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August 19, 2014


I don't usually just swipe other blogs for our BookNotes reviews, but, as they say,tom in our back yard.jpg there's a first time for everything.  I found these descriptions of these brand new editions of older Tom Wright books in an Eerdmans Publishing blog to be very helpful. And so, he says a bit sheepishly...

And, hey, the new cover designs themselves deserve some celebration!  They are quite striking.  So, I borrowed heavily from the Eerdmans blog -- EerdWord, it's called -- which describes seven older Wright books, each freshly adorned with all new covers.

                                                                                                                                                                                           Tom Wright speaking in our backyard, Spring 2013.

We ourselves have had a long relationship with Wm. B. Eerdmans Co. The first "sales rep" I ever worked with, I'm eerdmans.jpgsure, was an Eerdmans one, who helped us learn a bit about the book biz. And they've published some of our perennial best sellers -- When the Kings Come Marching In by Rich Mouw, Creation Regained by Al Wolters, and authors such as Marva Dawn, Eugene Peterson, Ken Bailey, Nicholas Woltersdorff, and so many more.

And, yes, early N.T. Wright, whose early paperbacks thrilled us, back before he was so internationally acclaimed.

So, we're happy to share the news of these redesigned and reissued affordable paperbacks. I hope you like uniform covers and sets of books like this as much as I do.  I think these are very handsome, and we're glad for the time and care that Eerdmans put into this project.

A few of these books with new covers are now actually back in print after having been unavailable for a while.  Three big cheers for that!

However, please see the note at the end: we have some of the older editions which we have to clear out to make room for the new ones.  We have these with the original Eerdmans cover designs at a really good discount, while supplies last.  More on that, below.

But first, here, with permission, a bit from a recent Eerd-word blog.

He's a brilliant scholar. A respected church leader. A best-selling author.

N. T. Wright is . . . well, according to Christianity Today's April cover story ("Surprised by N.T. Wright"):

People who are asked to write about N. T. Wright may find they quickly run out of superlatives. He is the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation. Some say he is the most important apologist for the Christian faith since C. S. Lewis. He has written the most extensive series of popular commentaries on the New Testament since William Barclay. And, in case three careers sound like too few, he is also a church leader, having served as Bishop of Durham, England, before his current teaching post at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

But perhaps the most significant praise of all: When Wright speaks, preaches, or writes, folks say they see Jesus, and lives are transformed.

We at Eerdmans have enjoyed our long friendship with Wright -- and a fruitful publishing partnership that, back in the 1990s, resulted in a number of excellent books.

A few of those books are still easy to find today. Others, though, have followed the natural life cycle of print publications, moving gradually into our print on demand program or even -- gasp! -- going out of print entirely.

But not anymore. 

This summer, Eerdmans will be releasing fresh new editions of seven modern-day classics by N. T. Wright.

And so, EerdWord first announced these new covers. (Actually, I was privy to them previously as I even got to have a bit of input on some earlier suggested drafts.) These are, I think, very cool.


We just got these in last week and have them at a BookNotes 20% off discount. Just click on the order link below to go to our certified secure order form page.

But, first, back to Eerdmans helpful descriptions.  My own brief comments are in italics.

Ffollowing jesus n.jpgollowing Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Eerdmans) $14.00 our price = $11.20

Wright first outlines the essential messages of six major New Testament books -- Hebrews, Colossians, Matthew, John, Mark, and Revelation -- looking in particular at their portrayal of Jesus and what he accomplished in his sacrificial death. In the second part of the book Wright takes six key New Testament themes -- resurrection, rebirth, temptation, hell, heaven, and new life in a new world -- and considers their significance for the lives of present-day disciples.

 I often tell people who do not want one of his thick, scholarly works that this is one of the best books with which to be introduced to Wright's good Bible study. This is fantastic, about Jesus, about other New Testament writers, and about the call to contemporary whole-life discipleship. I very highly recommend it.

Wwho was jesus n.jpgho Was Jesus? (Eerdmans) $14.00 our price = $11.20

Written from the standpoint of professional biblical scholarship yet assuming no prior knowledge of the subject, Who Was Jesus? shows convincingly that much can be gained from a rigorous historical assessment of what the Gospels say about Jesus.

This is very good for anyone studying the authors who contribute to the "quest for the historical Jesus and who question the reliability of the gospel witnesses.

Tcrown and the fire.jpghe Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit (Eerdmans) $14.00 our price = $11.20

This long-popular book contains thirteen powerful meditations and sermons challenging readers to reassess their own responses to Jesus' death, his resurrection, and the continuing influence of his Spirit on those who follow him today

You most likely haven't seen this, so it is a must for any NT Wright fan.  I think it is very strong. He hasn't written that much on the Holy Spirit, so this is very, very important for his oeuvre.

Tlord and his prayer n.jpghe Lord and His Prayer (Eerdmans) $11.00
our price = $8.80

In a series of pastoral reflections, N. T. Wright explores how the Lord's Prayer sums up Jesus' own agenda within his first-century setting.  Taking the Lord's Prayer clause by clause, Wright locates this prayer within the historical life and work of Jesus and allows the prayer's devotional application to grow out of its historical context. He demonstrates how grasping the Lord's Prayer in its original setting can be the starting point for a fresh understanding of Christian spirituality and the life of prayer.

Yes! Amen! Loaded with Kingdom vision, this makes a great study for a prayer group or any small group.

Ffor all god's worth n.jpgor All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Eerdmans)  $14.00 our price = $11.20

This insightful book by N. T. Wright explores both the meaning and the results of worship. Based firmly on sensitive and creative readings of the biblical text, For All God's Worth is an inspiring call for renewal in the worship and witness of today's church.

Again, this is one of my all time favorites, reflecting well on traditional (corporate) worship as well as the worship we offer, twenty-four/seven, even in our jobs and vocations. An early call to relate Sunday and Monday, worship and work. I highly recommend it.

Wwhat saint paul really said nn.jpghat Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity (Eerdmans) $18.00
our price = $14.40

Wright leads readers through current scholarly discussions of Paul and gives a concise account of the actual contribution Paul made to the birth of Christianity. Wright offers a critique of the argument that claims that it was Paul who founded Christianity and shows clearly that Paul was not "the founder of Christianity" but was the faithful witness and herald of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah and the risen Lord of the Christian faith.

Wright has written a lot lately about Paul, much of it deep and the books expensive. Buy this one, for sure, to get the major themes of his recent thinking, and how he compares to other critical scholars.  Very impressive.

Tway of the lord.jpghe Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today (Eerdmans) $14.00  our price = $11.20

In this inspirational and informative guidebook for Christian pilgrims, Wright explores all the sites that travelers usually visit on a tour of the Holy Land, explaining not only what is to be seen but also the context of faith that makes these sites, and the events associated with them, famous around the world. By weaving together Old and New Testament stories, poetry, and original insights, Wright helps readers enter imaginatively into each scene. He also sprinkles his narratives with reflections on the nature of pilgrimage generally and with discussion of vital contemporary issues related to the Holy Land.  This is another that is not well known, under-appreciated, and about which we can rejoice that it is now once again available.  Yes, it is about places, a theology of pilgrimage. Brilliant and inspirational!

We do hope you like these new covers -- I happen to like the use of modern art, suggesting something classy, but yet contemporary, enduring like good art, but a little edgy.  And thank goodness that we have such readable books from such a scholar.  We're very glad to announce them.  Don't forget, these handsome new editions are all 20% off.

while supplies last.for all god's worth old.jpg

And now, the sale on the older covers. We have a limited supply of a few which we are sellingwhat st paul old.jpg for BETTER THAN HALF PRICE.  What Saint Paul Really Said usually sells for $17 and we have 'em at just $8.  For All God's Worth used to sell for $13 and we have 'em for just $6. Who Was Jesus, The Lord and His Prayer and The Way of the Lord are also, while supplies last, just $6. Nice, eh?

Here is what would be helpful: if you are ordering the older editions, please note that.  And then you should tell us, if we are out of the older editions, if you are willing to take the new ones.  If you only want them if they are super cheap, let us know that, please, so we can honor your intentions and send just the right ones.   


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August 13, 2014

Good Books to Follow the FLOW -- 20% OFF

We are glad to welcome some new friends to Hearts & Minds - perhaps you'll become one of our tribe, our gang, our fam. We are grateful for those who read BookNotes (you can subscribe so that the reviews come right to your inbox) and we are very appreciative of those who send orders our way.  Some say that they really like the mix of titles we suggest, our curated lists and unique inventory here at the shop, and we are glad for customers who become friends, friends who become almost like family. Sometimes we joke, saying we give new meaning to the idea of a family business! Anyway, thanks for caring, about books, about God's work in the world, about Christian literature, and about our work.  Our team here couldn't do this without writers, publishers, readers, and book-buyers.  We think this kind of reading can make a difference, for God's glory and our world's repair.

Wfield guide FLOW.pnghich leads me to mention yet once again the vivid For the Life of the World DVDs and the newly published Field Guide study books ($9.99. on sale here for $7.99.) If you decide to use this video curriculum with a small group or class this fall, you really should have a few on hand, especially for those who many not be able to easily access the on-line version.  It really is a good participant's resource, full color, nice paper, great discussion questions, background stuff, packed with ideas to maximize your use of the films.  I hope you are thinking about calling some folks to watch this together this fall, if you haven't yet.  I love it and the conversations you will have around it will be provocative and interesting, I'm sure.

For now, I hope you are enjoying the good days of summer, maybe using this time to reflect on the goodness ofSurprised by Hope-b.jpg God's world, the ways in which Christ's glorious atoning work brings redemption to all areas of life, and how we can live faithfully in every zone of life and society with real hope. I've recently re-read a little of N.T. Wright's classic Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne; $24.99) and have again recommended the DVDs by the same name (Zondervan; $36.99 for the six session DVD and a participants guide.)

The For the Life of the World DVD - which is abbreviated FLOW -- is a good follow up for those who have used that down-to-Earth hope-ster stuff from the always-eloquent Tom Wright. Or, vice-versa: Surprised by Hope would be a great DVD curriculum to follow up your use of FLOW.  There really are some theological connections, for those with eyes to see...


Here is a handful of resources that seem to me to be useful follow-ups to at least some of the themes of the For the Life of the World DVD.  If you want to live well in the world, aware of the abundant, orderly economies of creation and the creation-wide scope and consequences of redemption, you may need some help. To wit, some practical and inspiring resources to help you in your journey into a life in-and-for the world.  Enjoy.

Aastonished.jpgstonished: Recapturing the Wonder, Awe, and Mystery of Life with God  Mike Erre (Cook) $14.99  One of the great themes in FLOW is that God made a good world, the various economies and spheres are themselves wondrous, and we are invited to a world of wonder. The interview in episode 6 with Mako Fujimura may seem to be about the value of the arts, but the deeper theme is that while most of us are not artists, we are all able to nurture the eyes to see and to stand in awe. (Read the wonderful essay inspired by this episode by my friend Bruce Herman, "Wonder Is Not Just For An Artistic Elite" here.)

Well, Mike Erre's easy-to-read, playfully good book is less about awe in the world at large, but how we can respond in awe to the mystery of faith. It is a book about, as Rick McKinley puts it,  "rescuing us from being underwhelmed by a God of our own making." In a way Astonished: Recapturing the Wonder... reminded me of another lovely book I often recommend, WonderStruck: Awakening to the Nearness of God (Worthy; $14.99) by the ball of energy and goodness known to the book world as author Margaret Feinberg. Erre and Feinberg are both creative and fun, upbeat and energetic, offering insight about knowing God better, nurturing one's spirituality in ways that help us attend to the beauty and realty of the world around us and God's awesome presence around us.  Perhaps a more subtle and sophisticated approach would be to read the updated second edition of the Oxford University Press book, now out in paperback, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue by philosopher and classicist Paul Woodruff ($17.95.) That is a very impressive work, helping us "see" our world and our place in it with great dignity and deep meaning.

Nno home like place.jpgo Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place  Leonard Hjalmarson (Urban Loft Publishers) $16.99  This may be the most important book that you've never heard of.

I say this, that it is so important, for three reasons.  First, a sense of place is a huge theme these days (thanks, Wendell) and localism is a major interest (thanks, IndieBound, ShopLocal and anybody who shops at the farmer's market) that most of us still need to ponder and pursue. It is an important principle, but even if one isn't quite fully enchanted by the locavores, it could be argued that you should read up on this because it is a theme of importance to your neighbors, and to the rising generation. So, it's important; you should know what the fuss is about, and this will help. 

Secondly, I say this book is important because it is so very rare. There are a few books that develop a Christian perspective on place, and the two other must-reads (Where Mortals Dwell by Craig Bartholomew and Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faithfulness in a Culture of Displacement by Brian Walsh and Stephen Bouma-Predigar) are thick and a bit heavy; rewarding, important, but not easy. No Home Like Place is meaty enough and considerable, but perhaps a better primer. It is winsome; Brad Jersak nicely says "to find someone rebuilding place after the great postmodern deconstruction is beautiful." So, it is very well written and nicely engaging, even "joy-filled" as another reviewer said. 

Thirdly, you need to know this book because it is, without quite saying so, part of the vision of FLOW. The Acton Institute that funded and produced the FLOW project seems to stand in a mostly Catholic tradition where small is, most often, better than large, and local control is better than distant rule - the Catholic social teaching calls it "subsidiarity." Those in the line of Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Reformed theologian and social architect that influenced the actual writers of FLOW, had a distinctively neo-Calvinist approach which also has tendencies towards the local, if not the whole "small is beautiful" view. Although this has complex implications for the ordering of society - populist and democratic - at the very least we can say it means starting where you are, attending to your neighborhood, caring about your own context.  No Home Like Place will give you the theological and missional foundation for appreciating a sense of home, a sense of place, resisting the homogenization of the Big and the loss and injustices experienced in, as Walsh and Bouma-Predigar put it, "a culture of displacement."

Leonard Hjalmarson helps us with all of this in ways that are theoretically insightful, theologically beautifully,Missional-Spirituality.jpg and spiritually alive. He co-wrote the wonderful Missional Spirituality: Embodying God's Love from the Inside Out (IVP; $16.00) which was substantive and inspiring, bringing together the too-often separate themes of the inner journey and the outer, piety and politics, formation and faithfulness in the world. The very notion of missional spirituality is ripe with potential, and that book has helped readers grow deeper in their interior lives as well as see that spiritual transformation as part of a Kingdom vision, missional, engaged. Hjalmarson brings that same vision of caring about God's work in the world and our aligning ourselves with the redemptive purposes of God in how he approaches this neighborhooded view of place.

There are a few important themes in No Home Like Place. We are "sent" of course - this is missional 101 - but can our sentness effect how we inhabit our own places, our homes? Is there, as Dwight Freisen puts it (in his rave review blurb) a way to attend to our locatedness? 

Or, as sociologist Mark Mulder of Calvin College writes, "In a world of increasing mobility, No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place makes a compelling case for Christians to be more attentive to the places they inhabit. Hjalmarson calls us to consider how cultivating connection is integral to the incarnational mission of the church. Moreover, this book prompts a re-imaging of how the recovery of place might foreshadow the coming Kingdom."

Notice the words: inhabit, incarnational, cultivating connection.  These are themes that are common in various missional organizations and networks these days and it is no surprise that the book has gotten rave reviews from the prominent leaders in these movements such as J.R. Woodward, David Fitch, A.J. Swoboda, Alan Hirsch, Paul Sparks, MaryKate Morse, Stuart Murray, and the like. That No Homenew parish.jpg Like... draws on the savvy analysis of culture and cultures makes it in itself a good intro or reminder of the conversations and discoveries in church life these days. Hjalmarson not only draws on his strong educational gifts (he is an adjunct professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago, at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, and George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland) but on his own leadership in the Parish Collective, and his missional community on the shores of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The Parish Collective, I might as well say, published the stellar book about local missionalism, The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community written by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight Friesen (IVP; $17.00.) It's in this same ballpark, too.

There are generative ideas in this book about place and localism, stuff about theology and eschatology and culture, creation, and covenant. There is good advice about exploring place and the practice of place. He looks wisely and knowingly about the urban landscape and is helpful in a good chapter called "Politics and Public Space."  Here is a surprise, though: one chapter is called "Re-placing the World Through Pilgrimage." (Yep, go figure; there's nothing wrong with travel, of course, and our sense of home can be enhanced by our trips.) There is another really important chapter about localism and the arts, enhancing our sense of home and place by deepening ourspace between.jpg embodiment and creativity. (It isn't a simple chapter, by the way, and it left me glad for the fresh thinking but wondering how to live it out.)

Put this book on your list as soon as you can, and ponder it for years to come. Read it alongside the aforementioned books on place, and resources on neighborhoods such as the two by Eric Jacobson (Sidewalks of the Kingdom and The Space Between, which are essential.) I am sure that you will learn something new, be inspired to new, ground-level commitments, and your own neighborhood and locality will be blessed by your attentiveness.  There are even some prayers and litanies that have been used that give voice to these good concerns. 

Sgo small.jpgmall: Because God Doesn't Care bout Your Status, Size, or Success Craig Gross (Nelson) $15.99  If I were just reviewing this one book, and had unlimited time and attention, I'd just copy the foreword by Josh McCown, Quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who talked about his short stint in the NFL, being traded, demoted, his dream of stardom not panning out as he had hoped. Inspired in part by reading an early version of this, he determined to lower his big dreams and overly visionary expectations and focused on being good and kind to whoever he was with, which ended up being a small high-school team in Waxhaw, NC. 

Well, you get the point: the old adage "go big or go home" is not, according to Gross, a sustainable way to live, and it is an cultural attitude which chews people up and debilitates us all with chronic unhappiness.  Rather, he suggests that it is in the seemingly ordinary moments of life that God does His greatest work, and that to trust God and serve Christ well, we neither have to go big nor go home.  We can endure, day by day, in the small stuff, the mundane, even. "It's time to invest in stamina, to cultivate endurance, to recognize the miraculous world of the ordinary, little things."  It's time to go small, and keep at it.  This is inspiring, includes upbeat Bible stories, and helpful reminders about humility,  acceptance, and the "wrench in the works." Gross has done a lot of pretty extraordinary things, so there are exciting stories, and lessons learned, making this fun for small groups that need nice and practical resource.

Iis reality secular.jpgs Reality Secular? Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews Mary Poplin (Veritas Books/IVP) $18.00 As I considered resources to share to accompany you and your group in your journey into the FLOW DVD sessions, I didn't want to just cite the obvious. So I let my thoughts ramble a bit, and I couldn't stop thinking of this very thoughtful, richly written, substantive book that offers an evaluation of the claims made by those worldviews which insist that the world is secular.  What does this even mean? Who makes these claims? And what do the most vital world philosophies say about it?  Maybe this has something to do with the other big book here this summer, Jamie Smith's How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. 

I've written in the last post on memoirs about Mary Poplin, the brave, faithless college teacher whose life was transformed by working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, who advised her to "find her own Calcutta" back on college campuses.  Ms. Poplin took up her call with gusto, involving herself in relating faith and scholarship, bearing witness to her new life among colleagues and academics, students and parents. She became friends with Dallas Willard (who wrote a very good foreword to this book.) She studied and loved and cared and entered into dialogues with not only thoughtful Christians, but many who were antagonistic to her new-found faith. 

As the back cover puts it, "at the root of our deepest political and cultural divisions are conflicting principles of four global worldviews - material naturalism, secular humanism, pantheism and Judeo-Christian theism. While each of us holds to some version of one or more of these worldviews, we are often unconscious of their differences." The For the Life of the World DVD doesn't directly evaluate alternative visions of life under the sun, but they are not unaware that the multi-dimensional, whole-life, Kingdom vision they propose is to be lived out in ways that are different than the typical visions of the meaning of life on offer. (The center of each film is, after all, a "Letter to the Exiles.") 

