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November 25, 2015

A List of 20 Great Books on Prayer -- which (mostly) appeared in The Washington Times special feature this week-end. 20% OFF

washingtontimes-logo.jpgYep, it was quite a surprise when our central Pennsylvania bookstore here in Dallastown got a call from an executive of the internationally known The Washington Times. I almost didn't believe it, that this important media outlet from DC was asking me to write for them. 

They were doing a special insert that goes to newsstands on Monday and on-line portal at their website on prayer and wanted me to compile a short list of the best books on the topic.

prayer graphic.jpgThe feature had lots of famous civic and faith leaders involved and was going to be written mostly by evangelicals -- Max Lucado, Shirley Dobson, and other important figures -- but offered to a fairly wide readership.

One of the team leaders of this project had seen one of our BookNotes reviews a while back and valued my writing and recommendations. What an honor!  What a blessing to be appreciated by a national figure who is obviously quite a reader himself.

I was more than willing to compile this list of some of our favorite titles on prayer. It had to be relatively brief, so -- for those that know our large selection here at the shop and my own tendency to revel in a lack of brevity -- you can imagine it was hard trimming it down to size. The widely-distributed print copy had to be even shorter than the on-line edition, which couldn't be lengthy.  What you see below is an expanded and slightly longer list then what made the final cut at The Washington Times.  We hope it is helpful for you.

A final note about the list: when tasked to curate a list of overtly Christian books, offered for a very wide audience, I felt it was wise to offer both beginning level titles, and more in-depth suggestions. Some of these recommended volumes are long, some are shorter; some delightfully accessible, some a bit more demanding.  On my list a few authors are Roman Catholic, most are evangelical in orientation, a few are what might be considered mainline Protestant. One is even written by a slightly charismatic Quaker, another by an Orthodox priest (himself a medical doctor and son of a Russian diplomat.) A couple are old-school, staunch, a few are upbeat and fun.

As a list it is, I might suggest, a bit more ecumenical and socially diverse then many of those who contributed to the special edition at the Times.  Naturally, their own orientation is notably conservative, the faith leaders exceptionally passionate about revival praying.  I appreciate much of that, but our list is at once a bit more basic and a bit more broad.

So, welcome to Hearts & Minds;  we love offering a wide and informed array of titles, good stuff, but with some surprises.  We hope this list draws you into the best and most interesting books about prayer and, more importantly, draws you to the One who calls us to pray: the Triune God of the Bible, revealed in Scripture, known in the person of Jesus Christ, whose incarnation as the true King we will soon celebrate.  May these books help you know Him and -- as some of His earliest disciples were known to have said -- thereby become more fully alive, more human, more like Jesus Himself. 

It would be our pleasure to serve you further.  Send us an order and get 20% off any of the titles mentioned.  Our order form (see the link below) takes you to our on line order form page which is certified secure so you can safely leave credit card info.  Thanks for your support.

Prayer- Does It Make Any Difference.jpgPrayer: Does It Make Any Difference  Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $16.99  Mr. Yancey is respected as one of the finest evangelical writers working today, a good journalist, and author of many fine books telling of the many ways in which people find meaning in faith, and search for God's grace in a complicated world. Here, he asks a perennial question -- does prayer really matter? -- and not only reports his findings in captivating writing, but invites us all into a life of deeper, more fruitful prayer, even though there is great mystery. It asks questions that most people have -- is God listening? Does it change what happens? Why does it sometimes seem to "work" but not always? Very thoughtful and honest.

Too Busy Not to Pray .jpgToo Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be with God Bill Hybels (InterVarsity Press) $15.00  A very approachable, nicely-written and quite helpful primer -- which has sold over a million copies!  This is ideal for those who feel too stressed to take time to pray regularly, or for those who need guidance in the basics. It is deceptively simply, but quite profound, a joy to read, and compelling in very practical ways. Hybels is the renowned pastor of the large Willow Creek Church near Chicago, known for its upbeat services aimed at the unchurched, so he knows how to write for an audience that may not be used to deep theology or heavy Biblical studies. Very highly recommended.

Prayer  Ole Hallesby.jpgPrayer  Ole Hallesby (Augsburg) $8.99  This is a small sized book, yet an enduring classic of the 20th century and one of the best-selling religious books of our time. Written by a Norwegian Lutheran clergyman (who had been imprisoned by the Nazi's for his outspoken resistance to their fascism) Prayer offers in eleven short chapters truly helpful guidance for beginners and sturdy spiritual insight for those who have spent a lifetime praying. Simple as it seems, even deep and reliable authors such as Richard Foster have said it is one of the very best. A nice study guide makes it ideal for small group use. 

Help, Thanks, Wow.jpgHelp, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers Anne Lamott (Riverhead) $17.95  This brief book shares the author's colorful anecdotes about her own journey to learn about prayer; as her many fans know, she is far from a conventional Christian and her writing is more clever and spicy and honest then most contemporary spiritual memoirs.  Emerging from her own struggle with addictions, dysfunctions and urban angst, this well-known novelist and bohemian writer insists that there really are just three main words needed to express the deepest things of our hearts: help, thanks, and wow.  Seriously theological readers will know these by perhaps deeper more sophisticated-sounding names (supplication, gratitude, awe) and will want to bring greater depth and nuance, but it is hard not to appreciate Lamott's  candor, charm, and good-hearted simplicity. Good for those who call themselves "spiritual but not religious" or who are allergic to formulas or techniques that promise easy answers.

Prayer Keller.jpgPrayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God Timothy Keller (Viking) $26.95  Timothy Keller is renown for his conventional evangelical emphasis on Biblical truth and sound theology combined with cultural savvy, astute apologetics, and concern for the professional and public lives of his mostly young, sophisticated flock in Manhattan.  Out of his work at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York have come many serious and valuable books, but this is his first to directly teach about prayer, knowing God more intimately, and the best ways to deepen one's habits of talking and listening to God. It is recent, comprehensive, clear and great gift to us all.

Part One of Keller's Prayer offers insight about why we should desire prayer. Part Two helps us understand what prayer is, Part Three offers several chapters on "Learning Prayer" while Part Four is called "Deepening Prayer." Part Five offers several wise songs of jesus.jpgchapters on actual praying, moving from awe to intimacy, and how to ask God for help. This is particularly thoughtful, theologically reliable, Biblically-informed, and very clear.  A must-read. Rev. Keller's first ever daily devotional was just published in mid-November, a year's worth of Biblical meditations on the Psalm's entitled The Songs of Jesus.  Co-written with his wife Kathy, it is very nicely done, intimate and helpful.


The Heart of Prayer- What Jesus Teaches Us .jpgThe Heart of Prayer: What Jesus Teaches Us  Jerram Barrs (Presbyterian & Reformed) $14.99  This is one of the best contemporary studies by a serious, beloved theology professor at Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis. Dr. Barrs is the son-in-law of Francis Schaeffer, the late evangelical cultural scholar and missionary who in the 1960s started L'Abri, a movement in Europe reaching out to disaffected youth and others with serious questions about traditional religion; this naturally gives this book a tone which is at once socially aware and philosophically astute. Still, it firstly is a lovely study of the ways in which Jesus prayed in the first century, and how we can learn from Him.  The exceptionally eloquent evangelical thought leader Os Guinness writes that "Jerram Barrs is a wise and gentle guide to the way of prayer shown and taught by Jesus. I have benefited enormously from this profound yet simple and helpful book."

A Praying Life- Connecting with God in a Distracting World .jpgA Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World Paul E. Miller (NavPress) $14.99  As an ecumenical Christian bookstore we have sold hundreds of different books on prayer over our 33 years of book-selling; we enjoy helping people learn about the different sorts of books about this topic.  This one may be the most talked about book in this field in decades, in part because it combines a deep, orthodox Biblical perspective with a profound sense of the goodness of God's great mercy shown in Christ's grace, but also because the author is himself a learner, sharing stories and anecdotes from his own struggle to deepen his relationship with God through prayer. In this very engaging work, Miller offers wise, but down-to-Earth advice, tells humorous stories about his own daily life.  Endorsements come from respected evangelical leaders such as Timothy Keller, J.I. Packer and Dr. Philip Ryken, the President of Wheaton College.

With Christ in the School of Prayer Andrew Murray.jpgWith Christ in the School of Prayer Andrew Murray (Whittaker House) $8.99  Andrew Murray was an intense but popular South African evangelist in the early 20th century, who preached all over the world.  This is his most well-known book, considered by many to be one of the most significant books on the topic written, at least in the last hundred years.  Written with a vocabulary and tone from another era, there is a reason this is one of the biggest selling religious books of all time.

Prayer- Finding the Heart's True Home Richard Foster.jpgPrayer: Finding the Heart's True Home Richard Foster (Harper)  $23.99  Few authors have shaped the late 20th century Protestant world's understanding of spirituality more than Richard Foster, a lively Quaker who, in his legendary Celebration of Discipline reminded us that one of the great dangers of contemporary life is shallowness. "We need deep people," Foster implored, as he guided readers unfamiliar with medieval mystics and Roman Catholic monastics and contemporary contemplatives into deeper spiritual waters, igniting an ever-growing trend of fresh interest in classic spiritual disciplines. Many think this second of his many books is his best, offering 21 different ways to pray, from the most quiet and meditative to the robust and lively to ways to encounter God in the ordinariness of the mundane, as we learn to "practice the presence of God."   One of the more important books on prayer written in the last 50 years!

Daring to Draw Near- People in Prayer .jpgDaring to Draw Near: People in Prayer  John White (InterVarsity Press) $15.00  There are books about how to pray written by those who are experienced with various prayer practices, and there are those who draw didactic lessons from random Scriptural instructions.  This is one of the rare books that studies the actual prayers and pray-ers of the Bible, and, by exploring the longings and words of these ancient pray-ers, offers glimpses into how we, too, can approach the Divine in words. Every chapter is the prayer of a different Biblical pray-er.  It studies the prayer and the insights about God that the person who prayed came to know; as such it is a window into God's character, a view of eternity. 

Great Prayers of the Old Testament Walter Brueggemann.jpgGreat Prayers of the Old Testament Walter Brueggemann (Westminster John Knox) $14.95  Dr. Brueggemann is perhaps the most esteemed, if provocative, Old Testament scholar in our generation, recently retired from the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur Georgia. His dense and evocative prose has unlocked the social and historical context of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, and he has done scholarly commentaries on many portions of the Older Testament. In this popular work he construes imaginative, thick readings of Israelite faith that has endlessly rich implications for our understandings today. Not a practical manuel on how to pray, but a mature story of relevant Hebrew texts.


Beginning to Pray Anthony Bloom.jpgBeginning to Pray Anthony Bloom (Paulist Press) $9.95  This is a handsome, slim book, written plainly by a beloved Russian Orthodox monk.  Bloom was the son of a respected Russian diplomat, himself a physician and Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain.  This is not only a fine introduction to the life of prayerfulness which has helped thousands of readers since its publication in 1970, but is a very accessible introduction to the great spiritual insights of the Orthodox tradition, written nicely for anyone who, as Bloom puts it, wants to move "Godward."


Living Prayer Robert Benson.jpgLiving Prayer Robert Benson (Tarcher) $14.95 This author has a remarkable way with words, a writing style that offers both simple storytelling and a rare economy of language; he is a master of clear and moving prose.  In this tenderly told faith journey he writes of leaving his fundamentalist background, learning to experience God through more ecumenical, liturgical practices, attending his first silent retreats, and entering the world of writers, artists, mystics and laypeople exploring contemplative spirituality. For his experiment taking up the monastic practice of "fixed hour" prayer see his very moving and quite lovely In Constant Prayer, part of the Ancient Practices series edited by the late Phyllis Tickle (published by Thomas Nelson; $12.99.)

Kneeling with the Giants- Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers.jpgKneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers  Gary Neal Hansen (InterVarsity Press) $16.00  Few who develop a meaningful and mature life of prayer do so without learning from others; who better to learn from then the giants of the Christian tradition, those who have come before and have written the most enduring, classic works about their spiritual practices? In this remarkable book, Hansen offers a key insight in each chapter about a particular way to pray, drawn from spiritual giants of the past. As a good guide, he reminds us that the point is not just to learn about these famous pray-ers and their books but to actually pray and experience God, as did they did. Hansen, a Presbyterian seminary professor, helps us by explaining, for instance, St. Benedict's insight on using the Divine Office, Luther's teachings on The Lord's Prayer, Calvin's studious meditations on the Psalms, St. Teresa of Avila's experiences of recollecting the presence of God, or even learning how and why the Puritans wrote out their prayers. From the ancient "Jesus Prayer" to evaluations of Agnes Sanford's The Healing Light, this covers a very wide array of material. There is an appendix on using the book in small groups or church classes as well as a final reminder called "Putting Prayer into Practice."  Very thoughtful and highly recommended for those serious about deepening their journey into prayer.

Soul Recreation- The Contemplative-Mystical Piety of Puritanism T.jpgSoul Recreation: The Contemplative-Mystical Piety of Puritanism Tom Schwanda (Wipf & Stock) $35.00 This may not be for beginners, but it wonderfully studies the colonial American Puritan thinkers, debunking some of the popular stereotypes and inviting us to appreciate their deep and nearly mystical spirituality. This historical study is itself deeply spiritual, warm and insightful, brilliant, even, by a serious scholar of the period and a helpful spiritual guide in the evangelical and Reformed tradition. A lovely forward by J.I. Packer.

