers, so the gesture must have taken them aback. And then came the famous line: 'Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.'"

With these words, the mood of the room changed dramatically. There is no question that many of the angry, battle-hardened officers had been softened and moved by his speech, but now, seeing their noble leader in this unprecedented moment of weakness, they were undone. As Washington read the congressman's letter, many of them actually wept.

The longer speech of Washington is filled with value-laden words, words Metaxas suggests we do not hear much anymore, "sacred honor" and "dignity" and "glory" and such.  I am not so sure that we do not hear them - they are perhaps tossed around too often or too brazenly to mean much. But I appreciate his concern, that we too often affirm leaders who are pragmatists, or who seem to have know-how and skills, but are short of deep virtue, both public and private. We need leaders of integrity, and we need to be people who care about virtue and goodness and integrity.

Metaxas writes, "One of the most fragile parts of our fragile system of ordered liberties is the necessity of a basic trust between the people and their leaders."

I recommend this chapter for careful consideration this election season. Methinks even Mr. Metaxas and those he has on his radio show would benefit from a good re-read. Can he make everybody read a chapter of his own book before their interview?  Maybe not.

Metaxas deepens his good argument for leaders being those who can "make goodness fashionable" by drawing on familiar ground for him, the wonderful and complex story of William Wilberforce.  This section is thrilling and beautifully compelling.  I am sure you will value it - and perhaps it will draw you to read or re-read his earlier work on the great British parliamentarian who fought to not only abolish the slave trade but to create a larger culture where "morals and manners" were reformed.

ALMOST CHOSEN PEOPLE

Perhaps the thorniest chapter of the book is called "The Almost Chosen People" (a line from Lincoln) on "American exceptionalism" which Mr. Metaxas admits is "rightly controversial."   Interestingly, it seems that the phrase itself comes from that nineteenth century Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, in his landmark book.

Metaxas is clear that American exceptionalism "should have nothing to do with excesses of nationalistic chest-beating and jingoistic hubris." ("We may take some real comfort," he suggests, "in knowing it was in its first appearance a foreigner's cold-eyed analysis and subsequent wonderment at this country, when she was young.")

I believe this stuff is complicated and it is a chapter with which I take exception, as it isn't exceptional enough. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

I would suggest you read it, perhaps even with a group, and think this through for yourself. What a salon or coffee conversation you could have on any of these chapters, but especially this one. (Maybe over some tea, in honor the Brits, or some French wine, in honor of de Tocqueville.)

john-winthrops-quotes-7.jpgFrom the summer of 1630 when a fleet of ships, including the Arbella, set sail from England, we have the story of John Winthrop and the "shining city upon a hill" sermon. Metaxas says that Winthrop (the man chosen to be the new Massachusetts Bay Colony governor) "was making clear to them that what they were about to do was a tremendous burden, that they bore a responsibility to all other peoples then living and to history - and to the future."

They were not just, in Metaxas's telling,

merely running from religious persecution, which was considerable...but this trip was not merely about finding a place where they might live their lives in peace. For them, living their lives in peace meant they would have the opportunity to fulfill their responsibility to do something important for God. They understood that freedom was not merely the freedom to be left alone; it was the freedom to do what was right. Freedom was a gift from God and they must use it for his purposes.

Metaxas insists,

This idea of freedom as something to be used in the service of others is at the very heart of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; through Winthrop and the Puritans of Massachusetts it became an important idea at the heart of the American project in the seventeenth century and in the centuries after.

I think this book, and even this chapter, is balanced and fair.  Mostly. I wish he would have questioned the too common misuse of the Bible's references and promises to the covenant people of ancient Israel applying them to any secular nation-state or people group. That's a hermeneutical matter for those who study the Bible, but utterly germane when talking about God's blessings upon any nation.