This book by Mary Poplin will help us be aware of the spirit of the age, the issues of the day, the ideas that matter.  This is a stunning, brilliant work -- even the non-Christian writer Michael Ruse affirms her: "Mary Poplin and I take very different sides on the topics discussed in her book. That is why I prize her writings, because they are so fair and comprehensive.  She shows me clearly what I must grapple with and defeat - or give up and join her side! Very much recommended."  Other heavyweights have raved, as well - Robert George of Princeton and John Lennox of Oxford and J. Budziszewski of University of Texas at Austin. 

Not only heavyweight philosophers, though. Popular pastor John Ortberg says this: "Truth, as wise man said, is valuable because it is what allows us to navigate reality.  Mary Poplin has done us a great service - she helps us explore where truth lies and how it guides."  I think that captures why I couldn't escape thinking about this as a serious follow-up to the down-to-Earth pleasantness of the For the Life of the World movies. This will give some intellectual grit and deep cultural criticism to our life "in but not of" the world in which we sometimes seem as exiles.

Jjourney to common good walt B.jpgourney to the Common Good  Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $17.00 I do not need to belabor the importance of Old Testament scholar, Dr. Brueggeman, and he remains one of my favorite authors, and a church leader who has influenced me significantly. I recommend almost all of his books (a new one on the Psalms called From Whom No Secrets Are Hid is to be released by WJK in few weeks, and the much anticipated Ice Axes for Frozen Seas: A Biblical Theology of Provocation comes from Baylor in mid-September.) I have enjoyed almost all of his many works.  His most recent - Sabbath as Resistance -also comes to mind as a very appropriate study to enhance our joyful life as exiles who are "against the world, for the world" as envisioned by the good folks of FLOW.  I am not sure they would be as enamored with Walt as I am, but these do seem apropos.


This one, Journey to the Common Good, is a true favorite, the transcripts of stunning talks he gave at Regent College in British Columbia. His evangelical vision is evident as he invites us to deep study of the Hebrew Scriptures to fund our commitments to the common good. That FLOW mentions this phrase (and many of the speakers who make cameos like John Perkins insist on our commitment to Biblical justice and love of others as the true heartbeat of any Christian lifestyle) is notable.  The very title of the films - For the Life of the World -- and the question it seeks to answer ("What is our salvation really for?") should make it clear that a perfect follow up would be a study of the notion of the common good.  Journey to the Common Good is sophisticated and invigorating Biblical reflection that once again shows how deep, thick reading of nearly any part of the Bible yields a grand vision of public justice, social righteousness, and a "seek the peace of the city" orientation that desires the flourishing of all peoples and cultures and the deepening of the common good.  It's a journey worth taking with Walt.

CChrist Plays in .jpghrist Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology  Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $16.99  I still love my first Peterson books - A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (on the Psalms of Ascent) and Run with the Horses (on Jeremiah) which I read in the late 70s. Perhaps these are your first, too; they remain very popular and highly regarded. Like his many others, they certainly are consistent with the vision of FLOW - embodied, patient, non-ideological, nurturing habits of faithfulness that over a lifetime lead to life as it was meant to be lived, in God, for others.  Yes, yes, those are good.

Yet, there was no doubt that I wanted to cite this one from 2005, for what should be obvious reasons. If you read my review you will know that FLOW cites the famous Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, the very "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places" poem from which this Peterson classic takes its title. I have discussed this mature book before, and it is complex, but orderly. It is the first of an extraordinary set of five volumes that Peterson calls his "spiritual theology." Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology goes to great length to show how - according to the Bible! -- Christ shows up in creation itself, in history, and in community with other believers. In each of the three long sections he shows how Christ's birth, death, and resurrection are the good news that affirms these three locations of grace. (There are three attendant threats to getting this right, too, and he offers three necessary practices to overcome these threats to the true good news.)

And, yes, again, the title is from Hopkins. Evan, in FLOW, is wearing a Hopkins tee-shirt in one of theQuotation-Gerard-Manley-Hopkins-poetry-Meetville-Quotes-269509.jpg episodes (you can learn about all seven of the tee shirt portraits in the Field Guide.) The reading in the DVD of that good portion of the poem is nearly worth the price of the whole set. I'm sure that the FLOW guys knew this poem previously - many do - but I also bet that Pastor Peterson's work was an inspiration. The whole set of his momentous spiritual theology books are exceptional, but this one is foundational.  As Marva Dawn observes it's "Eugene Peterson at his best - poet, storyteller, wonderer, biblical scholar, sage, practiced disciple, and lover of God... A life-transforming and liberating book."  Yes!

Amoveable feast tt.jpg Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days Terry Timm (ImaginationPlus) $11.99  Well, you may not know this name, but I'm happy to share that he is a hero to many, a great, caring pastor of a fine missional church in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.  Terry has worked with Steve Garber (using his Visions of Vocation) to help his parishioners get a vision for their lives, framed by Garber's line that "vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei."  Pastor Timm has focused on his lay people and their own Kingdom callings, equipping them well, and holding up this wholisitc vision of the common good, cultural renewal, creational flourishing.

As a celebration and follow up to this year-long study of vocation and calling and the mission of serving the common good,  group from his church took the four hour road trip to Hearts & Minds, allowed me to share with them our vision for using books to help think Christianly and creatively about this "in the world but not of it" sense of taking up the tasks of serving God in careers and callings.  You've got to love a pastor like that, eh? 

So it should come as no surprise that Terry Timm and his church have been big supporters of a cadre of churches in Pittsburgh using the For the Life of the World videos. (This gang is even bringing in Jars of Clay for a concert where they'll play some of the live tunes recorded for the FLOW project.) This new book, in so many ways, is a fantastic follow up (or prelude to) FLOW.  As Gideon Strauss (of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary) puts it, "A Moveable Feast will be a gift to those of us who know ourselves to be called into struggle with, and gratitude to,  God who loves every thumbprint patch of this wondrous, shattered world."

Terry has shaped his congregation around this very theme -- that worship is a "moveable feast" and that we worship, actually, 24/7. As Lisa Slayton, the President of Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation puts it, "This book tells the story of what it looks like when a Biblical community truly begins to realize that God desires their 'everyday, walking around life' to be offered as an act of worship, that worship is not just what we do on Sunday morning corporately but what we don Monday... We all need help bridging our theology to our praxis. This book serves as such a bridge."

Although the vision of this book is, indeed, how we serve God in all areas of life, in all our endeavors, the heart of it truly is about the recovery of worship, mature and solid, good and effective, honorable and fruitful.  I think many a contemporary worship leader would benefit from it for its wise council. And, the implications of this God-centered, gospel-fueled view -- "worshiping for the other six days" as well -- are so very nicely spelled out, too.

We are thrilled to be one of the first bookstores to carry this brand new indie press book by Rev. Terry Timm. It is handsomely done, nicely written, covers much good ground, and includes a good study guide ("feasting together.")  There is even an appendix called "an ordinary, everyday liturgy" which outlines an entire worship service with prayers and litanies designed to honor the ordinariness of daily life, the goodness of work, the calling to serve the common good.  I think that this powerful book could help nearly any kind of congregation deepen their sense of these things, and I hope church leaders buy it and use it.  Terry is the real deal, a friend to Hearts & Minds, and his book is yet another example of the fresh sorts of things being written during this 21st century renaissance of "all of life redeemed" wholistic faithfulness.  Whether you've used FLOW or not,  Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days is a delight.  Thanks be to God.



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August 7, 2014

The Power of Story: Memoirs for Pre-Evangelism, Spiritual Insight and Enjoyment, too ON SALE from Hearts & Minds

In my previous column offering resources for apologetics and sharing the gospel, I mentioned that we might use memoirs for what some call pre-evangelism. 

That is, as we try to help people construe meaning and find their way, books of others doing that can be both reassuring and helpful. Religious seeking, even confusion, is not uncommon -- and, yet, as Echoes of a Voice: We Are Not Alone, the James Sire book mentioned yesterday indicates -- many people have what might be called epiphanies, or acute awareness of what might be called signals of transcendence.  Some memoirs helps us appreciate that.

Of course we read memoirs, like we do novels, also for the pleasure, for the joy ride of immersing ourselves in a well-told story. I adore this genre and have bunches of favorites (not all about the profound search for meaning or spiritual experience.) Some of these books I cherish. There are more than I can mention...

I think of the luminescent story about grief, The Tender Land: A Family Love Story by Kathleen Finneran (one of the most beautiful, well constructed and moving books I've ever read) or the beautifully told journey of Andrew Krivak preparing to become a priest, A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life. I loved Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, who can write like nobody's business; the memoirs of Elizabeth Gilbert are nicely done, and I adored Mary Karr's must-read trilogy (and will say more about one of them, below.)

The down-home, rural writer Michael Perry from Wisconson is a writer who'd I read no matter what he's describing; Beth, too, and her favorite is his wonderful book Truck while I favor Coop, although they are each splendid examples of what he calls "roughneck grace." Perhaps you've tasted the foodie memoirs of Ruth Reichl like Comfort Me With Apples (who now has a novel out, too, but I digress.) And how about those memoirs about homesteading, farming, or living more sanely --  any number are so nice.

Years ago I wrote a review about The Cliff Walk: A Memoir of a Job Lost and a Life Found, a stunning story about a literature prof named Don Snyder who got laid off, lied about his shameful unemployment, but eventually found a sense of calling to a new vocation as construction worker.  Someday I will re-read that magical book. Terry Tempest Williams is a truly magnificent writer, and I am better for having read her work.  Start with Refuge and then Red which are about her loves for the deserts of Utah, and her departure from the conservatism of her Latter Day Saints family. Which reminds me of a cult-classic that I've read twice: Desert Solitaire by the indomitably crusty Edward Abbey. I really do love this genre!

Recently Beth and I discovered by serendipity the great, great writer, Catherine Gildiner whose story of her girlhood near Niagara Falls Too Close to the Falls and her coming of age in the crazy late 60s, After the Falls, defy being put down - they are so entertaining and nicely written, funny, even.  These were just so fun to read, and we both were struck not only by her writerly skill, but were amazed how authors can tell their life story this way.  Do order them from us if you'd like, but be prepared to stay up late, following her escapades.

Some biographies carry this same theme -- telling how somebody pieced their life together, finding hope, or not.  I hope you've read the excellently written, unforgettable Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand, about Louis Zamperini (which, finally, was just released in paperback.) Even those of us not drawn to extreme sports have been thrilled, and moved, by books like Into Thin Air which aren't memoirs per se, but have that feel. Krakauer's account of the tragic story Into the Wild gives us all pause, and makes us ponder. Although not a memoir, the sports biography of Joe Ehrmann, a Baltimore Colt football star who went to seminary and learned to coach inner city kids, ­­­­­Season of Life: A Football Star, A Boy, A Journey to Manhood written by Jeffrey Marx, is beautifully done.

I don't know if Jonathan Kozol's poignant pieces about urban kids in failingstride.png schools count as memoir, but they are nearly that, and movingly written - with titles like Amazing Grace and Ordinary Resurrections you pick up that something important is going on. Stride Towards Freedom by Martin Luther King Jr. I think, counts as memoir; in retrospect it is a very large story, set as it is in the days of the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott. It is one of my all-time favorite reads, and it chronicles Dr. Kings faith, his doubts, his intellectual/theological struggles, his prayers, and, finally, his trajectory to becoming the leader he became, all set in the blazing history being made in that famous city.

Some of these stories address important issues, and some are about faith, but many are not.  Still, I love reading the delightful and moving ways people tell their stories and think, at the least, that helps us have greater understanding of others, and perhaps empathy towards their search for meaning.

Of course, this is nothing new:  just think of the popularity, even in the mainstream press, of classics like Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton or The Long Loneliness by Dorothyyou converted me.jpgcon.jpg Day or Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis. Even Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, which took the country by storm and then was made into a movie with Julie Roberts - it is about her search for meaning, and even God, is it not?

Can you remember the first time you read The Autobiography of Anne Frank, or, say, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom? Or the quartet of autobiographies by Frederick Buechner? Or Kathleen Norris? (Surely if you are a Hearts & Minds fan, you've read Buechner and Norris!)  

Did you know that the first person in history, or so they say, to do a self-conscious spiritual autobiography is one former African Bishop, Augustine of Hippo, whose Confessions we carry in any number of editions? Talk about an enduring story -- sexy party boy turned sober Christian leader!

Here I will list a fabulous batch of books that are, mostly, about the search for religious truth, the journey towards the Divine, and, in some cases, towards Christian discipleship of one sort or another. Leaning over the shoulders of some of these writers as they reflect on their pilgrimages is a good way to help others think through their own lives, and a good way to help people see how it is done.  Perhaps you could share them with seekers and skeptics, friends and loved ones. Or maybe you yourself might enjoy following along the trek some of these writers make, and their ruminations offered for us all.

Again: while few of these end up with the sort of distinctive, historic Christian faith I might endorse, their reporting about their quests are certainly well worth reading. These are mostly not classic conversion narratives (although a few are) and none are simple; their allusive and artful telling about their sometimes disappointing struggles and their epiphanies and joys is the point.  Perhaps these books can be used in the kinds of conversation where simple conversion testimonies wouldn't typically work; it is why I sometimes suggest that these are pre-evangelistic. (Lewis, you know, had his "imagination baptized" by reading a fairy tale, before he committed himself to Christ.) These books may not necessarily bring the gospel clearly (some do) but they all offer us the language of story, coherence, plot and searching, and the vocabulary of self-aware consideration.

By recommending them, we are aware that some are not presenting a Biblically-shaped worldview, and their use of language may be more R-rated then many readers of Christian books are comfortable. 

story.jpgSo, there. Hope that helps. All are on sale, too, if you are a BookNotes reader. Just use the order link, below, or click the "order" tab at the top of the website. It leads you to a secure order form page and you can just tell us what you want.

Ppilgrim.jpgilgrim: Risking the Life I Have to Find the Faith I Seek Lee Kravitz (Hudson Street Press) $25.95  What a delightful, plainly told story of a baby boomer raised Jewish, who experimented (rather unsuccessfully) with Transcendental Meditation in the '60s (the Beatles, ya know) and who always had a desire for deeper spirituality. Living now in (post 9/11) New York, with teenagers and a successful career, he is knowingly seeking spiritual depth.  Kravitz moves from very liberal Judaism to hosting an interest in Protestantism, joins a Quaker meeting, eventually trying Zen. As Hope Edelman writes, "Lee's Kravitz's journey of spiritual renewal leads him right into the heart of what matters most: family, community, and love."  StoryCorp founder David Isay says it is "a courageous work filled with wisdom and life lessons."

Lilit.jpgt: A Memoir Mary Karr (Harper) $14.99  Her searing story of growing up in a rough family in hard-scrapple East Texas, The Liar's Club, and her next book further reporting on her descent into some very, very crazy stuff, Cherry, are legendary, both used in writing classes, and cited as examples of the renaissance in quality memoir in our time.  In this one, Ms Karr pursues her literary career even as she remains an alcoholic, so the title itself is a punchy double entendre. How she lives into her eventual sobriety, her literary career, her hunger for God, her ongoing family problems -- recall that stuff in her earlier books; that doesn't go away easily, you know -- and her new found faith is extraordinary, wonderfully written and exceptionally compelling. What a life. What a read. Superb.

Ssurprised by ox.jpgurprised by Oxford: A Memoir Carolyn Weber (Nelson) $15.99 I have reviewed this fast-paced, intellectual conversion story before, and raved, also, about her follow-up memoir of being a busy Christian professor and mom, seeking spiritual guidance for each day (Holy Is the Day - so good.)  Surprised by Oxford is a major autobiography, focusing on her year of study in England, and her conversion there to reasonable, heart-felt, evangelical faith.  The allusion in the title, of course, is to the more famous Oxford conversion story, Surprised by Joy. This really is a marvelous book, for anyone who is in academia, a serious student, or who has studied abroad (or, more importantly, wondered about great literature and the Christian vision of life.) Lyle Dorsett says that Weber is "an unconventional thinker whose engagingly told faith journey will speak to folks who still believe that thoughtful people cannot be Christian."

Texact place.jpghe Exact Place: A Memoir Margie L. Haack  (Kalos Press) $16.95   I did a long, rave review of this when it first came out, and we declared it truly one of the best books we had read in 2013. Margie is a fine writer (look for a collection of essays coming later this year) and her style is intelligent, honest, poignant at times, but not sentimental. She writes here about growing up poor in a shotgun shack in rural Minnesota, and, evoking a strong sense of place, wonders if she was at "the exact place" she needed to be all along, the place where God could draw her to Himself in divine mercy.  This is not the least bit preachy, and in the beautiful closing she offers up that take-away insight.  Anybody who starts their book with a line from Wendell Berry, and then makes us laugh right out loud with antics, and causes us to get a lump in our throat reading about her afflictions, so that we finally come away with insight and wonder, well -- this is that kind of amazing sort of book.  Highly recommended, written by a friend of Hearts & Minds, and an artful, good storyteller.

Tlittle way of ruthie l.jpghe Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life Rod Dreher (Grand Central Publishing) $16.00  This really is a spectacular book, very moving and sad (it is about the sickness and death of the author's sister.)  But it is also a look at a caring community, offering a serious sense of place, and the discovery of a slower-paced, more humane pace of life in small town.  The New York Times calls it "illuminating." Ann Voskamp has a gorgeously crafted rave review. The epigram in the front is from St. Therese of Lisieux, "What matters in life and not great deeds, but great love."  Tell me this wouldn't create good conversations for seekers, skeptics, or those sensing a hunger for a sustainable, flourishing life. Watch this short Youtube clip by the author to get a sense of how good this book really is.

FFalling into Place- A Memoir of Overcoming.jpgalling into Place: A Memoir of Overcoming Hattie Kauffman (Baker) $17.99  This handsome book is well written -- the author is an Emmy Award winning broadcast journalist, so she is wonderful with words. Hattie Kauffman is, in fact, one of the only Native American's working at this level in this profession. She is determined, focused, and knows how to get to the heart of a story, and her story is very much worth telling.  A veteran CBS/NBC colleague notes how many good stories she has covered and says, "Now she shares her own heart.  And that's the best story yet."  This is a true story both heartbreaking and redemptive, pointing to what is faithful and true.  Very moving, very nicely done.

Ggirl meets god.jpgirl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life Lauren Winner (Waterbrook) $14.99 This is the book that catapulted Lauren to considerable fame and those who love good memoir will certainly see why. Few contemporary conversion narratives have captured the angst of Gen X young adults, and her particular journey - into conservative Orthodox Judaism and then into Episcopalian faith - is so well told that it is often used as an example in classes on writing spiritual autobiography.  Beth and I love her writing, and care for her very much. This is one of the great memoirs of our generation. You should have an extra to share  -- it is that good.

Fflirting with faith.jpglirting With Faith: My Spiritual Journey from Atheism to a Faith-Filled Life Joan Ball (Howard Books) $14.99  There are many books in this genre, and this one is told with verve and what Len Sweet in his rave review calls her "attitude" which he compares to Anne Lamott. Sweet also says, "her splendor of rendering life in the spirit is unmatched."  Wow.

Becky Garrison, an Episcopalian writer who has some attitude herself, has a blurb on the back: she says, "Joan Ball reveals the scarred soul of an avowed atheist who found herself unexpectedly God-smacked. In Ball's story, readers will find another broken believer who walked a crooked spiritual path that eventually wound its way to God."

Ffinding calcutta.jpginding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service Mary Poplin (IVP) $16.00  Speaking of academia, this is a very nice story, the journey of a non-Christian, liberal feminist college professor who takes a year to serve alongside Mother Teresa, trying to make sense of her life, and finds a deep relationship with God. In wondering what to do next, Poplin is told by Mother T to "find your own Calcutta" in higher education. There are plenty of hurting young adults and colleagues in modern universities, and she should serve there, she was told.  This is the story of her time in Calcutta, her religious awakening, and, then, her moving efforts to live her new life as a Christian college teacher. Very, very nicely done.