Thoughts in Solitude Thomas Merton.jpgThoughts in Solitude Thomas Merton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) $14.00  Merton was certainly one of the most colorful and well known of twentieth century Roman Catholic spiritual writers and while his dense memoir of leaving Columbia and a promising literary career to become a Trappist monk (Seven Story Mountain) was famously on the New York Times bestseller list in the 1950s and his New Seeds of Contemplation help launch a lasting trend of exploring mystical theology and meditative practices, this little volume is one of his most beloved and accessible works, and great introduction to the prodigious writer. This reminds us of the need for silence, prayerfulness and solitude, and what happens to a society were a frenzied pace makes such solitude rare. For another brief introduction to how he drew upon classic, medieval insights developed by monks and women religious, offering no-nonsense spiritual wisdom for modern people wanting to learn ancient prayer practices, see his brief Centering Prayer, published in 1956 (Image Classics; $13.00.) 

Sacred Rhythms- Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.jpgSacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation Ruth Haley Barton (InterVarsity Press) $18.00  Ms. Barton, who runs the Transforming Center in Wheaton, Illinois, is a lovely writer, one who has absorbed the best insights of broad streams of church renewal and who also knows how to explain these contemplative practices to ordinary, contemporary people with our fast-paced lives; she jokes that she herself was an over-booked, busy soccer-mom while writing this book. An earlier book -- it's quite wonderful -- called Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence -- was widely appreciated, but many readers said they just didn't have time to make time for solitude and prayerfulness.  The beautiful and helpful Sacred Rhythms was her answer, guiding readers on a rule of life that allows us to make room for God to work in our lives by practicing transforming disciplines and, as the subtitle so aptly puts it "arranging our lives for spiritual transformation."  Very highly recommended.

Invitations from God- Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive.jpgInvitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (InterVarsity Press) $16.00  Another great book in the impressive "formatio" line of books, this, while not exactly on prayer, is about how to live a prayerful, spiritual life by realizing God is speaking to us, nudging, wooing, leading us -- inviting us -- and that we can be more human and whole by attending to that which God is calling us.  In her wonderful attention to divine invitations she offers extraordinary insight about wise and spiritually- alive lifestyle choices and habits of the heart that allow us to be transformed from the inside out. Her practical advise, offered in moving, poignant prose, helps us respond to God, aware that the God of the Bible, known in Jesus Christ, is not merely interested in our so-called "spiritual" lives or praying habits, but about all of life, real life in the here and now, and our Creator intended it to be.   As Calhoun says, "what we say yes to and what we say no to form the terrain of our future."

Fingerprints of God- What Science is Learning About the Brain and Spiritual Experience  .jpgFingerprints of God: What Science is Learning About the Brain and Spiritual Experience  Barbara Bradley Haggerty (Riverhead) $17.00 What an extraordinary book, an engaging and wide-ranging survey by a seasoned journalist, a National Public Radio correspondent, who explores the emerging field of neurobiology, brain science and religious experience. Haggerty talks with cutting edge scientists, interviews those who have had extraordinary religious experiences, and attempts to give a lively account of the relationship of religion and science, and more specifically, the neuroscience of faith. One chapter is entitled "The Biology of Belief" and another explores the mind/body connection. Although she is not the only one saying it, the final chapter calls for  paradigm shifts in how we approach faith, science, spirituality and more. Fascinating.

soul of shame.jpgThe Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves Curt Thompson, MD (InterVarsity Press) $22.00 This is not a book on prayer, but it does explore the psychiatric benefits of a coherent understanding of the Biblical teaching about sin and shame, about how modern science and neurobiology explains what happens (even in the body itself) when people are struck by toxic emotion.  With verve and plenty of real stories, Thompson explains the ways in which spiritual experience can help bring restoration and healing as people learn to "dare greatly", taking risks of relational vulnerability. Thompson is a psychiatrist with interest in brain studies and a dedicated follower of Christ who integrates his faith and scholarship in meaningful, insightful ways. His earlier book laid a good groundwork for these themes: see the very readable  Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships (Tyndale; $15.99.)



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November 24, 2015

NEW (and old) ADVENT DEVOTIONALS -- all 20% off the listed price

Advent-2015.jpg pope jpgThere are so many great new Advent devotionals, I can't tell you about them all now -- and, there are a number of equally wonderful, useful ones from other years about which I have to remind you.  As a retailer, I just can't bring myself to write about Christmas resources earlier in the fall --- something in my bones still wants to resist consumerism and what Jamie Smith calls "secular liturgies" that press seasonal buying while the leaves are still changing.  So I apologize if this seems tardy.  We can ship things out right away, so don't delay: now is the perfect time to order some resources to help you navigate the upcoming crazy and wonderful and complicated weeks.

So here are a few brand new titles, and a few older ones, too, a few with DVDs for home or study group use.  Once we all really get in the mood -- this coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, after all, so you might have a wreath at church or in your home -- I'll list a few more. And I'll soon do a list of holiday books for kids.  All will help you live your life in the way you most deeply desire, I'm almost sure of it. 

ALL WILL BE 20% OFF of the regular price shown. We sure would appreciate it if you'd send an order our way (the link at the bottom goes to our secure order form page or you could pick up the phone old-school and give us a call.)  Supporting family-owned and indie businesses is, for many of us, a Christian practice of faithful economic life, and we'd be delighted to fill your order with a prayer and a grateful ho-ho-ho.

In fact, I suppose you know all about Small Business Saturday and the "Indies First" campaign of the American Booksellers Association.  Makes us glad to know some folks have our back.

God With Us - Reader's Edition .jpgGod With Us: Reader's Edition edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete) $18.99 You may know that this splendid, beautifully done, best selling hardback is out of print and exceptionally rare to find, even used.  Happily, the publisher recently reissued a very lovely paperback version, which they call the Readers Edition.  The artful, literary text is the same, and although it doesn't have the glossy paper or the full color artwork in such lavish amounts, it is one of the nicest paperback books this season. The cover is lovely, with French folds, and the page layout is attractive. There is a 4 page section in the center with some full-color art. Contributors include poets and writers, mystics and preachers, artful and thoughtful companions for the journey: Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson and Luci Shaw.  

Time to Get Ready- An Advent, Christmas Reader.jpgTime to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas Reader to Wake Your Soul Mark A. Villano (Paraclete Press) $16.99  Many of us are deeply grateful for the lovely and artful books produced by this publisher that grew out of a deeply spiritual, monastic community, and this new book is a good example of the books they do so well.  It is a handsome paperback, nicely designed, offering thoughtful writing that is moving -- one reviewer says it "breathes silence and grace" with an upbeat, contemporary feel. The author has done Roman Catholic campus ministry and is a bit of a film buff, so there's classic liturgical insight, deep spirituality, a bit about peace and justice and a bunch of pop culture references, helping us wake up, get ready.  This has good Bible teaching, pointing always to the life-changing mystery of Christ, inviting us to both an inward journey of spiritual intimacy and what we might call an outward expression, learning to be alive to God's work in the world. Ronald Rolheiser (I hope you know his The Holy Longing!) writes 

Readers will not be disappointed with Time to Get Ready. Villano's book will appeal to a wide audience: young people, and the more mature, those who are new in their faith, and those who have journeyed longer. Use it as a retreat, and be prepared to 'wake your soul.'

Advent Presence- Kissed by the Past, Beckoned by the Future.jpgAdvent Presence: Kissed by the Past, Beckoned by the Future Melford "Bud" Holland (Morehouse Publishing) $14.00  Bud is a beloved Pennsylvania Episcopal priest, storyteller and photographer.  The reviews of this have been lovely -- from excellent writers, too, such as Barbara Cawthorn Crafton (who says it is "much more fulsome than those one usually finds in books intended for daily devotional reading" and Greg Garrett  who says "I will come back to this book year after year." It is written with great, quiet imagination, offering a place to open up and perhaps experience what he means by being "kissed by the past, beckoned by the future."

Sent- Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas.jpgSent: Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas Jorge Acevedo  and others (Abingdon Press) $14.99 regular book/ $39.95 DVD  Acevedo is the dynamic lead pastor at Grace Church, a multi-site United Methodist congregation in Southwest Florida.  I've read a few of this other writings, one on vital congregations, and contributions to a book on youth ministry. He is a passionate, vibrant, solid leader of a multi-ethnic church (and several women and men who work with him have contributed here.) This is a great theme -- God sent Christ at Christmas and Christ sends us.  This is upbeat, missional, absolutely Christ-focused stuff, a dynamic 5-week Advent journey with Jesus.  There is the stand alone book, but also a DVD study ($39.95) with each session running about 10 minutes, leaving plenty of time for discussion.  There is a useful leaders guide ($11.99) and a short daily devotional book ($9.99.)

The Season of the Nativity Confessions and PracticesGOOD.jpgThe Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist Sybil MacBeth (Paraclete Press) $17.99  Here is what a wrote last year: Wow, what's not to like about this - written, as it is, by a self-professed season "extremist."  Ha!  I love that! (And, as a good liturgical aficionado would, this resource includes ample stuff for Epiphany!) The spiffy ad copy on the back - with a design that looks warm and contemporary - says "Christmas sparkles brighter - when you celebrate the season in all of its fullness."  Okay, there's an allusion to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany - but it means more, I think.  Ms MacBeth, you see, is the author of the very popular Praying in Color (and the pocket edition, and the kid's edition) that invites us to doodle and design and be creative in our playfully serious coloring our prayers.  From ideas about colored pencils to other creative options, that book, like this one, is fabulous for those who can't just sit still and read and meditate.  When this invites us to celebrate in "fullness" it means to suggest a multi-dimensional, holistic kind of engagement.  And - kudos to the Sisters of Paraclete Press - the design of this colorful book is as lovely as the idea.  It really is vibrant, colorful, and winsome.

Listen to what Lauren Winner writes about it.  (She was, by the way, an early booster of MacBeth's earlier projects.)

This gorgeous book is going to remain at my reading chair, dog-eared and bookmarked, all through the Yuletide season. It will also be under the tree of just about everyone on my gift list. We will all have more interesting winters, and greater intimacy with Jesus, because of it.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.jpgUnwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $24.99  The last two years we raved about a very handsome hardback devotional by Ann Voskamp, the amazingly good writer of the very popular One Thousand Gifts.  It was called The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Love Story of Christmas  There is a fabulous DVD curriculum to use with it, which explores the great, rich tradition of "The Jesse Tree."  We were fond of that book and DVD, too, but can hardly express how this material has generated yet another Advent book by Ms Voskamp -- a full-color, over-sized hardback with good, glossy pages, which beautifully helps families explore moving scenes from the Bible that lead us, step by step, through the history of redemption and towards the birth of The Greatest Gift- Unwrapping the Love Story of Christmas .jpgChrist and the Advent of His Kingdom. Vivid, contemporary illustrations enhance the Scripture readings and questions and activities; links for downloadable ornaments are included that help communicate the stages of salvation history, starting with the Garden of Eden.  On the back cover of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift they invite us to "Celebrate the best love story of all time with your family!" Indeed, this helps your family retrace the linage of Jesus and fall in love with the story of God, unfolded bit by bit, with breath-taking, contemporary artwork and these great downloadable ornaments.  

This is a beautiful book you will want to own and keep, because, we hope, it is one you will cherish.  It is our pleasure to tell you about it.

Light Upon Light- A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent.jpgLight Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete Press) $18.99  Dare I tip my hand and say that I intend to use this often this season?  It really is an extraordinary book, a literary and spiritual feast full of fiction, poetry, and excerpts of great literature. The book is elegantly designed with French folded covers, and an equally beautifully tone.  Perhaps you know Arthur's previous one like this, At the Still Point which was for use in Ordinary Time.  This includes a daily prayer which is most often a poem (including some surprising choices) and then a Psalm, Scripture readings, and then some daily offerings of poems and short excerpts of fiction.  If you believe in the holy coming to us in the guise of literature, this is for you.  

As poet Luci Shaw writes of it, "Sarah Arthur illuminates our whole year with the gift of flaming words. A treasure of enlightenment."  Just a thought: even if you aren't interested in Oscar Hijuelos or MacDonald's Gifts of the Christ Child or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Gerard Manley Hopkins or Fred Buechner or Christiana Rossetti, you surely know some lit-lovers, English majors, or aspiring poets who don't want a more customary Advent devotional.  This would make a beautiful, appreciated gift.

By the way, odd as it is, we just got in Sarah Arthur's brand new release, a Lenten companion to At the Still Point and Light Upon Light.  It is called Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide (Paraclete; $18.99.)

A Very Different Christmas .jpgA Very Different Christmas: What Are You Hoping for This Year? Rico Tice and Nate Locke (The Good Book Company) $4.99  I love this British publisher, evangelically-minded Anglicans, mostly, I gather, who do very lively outreach tools -- pamphlets, videos, inexpensive books, as well as serious Bible studies and books to help live out a missional Kingdom vision.  This is a small book, with a really nice engraved letterpress cover, that is chatty and clever, creatively inviting seekers to a different sort of Christmas living room -- one in heaven, with the Triune God giving the gifts. Becky Pippert (herself one of the finest evangelists) says  it is "wonderfully compelling. You'll love it!"  Heady Reformed theologian and host of the White Horse Inn radio show, Michael Horton, calls it "a provocative invitation."  The authors say they hope that the very different presents presented in this fable can "transform the way you look at Christmas, your life, your hopes, your future."  What a cool little book to give away, or to read together as a family.

Advent in Narnia- Reflections for the Season .jpgAdvent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season Heidi Haverkamp (WJK) $16.00  This slim hardback is a great book and would be a great gift for any family that has loved the Chronicles of Narnia.  Why didn't somebody think of this before?  I can't wait to read it myself!