In this chapter of If You Can... there are lines that are grossly overstated, inexplicably failing to omit the dark side of how the pilgrims and Puritans acted, the mistreatment of indigenous peoples (perhaps in those years not as bad as some think, and not nearly as evil as the great genocides committed by the Spanish in Central and South America.) Metaxas is a scholar of the abolitionist movement and outspoken about contemporary slavery today, so he is not disinterested in the evils of injustice and racism, even those perpetrated in those colonials years. To not name them, though, in the appropriate passages in this chapter when he is talking about "the idea of living for others - of showing them a new way of living - that was at the heart of America" is either disingenuous or incredibly naïve. Either way, it's bad.

statue of liberty.jpgI love that throughout the book (even on the cover) Metaxas is genuinely taken with the spirit of Lady Liberty.  He talks about the great statue, and quotes at length the beautifully powerful poem by the famous Emma Lazarus ("The New Colossus.") For a strong conservative pundit, he is surprisingly critical of those who are disinterested in the plight of the immigrant and he waxes eloquent on the goodness of our general openness to immigrants in our past. He tells of his own family's rigorous journey from Greece, and has emmas-poem.jpgobvious reasons to be sympathetic to the cause of immigration. Yet, in his framing of this, as he offers a positive spin on those who are anti-immigration, implying they aren't that unreasonable or uncaring. I scribbled in the margins, "One would wish. His naiveté is breathtaking." He then says "Very few are foolish enough to say that we don't want immigrants at all. They are widely considered to be our strength."  I wrote in the margins, "I wish!"

I suppose I should appreciate his optimism, but it struck me as almost willfully in denial about the harshness of some our fellow citizen's attitudes these days. I know one person who said "I think it's about time they took that statue down." So, there's that.

I wondered who was fact-checking this portion, for instance when he says that America has been "by a wide margin the most generous nation in the wrong  Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statue.jpgworld." That statement is, as I thought nearly everyone who studies such things knows, not so.  If measured in terms of the percentage of our GNP going to foreign aid, the United States is woefully low, with all sorts of countries offering a much more generous portion of oda-chart.pngtheir GDP to elevate world hunger and the like.  Yes, many Americans are generous, and because we are wealthy, even a meager gift is a lot. I suppose it is true that we are first in line to send medicine and the like, but, again, this factoid about our generosity is glaringly wrong - we, as a nation, when talking about foreign aid other than military aid - are woefully not generous. And often, our foreign aid is tied to demands for policies which we craft, often coercing capitulation (perhaps through the IMF, say, serving our business interests.) Again, is Metaxas just ill-informed about these things? Is he not a member of the citizens anti-hunger group Bread for the World or has he never seen those charts listing our relative status compared to others, or hasn't he read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger which documents this so carefully?  One would think his editors, at least, would have caught that.

Still, as I've said repeatedly, this is a fine book with remarkably interesting stories, and much to ponder. There is stuff in here that I bet you've never heard.  For instance, if you haven't read Metaxas' children's story Squanto: A squanto-560x595-560x595.jpgFriend of Pilgrims you most likely don't know his nearly unbelievable story.  He was called Squanto but also Tisquantum.  He had been captured by Englishmen with evil intent in or around 1608, and taken to England.  He became a Christian and years later returned to his native homeland in what we now call New England and served as an interpreter; he played a major role in the famous Thanksgiving drama of the pilgrims of the Mayflower being taught to survive when he walked out of the woods to greet them in the spring of 1621.

Squanto helped the Pilgrims establish a peace with the local Native Americans that lasted fifty years, a stunning accomplishment considering the troubles the settlers would have with native tribes in the centuries following. Sadly, Squanto died not long after this, but Bradford wrote that Squanto "desired the Governor to pray for him...Squanto even bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims "as remembrances of his love."