Ssunday in america.jpgundays in America: A Year Long Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith Suzanne Strempek Shea (Beacon) $16.00  When Pope John Paul II died, Suzanne Shea, who had not been an active member of a church community for some years, recognized in his mourners a faith-filled passion that she longed to recapture in her own life. So she set out on a pilgrimage to visit a different church every Sunday for one year - a journey that would take her through the broad spectrum of contemporary Protestant Christianity practiced all over this country.  Want to sit in the pews with dozens of different congregations, getting to know all manner of spiritual experience and congregational life? Humor and grace abound as she allows us to join her in this year-long road trip through 30 states, and 52 different churches.

Mman seeks god.jpgangeography of bliss.jpg Seeks God: My Flirtation with the Divine Eric Weiner (Twelve) $26.99  Of course this is not the only book one should read if one wants to know about comparative religions, and it obviously does not bring a uniquely Christian, or Biblical framework to the project, but still -- what a fun read! But what a curious project it is. Perhaps something like Bruce Fieler (Walking the Bible, The Year of Living Biblically, etc.) Weiner, who calls himself a "spiritual voyeur" and inveterate traveler, wants to actually experience what various religions have to offer, so he actually tries to adopt them the best he can. From practicing with Hindus and Buddahists, to serving with Franciscans, to some lesser known outfits, he tries to see what is good about them all. It is a clever read, and one really does show at least some of how these faiths are practiced on the ground. 

By the way, I really, really enjoyed his previous one, where he visits the countries that have been measured to be the happiest on the planet, to see what they do right. That one is called The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World (Twelve; $14.00.) Fascinating and fun, and a bit instructional, too, about what really makes us happy.

Ssalvation on sand.jpgalvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia Dennis Covington (DeCapo) $14.95 I have often said this is one of my all time favorite books, a high octane, powerhouse story by a great writer, a gutsy, wounded journalist who is assigned to do a serious story on the snake-handling sub-culture in rural, very Southern West Virginia. I will not spoil the story, but you should know this is beautifully written, energetic, fascinating, and very surprising, even as this author ponders some of the biggest stuff we can ask about religion in America, and faith in our own lives.  What a book! By the way, I was blown away by the story he wrote with his wife, novelist and essayist, Vicki Covington, about their troubled marriage, movingly called Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage. What writing!

Ddemon camp.jpgemon Camp: A Soldier's Exorcism Jennifer Percy (Scribner) $26.00  I heard about this from an Episcopal friend and then on NPR and it made me think a bit of Salvation on Sand Mountain. This exploration of demons and exorcism didn't come from Oral Roberts or super-charismatic Pentecostals, but from a mainstream, secular writer (of the literary caliber who gets reviewed on NPR.) This is one helluva book -- is about post traumatic stress, telling the story of an emotionally wounded vet who is convinced he is being haunted by demons. He finds help (or does he?) from an almost spooky exorcist ministry in very rural Alabama. This brilliantly told story traces not only the surreal narrative of the demon-haunted vet, but of the journalist herself, as she accompanies him into the memories of the horror of the battlefields in Afghanistan and the horror of serious spiritual warfare. I am left wondering what to think about this, and you might as well. Whew.

Bblood brothers.jpglood Brothers Elias Chacour (Baker) $12.99 I have wanted to remind our friends about this since an updated second edition came out a year ago.  This is the dramatic story of a Palestinian Christian working for peace in Israel. The late James Baker III wrote a moving afterward. Father Chacour, known to be a delightful and generous man, is an Archbishop of the Middle Eastern Melkite Church and founder of the Mar Elias University in Galilee. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, by the way - and his story here is a stunning example of Christian advocacy for justice, for reconciliation, and for Biblical nonviolence.  It is a riveting life story and a beautiful vision of the hope for peace amidst the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Iin the wilderness coming of age.jpgn the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown Country Kim Barnes (Anchor) $15.00  I found this to be one of the most moving books I've read in a long, long time, and continue to ponder it, even though I read it several years ago. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, in fact. Barnes, now a novelist, was raised in rural Idaho, born into a rustic family of nearly migrant loggers.  When her isolated extended family became involved in nearly cult-like fundamentalism, her life changed - as did her family's relationship with the land, with others, with everything from sexuality to politics to work and education.  Her rugged journey out of this worldview, and away from her formerly close-knit family, is riveting reading.  Here is how the back cover described it: "Into the Wilderness is the poet's own account of a journey toward adulthood against an interior landscape every bit as awesome, as beautiful, and as fraught with hidden peril as the great forest itself. It is a story of how both faith and geography can shape the heart and soul, and of the uncharted territory we all must enter to face our demons. Above all, it is the clear-eyed and moving account of a young woman's coming of terms with her family, her homeland, her spirituality, and herself."

Thungry for the world.jpghe subsequent sequel by Ms Barnes, Hungry for the World: A Memoir (Anchor; $15.00) is passionate and well worth pondering, again, wonderfully written with intelligence and grace, although it has some sexual stuff that may trigger painful memories for some readers. This is literate, never gratuitous, describing her profound exploration of the meaning of it all, and her search for a healthy, sane life.  

Nnorth of hope.jpgorth of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey Shannon Huffman Polson (Zondervan) $16.99  I have on occasion said that this is perhaps the most literarily rich book every published by this evangelical publisher. I have met Polson, and know that she is an extraordinary writing talent, a deep thinker, and a thoughtful Christian writer.  In this gutsy memoir, she retraces the steps of an outdoor river adventure through Alaskan wilderness coming to grips (in the exact journey, at the exact spot) where her parents were mauled to death by a bear the year previous. Is this a helpful way to grieve a tragic and gruesome loss? Why is she doing this? How does it feel?  As she prepares for this journey, she is also rehearsing her role as singer in a Mozart Requiem, and these interludes are themselves gloriously written and deeply affecting. What a book.

Tlife you save may be your own.jpghe Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage Paul Elie (Farrar Straus Giroux) $17.00  A renowned book, a labor of love, highly literate and exceptionally well researched, this was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. It explores the lives of four great writers who sought to change lives through their work, and the way their own lives were changed by books.  In a way, it can be described as four interlocking biographies, telling us in beautiful prose about Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy.  If one is at all interested in American literature, the world of intellectual Catholicism, or the impact of the Catholic left, this is "a perfectly realize work." For three decades, by the way, these four read each other's work, corresponded, and grappled with what Percy called " a predicament shared in common" as they strove to bring together faith and art.

Mmy bright abyss.jpgy Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer Christian Wiman (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) $13.00  I have written about this often, and hope you know that Wiman was for a long time the editor of one of the nation's most respected poetry journals. When he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he wrote not only a poem with this title, but a piece in The New Yorker, which eventually became this book. Here, he reevaluates his drift away from Southern fundamentalism - his description of faith in his Texas boyhood is worth the price of the book - and wonders if liberal Protestant faith is adequate. This much-discussed book by this thoughtful professor at Yale (yes, he lived!) is exceptional. Endorsements on the back are from the likes of Marilynn Robinson and Kathleen Norris and other intellectuals who long for faith, even if not of the evangelical sort.

DDays of Oblation My Argument with My Mexican .jpgabrown rr.jpgys of Oblation: My Argument with My Mexican Father Richard Rodriguez (Penguin) $15.00  I hope you know Rodriguez, a fine, fine Catholic writer, whose memoir Brown and Hunger of Memory have all won awards. One prestigious reviewer wrote that (it) "looks into American - north and south of the Rio Grande - as penetratingly and eloquently as Camus did when he compared the mental landscapes of France and Algiers." The Village Voice said is explores "the grandeur and grief of the American soul."

TThe Color of Water-  Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother .jpghe Color of Water:  Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother James McBride (Riverhead) $16.00  James McBride is a fine wordsmith and a good novelist, but here he gives us his own story, and that of his remarkable mother, a woman who was worthy of having a book written about her!  This book is certainly one that readers adore, and it remains a popular seller in bookstores everywhere.  It is touching, and informative -- as The Washington Post Book World puts it, "As lively as a novel, a well-written and thoughtful contribution to the literature on race."  Indeed, this inspiring story is "suffused with issues of race, religion and identity."  This is a very eloquent book, finally about family and grace and goodness. Highly recommended.

Aan american childhood.jpgn American Childhood Annie Dillard (Harper) $13.99  Okay, she's won a Pulitzer, is a delightful Presbyterian writer, and there is a scene from her Pittsburgh hometown painted on the cover.  One critic said it will "take the reader's breath away" and another says it is "breathtaking... a work marked by exquisite insight." The Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer wrote, "The reader who can't find something to whoop about is not alive" and went on to say it was one of the very best American autobiographies. Another critic said it was about "the capacity for joy." So. What kind of conversations can you have in a book group with a resource like this?

Llittle black sheep ashley c.jpgittle Black Sheep: A Memoir Ashley Cleveland (David C. Cook) $17.99  I hope you know the rowdy, gravelling voice of rock and roller Ashley Cleveland.  Now you can know her story - raised in a dysfunctional, hurting family, struggling with her own destructive days of drugs, alcohol and sex, and her eventual encounter with a forgiving God.  Dan Allender says of it "This book delivers me face-to-face with a God who just might be good news. To say that I enjoyed the book is far from the truth.  I devoured it. Wept. Raged. Swore. And said yes again to Jesus."  So, yeah: that's just what a good story can do. You should give this to somebody who needs to know there is a better way.

Ttraveling mercies1.jpgraveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith Anne Lamotte (Anchor) $15.99  How can I not list this? Anne is a beloved writer, novelist, essayist, and this is her most famous work, the one in which she gives up her own (drunken) way, and yields to Jesus. If you have a bohemian, lefty friend who needs a "shot of love" (as Dylan put it) this crazy story of hard times, wild writing, and earnest faith just might help. Look for a new anthology of pieces about coping with grief and getting by amidst great pain, coming later this fall. She is a good, clever writer, and her story, unorthodox as it may be, is a treasure.  This continues to sell well, and we take it everywhere we go.

Ddancing through it.jpgancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet Jenifer Ringer (Viking) $27.95  There are so many good autobiographies of those involved in the arts, and some are truly fascinating, and many illustrate (for those with the eyes to see, at least) the longing for God of beauty that often accompanies those with creative spirits. Here is a rare story, written by a strong Christian and exceptionally talented dancer. Ms Ringer has been the principal dancer in the New York City Ballet!   Not only does she draw accolades for her talent, and her story, from critics, but her friend Kathy Keller (of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan) says it is "an honest an exhilarating look into the life of a young dancer, with both the excitement of achievement and the desperate anxiety given proper treatment. " She thinks it is good "for any young person passionately following their dream.  Jenifer was fortunate to have help in conquering her eating disorder and other demons, and this book may be a help to those wrestling with their own issues."

Techo within.jpghe Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling Robert Benson (Waterbrook) $13.99  I love this gentle, sensible writer who can speak of very deep spiritual truths on one page, and tell a self-effacing episode from his own storied life on the next. Benson's good books aren't exactly full memoirs, but they all share so much of his life, casually told, nothing splashy, that I wanted to suggest them on this list: he is a master writer, storyteller, with an eye to see the deeper things behind his daily life. From his early books on learning about contemplative and liturgical prayer (Between the Dreaming and the Coming True and Living Prayer) to this one on his own discovery of his own sense of calling as a writer, (to one on caring for his back yard, or the year he had to help his aged mother move to an assisted living place, or his new one on the craft of writing) he invites readers into his life, names important stuff, and writes so clearly that one can't help but want to reconsider his or her own life patterns, assumptions, and ways of being in the world. For memoir lovers who are writers, artists, or anyone seeking a meaningful calling, this book on vocation is a fun, fascinating glimpse of how it is discerned, and how it can be done.

Wway below the angels.jpgay Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled But Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Life Mormon Missionary Craig Harline (Eerdmans) $22.00  You know this has to be a good book for the editors of one of the most storied and prestigious religious publishers in America to offer it as one of their biggest titles of the season. No, this guy doesn't covert to Protestantism, and there is no grand conclusion, but, wow, does he write well - colorfully and creatively (does the subtitle give you a hint that he's upbeat about it all?) And this memoir is certainly about his pondering his own faith, choices, the nature of spiritual experience (including failure) as he ponders the role of religion in his life, and in our culture. And did I mention he's a good writer?  As Jana Riess writes of it, "How could a memoir that primarily deals with religion and rejection be so flippin' hilarious? Craig Harline's experience as a Mormon missionary in Belgium in the mid-70s are ingeniously funny, but they also point to important issues - how religious people deal with apparent failure and navigate grown up faith after childish certainties have proven inadequate." The demanding Kirkus Reviews said it displays a "fine mix of pathos and hilarity... a touchingly human memoir."  Here is a nice, thoughtful interview with him in a 15 minute video clip.

Aa severe mercy.jpg Severe Mercy: A Story of Faith, Tragedy and Triumph Sheldon Vanaukan (HarperOne) $14.99  Do you know this book? It was very popular a few decades ago, and I keep hoping there will be a renaissance of its popularity.  A whole new generation of readers should know this heartbreaking story of romance and intellectual discovery, of tragedy and grief, of loneliness and friendship, of God and grace. Part of the story includes the illness and death of Davy, Sheldon's young wife, and his grief as he correspondied with and become friends with C.S. Lewis, whose moving letters are enclosed in the book. (Lewis, you know, lost his wife, Joy, shortly after their marriage.) What an amazing, wise, powerful book, about a truly memorable couple and a nearly universal story of love, loss, and hope.

Ffaith and other flat t.gifaith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt Andrea Palpant Dilley (Zondervan) $14.99   I have written about this before, partially because it rang so very true, partially because I think this story needs told as it isn't uncommon: a girl whose parents are evangelical missionaries returns home, attends a conservative Christian college, is attracted to the bohemians and skeptics, ends up nearly losing her faith, laden with new ideas, moving feely into the world outside of the religious sub-culture, and yet can't shake her love for family and church. Through a faithful older friend, she is enfolded back into the faith, perhaps less sure, but perhaps more deeply faithful and wiser. This is a fine young adult memoir that captures the texture of "the critical years" and is an entertaining read, compelling us to care about the author and her tale of doubt, "flat tires" and set-backs on the journey towards mature faith.

CCracking the Pot- Releasing God from the Theologies That Bind Him.jpgracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies That Bind Him Christine Berghoef (Resource Publications) $22.00  I know, the subtitle makes this sound like merely another emergent anti-evangelical manifesto, but it is not; it is an engrossing memoir.  It includes her journey exploring "the simplicity and complexity of faith" and offering honest, tested hope. Rave, rave reviews come from Brian McLaren and Cornelius Plantinga.  Phyllis Tickle, who reads more widely than almost anyone, says "Theological autobiographies are rare, and intriguing ones are even rarer. Few of us have the candor to construct them, much less the skill to endow the result with grace. Christine Berghoef has all those things, however, and the result is this enormously appealing memoir of a questing Christian mind."  If Phyllis calls it "enormously appealing memoir" it's worth reading. By the way, Berghoef's husband, Bryan, has a book called Pub Theology: Beer, Conversations and God (Cascade $15.00.) They are church planters in urban Washington DC.

Rradical reinvention.jpgadical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church Kaya Oakes (Counterpoint) $15.95 This book, I'll say from the start, isn't for everyone, but I couldn't put it down. The indie-girl, radical-punk-anarchist author will appeal to transgressive readers and socially progressive folks - and all will be surprising how her deep desire for a meaningful life that makes sense of the biggest questions and gives motivation to address social concerns draws her to the historic Irish church of her youth.  She grows to love the Mass, she meets some feisty feminist nuns, and joins a "pray and bitch" circle with other misfits trying to find their voice in what they think is an outdated institution. What a story -- the journey from an ex-Catholic punk to an (unconventional) amateur theologian. And a great writer.

Tgirl in orange.gifhe Girl in an Orange Dress: Searching for a Father That Does Not Fail Margot Starbuck (IVP) $16.00  I continue to tell people they just must read this extraordinary book, this story of a young woman who was adopted, whose adopted dad(s) left her, and her subsequent struggle to discover if God as Father was a viable notion, whether He was really there, and if He truly cared. Is grace real, and does it matter? I simply loved this book about this good woman's life which is both poignant and full of pathos and yet delightful to read and laugh-out-loud funny at times. This is just a fantastic memoir, a great read, and loaded with very important deep-down insight. We love this writer, and, will say it again: you must read this book!   And then read her others, too.

UUndistorted God Reclaiming.jpgndistorted God: Reclaiming Faith Despite the Cultural Noise Ray Waddle (Abingdon) $15.99  I just started this brand new memoir, a faith journey written by a religion writer, wondering how Christianity might work for him; he had seen plenty of distorted faith, disconnected and confused. Yet, "people are yearning for connections - with one another, with God, and with a usable and undistorted faith."  He "avoids coy or watered-down spirituality and instead gives breathing room for the "divine patience" in this "shaggy, swarming, world." Nora Gallagher, an eloquent writer herself (and Episcopal priest) says "This book is like a poem, or a room suddenly cleared of clutter so you can see its fine, clean bones."

Wwhen we were on fire.jpghen We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over Addie Zierman  (Convergent) $14.99  This is not so much a narrative of a conversion to Christian faith, but the story of one young woman's near journey out of it, or at least of the fundamentalism of her youth and her struggles now with clichés big and small.  I have reviewed this before, and found it hard to put down - she is a feisty writer, and this is good for anyone wondering if one can maintain faith even if one is no longer confident in the evangelical subculture and its commercial trappings. Less intense, but very popular, is Rachel Held Evan's book about "growing up in Monkey-town" (the town of the infamous Scopes Trial against Darwinism) recently re-issued as Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions (Nelson; $15.99.)  You really ought to know these, and ponder their stories, their lives, their new kind of faith. 

FFaith, Interrupted- A Spiritual Journey.jpgaith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey Eric Lax (Knopf) $26.00  What a clear, interesting telling of the tale of a boy growing up in the household of an earnest, happy, and thoughtfully traditional Episcopal priest who grew into doubt and confusion in mid-life after a boyhood of piety and conviction. Lax's description of being a pastor's kid is remarkable, and his eventual shift -- having a "foot in both cultures, dubious as plain believers, equally dubious as plain unbelievers" is how Jack Miles put it in a glowing review--  is told with eloquent honesty. This quiet spiritual autobiography is, for him, a story of discovery (and, perhaps, rediscovery.) Lax has written other books, including  best-selling study of Woody Allen, who makes an appearance or two in this story.  (As does, by the way, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and a host of other figures important within the Anglican communion of those years.) Is it natural for faith to flow and ebb? This is a fascinating story which will appeal especially, I think, to baby boomers raised in, or interested in, high church Protestantism.

Ttorn.jpgorn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate Justin Lee (Jericho Books) $15.00 There is a shift in evangelical literature about the topics of gender and same sex attractions, and it is not now my point to weigh in on the many recent books; I list this here because it is a very moving story of an evangelical boy who came to realize he had homosexual desires, and worked to bring some sort of dialogue between his evangelical family and friends and the gay friends he had in college. That is, it works as a spiritual memoir, the story of a life quest. Lee was nick-named "God Boy" as a teen and his loving family supported him through his coming of age. It is disarming, honest, and painful, documenting his disillusionment with the "ex-gay" movement and the courage of his convictions that God would accept him as he ways. Although there is more here there mere memoir, it is, at heart, a touching story of a guy trying to figure out his life, his family, his identity, and his faith. Agree or not with his conclusions, it is a nicely written story and a good example of the narratives experienced not a few young Christians.

Tatake this bread.jpgke This Bread: A Radical Conversion Sarah Miles (Ballantine) $16.00 I have read three books by this beautiful writer, astonished and delighted that one can string together such beautiful lines, good phrases, moving paragraphs about such heart-breakingly beautiful stuff. By narrating her life in literary memoir, she brings an intimate detail to view, helping us sense just what her life is like. And, wow, what a life. As you may know, this first book of hers narrates her conversion to Christ by simply partaking - for the first time ever! - the elements of Episcopalian Eucharist. Realizing she encountered the living Christ in this parish's open table and profound hospitality to her, a stranger and outlier, she figured the next step was to "go and do likewise." Or almost: she started a food pantry for the poor in the San Francisco neighborhood in which the church is located.  A sassy, quick, and clever lay theologian, now, she tells us about not only her interior life, but her struggle to serve the marginalized, bring gospel news to the broken, and use food and eating as a way to build human community in the context of her liturgical church.  This is a story well worth reading - enjoyable for the sheer verve of the writing, and extraordinary for the complex and beautiful story it narrates.