As the Very Reverend Gary Hall, the Dean of the Washington National Cathedral puts it, Advent in Narnia is both "delightful and profound." Haverkamp is a young clergywoman in the Episcopal church, and a Benedictine Oblate at the ecumenical Holy Wisdom Monastery in Wisconsin.  There is mature spirituality here, theological depth, and a reminder that Christ, like Aslan, is "on the move."  What a great idea this book is!

Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam.jpgFinding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam James W. Moore (Abingdon Press) $14.99 regular book/$39.99 DVD  Moore is a popular writer who has offered oodles of often very funny books, upbeat, casual, with maybe the sort of inspirational tone you'd find in Guideposts, say.  I think this is a good example of how we can have some fairly serious stuff approached in a way that isn't off-putting and is inviting for readers who aren't too sophisticated in theology or spiritual formation.  As you can guess, this is a sane call to find God not by avoiding the bedlam, the frantic schedules and hard stuff, but to find God in this messy stable of a world. The Bible story itself, Moore reminds us, isn't a sweetness and light, and our lives are often pretty crazy, too.  There is this stand alone book and there is a five session DVD, too ($39.99) and a helpful guide for facilitators ($9.99.) 

The Joy of Advent- Daily Reflections from Pope Francis.jpgThe Joy of Advent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis Diane Houdek (Franciscan Media) $12.99 Pope Francis captured the attention of the nation earlier this season when he visited Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. His love for the original Saint Francis is so evident as he offers clear, gentle words of challenge and blessing. Here we have a Scripture for each day and a selection from the pope's writings, and then a "bringing the Word to life" suggestion for daily application. Very nice.

Watch for the Light- Readings for Advent and Christmas .jpgWatch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas Plough Publishing $24.00  This stunning collection of some of the best spiritual writers of all time came out in 2001 from the exceptionally thoughtful, high-quality publishing house founded by a simple-living Hutterite community.  The community gave up their publishing venture, the book languished, got picked up by another publisher, but now, Plough Publishing is back, and this great resource has been restored to its lovely hardback edition.  Wisely selected pieces from older writers Aquinas, Luther, Donne through writers such as Hopkins, Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, Lewis and Merton, and contemporaries like Kathleen Norris, Philip Yancey and Annie Dillard.  What a delight to have seasonal readings from theological voices like Jurgen Moltmann, mystics like Bernard of Clairvaux,  poets -- from Sylvia Plath to T.S. Eliot to Jane Kenyon,  contemplatives such as Henri Nouwen and storytelling writers like the late Brennan Manning.  Short readings for every day from the end of November through the first week of January.

Advent of Justice big_W&S.jpgAdvent of Justice Brian J. Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen, Sylvia Keesmaat (Wipf & Stock) $10.00   

Here is what I wrote when this potent book re-appeared after a year of being out of print:

I have long said that there is no other Advent devotional like this, nothing in print that comes close.  It has been out of print for a few years, and we are glad it has been re-issued, with a nicer, full-color cover. (Otherwise, the inside, the handsome fonts and nicely designed pages with a few art pieces by Willem Hart, remain.)  

This is a set of 4 week's worth of daily readings, studies of lectionary texts (mostly from Isaiah coupled with seasonal NT texts) with a serious contextualized reading of these passages.  Some of the Isaiah passages are familiar to us while a few may be less so.  The hard-to-pronounce names of kings and prophets, nations and armies, are made more clear, brought into focus so we realize what was going on, geo-politically and religiously among the divided kingdoms.  That they invite us to ponder this and to apply the lessons to our own times, indeed our own lives, is a great holiday gift. It is not sentimental and there is nothing about Christmas ornaments or hot cider or snowy Winterscapes. This is Bible study with cultural analysis.  Dare I say it is an urgent antidote to some of the ways we've tamed the Christmas story and, well, you know... One friend who appreciated it a lot called it "Advent with a Vengeance."  Well, sort of.

I have read through these short, dense pieces many times, and get something new with each reading.  Walsh brings the big picture gospel to bear, as always, and Middleton especially explains the intricacies and drama of Old Testament politics.  Mark Vander Vennen - an old pal and peace activist from our days in Pittsburgh, now a wise and respected family therapist - brings his own well-trained Old Testament scholarship to the plot, with very nicely written daily meditations, journeying with us as we wait expectantly.  The last week New Testament scholar (and organic farmer) Sylvia Keesmaat eloquently brings it all together. Dr. Keesmaat, by the way, served as chief editor for this whole project, and brings the touch of a scholar and creative wordsmith. 

For those not used to Advent being a time to inhabit the broad Biblical drama, this may be challenging. Not surprisingly, it has some themes of social criticism, a faithful emphasis on justice and the common good, since the Scriptural texts point us towards these concerns.  That Advent of Justice was firstly produced to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a Canadian social justice advocacy group - the Citizens for Public Justice (formerly the Committee for Justice & Liberty) - is fitting. These authors live this stuff, and their own rich Biblical reflections have emerged out of their own engagement with issues in the public square, service to the marginalized, and taking stands for public justice and the common good.

Still, even though this is dedicated to the justice activists and citizen advocates of CPJ and brings themes of justice to the fore, it is - let me be clear - an advent Bible devotional, short readings, day by day.  They invites us to read the Bible text first, spend time pondering their explication, and then to return to the Bible text again, reading and hearing it with new eyes and ears.  They do this to help us have a meaningful and joyous holiday season, to wait well, to make time for God's Word during Advent. They really do hope you have a good holiday season. May it help you wait well.

Awaiting the Already- An Advent Journey Through the Gospels.jpgAwaiting the Already: An Advent Journey Through the Gospels Magrey R. deVega (Abingdon) $9.99  Okay, I'm not going to embellish this. The author is United Methodist pastor and Bible scholar (he has contributed to Feasting on the Gospels volume on John) and has worked on the ongoing Covenant Bible studies series. The arrangement of this little book is simple: the chapters explore Advent and Christmas in five chapters: 

Mark: Slow Down, Pay Attention

Matthew: The World as it Is

Luke: The Ultimate Advent Playlist

John: The Light in the Darkness

Titus: Paul's Christmas Letter

Bet you didn't see that last one coming, didya?


advent conspiracy book and DVD.jpgThe Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World  Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder (Zondervan) $12.99/$29.99 book & DVD pack  I mention this every year, and note that this is a stand-alone book, but it goes with a tremendous DVD curriculum, upbeat and cool, cleverly offering excellent Biblical teaching, honest stories of struggle and new ways to think about Christmas, inviting individuals (and, better, faith communities, fellowships, churches, BIble study groups) to pledge together to worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all.  This is how to have a Christmas worth remembering, not dreading. I have even offered this to congregations with a money back guarantee -- I am so confident this will make you think, give you fresh ideas, help you take steps towards pushing back against the frantic pace and commercialization and financial stress.  Can we conspire together to do the holiday in more meaningful, appropriate ways?  

The irony is not lost on me, of course, to promote this anti-commercialism with such erstwhile salesmanship, but here's a deal: if you want the DVD curriculum and one book, there's a set that we will sell now at almost  50% off the "study pack" discounted price, making it $15.99. I believe this is so important, we're eager to spread the word about it once again. While supplies last.  Boom.


And, just for fun, to help your Advent worship, enjoy this: James Romaine, a thoughtfully Christian art historian has put together four youtube videos called Art in Advent. Each week you can experience great visual art as James guides you through some insightful Advent meditations.  Here's the "trailer" a short one on the Annunciation, with further links to the whole series.  Happy viewing.



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November 20, 2015

"Between the World and Me," "Under Our Skin," and other Powerful, Recent Books on Racism (and a few evangelical classics.) ON SALE see below for the link to our secure order form.

How-God-Became-King-202x300.jpgAt the intense N.T. Wright lectures earlier this week there were so many brilliant lines, so many echoes of inter-textual Biblical connections, and so many fresh insights into the bigger Biblical narrative unfolding and pointing towards Christ's redemptive project of launching a new exodus into a new creation.  He cited his important book How Christ Became King (HarperOne; $24.99) and we particularly showed off his latest book, The Paul Debate: Critical Questions for Understanding the Apostle (Baylor University Press; $34.95.) Those that know Tom Wright know that his work is appreciated by Paul Debate (Baylor U).jpgdiverse corners of the church - liberal mainline Protestant denominational folks sat next to Roman Catholics who were chatting with nondenominational evangelicals and conservative, confessional Reformed folk.  The diversity of races, ethnic backgrounds, theological viewpoints and faith traditions was heartening to say the least.

And then, perhaps not even recalling how fraught with racial tension his host city of Baltimore is these days, he reminded us that one of the grand themes of Paul's explication of the work of the cross is that those "far away become near" and that the centrality of the new community forged in Christ between first century Jews and Gentiles (underscored, by the way, in Wright's studies of Romans) might help us even teach children of the church about racial reconciliation and how to navigate in faith the complexities of racial injustice. Of course we should proclaim that we should just love everyone, but the Bible - including the teachings around topics of Christ's death, the atonement, and such - offers thick resources, sturdy ideas and fruitful directions for moving deeper into the questions of how to be agents of reconciliation within our pluralistic and multi-ethnic (and often unjust) society.  

Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates .jpgBaltimore is the hometown, by the way, of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates who has just won the prestigious National Book Award for his extraordinary, exceptionally passionate book Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau; $24.00.)  The title itself is a phrase from Richard Wright, which should hint that Coates is an intellectual rooted in the broad, classic canon of African American literature.  He grew up in the 1980s and '90s inner city Baltimore, raised by parents who were militantly Afro-centric; his father was a former leader in the Black Panthers, became a librarian (specializing in rare writings by blacks, intellectual stuff written centuries ago and nearly lost to modern readers) at Howard University. His father started a small and very eccentric publishing house - we ordered from them years ago! - In Baltimore, and Ta-Nehisi grew up reading, reading, reading, everything from Richard Wright and James Baldwin and Malcolm to authors with exotic sounding names who wrote books like Black Egypt and Her Negro Pharaohs.  

beautiful struggle.jpgCoates tells of his growing up ("coming up" as he puts it) in Baltimore - the awful gangs and robberies, the drugs, the rise of hip hop, the violent and seemingly pointless urban schools, the rough and racist cops, and more - in a thrilling 2008 coming of age memoir called The Beautiful Struggle. I read this first to prepare myself for the New York Times best seller Between the World and Me. I knew Between the World... was going to be hard-hitting, painful, perhaps (it is written as an extended letter to his own 15-year-old son, advice and ruminations offered in an age of Trayvon and Ferguson) and having read his own coming-of-age story before tackling Between the World was good. 

I simply could not put down The Beautiful Struggle, and I highly recommend it for those who are interested in memoir, in allusive, creative writing (he has been compared to James Joyce) and certainly for anyone interested in the stories and experiences of fellow Americans who grew up in almost exclusively black neighborhoods and schools.  I've read a bit of this kind of literature and I must say I was still utterly drawn in, my own heart pounding in fear of gangs and guns, angry at dumb schools and cops, moved by the sub-plot about his parents, anxious about his teenage confusion - would he go to Howard, which his father called The Mecca and at which he worked in order for his children to be able to afford to attend?  His timid efforts at dating, his discovery of African drumming, his feelings as his parents moved from his 'hood -- all of this rang so very true to me and I was sad for the story to end.

I have to admit, though, I kept an urban slang dictionary app open on my phone as I read because I simply didn't know many of phrases or even the pop culture references (gansta rappers, video game characters, basketball stars.) The prose is high-octane, spectacular, moving from heartbreak to hilarity, from anger to rage, from sweetness to immense, profound sadness. It's a wild ride, both the setting and the prose, and it was an incredible one to take.

There is a reason it was so esteemed and the raves were so substantial - you should see the fantastic endorsements by the likes of James McBride, Eric Dyson, Natalie Y. Moore, Michael Chabon, and Walter Mosley, and was widely reviewed in journalistic outlets from Essence to Entertainment Weekly to Kirkus Review.

The year's award-winning Between the World and Me is equally passionate, in some ways more so, and includes many anecdotes from his earlier life as he passes on his wisdom, such as it is, about living in a racially unjust world, to his teen-aged son. Mr. Coates has honed his writing craft and his style a little less flamboyant (he now is a staff writer for The Atlantic and lives in Manhattan) and some would say the new book is more mature and deeper than his earlier memoir. Both touched me deeply, and I appreciated both. The new one is certainly more polemical as he explains to his son what it means to inhabit a black body in these days.  He is in teaching mode, here, not just meandering through his past for the joy of it all, and he brings some of the fire of his father to bear on what his son must know.

And, of course, what it means and what he must know is often awful, with a constant realization of the gross ugliness of chattel slavery - the truth that the great, great grandmothers of those with black bodies were raped with impunity, the great, great, grandfathers sold and beaten and lynched.  This is, like it or not, one of the inevitable realities of our culture; even our most beloved founding fathers were in league with great evil on this matter, and Coates reminds his son, and his readers, of why this matters yet today. It is powerful stuff, and vital.

America's Original Sin.jpg(Jim Wallis of Sojourners has a book coming out early in the new year about race and racism which many have for years encouraged him to write, named America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Brazos Press; $21.99) which you can pre-order from us for 20% off. There will be a foreword by Bryan Stevenson, which itself I'm sure will be good. I don't know if Jim will dwell on this as Coates does, but it is gruesome truth that such stuff happened in our land, not that long ago.)  