"It is virtually impossible for us to fully appreciate today," Metaxas observes, how innovative the creating of this was, this drafting of the Constitution, and how nearly it came to falling through. The men who struggled that long summer to write it were themselves in deep disagreement and it is nearly miraculous that they came to an agreement. (Alexander Hamilton, for instance, believed the President and senators should be chosen for life, just as Supreme Court justices are appointed for life.) From the remarkable Articles of Confederation (written in six months near us here in York, PA, by the way) to the ratification process, to the breathtaking drama of these brilliant thinkers confined to Philadelphia then tasked with hammering out this brave new document (including debates and compromises about slavery and slave holding states) Metaxas describes it in such an interesting way, and helps us see why it matters so much.

lincoln.jpgThe whole book is not exclusively about the founding fathers, as he spends considerably time with Lincoln, including excerpting some of a speech given to the New Jersey State Senate that is brilliantly worded, expressing "Lincoln's own sense of history and his place in it." He ponders what Lincoln meant by that evocative phrase "the mystic chords of memory."  He wonders how we can reform our own sense of God's ways for our land, and how we might appropriately and effectively share that with the world.

He critiques the contested idea of "Manifest Destiny" and he insists we have much work to be done. He often mentions the sin of slavery - sounding like Lincoln, at times, himself, struggling to help us see how we must become the sorts of citizens and faithful people who love our land and resist its greatest injustices and threats.

As I said, I am not one who usually appreciates books calling us to be more patriotic, to love America more, to get all cozy with what is often cheap sentiment or theologically dangerous civil religion.  And this one, like others in that genre, has its blind spots and misstatements.  But it is generous, it is interesting and enjoyable, it is mostly balanced. Importantly it reflects on the meaning of love, of love of country, of the virtues of knowing what is good to love. If You Can Keep It invites us to not love our land "in exclusion to the goodness in other things." He warns against making our goodness a false idol which, he says, is actually a posture which "hates real goodness."

He continues,

If we are loving what is properly good and true and beautiful, we are ordering our affections against tribalism and jingoism; we are ordering our affections so that they are in line with God's affections, because the selfishness of tribalism and nationalism are the very enemies of what God loves.

Wow, to overstate our own goodness can be idolatry! And to fail to honor the goodness of Canada or Congo, Belgium or Bangladash, is "hating real goodness"? I think that is what he means. Once we learn to love and honor global public square os 10 - 8.jpgand value and work for the good, true good, we will obviously care about our land, but we will love the good elsewhere, as well.  As those who are committed to the habits of heart of a democracy, we should be well-placed and well-equipped to be good global citizens.  It is, in fact, a deep truth behind his friend Os Guinness's book applying these American principles of religious toleration and deep pluralism to the global scale in a book called The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity. This illustrates a healthy way in which ideas and ideals from America's own revolution can inform and shape ideas about how we can make peace in the complex global world of the twentyfirst century. It's worth reading!  And Metaxas would agree, I'm sure.

If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Powers of American Liberty proposes a sort of patriotism that seems right to me, and If You Can Keep It is a book inviting us to live into that properly ordered, modest virtue of loving our nation well.

It isn't perfect and most readers will find something to ponder, maybe something to contest. But I do think it is a very good read, and hope you consider it, for a book group, a study class, to send as a gift to someone who might need a bit of civic education, or to ponder yourself in this increasingly contested political season.  Agree or not with all of Eric's conclusions, I still think it is a good book, worthy of your twenty bucks. We're happy to suggest it; add one from the following list, below, and you'll be set for some holiday fire-works that matter.  

If You Can Keep It.jpg

FIVE MORE HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Was-America-Founded-as-a-Christian-Nation.jpgWas America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction

John Fea (Westminster/John Knox) $30.00 I have previously reviewed this highly regarded and significantly awarded book and mention it from time to time here at BookNotes.  I cannot say more clearly that this is a must-read for all of us, at any time, but surely now when there is much public conversation about this very topic. It would be a great supplement to Metaxas who is more storyteller and American evangelist than trained historian. (By the way, Metaxas is not making a claim that America is "a Christian country" the way some do, at least not in his book about the virtues of American patriotism and the centrality of religious freedom, If You Can Keep It. I do not mean to suggest Fea's book is an alternative approach, as the two books have two different intentions.)


Dr. Fea has poured over countless primary source documents, has spent his time at Mt. Vernon (where he has been a scholar in residence) and has created a balanced and thoughtful book - "with a calm and analytical clarity and profound knowledge" one reviewer said - that claries much about the complex matter of religion and the founding fathers. This is a conscientious and informed book, and his case studies of the faith and religious practices of seven key founding fathers is the best stuff I've ever seen on the topic.