"jesus-freak.jpgI came late to Christianity," writes Sarah Miles," knocked upside down by a mid-life conversion centered around eating a literal chunk of bread. I hadn't decided to profess an article of doctrine, but discovered a force blowing uncontrollably through the world." The punchy sequel to Take This Bread tells powerfully how she carries on her new found faith and her life of radical discipleship, serving the poor and hurting within this progressive, liturgically rich urban faith community -- it is called Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead (Jossey-Bass $21.95.) You most likely haven't read anything like it. Wow.

PPastrix.jpgastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint Nadia Bolz-Weber (Jericho Books) $22.00  I have said before that I almost didn't read this as I figured I well understood the "I'm no longer a straight-laced fundamentalist" arch of this story, and had read enough of the cool emergent stories celebrating their post-evangelical shtick.  I am so, so glad Beth and I both read this, and will admit that we found it to be a remarkable book, very well-written, funny, engaging, surprising, and very thought-provoking. We loved hearing about her journey out of ultra-fundamentalist faith, her struggles with addictions, the reconciliation with her alarmed faily, and, despite her foul mouth, her call to become a Lutheran clergy person who preaches sermons about law and grace.  Yes, she has part of the church calendar tattooed across her torso; yes, she sometimes wears a clergy collar, and yes, many of her community are marginalized from the mainstream; her artfully emergent Denver mission congregation is called "House of All Sinners & Saints" and is as culturally-diverse and engaged in transgressive hipster culture as one can be; it is not for everyone. But it is a sample of a faith journey that will be a life-line to some.  I sometimes joke that if Anne Lamotte is too tame or too old, try Nadia.  Her writing is like Anne on steroids. And it just might open conversations about the meaning of faith in our time - even if you don't agree with her theology or congregation's style. A truly fascinating, even eccentric, perhaps one might say postmodern, contemporary memoir.

FFinding God  A Treasury of Conversion Storie.jpginding God: A Treasury of Conversion Stories edited by John Mulder  (Eerdmans) $22.00 With almost 400 pages, this is a jam-packed, potent collection of some of the most thoughtful, dramatic, or literate examples of Christian conversion narratives anywhere in print. There are sixty inspiring stories, here, of life-changing experiences. Endorsements are from Randall Balmer and Richard Rohr and Joel Carpenter, very different writers, all interested in the contours of faith and culture in our time. Here you will find short excerpts from the memoirs of Martin Luther and John Calvin, Therese of Lesieux and Toyo Kagamwa, but also Evelyn Underhill and Albert Schweitzer and Bono. You can read about the surprising Christian conversions of Black Elk and Charles Colson and Dorothy Day, and the rigorous thoughts of philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and scientists like Francis Collins.  This monumental, wonderful, and a very useful resource for anyone not only needing good examples of authentic faith, but for anyone wanting to share these stories with others.



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July 26, 2014

Books to Follow-up James K.A. Smith lectures -- spiritual but not religious // the nones // desires // practices ON SALE at Hearts & Minds Books

For those who are curious, who had prayed or wondered, our third annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture with James K. A. Smith went fabulously. He's such a deep and well-read philosopher, but has such a dynamic, passionate presence.  We had a great crowd, had the chance to greet (or miss greeting, as the case may be) old college friends, CCO staff alum, students we've met at Jubilee or OCBP, and an array of friends from the greater Western Pennsylvania world. Kudos to folks like Lisa Slayton and her team at Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation/Serving Leaders and friends at Geneva College for helping to promote our work.  And, of course, the CCO staff, old and brand new, had been gathering at Robert Morris University anyway, so they were out in force. What good folks they are! 

At the public event Jamie talked about his new book How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans; $16.00.) Smith guided us into a heady conversation -- what do wehow not to be secular.jpg mean by the secular, are we in a secular age, and what does that even mean, and how can the heavy Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor help us? Nicely, though, he helped us along the way (yes, he quoted The Postal Service and Wallace's Infinite Jest and British novelist Julian Barnes.) His entry into all this was the recent conversation about the "nones" (that is, those who check "none" on the survey's asking for religious affiliation.) These folk, however, are often also those who claim to be "spiritual but not religious."  Oh my, this was an important stuff for anyone interested in cultural discourse, understanding the times, or who may be interested in the religious landscape, congregational health, evangelism, or a missional vision of relevant ministry in our postmodern contexts. Pastors? Elders? Evangelists? Artists? Journalists? Youth Workers? Christian teachers? College administrators? Parents?  Yes! Yes! Yes!

In the morning, Jamie had given one of the best talks I've heard in quite a while, pouring his teacherly heart out instructing CCO staff about the sorts of things he writescultural liturgies - both.jpg about in great detail in Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation and Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (both Baker Academic; $23.00 each.) If you want to understand what we're about here at Hearts & Minds and our own unique heritage and passions, these books certainly get at that well.  We were just thrilled to have him teach at CCO staff seminar, and glad that CCO is the sort of organization that wants to be shaped by this Calvin College prof.  We gave a little pitch for his work at the neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian journal of public theology, Comment magazine, too. I don't write for them anymore, but still promote their classy quarterly journal whenever I can.  So, again, thanks be to God.

I have a hunch that there are those who may appreciate our recommendations of these books by Smith but are either intimated by their intellectual heft, or the size and price. 

You know we understand that, and although these are important volumes, we are very (very)discipleship in the present tense.jpg eager to promote the best little collection of shorter pieces by Smith, some of them covering much of this ground -- reviews, essays, sermons, speeches, articles and the like.  I highly recommend Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture by James K. A. Smith (Calvin College Press; $14.00) as a great anthology and primer and companion for your own journey towards a deeper and more meaningful daily walk through the world. Although I love almost all of these many chapters, there are one or two that are literally worth the price of admission. 

If you are a preacher or teacher, by the way, you will get some mileage out of the introduction, which exegetes the ancient/future connections shown on the very cover of the book -- a new modern wing of an art museum built out of but refreshing the tradition of the older style. That'll preach!  And if you are a fan of books about cultural engagement and social reforms, you should know he has a very good chapter which explores the thesis and implications in the much-discussed Oxford University Press book, To Change the World by James Davison Hunter which takes him to task a bit.) And there is that chapter, an open letter to praise bands. So, yes! This is very good.

* * *

Here, then, are a few quite readable books that might relate to Smith's two lectures. If you don't have the aforementioned Smith volumes you should get them from us. (And if you take my advice here, but get them elsewhere, well, that's just wrong.)

Bbelief without borders.jpgelief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious Linda A. Mercadante (Oxford University Press) $29.95 This is a very recent and notable book filled with real conversations, interviews and observations with some conclusions drawn from this primary source research.  Perhaps it was Diana Butler Bass in her controversial but very important Christianity After Religious: The End of the Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening who really best described this trend, and gave significant energy to wondering how to best do ministry among that cohort, in these times. Butler Bass offers a rave review to this scholarly volume: "For those who think that being 'spiritual but not religious' is intellectually vague," she writes, "it is time to think again.... Linda Mercadante explores the beliefs of the religiously unaffiliated regarding God, sin, community, the afterlife, and ethics and finds people living "between" the worlds of secularism and traditional faith."  

Phyllis Tickle -- ever the book woman! -- compares this to the award-winning Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah, saying that it offers "a brilliant narrative introduction to the theology and belief systems of the "spiritual but not religious" among us. Highly accessible and rife with insightful commentary Belief Without Borders is far and away the richest study I have seen to date of the SBNR and is destined to become a classic in the field." These in-depth interviews and Mercadante's evaluation offers a much-needed contribution to both the role of belief in contemporary American culture but also to the ways and work of the local parish. I think this is important, and wish I could have showed it to the crowd gathered to hear Smith talk about Taylor (especially those who have reason to work particularly with this rising population.) It would have gone nicely with his great question, "How is it that we live in a culture that gives us both Elizabeth Gilbert and Richard Dawkins?"  Exactly.

Dr. Linda Mercadante is Professor of Historical Theology at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA.)

TRise of the Nones.jpghe Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated James Emery White (Baker Books) $15.99  I am a fan of James Emery White -- his two IVP books, Serious Times and Christ Among the Dragons are very good at pondering our moment with a grave awareness of our cultural ethos and ways to faithfully "engage the culture" with the newspaper in one hand, as they say, and the Scriptures in the other. His little (IVP) book A Mind for God  is one I often share, sometimes give as a gift, and  from which I sometimes read out loud in workshops and sermons. White is a solid evangelical, mega-church pastor, reads the times well, and is a lively, clear writer.  Although I haven't read it, I've been told his recent one The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity is also quite good, a sobering, basic cultural overview pitched to ordinary church leaders. 

Now, he has taken some of that passion to understand the times, and offers us a quick and easy overview of the "nones." Again: the single fastest-growing religious group of our time is those who check the box next to the word "none" on national surveys. In America, this is nearly 20% of the population.  And most churches are doing very little to reach them with the gospel.  And, it seems, what intentional effort we've made, has been not too fruitful.  (I applaud, by the way, those who have used You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church... and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman --  you know we brought him to Dallastown a few years ago to talk about that stellar book, and it is still very, very valuable, as is the DVD curriculum which we also sell. It is about young adults who have left the church, but who often still see themselves as Christian, or at least some kind of religious.)

This new Rise of the Nones book by James Emery White gives you the important definitions and data you need: exactly who are the unaffiliated? What caused this seismic shift in our culture? And it offers ways churches can more effectively reach these people, insights that are wise and reliable -- the sort of relevant orthodox vision I think many of our churches need to explore.

Here is church growth and church planting guru Ed Stetzer:

 "In an era of increasing complexity and religious apathy, James Emery White has written a book that is helpful, informative, challenging, and timely. Those who care about communicating the gospel in this complex culture and think the church must regroup and re-engage should read Rise of the Nones."  

TTeach us To Want.jpgeach us To Want: Longing, Ambition, & the Life of Faith Jen Pollock Michel (IVP/Crescendo/her-meneutics) $16.00  I stood up in front of CCO staff telling them how good this one was, glad that it so nicely dove-tailed with Smith's staff seminar lecture on Desiring the Kingdom. and was, further, just a moving, delight to read. In that lecture, of course, he insisted that we are not merely "brains on a stick" and a wholistic anthropology must lead us to pedagogy and methods of ministry that honor our deepest heart/gut desires. Worship (and worldview formation) shapes our longings, teaches us to love (but what?)  Of course, the secular liturgies and ideologies of the day do this, too, so our habits are often shaped less by the things of God, and more by the longings drawn out by the secularized forces and habits learned (at the mall, most obviously?) So Smith is all about desire, which he gets from Augustine, by the way.

This beautiful new book, almost written as a memoir, attends to this vital question of how we come to love the things we do, and the ways we do, and asks what we should do with our desires. As a woman, particiularly (but written for anyone) she asks big questions about her longings, her passions, her body, her vocation... it is marvelous, rich stuff.

The Gospel Coalition blogger Bethany Jenkins (who reads quite a lot, I happen to know) writes of it, "Seriously, one of the most beautiful nonfiction books I have ever read."   The very impressive writer Leslie Leyland Fields says, "I've been waiting for this book for a very long time." 

And Rebekah Lyons (who wrote the lovely Freefall to Fly) notes that "Through her own story of fear, loss, and God's goodness, Jen Pollock Michel stirs us to recover and reshape (these) desires in light of the kingdom of God."

Here is what the very fine wordsmith Mark Buchanan says of it:

Jen Pollock Michel fuses three things that make her book essential reading: deep insight, raw honesty and radiant prose. She's a terrific writer, an agile thinker and--if that were not enough--a fearless witness to her own heart's darkness and light. By inviting me deeply into the mess and beauty of her own story, she has given me courage to step into the mess and beauty of my own--and, with her, to meet afresh the One who awakens, names, purifies and meets all the desires of my heart.

Here is a short interview with Ms Michel, with some nice points about the book, and some good quotes. Check it out, and come back to us, please. 

By the way, IVP / Crescendo Books is an imprint of very thoughtful books by and mostly for women  -- every one so far has been a winner.  The her-meneutics imprint refers to the wonderful blog, for which Michel writes.  

Rreordered love.jpgeordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness David K. Naugle (Eerdmans) $18.00 Well. This wonderful, rich, provocative, interesting, important book came out a few months before Smith's Desiring... and it covers (in somewhat different language and tone) some very similar material. It is clear they are both traveling in some similar circles, with similar influences and insights. Not only do they both allow their friends to use rather intimate nicknames -- James K.A. goes by Jamie, and Professor David goes by Davey -- they both have studied Dooyeweerd and other Dutch Reformed philosophers, have written about the notion of worldview, and both are excellent, excellent teachers. Davey spends a lot of time with undergrads and teaches a lot -- and has learned to take deep, mature, and important stuff and help convey it to ordinary, thoughtful folks. They both love Augustine (and both have epigrams from the 4th century Bishop in their books.) As John Witvliet of the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship notes, "Naugle's candid discussion of the disordered human condition is particularly crucial for explaining just how dramatic and transformative the gospel really is." 

I agree. In the hands of writers like Jamie and Davey, the old "our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee" line comes alive, is seen as a powerful counter to the confusions of our times, and the key to a multi-dimensional, relevant and radical Christian spirituality. Wow, this is great, great stuff. Anybody reading Smith should pick up Reordered Love, and anyone who has taken our advice on this -- we've raved about it before -- should follow up Naugle with a few of Smith's important works.  Do it! It is a "rightly ordered" choice that will help rid you of disorder.  I promise.

Ddangerous passions.jpgangerous Passions: Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks Dennis Okholm  (Brazos Press) $16.99  Smith, as I gather you now realize, makes a bit deal about the "loving" nature of the heart -- that we come to desire certain things, we love sometimes the wrong things, and we are transformed less by data and information then by images and seductive longings. I think this brilliant work fits right in!

Once again, Brazos Press gives us a remarkable, learned, thoughtful book that can help the church universal. Okholm, an evangelical with a PhD from Princeton, who teaches at Azusa Pacific and Fuller Theological Seminary, is a pastor at Holy Trinity Anglican, and a Benedictine oblate.  I love this ecumenical mash-up, and this book -- the subtitle says it nicely -- does what few books do well: bringing the ancient insights of the church Fathers and Mothers into dialogue with modern authors and our postmodern milieu.  This really is a book about how the ancients viewed the seven deadly sins, and it may be the most magisterial book on this topic yet. One reviewer has called it a "tour de force of early Christian monastic psychology and theology." Another says it is "wise, accessible...brims with insight...practical and profitable." 

Gary Moon writes of Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins,

Dennis Okholm reminds us of the classic nature of what is at the heart of humans -- a tendency to move away from the heart of God -- and the fact that some of the beset Christian psychologists lived before modern psychology was born.

Ssinning like a christian.jpginning Like a Christian: A New Look at the 7 Deadly Sins William Willimon (Abingdon) $14.99  I am a fan of former Bishop Will Willimon, who has an lovely elegance and profundity of his clear, literate sermons, and good, practical theology. He usually emphasize something that Jamie Smith did in his Hearts & Minds Lectures, namely, that the church has a very, very important role in forming the desires and habits and hopes and visions of the people of God. Spiritual formation happens mostly in church, in community, and (for better or worse) is shaped by the congregation's liturgy.  Worship -- directed towards the Triune God or directed towards false gods in the culture -- does something to us.  If we are called to be transformed as Romans 12:1-2 says (in our bodies, by the renewal of our minds, non-conformed to the culture, expressing worship in all of life) we must concern ourselves with not only proper and effective worship, but the insidious ways sin creeps in and idols take hold.  This is a matter of reflecting together about virtue and brokenness.

And so, reflecting on how we think about sin, how we are misinformed and misinformed by idols and the distortions of our virtues, really is something we must talk about.  Willimon, with his famous Duke U philosophy buddy Stanley Hauerwas, always has much to say about how embodied virtue in the way of Christ is shaped in community.  Here, he gives this fresh take on the propensity to sin, and what it means when Christians sin.  This updated edition is a really good resource -- as it says on the back, "penetrating observations will be welcomed by readers who are dissatisfied with shallow, feel-good Christianity (from the left or the right...)" It includes discussion questions.  If you thought that the serious Okholm one seemed a bit much, try this.

Ccounterf gods 2.jpgounterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power and the Only Hope That Matters Timothy Keller (Dutton) $15.00  This is not new, and yet it just cries out to be mentioned whenever we do cultural analysis about the things that most seduce us.  I have long recommended Richard Foster's powerful, thorough study of materialism, Freedom of Simplicity (HarperOne; $13.99) and his very useful, and nearly prescient book The Challenges of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex & Power (HarperOne; $14.99.) This powerful little book by Keller -- who does ministry at the heart of the empire, near Wall Street and Broadway, I might add) -- is up to date, brief, and offers the centrality of sanctification through the cross and grace of Christ as the antidote to these misguided loves. Although Foster is one of my favorite writers, and he is wise in his cultural discernment and spiritual direction, Keller is a bit more philosophical and a bit more astute about the idolatrous lures of the age.  Highly recommended.

Ppracticing our f.jpgracticing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (second edition) edited by Dorothy C. Bass (Jossey Bass) $19.95  When this first volume came out in the late 1990s I predicted that it would create an avalanche of new books and new ways of talking about the uniquely Christian things we do, practices, habits, ways of leaning into life with idiosyncratic stuff we do. I said it was prophetic, important, yada, yada, yada.  And I was partially correct: it was very well reviewed and a whole series of books spun off it it, offering uniquely Christian insights into living before God, with spiritually attuned ways of engaging our bodies, music, money, time, speaking, caring for children, and more.  We respect the ecumenical, mature, and lovely writing that is on offer in each of the "Practices of Faith Series." But this is the one that started it all, and we couldn't be happier to be reminded of it when Jamie cited it as an example of the "liturgical" ways of being in the world. Here is a considerable re-take on the language of spiritual disciplines, practices are communal and outwardly tangible.  There are chapters here on how to think about dying, sabbath, offering testimony, being hospitable, ways of doing "household economics" and more. The more general chapters (by Bass and Craig Dykstra) on thinking about practices, and, well, practicing them, are very generative and thoughtful.  

Some of our conversation with Smith touched on this question of how worship shapes us well (this is the heart of Imagining the Kingdom) but he was quick to invite us to realizing liturgies, practices, and habit-forming rituals are woven into the fabric of our daily life as discipleship in God's world.  This book helps open up that conversation considerably.  This includes suggestions for conversation and further reflection.

We also stock the teen version (co-written by some church teens) called Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens (Upper Room $18.00) and the amazing, and under-utilized edition for hip, young adults, On Our Way: Christian Practices for Living a Whole Life (Upper Room $17.00.)

Dflow package.jpgVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles (Acton Institute) regular price $59.99 our sale price $35.00 

No, no, I'm not just slipping this in because we're on the FLOW bandwagon: this really does offer a way of being in the world that is somehow idiosyncratic, from thinking about work to family to art to law, and living into the wonder and mystery of it all. This is allusive and creative and fun, and although I've reviewed it extensively already, had to note that anyone reading Jamie Smith, or pondering the nature of uniquely Christian ways of life in the world, resisting disorderly affections and the distortions of idols, will surely find this insightful, provocative, and useful. Yes!

See my long BookNotes review of the For the Life of the World DVD HERE.  See the cool trailer, HERE.



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July 17, 2014

Join Us for the Third Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture - with James K.A. Smith July 22, 2014

James KA Smith poster.jpgIf you are friends with either Beth or I on Facebook, or a member of the Hearts & Minds Facebook group, or follow me on twitter, well, then, you know we are sponsoring a free public lecture with James K.A. Smith this Tuesday, July 22nd, in Pittsburgh. (See the poster below.)