I cannot now do an extended review of Between the World and Me  which deserves consideration and critique, I think, but I will say just two things: firstly, Mr. Coates's materialistic atheism - this stuff and this life is all there is - seems to have been merely inherited from the nearly Maoist worldview of his father, a rare father who loved him (few of his friends had father's present in their lives) and sternly abused him, and who was devoutly anti-Christian.  One would think that such a thoughtful person, in a polemical letter to his own son, would have invited him - yea, challenged him! - to think for himself, even on this matter of what is true about the most basic things. We get little self-doubt about that, and no encouragement to think the options through.

It seemed to me that Mr. Coates's philosophical views are asserted but not always argued, and for an esteemed thought-leader and rising public intellectual to be so unforthcoming about the illogic of his Ivy League disinterest in religion (not to mention his glib dismissal of King and his religious nonviolence) was frustrating to me.  I can appreciate a hard-won, intellectually substantive journey towards disbelief, or even a visceral antagonism to the repressive and toxic implications of conventional religion. But to fail to grapple with foundational questions about first things, in such an otherwise astute and eloquent and thoughtful work inviting his son to be principled, hopeful, humane and fully human, was disappointing. Perhaps Coates's son will rebel a bit, as Ta-Nehisis did against his own father's blind spots, and reconsider the philosophical assumptions and (seemingly) unexamined secularism which significantly shapes much of the discourse in Between the World and Me. 

Ta-Nesihi Coates.jpgSecondly, although this book offers a radical - some would say extreme - view of race relations, there are moments here that are self-revelatory about Coates's own foibles and fears. (His telling of his own fear of visiting Paris, and his love of the City of Lights once he went was just beautiful.) His description of falling in love with the classmate who became his wife is lovely.

Many white readers, I can only suppose, will be shocked by some of the angers expressed here and a few might be shocked by the recounting of gross racial profiling and police abuse, even in Prince George's County, outside of DC, where Coates was working as a reporter after leaving The Mecca. But no reader can be left unmoved -- certainly not by one of the centerpieces of the book, the murder by police of a kind and gentle Christian college friend -- and no father will close it failing to think about what he might say to his own son, of any race or any age, about the weight of history upon us. Yes, it is an outspoken critique of racism, mass incarceration, and the hardships faced by people of color and other minorities in our culture. But it is also a story, more than a cautionary tale, some hint of a ritual rite of passage for the day mentoring his son, a meditation on parenting, and at times a very poignant, if complicated, one.

 An incident of his endangering his young son by seriously escalating a volatile argument with a white woman in a crowded mall was told frankly, examining the political and the personal, so to speak, with Coates saying what he regretted and what he did not about the scene.  In many ways, he is his father's son,  righteously outraged, remembering much and refusing to allow us to forget what most blacks know in their bones.  Black lives matter, indeed.  But he lives a more affluent kind of life then his parents did, his own neighborhood and workplace are more diverse, and his own kind and playful spirit shines through.  Yes, this is a hard book to read, but it will be seen by many, as Toni Morrison notes, as "beautifully redemptive."  She continues, "its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory."

Stand Your Ground- Black Bodies and the Justice of God .jpgStand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God Kelly Brown Douglas (Orbis) $24.00  I mentioned Baltimore. This author is herself a scholar near there (she teaches religion at Goucher College) and as a black woman (and Episcopal priest) has thought long about racial injustice. More to the point, as a mom of a black son she was profoundly shook by the Trayvon Martin case.  Out of moral, prophetic outrage and person angst as an understandably worried mother, she set herself to study the history of the "Stand Your Ground" common law that was used as a defense for situations such as George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin.  As Baltimore burned last year, Orbis Books, known for its liberation theology and social-justice minded resources (they published James Cone's must-read The Cross and the Lynching Tree), rushed this book to press even as the author was speaking out and offering leadership to the faith-based racial justice movement.

I wish I had time to review this more substantially, but will at least explain this much: this book is an uncompromising study - very academic at times, laden with cultural studies lingo betraying her privileged place as a liberal religious studies professor - of the history of racial injustice in America, by studying the ways in which property and violence were construed by the formative thinkers that shaped the founding fathers. (That would be the often slave-holding, violent founding fathers, let us not forget!) 

You will be surprised that a book about the justice campaigns developing after Trayvon and Michael Brown, Ferguson and Baltimore, begins with Roman legal thinker Tacitus talking about the Germanic peoples of the Black Forests.  The racial feature of these pale skinned, red-haired people were described in ancient Rome, and the trajectory towards racial purity and eugenics and vile racism begins.  Anglo-Saxon views of property and power developed - think John Locke, etcetera - undergirding certain assumptions about law and justice, and soon enough, well, you know. There is a connection between the old German woods, English philosophy of law, and slavery. It is, as the Declaration puts it, "self-evident."  What these white men saw as natural law -- yes, she also explains Aquinas, and how the Reformers and Puritans later used such medieval notions theologically and politically -- became codified in laws and common law, in civic culture and politics. The evil slave sales and mass rapes and lynchings and Jim Crow laws and mass incarceration culture are not accidents of history, but are shaped and authorized by political ideals and philosophical assumptions.

Stand Your Ground is a passionate, provocative, tireless expose of all this, from American exceptionalism to Manifest Destiny to the large and looming question of where God is found in all of this. Do black lives matter?  Can the black church tradition offer particular insights for us all to move forward in our stand-your-ground culture with justice and honesty? It is not particularly nuanced or even fair, but it is a cry of the heart, a voice to hear. There are some historical connections here that I have not considered, at least not lately, and I am glad for this heavy, serious work. 

A thought: one can disagree with some of this, with much of it, even, and still find it a valuable read. Her evaluations of how black bodies - given the Anglo-Saxon myths and narrative of (white) American exceptionalism - are always seen as guilty seems to me to be overstated, and I am distressed saying this, thinking she would merely say this proves her point. Is Douglas right that the question of whether black victims of police brutality are at all responsible, even in part, for the unjust crimes waged against them, is nearly irrelevant - that we always blame the victim, even in their graves? And if so, what are the implications of this for the common good? (Does she really mean to move from "blacks are always guilty" to "blacks are not ever guilty"?) What does it mean in a racially-charged culture to insist on fair trails for all? Does it matter at all that in some of the recent horrific shootings the victims did, in fact, use violence before they were shot? I do not mean to suggest in any way that this justifies police shootings; to imply, however, as Dr. Douglas does, that to mention this is inappropriate strikes me as unhelpful.

Further, I found some of her judgments lacking in charity; in one instance a white child, the child of family friends, said something obviously racist, and she opined that while the family surely did not teach their child these prejudicial attitudes "they clearly did nothing to prevent them."  What an odd thing to say - it is certainly not clear, since we have no way of knowing what these parents did or didn't do to teach their child proper attitudes and facts about race relations. And what parent doesn't know that kids blurt out embarrassing things in direct opposition to the values the parents tried valiantly to impart?  I was just astonished that an editor would let such an unfair statement go unchecked - suggesting this was a clear matter, and the fault of the white parents - and sad that a person of faith harbored such thoughts about a woman she said was a friend.

Still, this was one important book, heavy and serious, documenting relentlessly the intellectual and cultural convictions that have shaped the mess we're in. It is strong in intellectual history, but it also does close evaluations of contemporary media coverage (and not just the far-right talk shows, but respected guys like Matt Lauer and his interviews with the parents of Trayvon Martin, which Douglas shows as terribly unfair.)  As H.H. Kortright Davis of Howard University School of Divinity says, "No one reading this well-researched and eloquent scholarly testimony will ever be the same again." Let us hope this is so.

Ferguson & Faith.jpgFerguson & Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community Leah Gunning Francis (Chalice Press) $19.99  We all know how the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, reignited a movement there, and elsewhere, for racial justice, police reform, and urban renewal. In places like Ferguson young activists and older clergy marched side-by-side, forging a new alliance, a new civil rights movement. Last year in Missouri, many St. Louis area clergy stepped up to support the emerging young leaders, and Leah Gunning Francis (of Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis) documented it all.  She is a board member of the Religious Education Association and has provided pastoral leadership for several congregations, but her she is found interviewing folks on the street, literally.  Some of these stories you may have heard, but I suspect most you have not. How interesting and good it is to read story after story of real pastors and Christian leaders and what they did in the protests and on-going campaigns for justice in that place.  This really is a behind the scenes story!

Yep, this thrilling book is really a collection of stories - testimonials and reports - of activists and church folk and religious leaders who worked long hours in the streets during the uprisings in Ferguson. It offers the anecdotes and perspectives of the people who were directly involved. As Shane Claiborne put it, "Leah Gunning Francis has penned a theological memoir of a movement."

I think it is valuable for us all to realize how some people of faith, of some sorts of churches, got out of the pews and into the streets, and what that was like for them. In a way, this is a guide for any of us, in any town, on nearly any issue, imagining how we might become more missional and engaged in local activism.  Granted, this is a particularly dramatic situation, in a particularly urgent setting, with a specific crisis in view, but the bigger question of how to be involved in this kind of work is important.

Unleashing Opportunity- Why Escaping Poverty Requires.jpg(As is, by the way, the less dramatic, on-going work of "unleashing opportunity" for the poor and abused, pursued by engaged citizens and good neighbors, combining proposals for both volunteerism and political solutions. See the exceptionally helpful little book I've named before in this column, Unleashing Opportunity: Why Escaping Poverty Requires a Shared Vision of Justice by Michael Gerson, Stephanie Summers & Katie Thompson [Falls City Press; $11.99.])

And so, I invite you to read Ferguson & Faith, no matter if you live in a tense urban center or not, whether your congregation has been activist oriented or not. Listen to another religious educator - Evelyn Parker of Perkins School of Theology - who writes that "This book is required reading for clergypersons serving in congregations and social agencies regardless of their social location, as well as required reading for seminary students preparing for leadership in faith-based communities." I'd expand that not just to clergy or seminarians, but anyone wanting to see how Christian faith can be lived out in this dramatic way.  As Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a U.S. Representative from Missouri writes, of those whose stories are told in this book: "They embodied the best of the human spirit that resonated with many around the globe and challenged this nation to live up to its ideal of liberty and justice for all."

Under Our Skin - Ben Watson.jpgUnder Our Skin: Getting Real About Race - And Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us  Benjamin Watson (Tyndale Momentum) $22.99  As you can tell from the other books listed, I think that there are serious, challenging, and hard-hitting voices that we need to hear. Coates rejects any semblance of a Christian worldview, but writes with heavy passion and award-winning eloquence. Rev. Brown is just as hard-hitting, or more so, as she shows the complicity of many theological systems and social philosophies that have authorized and motivated racial violence and white supremacy in the dominant culture.  The Leah Gunning Francis book is less polemical, but tells the story of on-the-street and often in-your-face activists, insisting on reform and justice.  These voices are not moderate, and I recommend them for just this reason. The cries are so urgent and anguished and those of us who are less aware of these issues really could benefit from immersing our selves with - being schooled, if you will - by those who see themselves as outspoken voices for change.

Benjamin Watson, an African American professional football player (tight end for the New Orleans Saints) is not exactly one of these hard-edged and prophetic voices. He speaks his mind as a black man who has seen discrimination up close and who knows what every black family knows, that it is not unlikely that his children will be followed by police, feared by strangers, treated poorly by the ignorant. He is not casual about this and he has spoken out.

But yet, as an evangelical Christian he is convinced that - as he put it in a Facebook post that went viral after the Michael Brown trial - we have a "sin problem not a skin problem."  In this, Watson spoke for many who wanted to admit that there are deep and tragic problems in our culture, including racism and police brutality, but that the deepest answers to these complex matters simply must deal with the sin of the human heart, and bring a gospel-centered response to the brokenness. 

And that the ideological answers of the far left and the conservative right are both inadequate. We need nuance, balance, human-scale honesty and lots and lots of grace.

In a matter of days, Watson was an Internet sensation and was invited on national television. It was only a matter of time, I suppose, that he was invited to write a book.

I have some misgivings about how this works - crafting even a good Facebook post, even one that goes viral, does not necessarily mean the writer has a book in them. Too often publishers jump on the "next big star" who has thousands of twitter followers and a big platform. I hope you don't think I am cynical for suggesting that a big platform does necessarily mean that one will speak with needed Christian wisdom and it does not authorize one to speak for, or even to, the Body of Christ.

BenjaminWatson_HP.jpgIn this case, I am happy to report, we have a thoughtful Christian leader who brings a great reputation and the ability to speak sensibly and thoughtfully into this very touchy and hard topic.  I am very, very happy to recommend Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race... for anyone wanting basic Christian insight offered plainly and clearly. 

Here's a quick note: some (mostly white and mostly conservative) folks appreciated the football player's passionate post because they thought it dismissed the radicals and their protesting. "It's a heart problem, after all, spiritual, you know," they thought. "Here's a guy who gets that and knows that protesting doesn't help. Jesus is the answer."  They might be surprised to see his further explications of his moving Facebook post that, while gentle in tone and Christ-focused throughout, are honest about naming social sin, describing the dangers and sad consequences of racism, and renouncing those who want to merely sweep it all under the rug. I think it will prove very valuable to educate and raise the consciousness of those evangelicals who might not realize just how pervasive racial tensions are, and how the gospel can addresses them, as such.  That Watson is a known sports star doesn't hurt either. He speaks for many a-political middle American's, or so it seems to me.