American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion- Reassessing .jpgAmerican Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea John D. Wilsey (IVP Academic) $22.00 This is a major, recent work by a professor of history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who has written widely on the evangelical critique of the notion of a "Christian America." There are numerous raves reviews by serious historians and public intellectuals, such as this from Robert Tracy McKenzie, a Wheaton College professor (and author of the excellent The First Thanksgiving) who says, "Any thinking Christian who aspires to patriotism without idolatry would benefit from reading this fine work."

I noted that I had some issues with Metaxas's rendering of this topic in the fascinating chapter in If You Can Keep It. This would be a more scholarly, detailed study of the topic, and I commend it to you.

babel-and-beast.jpgBetween Babel and the Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective Peter J. Leithart (Cascade Books) $24.00 This is a stunning bit of heavy scholarship and a powerful polemic in the publisher's "Theopolitical Visions" series. Listen to James K.A. Smith, who writes,

When I read a critique of the heresy of 'Americanism' from someone who nonetheless 'loves America,' I take notice: this is not the usual predictable boilerplate. In this important book, Leithart brings his usual verve, erudition, and nuance to bear on one of the central idolatries of our age."

Or listen to Princeton professor Eric Gregory:

Between Babel and Beast offers a bracing critique of American political history and a pastoral call for repentance from imperial 'Americanism.' But Leithart's distinctive analysis provides a more complex--and potentially more constructive--biblical perspective on international politics than can be found in the many ecclesial critics of empire. This crisply argued and highly readable companion to Defending Constantine confirms that Leithart is one of the most interesting voices in theology today.

god of liberty.jpgGod Of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution Thomas S. Kidd (Basic Books) $26.95 We only have one of these gems left in hardback and aficionados of the topic will want in their collection. Kidd is a well respected historian and a Senior Fellow at an institute at Baylor University. The blurbs and reviews on this volume are remarkable - impeccable scholars such as Rodney Stark and Wilfred McClay, George Marsden and Mark Noll each offer fabulous endorsements.  Peter Lillback (a popular author who writes about George Washington) says God of Liberty offers "an important critique of the mainstream interpretations of the American Revolution...the surprising partnership of devout believers and deistic doubters to secure America's victory makes for fascinating reading."

The Christian Century's review noted,

One of the many virtues of this book is that Kidd is a careful and judicious historian... He points out--correctly--the errors of both present-day secularists on the left, who insist that the founders barred religious voices from political discourse, and the church-state separation deniers on the right. The lesson of American history is that although church and state are institutionally separate, morality and freedom are seldom at odds and that, in fact, they are mutually reinforcing."

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

I do not think that Mr. Metaxas is unaware of the gross history of how even church-leaders authorized and legitimized exceptional evil in our nation's history.  The mistreatment of Native peoples, blacks, immigrants and more are well documented and simply essential to understand. Of course, he was not writing a history of our nation, so it wasn't in his purview to talk about the massacre of Indian peoples in the 1800s in the West or the abuse of Asian railway workers and the like. But he was naming the goodness of our land, even arguing for an exceptional calling, so it needed to be address.

I understand that some think we have over-emphasized these injustices, and that wallowing in past social sin erodes legitimate national pride and keeps us from "moving on." I protest. It is a weakness in Eric's book that he didn't name more of these egregious sins (although he named some, and occasionally reminded us that we should never minimize our nation's faults and failings.) This book is a counter-weight to cheap patriotism, a necessary reminder of the sad stuff of our history and no celebration is legitimate without attending adequately to this need for pubic confession and serous repentance. I applaud these brave authors and this evangelical publisher for giving us this resource to know and lament these tragic moments and awful patterns of our past.

As Metaxas says, without vital virtue, the republic is doomed.  Without repentance of these affronts to God and neighbor and the earth itself, it could be argued our virtue is wanting. This book is a must-read.


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