Our very competent bookstore staff will of course keep the shop open while Beth and I sojourn West to be with our friends in the CCO campus ministry during one of their annual training events; we are even now pulling and packing boxes, lugging stuff up stairs and soon into our big van. We set up a pretty large book display there, and glad to share our curated wares with them.

Ahh, but what titles to take?

The CCO folks who do campus ministry are interested in almost everything, and they help college students relate evangelical Christian faith to the details of daily life. So we take theology and spiritual formation as well as books specifically about Christian engagement with art, film, music and culture. Of course we have books about higher education, that section onlearning for the love of god.jpg the tables anchored by the lovely little hardback Make College Count by Derek Melleby (Baker; $12.99) and Learning for the Love of God: A Guide for Students by Derek Melleby and Donald Opitz (Brazos Press; $14.99.) We will be with Steve Lutz, too, and of course will promote his great book for collegiates, King of the Campus (House Studio; $14.99.) We have a lot of books on how to help students gain a vision for their careers and callings, with titles on vocation and work, of course promoting Steve Garber's rich, eloquent Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good and the new paperback edition of Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work by Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Aldsdorf (Dutton; $16.00.) 

We take books on developing the Christian mind and resources on sports, sex, and science. We have books on evangelism and books on prayer, books on politics and books on the arts, books on law and books on worship, books on food and books on nursing, teaching, and engineering.  CCO works hard to apply their robust and relevant vision of Christ's Lordship to issues like racial diversity or global poverty and, naturally, to ordinary things kids go through on campus like eating disorders or roommate problems, stuff about digital technology and even how best to use video games. Did you know there were really thoughtful Christian books about such things?  If you've followed us for long, I guess you do.

So, off we go to serve the staff of the CCO, selling books that they will use in their ministries at dozens of campuses in the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.  

And then, in the middle of that, we and the CCO throw what I like to think of as a Hearts & Minds party. We underwrite a lecture series, and invite as many folks as can come to hear a famous author and a good time is had by all. (That's a party in my book -- right? And, as Andrew Bird puts it in one of his very cool songs, "there will be snacks!")

Which brings me to just one of the glimmers of insight into this year's Hearts & Minds lecture: Jamie Smith, who is a very serious philosopher, with scholarly books admired literally all over the world, who cares deeply not only about allowing his faith to be formative and controlling of his academic work, also cares about relating his scholarly research not only to the academy, but to the church and world. And he loves pop culture -- I'm sure he got the Andrew Bird "Tables and Chairs" reference. He is immersed in indie rock and contemporary cinema and the best modern novels. In fact, I have reason to think that in his Pittsburgh lecture this Tuesday he will site Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and the upbeat, melancholy songs of Death Cab for Cutie.

(Just notice how he uses music lyrics in this beautiful, new piece in Comment.  Did I mention he edits Comment?)

I suspect that you, too, believe that God cares about all of life, that we not only may, but should, think seriously about all manner offor the life- letters to the exiles.jpg things in popular culture and, empowered by God's grace and Spirit, dive deep into the real world around us, messy as it is.  Almost like the Jewish exiles of old, we are called to help the flourishing of our world; we are called to know the world around us. That DVD we were promoting last week gets it right: For the Life of the World, indeed.  

Maybe that is why you are a customer of Hearts & Minds, you want to support a business trying to work this stuff out, and help you in your own faith journey.

So there is a lot to know, a lot to learn, new habits to embrace, and books can help us on our way.  I'm sure you believe that.

My own passion for this kind of missional Kingdom vision, that insists that all of life in God's ordered creation is spiritual and that true faith is lived out in the daily, mundane stuff of ordinary life (as well as in big and important gestures of being involved in whatever may be the burning issues of the day, taking up causes and involvements in social initiatives with winsome passion and gusto, giving ourselves away to the needs of the world) was formed in many ways by the CCO's ministry among students when I was in college in the early and mid- 1970s.  And then, more so, when Beth and I worked with them in the late 70s, helping in a small way to create that little conference now known as Jubilee.
For these important reasons, although we are not "from" Pittsburgh, we go back to the Three Rivers to co-host with the CCO a public event that tries to illustrate and underscore, celebrate and extend this heritage of proclaiming the good news that all of life is redeemed. For some of us, it is what (drawing on Al Wolter's influential Creation Regained, perhaps) we used to call a reformational worldview.  

And this year, James K.A.Smith is our man, and man, does he do it well.

jamie hand on chin.jpgAs I mentioned, Professor James K.A. Smith captures much about contemporary culture, and he is very much in tune with music and art and architecture and movies; he experiences and engages these artifacts from within his classic, historic, ecumenical, faith. He sometimes says he is Pentecostal -- he wrote one serious book about being a Pentecostal philosopher called Thinking in Tongues (Erdmans; $19.00) although he is also a member of the Christian Reformed Church (he teaches at their flagship Calvin College in Grand Rapids.) In most of his writing, though, one senses a deep loyalty to the grand apostolic tradition, to the communion of the saints in the one, big Body of Christ; in his book Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Baker; $22.99) he offers a phenomenology of worship that is resonant with many of the best liturgical thinkers these days, Anglicans, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, even. I guess he is a lower case c catholic and a capital K Kuyperian. In all of his body of work he is giving a fascinating and generative account of this grand story and how it can shape our deepest desires, our life and times and how we "do life" together in this 21st century as only such a faith-based philosopher can.

The topic he will be addressing at the CCO/Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture ishow not to be secular.jpg based on his very thoughtful recent book called How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans; $16.00.) 

As you can see on the poster below, the title of his talk alludes to the much-discussed "nones" (those that checked "none of the above" in the religious category in the recent census and other surveys and polls.) Many people today in the West, especially younger adults, including many who have had some connection to the church, call themselves "spiritual but not religious."  Much ink has been spilt and every denomination is pondering what to do about this growing crowd.

Perhaps the first thing to say is that we all (still) long for transcendence. 

And Smith maintains that the massive Harvard University Press book by the eminent Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (The Secular Age) helps us understand our times and those who might be caught in the Death Cab for Cutie/David Foster Wallace world, a world that although not overtly religious in any conventional sense, is still haunted; our longings are freighted, there are signals of some desire for transcendence nearly everywhere. We don't so much live in the land of the new atheists, and while every Christian publisher has released apologetic resources to counter them, Taylor and Smith believe this isn't quite the needed approach. Smith's own new book, How (Not) To Be Secular, is, to put it simply, a guide to the Taylor tome, which gives a better account of what is going on these days, even given the rise of the new atheists and their hostility to Christianity, and what it might mean for Christian witness. 

Smith's book draws us into Taylor insights, and then adds his own explanation not only of Taylor's insight, but what gospel-centered folks might do, what difference it all makes.

Tim Keller, the thoughtful pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, says of Smith's book 

This volume (if read widely) could have a major impact on the level of theological leadership that our contemporary church is getting. It could also have a great effect on the quality of our communication and preaching.I highly recommend this book.

Here are a handful of resources to help you learn more about Jamie Smith and some of his many books.  I do hope that if you are anywhere near Pittsburgh this Tuesday, you'll join the party.  If not, watch these videos, order some books, and be with us in spirit.   Thanks!

  • Here is a broader, more general overview of Smith's work that I did as I promoted his wonderful collection of essays called Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture (Calvin College Press; $14.99.) I love that book.
  • Here is a splendid 3-minute intro to the project of these two books (there will be a third!)   After watching that, you can see several other short takes on other aspects of these important books, especially the second. Wow. You will want to watch them more than once.
  • Here is a short video about his lovely small paperback, Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition James K.A. Smith (Brazos; $14.99) Several years ago, Smith weighed in on the discussions and debates about what Time magazine called, drawing on a book title by this name, the phenomenon of the "young, restless and Reformed." Anyone observing the American religious landscape knows there has been a renewal of conservative Calvinistic theology, and many passionate young adults have their own heroes, authors, bloggers, church planters, many who are identifying themselves as seriously Reformed. Go to any evangelical conference and you'll see young folks talking about Jonathan Edwards and the Westminster Confession or the latest trend in PCA hymnody.   But it isn't always pretty.  Uh, yeah.
So, Jamie wrote this series of letters to a fictional young man and a young woman, which guides them through the strengths and weaknesses of this new interest in old Calvinism and frames their interest by the bigger question of their own spiritual growth and involvement in the broader church. Smith's fondness for Augustine comes up, here, again, and it is warm and inspiring. These letters are theologically informed, pastoral, interesting, and very, very helpful for anyone wanting to grow in their faith.  For those who care about these details, I tell folks that these letters draws the reader along, from Piper to Kuyper. I also tell customers that even if they are not young or not Calvinist, this has wisdom for which you will be grateful and glad. Letters... is a quiet little book that deserves a wide readership.
  • Here is a review I did of Smith's other very new book, Who's Afraid of Relativism: Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood, which is part of the very important "The Church in Postmodern Culture" series. Smith did the first book in that series, the popular Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (Baker Academic; both $19.99.)  Learn about them here -- but come back and buy 'em from us. We stock the whole set, of course.  Thanks.

We have all these books at a BookNotes discount -- 20% OFF. 
Just use the link shown below, which will take you to our secure order form page. 
Or, come to Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh this Tuesday and join the party.

                                                       Thanks to Ned Bustard of World's End Images for the poster. He desires the Kingdom.
James KA Smith poster.jpg



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July 13, 2014

A balanced, helpful, reliable, brief guidebook - The Skeptic's Guide Series: "The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" by Dale Hanson Bourke ON SALE

rockets.jpgThe outbreak of war between the Palestinians and Israel again these last days has been upsetting for all decent folks, and has caused many of us here in the States to discuss and debate the relative merits of the claims made by each side, highlighting the different injustices, the different fears, the different geo-politics, and trying to understand the leading ideological and religious motivations. It is sad to say that this outbreak is nothing new, and the history of this beautiful and violent part of the world is nothing if not complicated.

I spent a bit of time involved in several on-line conversations about it all. Not only did I get several different views, but I was reminded --  this time, painfully for me -- how deep the differences of perception are.somebody is wrong cartoon.jpg One man, from a Mediterranean country, would not allow me to blame the Palestinians for anything; it was all the Zionist's fault. Another friend of Jewish descent had an equally one-sided view. Neither would budge and although both were followers of Jesus, they seemed utterly disinterested as I tried to interject into the conversation His holy call to peacemaking. Like many these days, it seemed as if their faith didn't equip them for even having open minds or tender hearts, let alone unconventional solutions: their minds were made up, and the other guys were to blame.

In these kinds of discussions, my call for a third way, for being God's agents of transformation by maybe "thinking outside of the box" or using prudent, faith-based insights about wisdom and reconciliation, are hindered; sometimes people just don't care about Biblical visions and proposals, but sometimes, although I can usually preach that stuff in a way that sounds good in theory, I sometimes just don't know all the facts.  And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, the facts are, as I've said, complicated.

Not only was the need for having a reliable source for basic data pressed upon me again this week as I listened to the news of the death of youths, then the rocket attacks, and then found myself gaping at Christians who seemed not to care about nuance and fairness and balance, but I've found myself talking a bit about the needs for a just solution in this Middle Eastern trouble-spot as my own denomination's recent policies were in the news. The PC(USA) passed resolutions to selectively financially divest from three US-based companies who were involved in building equipment used by Israel in what our denominational voters concluded were unjust and inappropriate ways. Many didn't understand or agree with this vote, so the issue has come up. Other Christians, Jewish activists, and even non-religious organizations have either applauded or protested our vote. (You can read about the history of this evolving discussion here, or a report about the recent vote here, if you'd like.) A few leaders in our tribe even posted an open letter (signed by a few friends of mine) which called for social justice but also reminded those who care about justice for the Palestinians not to overstate the matter, thereby seeming to minimize Israel's great and very legitimate concerns. That letter, an attempt at balance and civility, resulted in the revoking of what some thought was a one-sided study piece. (You can read that letter here, and a critique of it.) So it has been an emotional few weeks talking about this stuff, with people I respect offering differing views, positions, and passions.  As I said to some friends the other day, I'm feeling kind of beat up.

I do not usually use BookNotes as a platform for expressing the details of my own policy views, and this post is not offered to you for that purpose, either.  Rather --  of course, of course -- I want to highlight a book or two to help you sort through the issues, to offer some direct answers to tough questions, that I found helpful to get "up to speed" on the basics.  

Our inventory of books here in the Dallastown bookstore about the Middle East, by the way, is pretty large and certainly diverse, so if you want more sophisticated, detailed, treatments just give us a call.  But if you need a quick read that is fair-minded, and up-to-date, allow me to recommend this.   It is a must-read for anybody who cares about this topic.

WE HAVE THESE AT 20% OFF and you can order them at the link below.

israeli-palestinian.jpghe Skeptic's Guide Series: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict  Dale Hanson Bourke (IVP) $13.00  First let me say that I've used other books in this "Skeptic Guide Series" and they are each excellently done. Bourke has traveled all over the world, is a first-class journalist, and while she has deep concerns about peace, justice, compassion, and other Christian virtues, her desire for fairly and clearly reporting the facts and explaining the background of the issues at hand are impeccable. I have admired her for the early books she released, and for her days as editor of the Today's Christian Woman. (Don't ask, but I used to read it, okay?) She's a darn good writer.

The format of these "Skeptic's Guides" is appealing as they are all published on paper that is just a bit heavier then usual, flexible and glossy, with full-color photos and just the right amount of helpful graphs, charts, and nice side-bars. The Q & A format is really helpful, and if you've ever said I wonder about... but maybe felt too dumb to ask, or didn't know which website to check for a reliable (and concise) answer, any of these, but especially the one about the Holy Land troubles will be a fabulous resource for you. 

Bourke has obviously read very widely in the field, has interviewed some key playersdale.jpg, and has done on-the-ground research.  That she firstly thanks the deeply respected Telos Group and their staff, including Todd Deatherage (renowned for balance and respect for all parties and for the trusting relationships they've developed with many important leaders on both sides of the Wall) I knew this was going to be a very rare, balanced book.

One reviewer (Mark Galli of Christianity Today) says she is "unmatched in giving an even-handed and readable account of controversial matters."

Bill Hybells, founder of the influential Willow Creek Church (which has been very socially involved in recent years, by the way) writes this great endorsement:

It's important to have civil discussions on difficult issues even when we disagree. I'm thankful for the hard work of Dale Hanson Bourke, who sifts through the thorniest issues--HIV/AIDS, global poverty, immigration, even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--to extract what we need to know not just to get along but to make meaningful change in the world. Her Skeptic's Guides have been important for our church, and I know they will be for your community as well.
It seems to me that although these short books are for those of us who need a quick primer, those who are already engaged in learning and advocacy will find them good resources as well. They are, as they say, "user-friendly" and great to use when preparing presentations, drafting letters, creating classes, or answering questions of whoever you got into a conversation with about these things.
global poverty.jpg
I previously read her early one in the "Skeptic's Guide Series" about global poverty -- what a great little guidebook it is, useful for anyone who cares about world hunger -- and her powerful one about the global aids crisis. (Order those from us, too!) I love the concise depth and balanced vision and informed background she is able to give to these complex topics in such a short, inexpensive, and colorful volume.

global aids crisis.jpgAnother source of anguish for some of us this week has been some of the controversies that came into the spotlight this week regarding the detention centers for children of immigrants in Arizona.  Several related issues have come up in the news, and have been debated on-line in the last few days.  Again, few of those with whom I was in lengthy debates (who had strong opinions, based on one news report, about Who Was To Blame for some of the sad situation and failing policies there) seemed to have much actual data about the very thing we were discussing. I sensed that my interlocutors didn't know much about the details or texture of the people or places involved, but, again, I didn't, really, either. Once more, I realized that my own passion -- not unlike a whole lot of people also posting on the web -- gets ahead of me, and I have deep feelings and opinions, but sometimes not a lot of facts.  Do you relate?  We need answers!

And, yep, it was Dale Hanson Bourke again to the rescue with her latest little book in theimmigration.jpg series called, simply, The Skeptic's Guide Series: Immigration (IVP; $13.00.)  I have been involved in one way or another in some immigration right's issues over the years, and have great appreciation for (may I say it again?) how darn complicated some of these policy matters are.  Still, at the very least, as people of faith (and others citizens) develop their opinions on things, besides a thoughtful, Biblically-informed worldview, we do need some basic facts. We need to know the terms being used in the field, and what reporters and solid activists mean by this or that. If you are like me, you will welcome this fine compendium of helpful definitions, a few easy-to-follow charts, a bit of historical background, and good answers, presented in a way which is fair-minded, thoughtful, concise and reliable.  

With the tragic news unfolding this very weekend -- in Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and other such places, and along the US Southern border, too -- we need to know some basic data. We need to know the meaning of the words used in the debates, who the various stakeholders are, and what is at stake for each side. I am very, very grateful for having read these books, and, today, as I finished The Skeptic's Guide Series: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, I realized that the maps and pictures and stories and history lessons and background pieces have reinvigorated my own interest and desire to be fair, balanced, informed and faithful.  Most of us want to be on the right side of history, standing up against injustices, adding our voices to the right.  But it sometimes isn't easy to know just what to do, and who is who in the great issues of the day.

If you, too, want to be brought "up to speed" on where the "West Bank" is, about what The Temple Mount and Dome is, questions about Hamas or the differences between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, about how it is that Israel is a religious but democratic country, about the history of the infamous refugee camps, and about the contested terms used for the wall, the green-line, even of the term "occupied," I am sure Bourke's little book will serve you well.




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July 4, 2014

10 Books to Read About Restoring Civility -- ON SALE at Hearts & Minds' BookNotes

Those who spend much time on Facebook or watching TV news shows are surely aware of the hostility that continues nearly unabated in our often uncivil public debates. The Supreme Court decision about RFRA,  Hobby Lobby and the Hahn family's Mennonite wood business has generated so much nasty comment and ridiculous accusations that I found myself in painful, draining, conversations with folks less about the substance of the decisions but about the tone and style of our public discourse. I know that I've failed to be gracious in public debates and in my own writing at times, but am amazed at how mean-spirited some people are.

My friends on the left might be surprised when I say that some of their spokespeople tend to be as bad in the vitriol department as the notorious loud-mouths at Fox News.  Conservatives who have made a cottage industry documenting the ugliness of the left seem to be tone-deaf to how negative and aggressive they themselves sound.


While thoughtful voices and serious arguments worth considering are found in respectable journals that represent various stops on the political spectrum, too many people on Facebook or call-in shows just vent their spleens with inane bloviating. This grieves me.  I was reminded again this week how I resonated when I heard one blogger a few years ago saying he was going to be a "conscientious objector in the culture wars."

But yet, I'm not sure that is responsible, and hardly even possible unless one is completely disengaged.

Which reminds me of the last BookNotes post I did, highlighting the DVD series called For the Life of theflow package.jpg World: Letters to the Exiles.  Promoting the artful, big picture overview of patient, missional, "in but not of the world," whole-life discipleship and cultural engagement so graciously presented in that DVD is one good way to counter this ugly tendency.

FLOW (as some at the Acton Institute abbreviate For the Life of the World) offers a delightfully rich and thick view of culture and God's call to steward the various economies and spheres of life, in wonder and joy, with great concern for justice and order, but it refuses to traffic in alarmism or negativity. It is engaged, but nonpartisan. No one who watches even a few of those seven short film experiments will think we who follow Christ are called to anything other than a robust life in and for the world, including living into God's call to justice. Yet, I am hopeful that those who embrace this sort of perspective will be motivated to find alternatives to culture wars and winner-take-all, scorched-Earth political strategies. If, as FLOW suggests, we are inspired by the wonder and grace and goodness of the creation and the holiness of the good God who is disclosed in the story of redemption of the cosmos, few will be content to resort to the sort of shallow and dehumanizing name-calling that I've seen, even from pastors and theologians, this very week.