Others, though, I think, (mostly considered liberal, I suppose, on this issue, at least) feared that Watson was doing an end run around the hard facts on the ground. Of course this is a skin problem - we are humans of different hues, actually, and some people think that those of lighter hues are better than others, and that those with darker skin are not to be trusted.  It is sinful, of course, but to not name the sin what it is -- racial injustice and white privilege -- allows us to be so vague and general in our concern as to avoid denouncing the specific sin and thereby not owning up to it and the work that needs to be done.  I admit I was concerned about this, given the title of his first Facebook post: he needs a dose of Race Matters by Cornel West, I thought. Is the brother Gnostic, pretending we don't live in real skin, in a real world of real injustice?  Again, these readers will be surprised to see that Mr. Watson doesn't back away from talking about race, and doesn't overlook the details of this racial crisis in our country.  As Holly and Rodney Peete have written, "Under Our Skin is unflinchingly honest, strong and authentic. You won't be able to put it down, and it will surprise, challenge, and inspire you in ways you never expected."

To say he is "balanced" isn't quite right, since that sounds so moderate, even-keeled, dispassionate, and this is not that. It is not ideological, it isn't partisan, it holds out no easy answers. In this, it is profoundly Christian, I think, honoring the depth of the hard stuff, and yet still holding out hope, a hope based in the work of Christ and His redemptive purposes.

I am glad that so many folks are recommending this book.  Tony Dungy says, "Benjamin Watson is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful men I have ever met, inside or outside of football... I know you will benefit from his insights into race and religion in the United States today."

Barry Black Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, writes, "Packed with germane insights, this eye-opening book challenges current trends in American race relations, providing an important context for conversations about finding roads to racial unity."

I hope knowing of these recent titles is somehow helpful.  Perhaps you or your book club might tackle one of them, or you might commit yourself to reading on this topic, or leading conversations in your church or group.  What do you think?

* * * *

Not long ago a customer asked what books I'd recommend for a reading plan exploring a Christian vision for concern about racial reconciliation.  My reply to her wasn't comprehensive, of course, but it did offer a nice selection of some of our favorites with which to start.  Here is a slightly edited version of the reply I sent to her. I hope your know at least some of these.  Happy reading!

Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity by Randy Woodley (IVP) $18.00 This is one of our most-often recommended books in this field. Mr. Woodley is a deeply evangelical Native American, and so brings a healthy insight that our need for racial unity isn't just about resolving "black vs. white" tensions, but must be increasingly multi-ethnic. Still, as a First Nation's person of color,  he is also deeply aware of the agonies of abuse, the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and such. So he doesn't gloss over the hard stuff.  Still, it really is a lovely, solid book and very inspiring.  I think this is really a great one to start with.


Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church Soong-Chan Rah (Moody Press) $14.99  This is just a little more mature than some may whish, an excellent sociological study of the changing face of American culture and the Christian community.  With the country's demographics changing the conversations about race must be more than only about black and white tensions. Obviously are many Hispanic and Latino and Asian Americans of various sorts whose lives are different then many in the conventional white communities.  Soong-Chan is a great and important voice lamenting the homogeneity in the white church and inviting us to move towards great diversity and sensitivity. 

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America Michael Emerson & Christian Smith (Oxford University Press) $19.99  This is a very important little book, compiled by competent and respected social scientists, determining the exact details of racial segregation among evangelical Christians. The stories here are poignant, the data significant, the evaluation astute. Based on hundreds of interviews, Divided by Faith documents a lot of important findings, notably that there is a huge gap between what most white folks think about the prevalence and urgency of racism and what most African American's perceive. In fact, at least according to their research, most white evangelicals see no systematic discrimination against blacks. The authors ponder how the individualism of most American evangelicals hinders their awareness of how things really are in our society. Fascinating!

More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel Spencer Perkins & Chris Rice (IVP) $20.00  One of the very important books in this field, a best seller for years, nearly a contemporary classic in the field. It looks honestly at racism and why we simply must speak out -- for the sake of the gospel! -- but also about how hard it really is once we get beyond the nice rhetoric and good intentions.  The late Spencer Perkins was the son of the legendary racial reconciliation leader John Perkins, raised in the inter-racial Voice of Calvary community in Mendenhall, Mississippi. (I hope you know his work and the amazing array of important books on this topic which he has written. It might be said that John Perkins was one of the most important evangelicals of the later part of the 20th century and helped put racial reconciliation and social justice "on the map" of 1970s evangelicalism after their complicity and silence during the historic civil rights struggles. His own autobiography is pretty widely respected, considered one of the important books of 20th century evangelicalism, Let Justice Roll Down. (And, sorry if I sound like I'm bragging a bit, be he offered a chapter in the book I edited, Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life. What an honor it was to have him involved!)

Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Towards Beloved Community  Charles Marsh & John M. Perkins (IVP) $16.00 This is one of John Perkin's more recent books, a survey of the ways in which the gospel calls us all to struggle for social justice, economic unity, racial diversity and more.  His co-author is a scholar of the civil rights movement (and a Bonhoeffer biographer, by the way) from the University of VA, and John, of course, is an evangelist and activist. Together they are a great combo, working together to tell the story and bring the message.  This is, by the way, part of the excellent series of books on reconciliation produced by the Duke Center for Reconciliation. The first in that series is a must-read:  Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice (IVP; $16.00.)

Race Matters Cornell West (Vintage) $14.95  This is one of the many by the outspoken black intellectual, and is one of the most important books on this topic written in recent decades. I highly recommend it, even though he, while clearly a person of deep, articulate faith, grounded in both the historic black church, the black liberation thinking of James Cone, and the sophisticated social ethics of the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr, isn't quite an evangelical.  Interestingly, it seems that he wrote this important book somewhat in response to a book by Shelby Steele called The Content of Our Character. Steele is a fascinating and eloquent conservative African American who thinks much of the talk about racism is overdrawn and the best thing we can do is stop talking about it.  He thinks most of the ways we talk about race is designed to help white liberals with their guilt which is the topic of his more recent books. In The Content of Our Character Steele takes that one line from King's famous "I Have a Dream Speech" and (without noting the rest of King's work) says that not commenting on skin color is what it is all about: that is, being color blind. Basically he is saying that race doesn't matter. Dr. West didn't cite Steele, but his passionate book later that year fired back "race matters!"  Both are important.

Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith Mae Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson, Soong-Chan Rah (Zondervan) $22.95 I actually have an endorsing blurb on this, raving about its importance.  (One of my little claims to fame -- ha!) I like the diversity of this team, all who are acquaintances -- Mae is a deeply spiritual white woman, Lisa is a leader in social justice minded evangelicalism (and a black woman), Troy is a white pastor, now community activist, and Martin Luther King scholar, and Soong-Chan is of course Asian American. In this collection they lament the ways in which the church has been complicit in various injustices, against women and people of color and immigrants and the Earth itself. It invites us to confess our sins by at least knowing this history well and realizing the ways in which the reputation of Christ has been damaged by the ways in which the church has too often not been passionate about inclusion and care for those who have been oppressed.  It is a powerful, important read, essential for moving forward, I'd say...

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption  Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau) $16.00  This is one of the most moving books I have ever read, and have described it often at our website.  Maybe you know his passionate and articulate TED talk about injustices in prison sentencing, especially around the issue of children in prison.  The whole movement against mass incarceration, what some called (inspired by Michelle Alexander's book by this title) "The New Jim Crow" is about how many people of color, when arrested, get worse sentencing and worse treatment then their white counterparts who have the exact same crime.  The institutional racism is undeniable, and Bryan's work defending the poor and the needy, usually people of color, who are mistreated by the criminal justice system is simply a must read for anyone who wants to know about the reasons blacks often feel assaulted in our culture.  Bryan spoke at our Jubilee conference years ago - he graduated from Eastern University, then went to Harvard Law School, and is a Christian hero of our times. 

I'm probably giving you more than you need at this point, but I'm so grateful for your interest, that I'll point you to this set of book reviews I did at our BookNotes blog a few years ago.  We still stock these, so would be glad to have you order some!  Thanks again for asking for our suggestions, and thanks for your support of our bookstore.  We are grateful.

OR, more recently, this:



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November 16, 2015

Do You Want to Order an Autographed N.T. Wright book? ON SALE, too.

st mary's seminary Baltimore.jpgYep, friends, we are taking the Hearts & Minds-Mobile (we got the brakes fixed) off to another event, a two day gathering with N.T. Wright at St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore.  We've mentioned this at Facebook and Twitter, and hope that if you are in the greater mid-Atlantic area you might get yourself over there Wednesday night. It will be a significant lecture (and subsequent by-registration only follow up day on Thursday on the theme "The Royal Power of the Cross: New Priest, New Temple & the Gospel Narrative.") We'll have a whole lot of his many books there. The folks E.I. at St. Mary's are hospitable and sharp, and you should know their work. (For instance, on December 7, 2015 they are hosting Fleming Rutledge who will lecture and participate in a conversation about her stunning new book on the crucifixion of Christ.)

You surely know Wright is very, very prominent (and how honored we were to host him here inN.T. Wright Merritt jpg our shop a few years ago!) His current bio could be summarized by saying that N. T. Wright is Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's College, University of St Andrews. He previously served as the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and is one of the world's leading Bible scholars.

Here is a piece I wrote a while back which I called "A Bookseller's Appreciation for a Scholar's Service to the Church and World". It highlights some of his many works.

He has, though, authored more than seventy books.

You should know that he has two very new important books out, both on Paul.  

Paul and His Recent Interpreters.jpgFirst, you should know about the new and very substantial Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Fortress Press; $39.00) which is a serious, weighty volume, just over 400 pages, published by Fortress Press, seemingly to supplement his already weighty volumes on Paul which they released to a flurry of well-deserved attention two years ago.

Those much discussed 2013 volumes included his massive and magisterial 2-volume set, 1700 pages on Paul, called Paul and the Faithfulness of God ($89.00), the fourth volume in the on-going "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series, and the 650 page stand-alone anthology of almost everything important Tom ever wrote on Paul called Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978 - 2013 ($69.00.) Those Fortress Press volumes -- the two book set and the collection of older essays, reviews, and articles -- finally laid out and meticulously advanced his version of a new Perspective on Paul, showing both his consistency and his intellectual development in the trajectory of his work over last 25 years. It would seem to me fair to say that no contemporary Biblical scholar as paul-and-the-faithfulness-of-god.jpgpauline perspectives.jpgbeen so erudite and thorough and important. 

That new Paul and His Recent Interpreters, as you can surmise, looks at and responds to many other writers on Paul -- some to his left, so to speak, a few to his right, if you will -- and it is a very valuable exercise to see not only his birds-eye overview of anybody significant writing on Paul these days, but especially his replies to those who take issue with him and his work. This is gracious and yet sometimes robust conversation, sometimes offering firm rebuke.  It is a serious, big volume, and having some familiarity with the lay of the land of contemporary New Testament scholarship would be helpful.  I suppose those not in the guild studying these things might find some of it tedious. For those committed to this level of scholarship, it is a tremendous gift, and agree or not with all of his evaluations of his conversation partners, allies and detractors alike, you will be amazed at the level of discourse and the implications of these big conversations.  Whew.

Paul Debate (Baylor U).jpgThe Paul Debate: Critical Questions for Understanding the Apostle (Baylor University Press; $34.95) is the second brand new book from Wright and one that I am happy to say is much more accessible, a bit shorter, and a fabulous introduction to the lay of the land in recent Pauline scholarship, the debates about all manner of things (both big and small) and Tom's views of these topics. In this great, new volume they keep the really arcane debates to a minimum and Wright is at his clearest, explaining nicely how each of the topics relate, and who stand's where on various controversies.  The friendly reviewer Michael Bird (Lecturer in Theology at Ridley College) says it is the "little brother" of the magnum opus, Paul the the Faithfulness of God. Ha, that it is.

Kudos to Baylor for releasing this clear and useful guide to the debates about Paul, in a very handsome hardback, a volume with some heft that just feels good to hold. It is important stuff, so this is apropos, I suppose -- the nature and origins of early Christianity, the worldview of Second Temple Judaism, who are the people of God, how justification happens (and how it is developed within Paul's own soeteriology), the nature of the apocalyptic, and how all that effects his (and our) view of the local church.

And kudos to Wright for listening to his critics (as he explains in the candid and clever preface to this volume, the list of those who have reviewed Paul and the Faithfulness of God is "as scary as it is gratifying -- and opinions have been freely shared and often contradictory.   He thanks them, here, even the ones that rebuked him, and has written this book clarifying not specific critics but large, looming questions. (He says that "The five chapters represent a response to the five most questioned elements in my book.")

Agree or not with Tom Wright on these unique questions, this is a grad level class in one good book, a way to read about very important matters, and be tutored by a gracious, eloquent, and passionate leader of the church of Jesus Christ whose work continues to develop, even within the broader contexts of the wider church and the debates in the academic halls.  I very highly recommend it.

Surprised by Scripture.jpgAlthough it is a different sort of book, his Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (HarperOne; $15.99) is now out in paperback. This is a great collection of chapters that were all originally speeches, speeches on topics he was invited to address. We have here delightful, and often profound, Scripturally-directed scholarship, offered in in the fashion and verve of a keynote speech, with Tom weighing in on  Christian views of science, creation-care, the role of women in the church, social concerns, the problem of evil, engaging the world of tomorrow, a thrilling chapter called "Apocalypse and the Beauty of God" and a closing on on becoming people of hope. This is a fine introduction for those who appreciate his all-of-life redeemed, surprised-by-hope, transforming vision of the Kingdom of God that has missional implications for our life of faith here and now. 

simply good news .jpgWright's most recent popular level book, by the way, is a great hardback that came out early in 2015 called Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good (HarperOne; $24.99.) It is a really useful, pleasurable, inspiring book, almost a "greatest hits" where Wright looks at most of the themes he has developed in other books (worship, worldview, work, the nature of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, Paul, prayer, and more.) It is clear that the gospel is, in fact, news of a real event, and that that event is even better then you might realize. It is a great way into his broad, evangelical vision, and a good reminder of God's grace, the reality of the Kingdom coming, and the multi-faceted implications for a creation being saved. 

When Simply Good News came out early in the year I said it was among a small handful of "best books" so far, adn that I suspect it will remain on our list of favorite books of 2015. I've got no doubt. Again, it is highly recommended.

quiet moments (Tom Wright).jpgQuiet Moments  Tom Wright (Kregel) $9.99  This lovely new gift book, a smallish hardback, just arrived a few days ago, and it is so very nice -- moody nature photographs with well-designed graphics showing quotes pulled out from Tom's journals or poetry, all extolling his love for quietude and stillness. Years ago we carried four very little shirt-pocket sized paperbacks of his which we imported from the UK, I think. They had these poem-like sayings, koans for reflection, almost, from The Right Revered Wright. They didn't stay in print long, I guess, but those same little ones have now been put out in a very nice, slim hardback, a gift item with inspiring meditations to bring calm to our human selves. It is inspiring to realize such a thoughtful intellectual scholar and active church leader ruminates with such tender thoughts on inner peace and cultivating silence, the importance of solitude and prayer. You may like giving this as gifts, or using one in your own quiet times.

We have all of Wright's books for sale, always, and now we are running this sale for our on-line readers.  (Everything is 20% off the listed price, which we'll happily deduct when you place an order.)

We think we will be able to get autographs -- we can't fully promise this, but I'm pretty sure -- and if you order before Thursday noon, we'll do our best to get the right book that you've selected into Tom's hands, so he can inscribe it as you wish.

Just let us know what books you want and to whom you want each made out, or if you just want the autograph.



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November 9, 2015

BRAND NEW: Tim & Kathy Keller's "The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms" -- and a review of our journey to New York City for the (Redeemer Presbyterian) Center for Faith & Work Conference

songs of jesus.jpgWe just got in the brand new daily devotional by Tim and Kathy Keller entitled The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (Viking; $19.95) which we have at our BookNotes 20% off.  You can see my comments about this high quality, handsome hardback below, as well as our convenient link to our secure website order form page. First, though, a little bit about a recent conversation with Tim, and, more importantly -- I hope you agree -- a bit about books sold at an important, recent event.  What an adventure we recently had, complete with burning brakes and selling books at three different off site venues.

As you probably know, our bookstore is in a small town. We attend a medium size church of the mainline variety.  Our customers come in all sorts, and we love the mix of folks that show up here day by day.  Amy, one of our long- standing employees, greeted lots of local folks at the Christmas in Dallastown event this past weekend; it was just one of the local things going on here at, as they say, our bricks and mortar store. At the same time, we had some off site things going on, too.

We have been honored to set up book displays or give talks to small, rural congregations (we've done book displays at gatherings with a dozen folks) and at large institutions, hospitals and colleges and at out of state conferences. We've been to camps and retreat houses and fancy hotels to do our thing. Sometimes, we do events that take us days to set up, with thousands in attendance (like our beloved CCO Jubilee conference every February - you should come!)

Indie bookstores like ours with an odd niche get some nifty opportunities, but the pool of those interested enough to order from us is a bit small.  We're known, I suppose, for providing thoughtful, ecumenical Christian resources, for all sorts of churches, but especially books for folks who want to learn more about social concerns, cultural engagement, and the many implications of a robust sense of the Kingdom of God in the here and now, helping readers embody the ways of Jesus and Christian wisdom in all areas of life.  Consequently, we have to hustle around to even come close to making a living selling these kinds of books. Fortunately, we enjoy doing out of town events, even though sometimes, well oftentimes, they are stressful.

This weekend, for instance.

uhaul8.jpgEn route to lower Manhattan to set up books for the Redeemer Presbyterian Center for Faith & Work event (certainly the classiest and most interesting event we serve) we realized our brakes were burning; the newly replaced rotors were crumbling and we had no choice but to head home. It was too late at night to find a rental truck, so we had to delay our start until the early morning, repacking and reloading in the mist, adding stress and strain to our already nerve-wracking journey to this significant church in this world class city.

(Did I mention that we're from a small town? Did I say that the Redeemer event is classy? I fret about everything, even including what to wear! I don't get to serve as a reading consultant to playwrights and Wall Street investors and urban planners and software engineers and rising PhD students that often, so, believe me, we do a lot of planning and praying.)

When we do off site events we struggle hard to determine what books are best to take; in this case we curated a selection for (mostly) evangelical Christians in art and architecture, marketing and management, drama and dance, urban planning and politics, those wanting to honor God in science and sex and spirituality.  Stringing clever lines together like that easily flow off the keyboard, but finding mature and interesting books that enhance faithfulness "in the world but not of it" in various vocational spheres is a bit harder, and I'm nervous heading into these events. Our book-heavy van breaking down doesn't make it any easier.  I won't tell which of us cussed and which of us prayed, but you should know that my wife and co-pilot is a saint.

flow package.jpgSo, we keep on, keeping on, lugging books to interested buyers, here and there.  The Redeemer event was only one we pulled off this weekend. Thanks to friends at Calvary Baptist Church in State College PA for allowing us to offer a book display at their great conference -- similar to the NYC Redeemer CFW event, actually - which was built around the stellar For the Life of the World DVDs. (See our review here if you haven't bought these yet.)  It would have been great to hang out with FLOW star Evan Koons and the Gospel Coalition's work-world writer Bethany Jenkins and the CCOs Terry Thomas and to join in that town and gown event, reflecting on the relationship of God's grace for all of life.  It is inspiring to know that there are folks working out this "all of life redeemed" vision of culturally-savvy, whole-life stewardship, living into the wonder of the economy of God.

god in the gallery.jpgAnd thanks to Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster, PA, for allowing us to sell a few of Daniel Siedell's insightful God and the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art (Baker Academic; $25.00) and his new Whose Afraid of Modern Art? (Wipf & Stock; $21.00) during a lecture and conversation they hosted on modern art. What a cool thing for a church to sponsor! That we also had Dan's good books at the Redeemer CFW event in New York as part of our arts section there made me smile a bit, too.  And we still have some left over for you to order, now. 

I can't recount most of the books we displayed at these events, other than to say that Tim Keller's Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work, co-written by our friend Katherine Leary every good endeavor.jpgAlsdorf (Dutton; $16.00) is a masterpiece, truly one of the very best in this burgeoning field. Obviously it is a key title for anyone interested in their CFW event. It is theologically sound, savvy about the corporate world, and inspiring with stories and examples to consider. It is gospel-based, historically informed, and not the least bit simplistic or sentimental.

Surely, though, I also like meditative ruminations on the deeper meaning of all this, too.  For instance, I hope you recall our review of the luminous memoir-like Finding Livelihood: A Finding Livelihood.jpgProgressive of Work and Leisure by Nancy J. Nordenson (Kalos Press; $14.95) or unique, formational ones such as Paul Stevens & taking your soul to work.jpgAlvin Ung's Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace (Eerdmans; $15.00.) These are excellent, at least for those who have already read more foundational books like Keller's or the slim, no-nonsense volume How Then Should We Work: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work by Hugh Whelchel (Westbow; $13.95) or Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Crossway; $16.99) that remind us that jobs in the work-world are every bit as important before God as those called to traditional ministry or the mission field.

Every pastor should be thinking of how to honor and inspire their congregants who have calling in the world; Faith as a Way of Life: A Vision for Pastoral Leadership by Christian Scharen (Eerdmans; $16.00) is a title that illustrates why this matters and how it might be done. It starts with a good foreword by Miroslav Volf about their work together on this project at Yale Divinity School.

Of the dozen tables we had piled with books - two layers on each table, with shelves we created with boxes and boards - there were six books that stood out as best-sellers among the thousand-plus we took.  I suppose it was because I highlighted them in an announcement, but also because they truly are compelling must-reads, beautiful and important and well-worth owning.

The six biggest sellers were:

every good endeavor.jpgEvery Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work  Timothy Keller (Dutton) $16.00  Obviously, this is one I wanted to announce and describe. Since it is Keller's church that sponsored this great event, I wasn't sure if we would sell many, but apparently not everyone had it already, and some of the folks attending this were new to the topic. (And some, like some serious Christian scholars from important universities, just hadn't picked it up yet.)  People were in for this event from other states (and as far away as Australia!) so to remind participants that this is a key text in this conversation was a no-brainer. I didn't brag about this to them, but inside the paperback cover there are some excerpts of some favorable reviews.  I wrote one of 'em, so it was nice to see that blurb in there. We were glad we sold a bunch!

the-call-by-os-guinness.jpgThe Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life Os Guinness (Word) $17.99  I know I mention this a lot. It is one of my favorite books, and its' insight, eloquence, historical learnedness and relatively short chapters makes this an ideal Christian book in my view. I said with a degree of boldness I had not rehearsed, that this conference, and the others like it going on these days, may not have developed in our generation as they have if it were not for this book being published a decade or so ago. It is that important.  (Have you ever seen the book Beside the Bible?  It is a collection of 100 book reviews of books that are important in contributing to the formation of a healthy culture. I wrote just one chapter, and, yep, it is on the Guinness classic. I was thrilled to be included in that collection of reviews, and was insistent that The Call had to be included in that top-100 list.)  Anyway, I was glad to promote it at the CFW event.

how not to be secular.jpgHow (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor James K.A. Smith (Eerdmans) $  One of the things that draws so many young adults to Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church at their various locations in New York, and their affiliates in the City-to-City church network, is, interestingly, not glitzy, loud worship or hip progressive theology or theatrical stunts or religious fads. He preaches old-school, grace-based, conventional Reformed theology and he engages the cultural milieu with the seriousness of Abraham Kuyper or early Francis Schaeffer.  In his opening address to the conference, Keller explored individualism and unhelpful views of the self that permeate the contemporary work world. With his tweed jacket and jeans, he seemed like an Ivy League prof, less like an evangelical church leader. In his talk he highly recommended the often-cited, still-relevant Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life by Robert Bellah et al (University of California Press; $29.99) and then hung out on insights gleaned from the heavy, heavy The Secular Age by Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (Harvard University Press; $50.00.)

Dr. Keller was certainly right to remind us of the need to understand how people think about themselves and their identities and their jobs and how we all tend to "lean into life" if we are going to be agents of Godly transformation and human flourishing in our cities and towns, workplaces and civic institutions. He has been sensitive to "worldview thinking" since his studies as a seminarian, at a seminary that helped offer pastors skills in cultural analysis and which emphasized a theological critique of Western philosophy.  Ohh, that all preachers would similarly astute about such things, helping us become what Leonard Sweet has called "spiritual semioticians." Anyway, Keller recommended Bellah, of course, but to get at the thick conversation going on in Charles Taylor's dense work, he recommended How (Not) to Be Secular by Jamie Smith.  I had a hunch this might be on his mind, so brought an oddly large amount. We sold 'em all.

visions of vocation.jpgVisions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $16.99  This is another truly remarkable book that I press into the hands of anyone that will let me; it is smart, beautiful, honest, profound. I told the gathered crowd that it is rich and helpful for those of us who have a dream of making a difference in the world, maybe seeing ourselves as social entrepreneurs or agents of God's reign or those wanting to be idealistic about our witness in the world, and yet who realize, sadly, that it may be that we will not make much of a difference. Can we settle for what Garber calls "proximate justice"? Can we keep on, despite all odds, loving the world as God does? What will it take to be alive to the things of God in this missional sense, even in the work-worlds of the world, without growing cynical or jaded or weary? We sold out.  It was, by the way, one of the key books at the State College Faith/Life/Work event as well. 

Community- The Structure of Belonging Peter Block.jpgCommunity: The Structure of Belonging Peter Block (Berrett-Koehler) $21.95 I suspect Block wouldn't want to be known as a religious writer, although there is much in his work that gives the impression that he is aware of the profound theological implication of his work. (His very well-received book about business was called Stewardship.) The theme of this year's CFW conference was "Beyond Collaboration" and explored the communal nature of calling. We are not merely called as individuals, but into communities, in which we are called to collaborate. I held this book up, insisting it was the best thing I have ever seen on community in the work-place or neighborhood.  Of course there are fabulous church-related books on community like Bonhoeffer's beloved Life Together or the must-read Living in Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christian Pohl or the delightful missional call to a "sense of place" found in Staying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You by Alan Briggs but Community by social critic and neighborhood activist Peter Block is one of a kind.  Joy at Work author Dennis Bakke says "From the author who gave us the best book about business stewardship now gives us the best book about how to transform the places where we live, work, and play..."  

soul of shame.jpgThe Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves Dr. Curt Thompson (IVP) $22.00  I have written at length about this powerful, moving, Biblically-informed study of neuro-science and shame. (Read my BookNotes review, here.) It is an exquisite and important follow up to his very nice and engaging The Anatomy of  A Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships (Tyndale; $15.99) which itself is a great book.

I hope you know this author, his books, and our appreciation of them.  To be honest, I think this was our biggest seller at the CFW event, not only because it just seemed to resonate with folks and it intrigued people (even before they heard him speak) but because, frankly, he brought the house down, clearly the most energetic and lively speaker of the event. (And his quip, "I want to be like Tim Keller, with hair," was gutsy, and well-received...maybe Keller doesn't get much ribbing up there, I don't know.)  Kudos to the team at CFW for realizing that the insight and healing carried in this book about shame is needed if we are to pursue collaboration and community in the workplace. As Thompson makes clear, being vulnerable in order to be open to relationship and community is risky business, and Evil doesn't want us to be that free, or bring hope to culture in this way. This fine book ends with a rousing and important call to think about these matters, even as they relate to being creative in public life and in our callings and work. A very apropos contribution to an excellent gathering.