So, in addition to what I said earlier in the week, here's another good reason to work through this wonderful  FLOW DVD curriculum and the Field Guide: it presents a better way, an alternative to the really awful examples of ugly cultural engagement on offer too often, and a vision that is distinct from the Christian left or religious right, without at all opting for a tepid or overly pious disinterest in the things of Earth.  Isn't that what you long for, what you wish your own faith community could take up?

Having said all that -- my anguish this week about the mean-ness and incivility in our debating, and my hope that the vision offered by For the Life of the World can form among us a different posture and social alternative  --  allow me to offer just a few more resources to help us think about our civility and our commitments to things like our first freedoms as US citizens. (For our international readers I might note that I'm posting this on our celebration of Independence Day, the 4th of July.)

Most of these books I have suggested before, and reviewed them more thoroughly in somecivility poster (humorous).jpg cases.  If you are as burdened as I am about the caustic tones and bad arguments so prevalent these days, I trust you will appreciate this list. As with anything else, there are skills and attitudes to be learned, habits and values that under-gird skills of good thinking and fair debate and respectful discourse. We need to deepen the craft of clarifying one's views, thinking through the implications of one's convictions, and nurture the virtue and character of being the kind of person that respects others and even is willing to learn from those with whom one disagrees.  Call this, at least, open-mindedness and humility. Remember to be kind.  Stand up for others.  Love our enemies, including those you disapprove of.  We can learn to "speak the truth in love" and to disagree without being disagreeable.

Here are ten resources that we think will help. Maybe those who need them most won't buy them, but you can, and you can share their insight and contribute to a conversation about public manners, at least, and forms of civic life that enhance dialogue, freedom, and, as Parker Palmer puts it, "a politics worthy of the human spirit."

Uuncommon decency.jpgncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00  I have often said that this is one of my all-time favorite books, and it is a splendid little resource, thoughtful, informative, deeply theological and yet delightfully accessible. It has profound meat on the bones, and will help you be formed in the virtues demanded by the call to Christ-like cultural engagement. There are good and important insights here, and a wise, balanced framework for thinking about disagreements - religious, political, philosophical. I like Rich Mouw's impulse (shown in most of his many good books) to ponder other views by saying "on the other hand..." But there is also the chapter called "When There Is No Other Hand." This is not a schoolmarm scolding us about bad manners, promoting milk-toast moderation, but offers a robust public theology worked out with thoughtful etiquette and respect. This is so good!

Ssaving civility.jpgaving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude & Attitude for a Polite Planet Sara Hacala (Skylight Paths) $16.99  Tasteless and tactless behavior is on the rise, so I thought I would list a book that is not rooted intentionally in a Christian perspective but is written by a consultant and speaker who works in business, schools, among non-profits and others who works in this field of resisting incivility. She goes beyond a superficial discussion of proper manners to new protocols and practices. As it says on the back cover, Hacala "taps the wisdom of ancient spiritual luminaries as well as the latest social science research" as she "presents civility as a mind-set that encompasses values and attitudes that help us embrace connections to others and help repair society." Fifty-two practical ways are suggested showing how to reverse the course of our current cultural tone.

Ii beg.jpg Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations with Truth and Love Tim Muehlhoff (IVP) $15.00 This splendid book gets as practical as can be in what I think is an extraordinarily useful resource.  Most of us, I think, believe ourselves to be agreeable and pleasant. Yet, as the internet has reminded me this week, there are just terrible knee-jerk instincts that kick in during times of controversy and even leaders who should know better seem ill-prepared to handle conflict very well.  I am pretty conflict averse and realize that I've got much to learn.  How about you? I've read several books on arguing well, on civil disagreements, and on conflict management, and this is one of the best. It is informed by good psychology, solid theology, a fine attitude and good writing skills. Muehlhoff is a communications expert and brings good insights from Scripture and communication theory.  I think every church should have this available in the church library or resource room and every pastor or ministry leader should have one to loan out, since we all face conflict and need help learning how to do conflict well.

Ppeace cat.jpgeace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities  Rick Love (IVP) $15.00  I have mentioned Rick Love before, a courageous, Spirit-filled former missionary who, in his conversations and relationships with Muslims (including some very strict and even hostile ones) grew to not only love them, but to move increasingly to be interested in global peace-making, bridge-building, conflict-resolution and the like. This backstory has equipped him to learn remarkably well profound skills that we can now all learn about. This is a very good book on conflict and includes extraordinary stories of God's work as we attempt to be a peace with others. This is very impressive stuff.  Thanks be to God for this peace-maker who has had global experiences and invites us all to this great adventure, following Christ into the world.

Hhealing the heart of demo.jpgealing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit  Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass) $24.95  I recall doing a review of this when it first came out a few years ago, sharing how very glad I was that this deep Quaker leader was able to bring his experience in building community, circles of conversation and heart-felt sharing to bear on how we could find ways for local conversation, civil society, and good, respectful debate, face to face, in our local communities. We are in an era (have we ever not been?) of deep divisions and here he gives us tools to take "we the people" seriously.  Palmer wrote a very early book called The Company of Strangers which was about civic life and the spirituality of our lives as citizens, so this is no new terrain for him.  I like this quote by Congressman John Lewis who writes, "We have been trying to bridge the great divides in this great country for a long time. In this book, Parker Palmer urges us to 'keep on walking, keep on talking' -- just as we did in the civil rights movement -- until we cross those bridges together." This is a dignified, practical book, wise and helpful.

Tcase for civ.jpghe Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It  Os Guinness  (HarperOne) $23.95 Few people in the culture wars - the secularized progressives or the sanctimonious right, those wanting a religiously-denuded "naked public square" or those wanting an enforced "sacred public square" -- are consistent with the genius of the First Amendment. Dr. Guinness is a respected sociologist, public thinker, and extraordinary communicator and here he brilliantly points us to a framework of "freedom for and freedom from" religion which is obviously rooted in the US Constitution and our Bill of Rights.  He passionately invites us to consider how to work this out, and reminds us of the sorts of structures that enhance what he calls a "cosmopolitan public square."  I think The Case for Civility is a hugely significant proposal about protecting public justice in our pluralistic society. Make it the next thing you read after Mouw's call to convicted civility.

Afps og.jpg Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00  Although it isn't exactly a sequel to the important Case for Civility, here, again, Dr. Guinness, a Brit, holds up the genius of the US Founding Fathers and their vision of the Bill of Rights with exceptional aplomb and his legendary eloquence. Here he expounds on the virtues and habits of heart needed to sustain the American experience. I cannot tell you how important this is, although Guinness cites many who sounded similar warnings (Jefferson, de Tocqueville, Kennedy.) This is a fabulous study of the ideas of the Founding Fathers and an urgent call for Americans to ponder the nature of our democracy and what kind of people we want to be.  Even if one thinks that he doesn't comes down completely right on every page, this is none-the-less one of the most important books of this sort in recent times, exploring the nexus of religion, freedom, character and civility. If you are flying a little flag this Independence Day, reading this British celebration of the ideas behind - and the values and virtues needed to keep - our American freedoms will help you understand all that is at stake, and for what those original thirteen colonies were striving.  Fascinating!

TGlobal Public Square.jpghe Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00  Folks are not only angry about the Supreme Court Decision about Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite business that sought an exemption from paying for what they consider to be profoundly dangerous abortion-causing birth control methods, many are debating the merits of the Presbyterian Church (USA) divestment from three corporations who do controversial projects in Israel, the debates about the Benghazi fiasco, the exchange of Gitmo prisoners for a US soldier who went AWOL in Afghanistan, the role of the US military around the world.  In others words, the vitriol is not only about domestic issues, but about foreign policy, often related to terrorism driven by radical Islam.  I don't need to dwell on the evils of ISIS or describe the horror of groups like Boko Haram and their enslavement of children in Nigeria or the persecution of the ancient Christian church in places like Syria to remind us of the significance of figuring out and promoting notions of religious freedom throughout the world. Good people can disagree about what US policy should be about all this, but there is a constellation of issues about religion in foreign affairs about which we must be aware.

I say all this just to once again highlight this book which I know Dr. Guinness feels very passionate. As well he should - he has traveled throughout the world, has seen great injustice first hand, and realizes that while big ideas and philosophical debate isn't the only answer to religiously-based injustices, a framework of affirming international religious freedom is a major part - and too often, and minimized part - of effective peace-building and international diplomacy.  There are heavier and more scholarly works on the role of faith in global diplomacy, and there are lurid documentations of the martyrdom of Christians at the hands of brutal forces of repression. The Global Public Square is better than most: thoughtful, engaging, important, passionate, and strikes a great tone for ordinary readers.  I cannot recommend it more highly. It is needed this very season, perhaps now more than ever and we would all be better global citizens if we spend some time with these pages.

Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times Os Guinness (IVP) $16.0renaissance os g.jpg0 While mentioning some older books of Os Guinness we are happy to announce his next book. We are taking PRE-ORDERS of this forthcoming book (due early August 2014) which is brief, passionate, thoughtful, and a book which invites morally-serious and thoughtful Christian engagement with the culture, refusing both shallow accommodation and postures of alarmist hostility. I have an advanced copy of this manuscript and I will read it over the 4th of July, reminding me of the hope of the gospel, how to keep "first things first" and ways to resist the cynicism of these times.  While Guinness' two most recent books (listed above) are very much about the ideas of America and the need for religious liberty, pluralism and civility, this one backs up to offer a grand vision of how to be salt and light and leaven in the broken world of idols and ideologues. It is handsome and powerful, perhaps akin to his small classic such as Time for Truth or in some ways, even his essential The Call. I believe it will be seen as a major contribution, readable, lucid, inspiring, and refreshing reminding us to serve "an audience of One" and live out faith without fear, trusting God and God alone for the results of social change.  Can there be a renaissance of goodness in our culture? Certainly, yes, if the church returns to clarity about the gospel.

LLuminous .jpguminous: Living in the Presence and Power of Jesus  T. David Beck (IVP) $16.00  I could list any number of great books about being shaped by the virtues of Christ - you saw our several recent reviews about new books by Dallas Willard, for instance, a master of promoting processes that help us experience the renovation of the heart. I wanted to highlight this book by Beck (that I reviewed at length here at BookNotes before) because although it is mostly a book about spiritual formation and how to be open to God's work in our lives, it reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit, and the purposes of God to be about peace and reconciliation in the world.  Oh. if other books about prayer, spiritual renewal, and the power of the Spirit were aligned with the call to peacemaking.  (And, oh, if books about peace-making in the world were framed by the broader purposes of God in the world and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.) Yes, in a post about civility, reconciliation, religious freedom, social justice, and gracious practices of public engagement, this kind of book is part of our tool-kit. To learn to make a difference in the world, especially in areas of disagreement and serious argument and momentous current events, we need grounded in the ways of Christ, the power and purpose of the Spirit, reminded that God is at work bringing healing and hope and reconciliation to the world.

By the way, our friends at Q Ideas gathered together a few of their own best video clips of talks they've hosted on this. What an excellent collection of (fairly short) timely pieces on the theme "How Can We Get Along When We Disagree?" All are great, including the smart one by Gideon Strauss on "principled pluralism" who commends Richard Mouw's book listed above. After ordering a few books from us (below) click here an enjoy these valuable Q videos.



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June 28, 2014

DVD "For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles" ON SALE at BookNotes discounted price

DVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles Produced by Acton Institute (Gorilla Pictures) introductory price $45.00; our sale price $35.00

Okay, I'm going to say this right up front. I know I get pretty enthused about a lot, and I promote books each week here that I say are fabulous. We get oodles of books in the store each week, and there are many I'd love to tell you about, some which I really, really like, even though I don't get to write about them. I can only tell you about a select few, so I usually pick the very best to describe at BookNotes, and I naturally gush about most of those. It's not insincere or complicated: I don't write about the mediocre ones. We stock most of the basic Christian bestsellers, and other things, too, but don't need to tell you about them, so we pick the very best to review and promote. So, yeah, we gush a lot here at BookNotes, since we're telling you about the cream of the crop.

I say that so that you don't roll your eyes and say "Borger's at it again, saying this one is a must-buy, gotta have, truly extraordinary resource  -- but he says that about everything."

Well, no I don't.  

But I am saying it today.  I really, really am.

Tflow package.jpghe DVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is a must-buy, gotta have, truly extraordinary resource and I am going to rave and gush and do the happy hard-sell, because I really think this is something you should own, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime product. In our 30-plus years here at the shop we've never seen anything like it.

Which is mostly a very large compliment.  And a little bit of a fair warning.

The newly released 7-part film series DVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is smart and just a tad eccentric. Its film-making style is perhaps best described asflow evan_art.jpg seemingly inspired by the colorful genius of Wes Anderson; if you've seen clips from Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel you might know what I mean. Its aesthetic is hipster chic, colorful, nostalgic, touching, and at times self-conscious. "Let's rewind that," the narrator and star Evan Koons will say to no-one in particular, and they do, zanily rewinding the film to an earlier spot, which they pick up and replay, underscoring something that second time through.


For the Life of the World is stunningly beautiful in an upbeat, earnest-bohemian sort of way, endlessly fascinating, intellectually rich -- even deep; who cites long passages from Hans Von Balthasar and recites Gerard Manley Hopkins poems about Christ playing in ten thousand places and in the acknowledgements thanks Herman Bavinck? (Those credits are in a the au courant, cool, chalk-board font, too. Is there such a thing as bohemian Bavinck?)

This glorious set of seven short "exploration films" (about 15 minutes or so, each) arefor the life- letters to the exiles.jpg all set in this amazingly groovy house, jam-packed for no known reason with beautiful antiques, rummage sale stuff, 50's and 60's era memorabilia, old-fashion TVs and phones and goof-ball paraphernalia. One  tattooed hipster (sorry for the redundancy) biker guy -- The Stranger -- says in one droll scene, "I like your dolls."  Why Evan lives in a house with a display of dolls isn't asked and it doesn't matter.  I'm just telling you there is this vibe.  If you are young and hip, you most likely will love it, and if you are a cultural creative of any age your mouth will drop at how cool this is, unless you are jaded and cynical and then maybe you won't.  

If you are going to show this in a fairly white-bread, middle-class church setting, it is still fine and will be fun, but know it is a little artsy and youthful. The instrumental soundtrack was created for the project by the band Jars of Clay. Yes, the big "wedding scene" ending -- they explain a word which means "yet, but not yet" and are playing with how the church's worship and life in the world anticipates the final eschatology banquet -- is a lovely, lovely, lovely hipster dance with all those strung up little lights in the clearing in the woods, with mason jars and fresh flowers and guys with vests dancing with women with long skirts holding smiling babies while a cool indie folk band plays. Old and young share food and flowers and accordions and starlight. If heaven is even somewhat like that, you will want to be there, I'm just saying.

And so, there's that hip, gorgeously colorful aesthetic.

This film series is nothing if not entertaining. They play hockey, bake bread in an outdoor oven, mess around with compost, show children climbing magnificent trees, visit a neurology center to learn about brain studies, interview older folks about how they first fell in love, and show a major bit of beautiful footage about Makoto Fujimura in his art studio, ruminating on what it means to behold.

You can watch the promo trailer for it, shown below. You will be delighted, I hope, by the narrative approach, the use of metaphors, the cool music -- it isn't a talking head, dry intellectualism. It is emotional and creative.


The For the Life of the World DVD segments are nothing short of an introduction to big-picture Christian living, asking "what is our salvation for?"  It explores how a real-world life of daily Christian discipleship is enhanced and made practical by a vision of embodied, missional service in a world blessed and ordered and being redeemed by a covenant-keeping, gracious Triune God known best in the person of Jesus.

I would say this is the film for which some of us have been waiting for 40 years, playfully and artfully and wisely articulating the implications of a profoundly Christian view of life, for all of life. They do not use the word worldview anywhere in the film (even though it was made by Kuyperians in Grand Rapids) and while it is certainly informed by serious theological thinking and has important intellectual foundations, it isn't dry or abstract. (When it does get a little heavy, Evan gives us a knowing and urgent glance, instructing us to "pull up your pants, this might get a little weird.") 

Importantly, they take swipes at intellectual abstraction from time to time. One cannot be incarnational and missional -- seeing redemption truly as "for the life of the world" and believing that salvation leads to creation restored -- if one is merely abstract or theoretical. Hence the bread-making and wine-drinking and composting and a fabulous rant by Anthony Bradley on what a bore an overly managed hockey game becomes. Throughout, including the stunning 6th episode entitled "Wonder," there is plenty of room for mystery and wonder.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is made up of 7 interesting sessions, each with a bit of a set-up, a dramatic center (sometimes acted out as a bit of a plot -- a stranger showing up, a trip to a school to learn about learning, a on-going sub-plot about clearing a woodsy lot, unloading a truckload of composting manure, and literally getting one's hands dirty) followed by further discussion, usually with the delightful scholar Stephen Grabill. It is playful and sometimes a bit mysterious, but these conversations are packed with profound wisdom, insightful, transformative, even.

Pgrabill.jpgrofessor Grabill has written detailed studies about reformation history and ethics -- as a scholar at the historically Catholic Acton Institute he teaches about natural law, especially through the lens of 16th century Reformed theology -- and is perfectly cast in the films as the "go to" teacher who instructs our befuddled young star, the curious, passionate, aforementioned Evan Koons, who is longing to figure out the relevance of faith to his life and our world. 

Grabill is certainly one of the smartest guys around, and I was pleasantly happy to learn, one of the nicest; his joy in this project is palpable. Dr. Grabill is the main script writer of For the Life of the World and he excitedly assured me a half a year ago as the video trailer was being premiered at the Jubilee Professional gathering in Pittsburghfor the life - schmemann.jpg that, indeed, its title is stolen from the book For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press; $11.95) penned by the famous Russian Orthodox scholar, Father Alexander Schmemann. I hope you know that book, a wonderful study of eucharist and that whole "Christ plays in ten-thousand places" perspective on the sacramental nature of reality. Look carefully and you'll see Schmemann's face silk-screened on a tee-shirt Evan is wearing at one point.  I think he's wearing it in the scene before the one with the Kuyper shirt.  What fun!

The tee-shirt hat tip to Schmemann isn't the only not so subtle homage. There's a hilarious scene in which the older professor Grabill takes young Evan aside, puts his arm around him, and with a nearly word-for-word replay of the famous "one word: plastics" scene from The Graduate -- with Evan looking as perplexed as Dustin Hoffman -- Grabill intones with deadly seriousness: "I want to say just one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening, Evan?  Oikonomia. There's a great future in oikonomia. Think about it. Will you think about it?"

Since the Acton Institute was once known mostly as a think-tank about market economics and the virtues that sustain social liberty, it shouldn't surprise us that the word for economics -- stewardship of the household, and of households -- comes up early on. Oikonomia is a Biblical word connoting the notion of a household being caringly stewarded. Creation is made up of networks of abundant economies, and we are invited to play our roles among them. As they draw on "faith and work" advocate Amy Sherman, who wrote the wonderful Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship and the Common Good (I laughed right out loud when they had this remarkable thinker and urban activist come out on the big sweet porch and interrupt the show to ask if anybody wanted lemonade) and black civil rights leader John Perkins (I smiled when Dwight sends along a VHS of Perkins) it becomes evident that this is no old-school Acton rant about the goodness of capitalism. They develop the notions of care-taking and stewarding God's abundance for the common good in remarkable, inspiring ways and both Sherman and Perkins challenge us to live out justice with generous, serving, love.


Their evocative social vision, for those that want to know, seems to draw on (without saying so) the "small is beautiful" Catholic social teaching that is known as subsidiarity and, perhaps more so, the Kuyperian notion of sphere sovereignty. Both are long-standing, well-developed social theories that basically insist that there are different spheres of life in God's world and no one sphere should override the values and principles which guide the others, and that we are called to enjoy and attend to the unique contours of each. Each social zone or arena or institution should do what it is designed to do, not unlike various musical instruments playing their separate parts in a symphony. A family is guided by self-giving love for one another, obviously, but love expresses itself differently in a business providing services or in politics adjudicating laws, or in art or in schooling or in science.