Well, I could tell you more about the event and our display.  Just imagine seeing some of these titles, each anchoring a section of other books in their respective fields: God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art (Daniel Siedell), The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment (Eric Jacobson), To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City (Mark Gornick), Performing the Sacred: Theology and Theater in Dialogue (Todd Johnson & Dale Savidge), Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views (edited by P.C. Kemeny), Unleashing Opportunity: Why Escaping Poverty Requires a Shared Vision of Justice (Michael Gerson, Stephanie Summers, Katie Thompson), The Language of Science and Faith (Francis Collins & Karl Giberson, Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture & Computer Technology (Derek C. Schuurman), Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace (Kenman Wong & Scott Rae), On the Altar of Wall Street: The Rituals, Myths, Theologies, Sacraments, and Mission of the Religion Known as The Modern Global Economy (Scott W. Gustafson), From Shop Class to Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (Matthew B. Crawford), Educating All God's Children: What Christians Can - and Should - Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids (Nicole Maker Fulgham), To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey (Parker Palmer), It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God (edited by Ned Bustard),  Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession (Mike Schutt), Redeeming Mathematics (Vern Poythus), Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Bryan Stevenson), or Transforming Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (Mary Molewuk Doornbos et al.)

Obviously we had more specific categories (fashion, engineering, creation care, sociology, ethnic/racial studies, international affairs, film studies, marketing, higher education, food and home-making, and more.)  And, we lead off with lots of general titles about engaging the culture and resisting the brokenness and fragmentation and loss of meaning, how to serve as winsome agents of Kingdom renewal. From Andy Crouch's thoughtful but lovely pair (Culture Making and Playing God) to James Davidson Hunter's important To Change the World to James K.A. Smith's Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom and his Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture we had rows and rows of such titles. We even sold a few of the recent Eerdman's book - missional before missional was trendy - by early/mid 20th century Dutch neo-Calvinist, J.H.Bavinck,  Between the Beginning and the End: A Radical Kingdom Vision.

Renaissance -  Os Guinness.jpgWe had some pretty new, scholarly works (for instance Nicholas Wolterstorff's brand new Oxford University Press title Art Rethought: The Social Practices of Art) and some that, although very well written, would be inspiring for nearly any thoughtful person of faith -- like Os Guinness's important Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times or Richard Mouw's wonderful Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World

So, you get the point: we had lots of interesting books, a selection and mix that is hard to find elsewhere, or so we are told.  We believe people are hungry for these kinds of books. We've staked our own livelihoods on it.

Maybe you, too, are hungry for thinking more deeply about your own life, your professional field, your own passions, your own callings and a theology that can inform and sustain your involvements and endeavors. Give us call or send an email if we might help develop a reading plan along those lines.


Timothy-Keller.jpgI got to chat just a bit with Rev. Keller after his talk, and we reminisced about how we value Jamie Smith's book on Charles Taylor.  I was fully sincere when I told him that his own quick survey of the significance of Taylor's insights about secularization in the modern world that he offered in the middle of his short book on communicating the gospel to the late modern mind called Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton; $19.95) is itself a wonderful overview of understanding Taylor and the modern milieu.  I described it in a previous BookNotes and commend the whole Preaching book but especially those middle two chapters for anyone who is a preacher, of course, but also to teachers, evangelists, Bible study leaders, college or youth pastors, parents of young adults... it actually covered some of the same material Keller taught in his opening lecture at the CFW "Beyond Collaboration" conference, which explored individualism and unhelpful views of the self that permeate the contemporary work world.

He was certainly right to remind us of the need to understand how people think about themselves and their identities and jobs and we all tend to "lean into life" if we are going to be agents of Godly transformation and human flourishing in our cities and towns, workplaces and civic institutions.  One does not need to be in agreement with all of his views or tendencies to appreciate that he is one of the preeminent Christian leaders of our generation, and his widespread influence has been one of the significant contributions to the deepened tone of much evangelicalism in our day.  I am nothing but grateful, glad to know his work, and pleasedl to have some small connections to Keller and his work.

Which brings me to this.

His brand new book that we just got in today!

songs of jesus +.jpgThe Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller (Viking) $19.95  Our 20% on line sale price = $15.96

We are thrilled to have received the shipment of his latest book, hitting bookshelves today.  We would be grateful if you ordered it through us.  Songs of Jesus is a daily devotional, compact-sized and handsome. It will be widely reviewed and beloved, I'm sure, as there has long been a desire to have a Keller-written daily devotional.  More, so, it taps into the increasingly common interest in the Psalms.  Chatting with Tim a bit about it at the conference, he assured Beth and me that he's uncommonly happy with it -- he, like many authors, are sometimes a bit chagrined when they actually see their books in print. "It's not as good as I had remembered it to be" some say.  Ha.

Well, Keller is usually humble about his books - unlike some authors, he is not a salesman,  and doesn't ever seem to promote his own work much - so that he told us that he is pleased about this one is striking.  It is, simply put, a year's worth of short readings, devotionally ruminating on every verse of every Psalm. 

Perhaps you appreciate, as I have, The Case for the Palms by N.T. Wright.  (You can read my review of it here.) I think I might re-read it before starting the Keller devotional.

Perhaps you have drawn on Walter Brueggeman's many books on the Psalms, or read Tremper Longman's wonderfully clear guidebook How to Read the Psalms.

I occasionally dip into Derek Kidner's wonderful two-volumes on the Psalms in the IVP Tyndale commentary set and recommend them highly. (So does Keller, by the way.) Some of our CCO friends, I know, have read together the big volumes by Bruce Waltke, James Houston and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary and The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary. 

Heck, although they aren't straight commentaries, there are many of us who count among our all time favorite books Eugene Peterson's two sets of Psalm reflections, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (on the Psalms of Ascent) and Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon You from Self to Community (on the more public, communal Psalms, those calling us to "un-selfing" and towards the common good.)  His Answering God has been valuable for many on using the Psalter as a tool for prayer and for nurturing what he calls "Earthy spirituality."

You see, the Psalms are important and there are so many resources to help us appreciate them more fully, as the church always has - as Jesus himself obviously did.  Thoughtful Christians study them, use them, sing them.  Keller himself, you may want to know, started reading through the Psalms every month years ago.  His wife, Kathy, started this practice herself during a period of serious illness. (They wrote a bit about this in their co-authored book about marriage, called The Meaning of Marriage.) In a way, this new work may be their most intimate book, reflecting not only years of study, but of their own interaction with these songs of Scripture during their own journey into hard times. 

So, we are very excited to commend this little hardback as a guide to the Psalms, and as a tool for your own devotional practices, as an aid in your worship, and to stretch and challenge and comfort you, even if you are in a hard place (maybe especially if you facing hard times.) Read, reflect; pray, protest; lament, love; worship, work; rest, renew; the Psalms famously have it all. (Eugene Peterson's Where Your Treasure Is was originally called, swiping a line from G.K. Chesterton, "Earth and Altar" which alludes to the divine in all things!) The Psalms are essential to help us embrace a Christian imagination, a faithful sense of things.

tim and kathy keller.jpgThese short studies by Tim and Kathy - part commentary, part spiritual reflection - will be helpful, I am sure.  The book is a bit bigger than compact, but smaller then a typical hardback; there is some classy, discreet color on the glossy pages, a ribbon marker, making it very nice book. There is a good flow to each page, with each day's reading inviting us to a three part process of studying and learning from these inspired songs. There is a mature, short prayer for each day, too.  And, of course, Keller cites great commentaries and classic authors but interesting literary sources as well -- from Ray Bradbury to their beloved Tolkien.

We are eager to get the word out about all of Keller's good books, but this one is going to be very, very special, accessible and obviously edifying.  Order it from us, and we'll have it to you promptly.  The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms is a rare gem, an easy book to read and pass on to others, accessible and personal, yet grounded and informed by thoughtful and wise appropriation of these Biblical texts. It is surely one of the best devotionals to come out in years.

songs of jesus +.jpg



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November 1, 2015

"Lands & Peoples" (a recent album by Bill Mallonee), the new Marilynne Robinson essays ("The Givennesss of Things") and a new novel by Richard Cleary, "Bridging the Abyss" - BOOKNOTES SALE: All items mentioned 20% OFF.

Hide me in the darkness - all that's lost and found                                                                                  Hide me in the darkness - there's sure plenty to go around

                  Bill Mallonee                                                                                                                                                     "Hide Me in the Darkness" from Lands & Peoples

lands & peoples.jpgIn his most recent Americana folk-rock album, Bill Mallonee (formerly of the acclaimed Vigilantes of Love) pours his heart on magnetic tape again, giving us yet another "audible sigh." There are some glorious songs -- arguably some of his best, and certainly one of the most lovely ("Sangre De Christos" is a tenderly happy song about the Mexican-American peoples shaped by this famous mountain chain that Paul Simon so beautifully reminded us, in "Hearts & Bones," are also called the "Blood of Christ Mountains.")

I've been listening and listening to Lands & Peoples (Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers; $17.00) and do not tire of it. Those who know Bill Mallonee's work will not be surprised to know it is dark, a poetic outcry against duplicity and brokenness, a bit disillusioned, if not jaded. I may not want to concede to the singer's dour take on small towns, but "I Just Hope the Kids Make It Out" ("it all dried up here years ago; they moved it all over-seas, let us go. No back up plan, baby, it's all gone south) is one of the most catchy and biting bits of rock I've heard in years and I've hit "repeat" on that one song more often then I should admit. Also for what it is worth, this new record includes one of my all-time favorite Mallonee songs -- he has over 50 albums with hundreds of songs. "Steering Wheel is a Prayer Wheel" brings just enough faith and hope amidst the wandering and wondering. In another song he may be "falling through the cracks" and - in a perfect Neil Young vocalization - dares us to "look at all of the diamonds, look at all of the rust; look at all of the boom, look at all of the bust," but there is still grace and goodness to be found. 

I've been listening to this CD put out with "The Big Sky Ramblers" (which includes his wife, Muriah) because it is musically solid, wonderfully recorded (the acoustic guitar sounds perfectly bill and mariah.jpgcrisp) and lyrically brilliant; I have found that it repays repeated listening and it gives me courage. I value Bill's artistic take because it doesn't sound like political preaching, even as he offers sober assessment of the "flags and rhetoric" which under-girds late-model capitalism, mostly through allusive lines and curious storytelling; one of the more obvious narratives is a song about farm foreclosure in dust-bowl era Kansas that could be listened to alongside The Grapes of Wrath. The banker man looking at his gold watch just slays me...

As always, Bill is clever and literate, with striking lyrical moves, from post-industrial halogen glow to a deeply religious song about "Northern Lights and Southern Cross." "This guitar is stumblin' drunk and full of stories," he says. He moves from the personal to the social, from his own soul to the state of the nation sometimes in one quick couplet. And I love the hints at God's glossolalia that shows up in these songs, a nearly sacramental view of creation that seems to assure us that the "stuff of Earth" somehow reveals a divine presence, if not a divine order. Living under the big sky out West has seemed to deepen his appreciation of the rugged rawness of creation.

In the passionate liner notes, Bill notes that his vantage point is "like that of a concerned traveler, one with an ear to the ground and an eye to the skyline."  

I listen to this Lands & Peoples album, also, however, because I can't shake its setting mostly in the American Southwest, which is also the setting of a part of a novel I want to tell you about, a novel written by a dear friend, a serious thinker, a pundit and philosophy prof who himself loves the great outdoors, and sets some of his story in Northern Mexico and some of the desert bridging the abyss.jpglands of the Southwest. Mr. Richard L. Cleary, whose newest novel, Bridging the Abyss (Xulon; $15.99) may not resonate with the stream-of-consciousness/Jack Kerouac influenced Mr. Mallonee, but with themes in his songs of loneliness and tragedy and why there is such evil in our world, and lyrics set in the deserted highways near the Sangre de Christos of New Mexico - okay, I admit I'm also thinking of the stunningly Shakespearean tragedy of our times also set near there, Breaking Bad - it has seemed that for me, at least, Lands & Peoples has been a good soundtrack for this moving new novel.  I will admit that both gentlemen are friends of mine, so I am partial.  I trust that you, too, will enjoy and be troubled by, and finally be edified by these works of art.


how dante can save.jpgI have told you in recent weeks about How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem (Regan Arts; $29.95) Rod Dreher's spectacularly interesting, intimately confessional memoir about reading Dante to get out of a serious, stressful depression due to a lack of reconciliation among his small town Louisiana family. (See my comments, HERE.) It is the sequel to his beloved The Little Way of Ruthie Liming which I hope you have read.  In this follow-up story after his move to his old hometown he tells of his illness, family issues, conversion to Orthodoxy and Christian growth by way of reading Dante's Commodia.  He writes,

These emotionally gripping scenes rendered with supernatural artistry reveal the power of great art to transform us. The poet Dante is showing us how stories and images prepare our imaginations for moral instruction by engaging our emotions.

Research psychologists Keith Oatley and Maja Dijikic have shown that people are more likely to be open to new ideas when those ideas are present to them in the form a of a story. But they also found that a work of nonfiction is more effective than fiction if the reader perceives it to have high artistic quality.

Dreher, in a chapter on pride, reveals being especially convicted by the vividly rendered scenes in this canto of the classic poem.  He explains,

        The words and the images in Dante's great poem worked a conversion within me. Their beauty and truth cracked the stone in my chest and made me confront the nature of my condition.

Listen, as he continues,

        There is no lesson in the Commedia that I had not read of heard before, but Dante incarnated that wisdom in verse that pierced the rocky soil of my heart and planted seeds of truth there, seeds that neither my anxiety, nor my insecurity, nor my anger, nor my weakness, could dislodge.