(This, by the way, just for instance, is why philosopher and college prof James K.A. Smith rails against calling students "consumers" in a brilliant chapter found in his book The Devil Wears Derrida and Other Essays...)

This insight may seem utterly routine, or, when described as a sophisticated social theory, maybe strikes you as utterly arcane. I assure that if you are part of a fairly ordinary congregation, evangelical or mainline denominational, conservative or progressive, my hunch is you've rarely heard a call to engage the world in terms quite like this. Early viewers of this have affirmed that it really helps them think about things in fresh and new ways. It is good, good stuff and I'm sure will get your group thinking and talking in fruitful ways.

For The Life of the World DVD doesn't even unpack all of this as much as I might wish, but it invites us to ponder how these various sides of our lives --these economies of God-- can develop as avenues of service. The section on work, reminding us in a fabulously visual way of our often hidden relationships with others in the supply chain of products we buy and use, is especially nice. The one about love in the family is creatively imagined and beautifully staged as a couple does a rustic, tender ballet to a lovely instrumental tune by Jars of Clay. Session by session, they develop an aspect of life and how God's good creation and the unfolding drama of the Bible's big story allows us to find meaning in that side of life. 

Tchinese lanterns.jpghe films do all this quite creatively -- there is the hockey scene when it becomes sadly necessary for a referee to intervene (alluding to the rule of law, but also the need for restraint from overbearing police) and there is a gardening scene when the gardener arranges and determines the placement of plants, but can't "make" them grow; we use our culture-making insight to arrange for a sustainable life and ordered culture, but can't manage it all by applying science or theology or rules.  Life is a gift, after all, and in all areas of life greater freedom to flourish is preferred rather then managerial bureaucracy or heavy-handed scripts. These guys aren't leftists or socially progressives, but they sure aren't "law and order" right-wingers, either. Their gentle, glad vision of human flourishing across all of culture -- valuing just politics and meaningful labor and family love and creative arts -- is so wonderfully rare these days that the film has no ideological feel to it at all. It is upbeat, invigorating, taking us to deeper insights and instincts about the postures we adopt in our service to the world. They aren't against the world (like the culture warriors) but they aren't advocating comfortable accommodation, either. They hold up patient, generational, faithful presence, working out an "in but not of" the world perspective. It isn't preachy, though.  Except, well, when it is.


And when it is, it is deeply moving, a highlight of the film. You see, at the end of eacletter-pen.jpgh episode Evan writes a letter -- he's sitting at his desk, pen in hand, writing on white lined notebook paper -- and he starts "Dear Everybody" and pens a moving epistle which summarizes in deeply spiritual tones the Biblical basis for the lesson of the day. At the end of each episode (except the last, which puzzles me) he walks out to the end of the sidewalk of the big funky house, puts his envelope in the mailbox, and puts up the little red flag. This really is a set of letters to us, reminders of a way of being in the world, and the vision of a wondrous, robust, lived faith for exiles.  They are thought-provoking and good.

This is the rhetorical theme of the films, after all, these oracles "to the exiles."  Evan wears his heart on his sleeve, inviting us to learn the truths he learns from Grabill, the wonderful "explorer" Dwight Gibson (of the exploration group) and their friends Amy Sherman, Anthony Bradley, John Perkins,mailbox flow.jpg Mako Fujimura and others. His letters point us to essential truths about how to live faithfully in exile -- each an extrapolation and refraction of Jeremiah 29 which they reference in the first fantastic episode -- and are signed, simply, "Yours, Evan."

As the credits roll at the very end after the last letter to us, we who are in exile, there is a powerful, slow original song, with a blazing electric guitar solo, Ghost in the Moon, created for the project by Jars of Clay. The whole thing is really exceptional.


The tag-line on the front of the DVD package says it all:  "7 episodes, 7 letters, 1 new perspective."

What is our salvation actually for? In a sin-wracked, idolatrous, increasingly de-centered and polarized culture, how do we take up the call to be "in the world but not of it" and how to we sustain a joyful missional perspective in all that we do? This new perspective, they say, "is an invitation to explore the scandalous and beautiful story of God's plan for the whole world."  These DVD pieces will help you and your group explore some of the most important things we can possibly talk about, without being heavy-handed or simplistic, and we highly recommend them.


For now, For the Life of The World: Letters to the Exiles is selling for a introductory price of $45.00. At our BookNotes sale price, we have it at  $10.00 off, just $35.00.

This comes in great DVD package, creatively produced as we would expect. In this economical, thin cardboard case you get a nice overview of the sessions (written cleverly as a letter from Evan) and two versions of the disc -- regular DVD and Blue-ray Disc, so you can view it, or show it at your small group, fellowship, book club or Sunday school class whether you have a conventional or Blue-ray player.  There is also enclosed a link to a study group resource that allows your gang to be on-line together following each week and catching up on notes and study resources.  There you will find their new "field guide" resource which helps you process this in your small group. When you buy this, be sure to click on the "extras" link and find that Field Guide.

For what it is worth, early feedback has been amazingly good, with folks showing it literally around the world. Apparently it's going to be on TV in Australia. Some church leaders who run very large and/or sophisticated small group ministries have raved about its usefulness, traditional churches. emergent communities, and those who do college and young adult groups have raved as well. The early buzz is fantastic, the vision life-changing, the conversations emerging from this very, very generative. It is the kind of thing we feel honored to be a part of.

Soon, there will be posters to download and other resources to help you promote this in your own church or fellowship.

People thanked in the ending credits for inspiring or helping them include serious, long-gone theologians and thinkers, but wonderful contemporary folks like Steve Garber, Andy Crouch and others from whom we, too, have drawn much inspiration.  If you like Hearts & Minds at all, if you value what we do or are drawn to the logic and ethos of our curation of books to review, I think you'll appreciate this a lot. Order it from us today.

You can watch the promo trailer here:

Here is a great radio show about the FLOW project, which includes some audio excerpts of the films, and interviews with a few of the principles, including Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay:


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June 24, 2014

Catch & Release: Faith, Freedom, and Knuckleballs by Ethan D. Bryan ON SALE 20% off

Ccatch and rele.jpgatch and Release: Faith, Freedom and Knuckleballs Ethan K. Bryan (eLection Publishing) regularly $15.99 - our sale price $12.79

In the last few BookNotes I've introduced you to some pretty serious books - from old theology to new liturgy, from a good, young writer talking about hard times to a respected older writer talking about God's divine conspiracy. Soon I'm going to share an important list of books about some very heavy stuff, so for today I'm going to tell you about the feel-good book of the summer. 

Interestingly, fun as it is, it includes some data about, and reveals a huge heart to work against sexual trafficking and modern day slavery. I'm glad to say that even though it has a sub-theme about justice, it is about that quintessential American game, baseball, but, even more, about the simple joy of having a game of catch. Catch and Release: Faith, Freedom and Knuckleballs is truly delightful, an enjoyably nice read, and at times, even stirring. I'll admit, one touching chapter just slayed me and I closed the book, happy about the ending, but wishing for more. I loved this book about playing catch and trying to bring release to the captives.

I have previously reviewed Ethan's other two books about baseball. Run Home and Take a Bow (Samizdat; $14.99) isrun home and take.jpg about a summer full of going to Kansas City Royal games and what our intrepid author learned as he followed his team (read my rave review, here) and Striking Out ALS: A Hero's Tale (eLectio; $9.99) a moving, short account of a beloved coach and his struggle against Lou Gehrig's disease. Ethan is a great storyteller, earnest and kind.  He is a fine theological thinker, too, but doesn't often wear that on his sleeve; in these books, his love of the game, and those who play it (not to mention the fans, who he also loves) are his happy place.  And it will be yours, too, even if you aren't a true blue fan like Ethan.

Even though Ethan is a wholesome Missouri family man - I don't think he has a cynical bone in his body and he exudes joy and sincerity - he is passionate about a few things other than baseball, Dr. Pepper, and his beloved wife and two daughters. (I think that may be in the wrong order, but I'm not sure of that.)  He used to work in youth ministry and really loves kids, especially the less than popular teens, the goof-ups and loners and trouble-makers. He loves playing guitar and writing songs about freedom and God and hope. (And, yep, wrote a little book about that, too; tales cover.jpgTales of the Taylor: Songs That Changed the World  (eLectio; $9.99) tells about playing songs and getting signatures on the wooden body of his beautiful six-string Taylor at various little venues and gigs at which he has played. Did I mention that he's a born storyteller?) Ethan can't help himself - his whole life is a story, and nearly everybody that he meets ends up being a part of his grand adventure. He was doing Bob Goff before anybody read Love Does and realized his life was a storyline before Donald Miller explained how to live as if they are making your life into a movie in Thousand Miles in a Million Years. Mr. Bryan, a graduate of Truett Theological Seminary and man of many talents, loves to eat and play and talk and dream and now sees himself primarily as a writer. His life is a story and he loves to write about it.

Oh, and, by the way: he wants to end slavery.

It is just that simple. 

Like many younger evangelicals Bryan combines solid faith, sincere worship, with a broad vision of compassion, social change, and public justice. The issue of sexual trafficking appeared on his radar screen early on.

In fact, on the back cover of Catch and Release there is a tone that sounds like an old comic book plot, or the trailer from an action-hero movie.  It reads, "At the intersection of the fight to end human trafficking and a love of baseball stands one man." I bet you didn't know there was an intersection between the right to end human trafficking and a love of baseball.  But now you do. And you know who stands there: One Man. That would be your humble author, Missourian Ethan D. Bryan.


Years ago, in fact, he ordered from us the essential Not for Sale:nfs cover.jpg The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone (HarperOne; $16.99.) He calls Batstone Dave the Abolitionist. (He calls me Byron the Bookseller, and it's hilarious to see that in print; thanks, Ethan the Namer.) Ethan ought to himself be called Ethan the Abolitionist, because he is always thinking about ways to generate interest in the anti-trafficking cause, always telling people about the need to rise up against great injustice, promoting organizations like the organization Not for Sale. His slightly Southern/mid-Western charm, his good humor, and his love of sports (and losing sports teams) makes him an ideal spokesperson for social justice issues -- seriously; we don't need more hard-core activists turning people off with uber-radical rhetoric or thinking they can't get involved since they don't understand the issues (or have time to commit to full-time activism themselves.) Using no tactics of shame or guilt, Ethan takes his children to events, gathers one dollar bills from kids, talks to PTOs and church suppers and at Little League games, and invites ordinary folks to care a bit more, to act on their own deepest concerns, and to pony up some dough to set slaves free.

I love the spat of books by ordinary people insisting that we alRefuse to Do Nothing.jpgl can make a difference - Refuse to Do Nothing: Finding Your Power to Abolish Modern-Day Slavery by Shayne Moore & Kimberly McOwen Yim (IVP; $15.00), for instance, is pitched as a guide for anyone, showing just what two soccer moms can do, and it is a great, great book, by two women I admire. You should order it from us. 

But Ethan doesn't live in a big city, doesn't have Bono on speed dial, he doesn't even have a very stable family budget and his book are on homespun indie presses. When Ethan Bryan says anybody can make a difference, truly ordinary readers will be inspired, empowered, even, as they say. When he tells you just a little about the horrific slavery going on in our world today - from sweat shops in Pakistan to brothels in San Diego to bonded servitude in central Africa - and how children are at risk, it is informative but not overwhelming and it is not harsh. It isn't harsh because he's having such a good time making a difference.


Yglove drawing.jpgou see, as Catch and Release explains, Ethan thinks the hard-boiled, grim world of production and consumerism and self-centeredness that fuels so many social injustices can be countered by an ethos of play. Yep, there it is. I told you it was simple. Ethan thinks -- and he could wax philosophical about this if he had to -- that grace and gratitude and community (virtues and realities that you can learn in games and simple play) can erode the awful values that drive our culture's dysfunctions. Greed and ugliness cannot be simply overcome by "Chicken Soup for the Soul" cheeriness, of course, but Bryan is on to something. From thewell-played-life-why-pleasing-god-doesnt-have-to-be-such-hard-work.jpg thoughtful and fun The Well-Played Life explored recently by Leonard Sweet to the sophisticated aesthetic theory of Calvin Seerveld found in Rainbows for the Fallen World we are reminded that play is part of what it means to be human and that leisurely recreation is vital for a healthy culture.  (We've got a whole section of books about a theology of sports, by the way, including some new ones.) And what better play is there than a "nobody loses" low-stress partnership called having a catch? He writes briefly and simply about it, but it is actually pretty profound stuff.


And so, here's the simple plot: Ethan decides to play catch with people all over the country - that's part of the story as he invites folks to the game, cooks up ways to pursue this immersion journalism experience, writing about the places he goes and the people he plays catch with. It is, perhaps surprisingly, a very engaging story as the tension mounts as he awaits correspondence back from the White House, gets kicked off a major league field, as he secures small victories and admits his disappointments after large set-backs. You will want to keep turning pages, reading about his developing friendship with some Major League players, his eagerness to pitch the ball with Rob Bell on a Southern California beach, his hanging out with fans and sports journalists and celebrities and a lot of kids. In most cases, the catch is part of a fund-raising effort for Not For Sale; everywhere he goes he is a good will ambassador, and an advocate for those whose voices aren't typically heard or considered.


You gotta love this: Ethan's plan is to declare himself a world record-breaking catch player and aligns himself with an on-line Guinness Book of World Records type outfit called Recordsetter which posts all kinds of crazy one-of-a kind records after videos documenting the exploits are sent in and validated. Besides the never-ending quest to find left-handed gloves for his partner players (three quarters through the book I was thinking "Dude, just buy one and keep it with all the others who carry around with you everywhere" Ethan also has to find volunteer videographers and time-keepers. These events must be documented now.

ethan catching on stage.jpgHere they are working on the record for "Most Throws and Catches While Players Are Standing On One Foot." 

These escapades -- excuses for good fun, and an opportunity to speak out against slavery, and maybe raise some cash -- usually work out well, although sometimes things backfire. Once he was playing with a Major Leaguer whose arm was worth, and probably insured for, uh, well, more than Ethan's entire assets. Suddenly, Ethan choked --  what if this star athlete did something dumb, sprained his finger or worse, and it would be Ethan's fault. A guy's career and a teams fortunes could plummet before his eyes! Goofing around with beginners or kids is one thing, but this? Major League catch? Yikes!

Once there was an epic effort made with a high school track team going for the longest game of catch played while tossing the ball while also running the mile - a stellar idea, you'd have to agree. Alas, the good folks at Recordsetting refused the video as the runners and catch-players were too far away from the cameraman; the guys doing that last long stretch while pitching back and forth to each other couldn't really be seen clearly enough. That would have been one for the record books, though, that's for sure. Rats.

Usually though, the odd-ball efforts -- a hilarious one about using the wrong handedness, another catching while holding one's breath, another with a number of nervous teens who had never played pitch and catch before -- were truly record setting and award winning. Except for one epic fail outside of a  big league stadium where some nationally known sportscasters and major league wives were involved, and he still failed to reach the goal of biggest game of catch; he was hoping for 1000 people to toss the ball. They got 53 recorded, including his own wife and children and the volunteer video guy. (Where's J.R. Briggs when you need him?)

So the book is endearing and funny, and you end up rooting forethan and a guy.jpg this screwy, knuckleball plan that takes Ethan on amazing highs (imagine getting correspondence from the White House, or getting to hang out with famed Christian ball player Mike Sweeney, or re-united with old high school English teachers who come out to applaud your writing and affirm your calling as a writer.) But there are a lot of disappointments, bitter ones, even, and Ethan doesn't really have to remind us what is at stake. His own career as a writer - following your own dream by daring greatly is a theme of the book as he longs for a way to use his writing for good.

More urgently, of course, there are the oppressed, the captives, the slaves, and he wants his efforts to be helpful, effective. "Rescue is coming" he promises them, but for every failed catch event, every fund-raising goal missed, every clever opportunity that didn't come to fruition, he knows, and we know, that the cause is diminished. These set-backs come to matter, and we care about his efforts.  Who wouldn't root for such a good plan to raise awareness and money, and who wouldn't want to know how it turns out?

Some very interesting stuff happens along the way in this campaign and his plan to write the book documenting his playing catch as a way to raise awareness about modern day slaver. Yes, he meets some famous players, notably Jeremy Affeldt who himself has written of his own major league careerto stir a movement.jpg and how he has leveraged his fame for the sake of fighting trafficking in To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball and a few authors and sundry public figures. Mostly, these stories unfold in small ways, giving the book an exceptionally authentic feel.  Anyone who has worked in small fund raising efforts for some local team or club or to fight some disease knows how this works. 


It was my experience that reading the small-town, local nature of many chapters -- Watching the Minor Leagues in Arkansas!  Meeting Negro Baseball League radio announcers in Missouri! A teen church retreat in, uh, I don't even recall where, but nowhere you've heard of! -- are among the very best. This is how local activism plays out, usually, not in Manhattan or DC or in theethan and guys in blue.jpg national media, but in your own town with your own family and among your own neighbors and friends. If you're lucky, your tweets get re-tweeted a time or two. Maybe you get on the six o'clock local news for 60 seconds. Big time advocates of grand plans for renewal of culture take note: Ethan illustrates the principle explained at the end of Andy Crouch's excellent Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling where he talks about starting initiatives with just a few other folks. Catch and Release: Faith, Freedom and Knuckleballs is culture-making par excellance: local, fun, well-recorded in a book to share the story, and deadly serious.


There are a few curve balls in here, and I won't spoil it. (Yes, there is am actual knuckleball, too, another nice little side-story that comes up a time or two, tied together as a good writer will.) Some chapters of Catch and Release invite us to struggle with the wisdom of some commonly-held theological views, and he tells of his own convictions and questions, as well as his own joys and sorrows along the way. I admire his simple faith and insistence that we love everyone, accepting those who see things differently; I respect his persistence in his work offered in great hope for a Christ-like social order where it is easier to be good and where all are valued. He quotes Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen, Nelson Mandella, N.T. Wright, Harriet Tubman, and other important writers, but the book is breezy and, even when challenging, not threatening. It is, as I said, a feel good book, perfect for summer reading. You will root for this dreamer, be inspired by his involvement with an on-line community helping one another follow their dreams by reading Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, Do Work That Matters (Jon Acuff's guide to fearlessly living into your greatest dreams and taking up one's calling, day-by-day, step-by-step) and how they show up to cheer him on. What a moment!

As you read you will cheer Ethan Bryan, too, and his good effort described in this fun book.  And, maybe - he'd be so pleased - just maybe you'll take some time to play and have fun, celebrating creativity and joy and re-creation. Maybe you'll even get out a glove and pitch a ball around. Heck, he'd be happy if you watched Field of Dreams or read Shoeless Joe. (Yes, he has written to W.P. Kinsella. Of course he has.) Who knows, maybe you or yours will even find your own way to start something cool, making the world a little better along the way. 

The book includes the author's email address, if you want to create some wacky way to set a record with Recordsetter and raise some money for NFS. Give it a shot; he's always looking for a catch.  Maybe he'll even give you a new moniker.  As Bob Goff might exclaim, "How cool is that?"

catch and rele.jpg


Catch & Release:
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June 20, 2014

New Brian McLaren, New Dallas Willard: We Make the Road by Walking AND The Divine Conspiracy Continued ON SALE

We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation by Brian McLaren (Jericho Books) $25.00 - OUR SALE PRICE $20.00

The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth by Dallas Willard with Gary Black, Jr. (HarperOne) $25.99 - OUR SALE PRICE $20.79  

In our last post we raved about a lovely new book of spiritual reading, part memoir, part socialbeautiful disaster big.jpg critique, part guide to finding hope in hard times, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Suffering by Marlena Graves (Brazos Press; $15.99.)  It is recommended because it is so very honest, as Marlena shares the story of her own hard times, and yet points us in clear and helpful ways, by teaching various Bible stories, how to find God's presence day by day, offering ways to experience Christ's grace, and ways to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. This book is rooted in the devotional classics (and throws in some fun pop culture references and contemporary writers as well.)  We are sure it will be a blessing to you or your group, so we heartily recommended it. She is a first-time author, although writes often for blogs and on-line journals, and we think deserves a wide readership.

Two books have come out this week that seem similar, in that they are about spiritual formation, both by well-known authors. They are a bit different in theology and tone, but we are very excited to tell you about them both.  We would be thrilled if you order either, or both, from us.  As is often the case here at BookNotes, we have them on sale, and you can order at the quick line found at the end of this piece.  (Funny how many people write asking how they can acquire these, apparently not realizing we are a real bookstore, trying to make a living selling these resources.)

Fwe make the road McL.jpgdivine conspiracy.jpgirst, I'll explain an innovative and engrossing, year-long devotional guide by Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation (Jericho Books; $25.00.)

Next, I'll describe the brand new sequel to the Dallas Willard classic The Divine Conspiracy, co-written during his recent illness by Gary Black and released posthumously after Dallas's untimely death a year ago called The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth (HarperOne; $25.99.) Although Dallas continued to hold to utterly orthodox, historically evangelical faith, and Brian has evolved into what might be called a progressive post-evangelical, the two men knew and, I gather, cared for each other.  Both were voracious readers, drew on ecumenical sources, and organize much of their work on inner transformation by way of talking about our union with Christ in the Kingdom of God. (Indeed, Dallas told me once that "the divine conspiracy" was to be heard as a synonym for the Kingdom of God, devoid of sexist overtones.) They are both very interested in facilitating conversations about the nature of deepened discipleship, faith of the heart and mind and hands and feet.

My life is richer because of them both. They both have a section in our esteemed authors wall in the shop.

McLaren and Willard agreed that alongside our own inner transformation there are dynamic impulses and trajectories of the proclamation of Christ as Lord that ripple outward into the public sphere.  From Brian's book on the Kingdom of God (The Secret Message of Jesus) to the very important Everything Must Change: When the World's Biggest Problems and Jesus' Good News Collide to the chapters on politics and economics in the new Dallas Willard volume, both men use their vast intellectual resources and their deep experiences of spiritual formation, to point people to socially-engaged, wholistic Kingdom visions and prophetic imaginations of cultural change. These two books, despite their differences (and there are significant differences) could be read in tandem, and could prove to be transformational, game-changing, even, maybe creating generative aha-moments that are decisive for you and your faith community. I am sure I will be challenged as I work through them more carefully over the next months, and I invite you to join me on the journey.  What joy to get to introduce you to these books by McLaren and Willard, friends along the way, agents of the Kingdom.  Man, I love my job!

I suppose I don't have to tell too many of our readers about the much-discussed books bbrian-mclaren-festival.jpgy Brian McLaren. Allow me to (again) clear the air a bit (or add some fog, as the case may be) since Brian is well-loved by many, and truly despised by some. (Others are pleasant and balanced; they like him, mostly, but find some of his current thinking a bit unorthodox. Such readers look for the good, and take everything with a discerning grain of salt. Fair enough?)

Brian is a friend and although I do not know him too well, whenever I have been with him, I have found him to be an extraordinary leader and a fine, thoughtful spokesperson for considered theological and Biblically-rooted faith. I have worked informally with him on a few small projects and my name even appears in Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in 12 Simple Words, a fine book of creative spiritual formation for seekers or beginners looking for a guide that is a tad unusual.  So I like him.

This big new book will illustrate much about his love of and insight about the Scriptures, echoing themes from hisstory wfoi.png great 2003 novel The Story We Find Ourselves In.  As it ends up, I don't agree with everything he always says, and I like some of his books more than others.  But - as is our custom here at Hearts & Minds - we believe in reading widely, perhaps (for those of us who are well grounded in the best of the Christian tradition and in a solid community of mature believers) especially reading stuff we may not be in full agreement with.  We can learn and grow by taking a pen to the page and working with a text -- no need to get all alarmist and upset, let alone nasty, because somebody puts something in a way you find unusual or wrong.  Read, pray, write, talk, read some more, be generous and discerning, taking in that which bears fruit and rejecting that which is a distraction to your growth in the Kingdom. So, even though some of my conservative friends (with whom I share many theological tenets) will disapprove, I think Brian's work with creative, inclusive theology and Biblical study is valuable, inspiring, and very much worth reading.  For those who are not likely to fret about whether he is conservative enough or how he has drifted from the conventional formulation of the fundamentals of faith, I think you will be pleasantly charmed into realizing that his lively and broadly evangelical faith is both inviting and healthy -- and maybe even contagious. 

Which I guess I say in order to say this: whether you see yourself as a stalwart evangelical and McLaren critic or whether you are happily of a more liberal theological persuasion, I think We Make the Road By Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation is going to be good for you, maybe even fun and interesting. 

Here's why.

Fwe make the road McL.jpgirstly, this is a big overview of all manner of Christian insights and practices, a guide to faithful discipleship in light of McLaren's progressive vision, in conversation with what he has called a "new kind of Christian" (which, frankly, is not that new.) It seems to me this view makes him, to be overly simplistic about it, perhaps the most liberal/ecumenical person when he is among his conservative evangelical friends and yet the most evangelically passionate when among his more liberal friends. (Show of hands if you've been there?!) As a former church planter and pastor of a non-denominational congregation who now worships at an Episcopalian parish (and who has traveled and listened well in the global south) he knows the breadth of church life - and that makes him a voice worth listening to. McLaren is passionate and upbeat and visionary, to be sure, making him fun and a bit feisty, but he isn't that unusual or odd. There are plenty of lengthy footnotes and good explorations of things we all should be considering, so this is a rich compendium and an example of ecumenical, generous, living faith.

In a way, this is both a greatest hits album and a perfect intro to why Brian (and the emergent/mainline convergence he represents) is such a widely-read and much-discussed author and leader. It is a safe and good way to grapple with big questions and hard stuff.  I think this is a good, good thing and hope you do too.

In this book he walks us through the church year (starting in September) with 52 readings, which can be read one chapter per week.  The book tends to follow an abbreviated church calendar, which is really good, but it is also a basic Bible overview.  What he draws out of various Scriptural passages is wonderful, wonderfully put, and very, very helpful - whether you know the Bible well, or if you are a beginning Bible reader. I have found everything I've read so far to be right on and quite lovely, even if some is standard fare.  For instance, he teaches us that the Genesis story helps us stand in awe and wonder of all creation; we are made in God's image so have dignity and worth, and all of life has meaning; the middle of the Hebrew Scriptures offers a robust conversation on the meaning of faith, with law and story, poets and mystics, kings and prophets, pointing us to God's promises of restoration and blessing; Christ's resurrection power gave the new disciples new energy and fearlessness to proclaim the Kingdom, Paul taught about renewed community and inclusion and a Christ-honoring missional agenda, with love trumping all.

So, yep, this really allows readers to re-orient themselves around the big, unfolding drama of Scripture as it builds from creation to covenant to crisis to Christ to final consummation.

Not only is this an evocative and well-written, year-long overview of the Biblical story with a keen sense of the biggest themes and the social implications of those acts in the drama, it has a certain, appealing writing style, a style that pervades most of Brian's books; it is semi-scholarly, informed by everything from quantum science to ancient near east history to postmodern literary theory to the nonviolent philosophy of Rene Girard, but yet is conversational, entertaining, moving, even. (He lapses into "first person" drama a few times, which is very neat, putting you right into the story.) Few authors can bring so much learning to the table, weave together so much interesting and curious stuff, and yet sound upbeat and hopeful. He trusts he readers, and he manages to help us along the way, bit by bit.

Certainly there are other books that may teach the Bible in a year that are more detailed and more thorough, but at least one big benefit of this is the fun (and important) dots that are connected, the good ideas that are brought into play, the storytelling and wordsmithing that seems to come so naturally to him.  Brian was an English professor at one point (and has good music tastes, too, citing Bruce Cockburn and other fine songwriters in other books) so unlike some theologians and Bible teachers and church leaders, he can write.  Heck, he can sing and some of this book seems to as well.

Further, as the title suggests, the faith journey we undertake in We Make the Road... is a bit unfinished - we have to do the walking. You know that old saw, sometimes made trivial on trinkets and wristbands, "Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet"? Well, it is true, after all, isn't it? We are growing, changing, our faith moves along. God is at work in us, and yet, in some profound way, we play our part, do our thing, taking responsibility for our own spiritual formation and how we choose to engage the world around us (including our churches, our neighborhoods, and our global connections.) We don't know what's ahead. For what it is worth, I do not think (for those aware of this sub-set of progressive theology) that Brian is a "process theology" guy and he doesn't sound quite like Teilhard de Chardin, just for instance.  But he does insist that we must cultivate our interior lives as we come to understand God's work better, and that this involves change, growth, openness to new ideas, and being guided by the Spirit into what might be new territories. God's work is unfolding and we are inviting to participate by being open to change.   

As he puts it,

... faith was never intended to be a destination, a status, a holding tank, or a warehouse. Instead, it was to be a road, a path, a way out of old and destructive patterns into new and creative ones. As a road or way, it is always extended into the future. If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs in its heels to where it is now, it is a dead end or parking lot, not a way.

I appreciate this call to walk the way of a living tradition, "cherishing and learning from the growing treasury of its past" as he put it. Yet, we can and must re-imagine what it means to live joyfully and responsibly, with verve and gusto, in these times, for these times. (There's that I Chronicles 12:32 again that I sometimes cite, eh?)  I wonder if the title (used first, he thinks by the great Mexican educator Paulo Freire) overstates things a bit - we don't really have to build an entirely new road, after all since we stand on the shoulders of others, always holding to the apostolic gospel message, even if our formulations evolve and change in each new era.

Here is how McLaren puts it in the preface:

(This) is a work of constructive theology - offering a positive, practical, open, faithful, improvable and fresh articulation of Christian faith suitable for people in our dynamic times. It is also a work of public and practical theology - theology that is worked out by 'normal' people in daily life.

McLaren is not suggesting that anything goes or that we make stuff up as we go along, willy-nilly. He knows that the task of doing constructive theology is rigorous, constrained (although he might choose that word) by the Biblical texts. In fact, in the introduction he has several pages and good footnotes exploring the role of catechesis -- he cites Luther's Small Catechism, notes Calvin's important work, and quotes Wesley's "Instructions for Children" written in 1745. McLaren is on to something when he writes that, early on,

catechesis was a subversive practice of movement building. It was a "people's seminary," transforming any room, campfire, or shady spot beneath a tree into a movement school. It equipped the oppressed and the oppressors to become partners and protagonists in their mutual liberation. 

Learning the faith anew today should feel like that: being enfolded into and shaped by a liberating movement. A God Movement, as "Cottonpatch" Clarence Jordan used to say.

It is no accident that Brian calls this quest a process of "reorientation and activation."  We don't just need a fresh version of the ideas of faith, reoriented opinions. For him -- as for the Bible itself - we are invited/commanded to be "doers of the Word." Faith without works is dead (to use the language of the Epistle of James and of Jesus, too) so we have some serious building to do, some repair work to offer this broken world.  No, we don't save the world ourselves - God's grace is abundant enough for that - but we have our stitches to weave. There is work to be done. We have to get active. This is a big theme of the book.

The biggest rhetorical theme, a theme that is sounded out in every section, implied on almostmcL quote.jpg every page, is that this is a resource for those seeking to live their lives in ways that can be called truly alive. We are invited to attentiveness and wonder, to be mindfully aware and child-like eager, vibrant with "abundant life" (John 10:10.)  The introduction of We Make the Road by Walking is entitled "Seeking Aliveness" and the four sections of the book are called "Alive in the Story of Creation," "Alive in the Adventure of Jesus," "Alive in Global Uprising," and (starting on Pentecost Sunday) "Alive in the Spirit of God."  Yes, this is a handbook to aliveness, abundance, adventure and more. Such an audacious vision could not be told in boring prose and such am organic message wouldn't ring true in the hands of a dull writer. So, gladly, this book is energetic and interesting and itself quite alive.

A final feature of this book, and it is not incidental, is how many discussion questions there are. This book can be read solo, of course, but Brian -- ever the pastor, educator, spiritual director and movement organizer -- hopes that it is to be read in community. It has abundant and carefully crafted reflection questions to help us engage the text not only at the end of each of the 52 chapters, but also offers what he calls "quarter queries" at the end of each of the four parts.  Written with sensitivity, McLaren hopes this is used within churches, maybe in interfaith groups, among skeptics, seekers, or those feeling exiled from a local congregation. There are a few appendices offering guidelines for good group dynamics, and a litany or two to use for those that want a more liturgical component to their times together.  

Those who buy We Make the Road by Walking get their money's worth, that's for sure.  As Phyllis Tickle writes, "This is one of the most remarkable documents in recent Christian writings... The result is as startling as it is beautiful."

Listen to Brian express his own hopes, shared at the end of his great introduction:

Right now I'm imagining a couple of each of you, gathered around a table filled with brimming glasses and plates of flavorful foods. You're all engaged in animated conversation, telling jokes, sharing stories about your experiences since you last gathered. Partway through your meal, someone says "The Living God is with us!" and everyone else responds "And with all creation!" And then someone begins to read.

So, it's a year-long, once-a-week overview of the Bible, offering a call to inner transformation and social action, to be read in groups, to enlist us to the Triune God's movement in the world, from a "new kind of Christian" progressive vision. It can be read alone, but it's better to be explored with a group, a fun, friendly group. That's the gist of the great new book by Brian McLaren, and (agree or not with every detail) it is really worth having and it's project is well worth taking up. I don't think I know of any other resource quite like it.  Enjoy!


Here is another amazing new summer book, a very,very profound work, most likely the last we'll hear from this dear departed saint. It is an honor to tell you about the latest and last book from Dallas Willard.

Tdivine conspiracy.jpghe Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth Dallas Willard & Gary Black (HarperOne) $25.99  

You may know that the contemplative master Richard Foster wrote back in 1998 a most stunning introduction to the groundbreaking and still best-selling Dallas Willard work, The Divine Conspiracy ("the book I've been searching for my whole life.") That brief but potent intro is, I think, the most affirming foreword I've ever seen in a book. On the back of this brand new one Foster reminds us of that by saying, "I consider The Divine Conspiracy to be the most important book in the field of Christian spirituality in my lifetime. So I welcome the publication of The Divine Conspiracy Continued, which expands on and enriches the themes that moved us so deeply."  What more can I say? Wow.

I have written recently at BookNotes about two new Willard-esque John Ortberg books, one published by IVP that was co-written with Dallas (Living in Christ'sLiving In Christ.jpg Presence), and one in which he tells about things he learned from many meetings with Dallas (Soul-Keeping.) He too, has a stellar blurb on the back of The Divine Conspiracy Continued. The Presbyterian pastor Ortberg says, "I know of no more important voice on spiritual truth in our day than that of Dallas Willard. To be able to receive fresh words from him along with Gary Black Jr on the reality of the kingdom in our midst is a priceless gift."

Oh my. Let that endorsement sink in.

We've come to value Gary Black's work, and he was a natural choice to be the one to co-write this book with Dallas last year - he had done his dissertation on Willard, and has a very informative work called The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith (Wipf & Stock; $29.00.)

Adallas willard (suit).jpgs with McLaren, although in less colorful writing and less, shall we say, creative formulations, Willard has always been interested in how the cross and resurrection of Christ can transform our very selfhood, our personality, our habits and practices and then how that spills out into our social experiences and cultural influence. He has thought harder about this then most.

His fabulous early book The Spirit of thespirit of the disciplines.gif Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (HarperOne; $15.99) remains a must-read and offers a great introduction to his view of the sanctifying work of God in our lives. It even includes a chapter on the role of the body in spiritual formation.

It is interesting to me that even though many people write about "formation" these days, many of these books are merely devotional -- tender, creative, monastic, mystical, perhaps, but still just feel-good stimulation. Professor Willard offers us gentle wisdom and actual guidance about how our souls can, in fact, be changed. Christ's ways and His virtues and God's Kingdom's presence can be a reality in our lives -- perhaps his systematic thinking about this might be analogous to a Protestant Saint Ignatius. As Dr. Willard put it in another good resource, God can grant us "the renovation of the heart." (Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ; Navpress; $16.99)  Another book which can serve to introduce you to Willard's serious theories and remarkable applications of the gospel is in the aforementioned InterVarsity book (a lovely hardback and excellent video series, too) entitled Living in God's Presence (book, $20.00; DVD, $30.00.) That was created from the transcripts of talks and subsequent interviews and conversations with John Ortberg that were done at a conference. That, too, is an amazing book, moving us from "sin management" to a truly transformed life as we take up the way of Christ, day by day, moment by moment, made gladly more human, more ourselves, by Him, for Him.

This brand new follow-up to his masterpiece The Divine Conspiracy, The Divine Conspiracy Continued is co-authored by Gary Black and pitched both as a sequel to it and as an application volume, too. It seems to be aimed particularly at leaders (as it says on the back, "God's plan for leaders.") as the Kingdom principles in DC are clarified and enhanced for those who serve in public life. This, of course, means it is not just for clergy, or even those involved in para-church ministries. It is for anyone, almost, who longs for greater resources in the creation of a sensible and influential life; as the subtitle says, it is about "fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth" and is therefore for any persons who long to live out their own sense of calling to vocations in the world.

dallas willard (red shirt).jpgWillard not only gifted us all by writing these weighty and influential handbooks to Christian growth and Kingdom living over the last 30 years, he was, in his day job, a professional philosopher (at the prestigious University of California.) He pondered well the nature of knowing, what we mean by the moral life, the integration of faith and learning, the role of reason, and what it might be to "redeem reason," the relationship between thinking and feeling, knowing and doing. He isn't writing here as a scholar, but his lifetime of teaching about such important matters has shaped him, and he thereby brings these valuable insights to bear upon the work of spiritual formation. 

There is, however, an interesting chapter on being a Christian intellectual, including some ofdivine conspiracy.jpgdivine-conspiracy.jpg his views about education, Christian and otherwise, which would be especially good for anyone working in the fields of education. Willard had a passion to equip and encourage well-placed, well-informed people of moral integrity who would be guided by the ways of Jesus and, say, the Sermon on the Mount; and he gave much of his life to serving those wanting direction and insight about living out faith in the modern world.  

From this beginning stages of planning, this was to be a co-authored project; together Black and Willard designed a book to help encourage the transformation of leaders who could "subvert human governance" (a phrase I wish he'd have explained a bit, but I gather he means that we are to be salt and light and leaven, bringing God's redemptive ways to society.)  Willard understood the nature of truth and true knowing, that belief has consequences, that ideas grow legs, and - to borrow McLaren's language, that we all sorely need "spiritual formation, reorientation, and activation."

Black writes in the foreword,

Dallas's greatest hopes, and mine, would be for men and women from every walk of life and every profession and vocation that serves our society - teachers, attorneys, physicians, pastors, accountants, tradespeople, and businesspeople alike - to read and discuss this book together.... Wherever leaders gather to discuss their visions and hopes for God's mission to our world.

Oh, BookNotes friends, you know how we need this kind of clear-headed, deep (but not arcane) guidance into how one can cooperate with God in the transformation of the human soul, how that actually leads to real improvement of life; we really do need help in walking in the ways in which we can become more committed to and effective for the coming commonwealth of God, in every sphere of culture. As Black notes, there are chapters here for business folk and physicians and other professionals - interesting for all of us, I'd say. By the way, I'd say this is valuable also for pastors or teachers or campus ministers who are called to mentor others in these professional fields. One good chapter is called "Leaders Who Follow the Shepherd" and it is very profound.

Not unlike the McLaren book, there is included an extensive discussion apparatus and reflection questions for each section. Not only are there some good questions to ponder or discuss, there are suggested experiences that one can enter into. The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth really is like a long workshop with Dallas, and it may be the last serious work we have from him.  

We cannot recommend this book more seriously, or commend it with such confidence that it is a very, very important book for our times. Thanks be to God for Dallas Willard, for his life, his teaching, and for his friend Gary Black who together wrote this extraordinary book. Buy it today.



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