I know I don't have to convince you of this, or the value of reading novels, but as I am about to tell you about a novel I enjoyed, it seems good to quote Dreher again, as he ruminates on how this story effected him, and how good art can touch us all.

           Once you have seen yourself in Farinata, in Pier della Vigne, in Brunetto, and in Ulysses, once you have stood with Dante and Virgil on the beach listening to Casella's song, wanting to abandon the hard road ahead and rest for a while, they become part of you. In their fates you observe - no, you feel - the logic of your own trajectory through life revealing itself to you. And if you take these words and images into your heart, you gather within yourself the will to change the direction of your own story.

I suppose this line from Dreher on Dante is as good as any description of the power of stories, of movies and novels and memoirs. And it is as good as any description of the power of Bill Mallonee's music for me, too, for that matter. Perhaps his songs (and I could add other artists who I similarly esteem and moved by) and their characters or images don't usually call me to "change the direction" of my story, but they do give me peoples and pictures who can accompany me on the journey. Lands and peoples, indeed. 


the givenenness of things.jpgOne of the most significant books to come out this year is the new collection of thoughtful essays by Marilynne Robinson, the acclaimed novelist. Her Gilead, of course, won the Pulitzer Prize and its sequel, Home, earned the Orange Prize.  The third in the series, Lila, is now out in paperback and is a must-read for those who have followed these stories. The Givenness of Things: Essays (Farrar Straus Giroux; $26.00) is the title of this new anthology of her non-fiction pieces (the fourth such collection) and its suggestive title implies surely that things, things on Earth, as Colossians 1 might put it, are a gift; this is a serious theological claim that has huge implications, not dissimilar to Wendell Berry's prominent essay and book title Life Is a Miracle. Of course, if things are given, then there is a giver, and, one could surmise, an order to life in this world.  It is not just Mallonee's beloved Sangre De Christos or the Northern Lights or the Southern Cross that reveals God, but, somehow, all things can. And more than God is revealed: the creation reveals the ordinances of God, the laws of how the world really is.  God sustains the world, ordering it in certain ways, the Bible maintains, and we can surmise that this is something intended in Robinson's evocative title.

The dust jacket copy of Givenness..., declares "...cultural pessimism is always fashionable, there is still much to give us hope. In The Givenness of Things the incomparable Marilynne Robinson delivers an impassioned critique of contemporary society while arguing that reverence must be given to who we are and what we are: creatures of singular interest and value, despite our errors and depredations."

Ahhh, but how do we get there? From the beauty of the Earth to the value owed us? From the insight about reality as a gift to a sense of orderedness; from experience to meaning, from a sense of the appropriateness of reverence to a belief that God is there, and even God speaks?  Is it so that we can determine, in Francis Schaeffer's memorably book title, that "He is There and He Is Not Silent"? Is there some kind of natural law (to use standard Catholic language) and if so, how do we know it? 

Marilynne-RobinsonCROPPED.jpgMarilynne Robinson offers seventeen essays that examine the ideas that have inspired and informed her: Calvin, Locke, Bonhoeffer and Shakespeare, for instance. As one writer put it, "her peerless prose and boundless humanity are on display... exquisite and bold."  And then this: "The Givenness of Things is a necessary call for us to find wisdom and guidance in our cultural heritage and to offer grace to one another."

Well, this is huge: a renowned and respected Calvinist novelist who is known in the highest literary circles (published and respected in The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, and the like) whose prestigious publishers say that it is "necessary" to find "wisdom and guidance" in order to "offer grace." What sort of cultural moment generates lines like that from New York publishers?

Her first essay starts with the glory of the humanism that emerged from the Renaissance, but ends up critiquing the neo-Darwinism that resists claims about meaning and transcendence.  This is not the first time Robinson has reflected on the implications of neuroscience and evolution and scientism. She is incisive in her critique of certain notions, found on the right and the left, or so it seems to me, among fundamentalists of science and religion, insisting that behind this "infinitesimal nuancing" there is mystery.  Do I hear an Amen?

But she does not stop there.  There are chapters about grace, servanthood, proofs, value, metaphysics. What is "realism" in this world, how ought we to think about "experience"?  What does the Biblical phrase "Son of Adam, Son of Man" mean? This is a multi-faceted, diverse set of significant, intellectual essays, and they push us to ask the biggest questions we can ask, although she is no evangelical preacher. She is careful and dense, and not so prosaic, but I am not ashamed to be simple: a question floating around all this is, simply, if there is a God, does God speak and make it clear "how then shall we live?" And if not, how do we determine what is right and what is wrong? In a culture that has rejected a sense of a God who speaks and the authority of God's revealed Word - heck, in a church where in many quarters such things are routinely denied or qualified to death - how can we know what is right and wrong?  Can we?

"I'm hoping to turn in one good day," (but "Losing streaks take no pity on the meek") Mallonee wistfully sings in one of the moving songs on Lands & Peoples.  But what is one good day? How in the world do we know?

You may think I'm drifting towards the stupid question of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"  I hope you know I tend towards the practical and have little time for abstract intellectualism or vain philosophical ramblings.

But this question -- without a God who has given us some standards of what is right and good, how do we know that war or rape or whatever is truly wrong? -- is not silly. Dostoevsky insisted that "if there is no God all is permitted." It is a grand question of modernity, it is the existential quandary of our times, and it is at the heart of the postmodern turn (who's view of truth, who's view of good and right, who gets to say?) 

This is the exact question that haunts Richard Cleary's new novel, Bridging the Abyss, a gripping crime/adventure tale set in the underworld of sexual trafficking and inner city ministry.

This big question - what is really right and wrong in a secularized society? -- was a theme of his somewhat more heavy-handed previous fictional effort, the 2012 In the Absence of God. In that big in the absence of God.jpgnovel, there is a violent criminal on the loose on a college campus, and the professors in the story must come to grips with their own assumptions (not to mention the reading assignments they give) about the nature of right and wrong, ethics and truth and what is truly true. Can a prof claim to agree with Nietzsche and Sartre saying that there is no meaning and therefore no ultimate truth and yet say that the rapist on the loose is truly wrong to exercise his power? Can one say there is no universally binding right or wrong, but participate in the campus anti-war movement, condemning war as immoral? Can one believe in intelligent design - the observation that even at the molecular level there appears to be an orderly design so complex that it could not have happened by "chance" as Darwinists insist - and yet be a serious scientist, and what might the implications of this view of science be for social ethics and cultural studies and this discussion among colleagues about right and wrong on campus? The various characters - collegiate athletes and their coaches, young students and their teachers, an inter-racial dating couple - engage in this campus drama with plenty of coffee shop conversations about what we can truly say about right or wrong.  They each grapple with the question of what a world looks like if God is considered mostly irrelevant.  You can read my BookNotes review of this stimulating, philosophically-oriented thriller, HERE.  (And, of course, there is a link there to order it at our on-line discounted price.)

One does not have to read In the Absence of God to enjoy Bridging the Abyss, although one of the characters that makes a small appearance in Absence is a major character in Bridging. If you read Cleary's Absence of God you will recall that he is, after all, a former science teacher and college philosophy professor, and he wrote that book to open up conversations about this fundamental philosophical question.  Can ordinary people who haven't read Plato or Kant, Camus or Kierkegaard, Derrida or McIntyre or Charles Taylor, enter into the large quandaries of ethics and secularization?  Cleary's novel hoped to entertain even while it taught and I maintained that it did both.

bridging the abyss.jpgBridging the Abyss offers a better developed plot, with much more action, and the characters are more interesting than those in In the Absence. This is, it seems, the product of at least a few matters.  Firstly, I suspect that Cleary has just practiced his craft as a fiction writer more, and this third novel is better than his first two; as a former high school science teacher and current college philosophy teacher (not to mention political pundit at his on-line Viewpoints blog) he is not primarily an artist or fiction-writer (although as his bookseller, I happen to know that he has read widely in the great classics and knows great literature better than most.) So he is honing his storytelling and is learning to be a little less didactic and teacherly and bit more allusive and artful as a novelist.  I think you will enjoy this story, captivated by the fast moving plot and the truly interesting people.

It does seem obvious that in this new novel, Cleary wants people to be entertained. For those of us who enjoy late night theological arguments in the dorm room or local pub, his previous book was certainly interesting - listening in on these characters as they parried and debated was a hoot, and intellectually stimulating, as well. But it was perhaps a little short on plot and character development and bit heavy on the long conversations.  (Dick and I have had these long conversations, in person and via email, so he gets it honestly!)

Bridging the Abyss, however, is really full of action and pathos and page-turning thrills which makes for a better read. Of course it keeps coming back to this central insistence -- if modern people dispense with God and believe life can go on as before, valuing goodness and beauty and meaning and human dignity - they are living a conceit. There is no sturdy reason or basis for acting as if this or that is truer or better.  Dostoevsky was right.  We are staring at a huge abyss if we are only honest enough to admit it.  The title comes from a realization that one of the characters in the story voices in his own struggles with this very question.  The cover photo aptly shows an abyss.

Unless, unless.  Unless there is an older truth - deeper magic, in Lewis terms - that tells us that there is indeed more to life than meets the eye.  There is more. There is a God and God has spoken and we can deduce right and wrong, or at least notions of the good, the true, the beautiful. There is an order to the givenness. The abyss is real, but it can be bridged, and the gospel of Christ is the most reliable answer to our existential quandary.

The dialogues between the main characters in this new story are realistic enough, but they do circle back to these tough religious questions. In Bridging the Abyss, though, these are not college teachers in the faculty lounge.  These lively characters in Bridging include frantic, grief-stricken Baltimore parents whose daughter has suddenly disappeared - we learn that she has been abducted by a deadly serious cell of sexual traffickers and she is most likely bound for a perverse Saudi sheikh. Their questions are more urgent then most of us can imagine.

Unknown to the parents, or their caring inner city pastor, whose own story is wonderfully told, there is an under-the-radar group of former Navy SEALs doing a vigilante-style rescue of the captured and trafficked children. (Does the FBI know about these guys? Are they complicit, at odds, in some sort of "look the other way" cooperation? Who are the good guys and who is to be trusted? Why are they doing this undercover work?) The former soldiers and law enforcement men in this group are believable - especially if you watch light TV shows like Burn Notice or read the more serious spy stuff like the Jason Bourne novels and the like. Who knows if there are real units doing such investigation, search and rescue ops like this, but Cleary makes it ring true and it is fascinating.  He is a profoundly moral man, and refused gratuitous language or violence, even if a bit rougher language might have made it seem more realistic.  But, still, be warned: the episodes of the plot itself, kidnapping, sexual trafficking, shootouts and (maybe?) torture and connections to drug cartels are vivid.  (Reading Bridging the Abyss will be a bit heavy and disturbing if one has only read Amish fiction or Christian romances, of course, but it is nothing compared to the grueling scenes of the standard crime or CSI shows on TV these days.  If you watch Law & Order: SVU or Criminal Minds you know what I mean.

And, I might add, the book's plot, interesting as it is, and surprising as some twists are, is not deep or literarily sophisticated. It's a good story and a fairly quick read, not ponderous or obtuse.

Some of the plot of Bridging the Abyss is about the missing girl and the vigilante rescue unit.  Much of the plot is more domestic, about the anxiety and prayers of the people in the Baltimore neighborhood and the church. Baltimore cops and local thugs and the neighborhood pastors all show up as the day-to-day ups and downs of raising a family in a transitional neighborhood in a big city are described, and as the realities of the crisis become known.  Caleb and Patty Hoffmeyer are the parents of the missing Alicia; Caleb's brother and sister-in-law (Willis and Marie) are the classic religious skeptics who are walking through this family tragedy with them. They are grateful for the outpouring of concern from Caleb and Patty's church friends, but find the faith behind their actions to be a bit na├»ve.

Reverend Loren Holt is the pastor that a character in In the Absence of God had visited and he is known (briefly) in that book as a reasonable, good man. In Bridging the Abyss he is one of the main stars, and his well-informed but humble faith and his hard but meaningful inner city ministry is beautiful to behold.  Loren and his wife Olivia have had quite a journey themselves, and their own story informs their own pastoral care for the Hoffmeyer's and others in this tragic drama.

There are a few surprise plot twists that I should not mention, and some characters about whom more is revealed later in the book.  It is hard to describe this in detail because there is so little I can say without spoiling the fun of the ride.  You must read this for yourself to learn about the vile Carlos and Luis, about John and his team of renegade activists (working their ops under the name CSR.) You will be delighted to realize something about a small side story with a kid named Keyvon and a huge plot twist involving, well... nope, I'm not going to say. If you are used to mysteries and thrillers, I suspect you might see it coming, but it's a blast either way.  I'm not going to spoil it. They don't call 'em "page turners" for nothing.

dick cleary headshot.jpgKudos to my friend and nearby neighbor Dick Cleary for working so hard to bring some of the most important questions of our age - voiced in readings he has done from the likes of Charles Taylor and Albert Camus and Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, not to mention recent atheists like Dawkins - in an easy-to-read, hard-to-put down, adventure yarn.

I do not mean any criticism to say this is not as profound or lyrical as this year's award-winning All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - one of the best novels I've ever read --  and will not be on the best seller lists as will recent novels we carry such as Jonathan Franzen's Purity or the new take on the life of David by Geraldine Brooks (The Secret Chord.) It is not Gilead, Home, or Lila, not by a long shot.  But if you want a captivating story, vivid, interesting characters who are living through horrible tragedy and finding hope and purpose through it all, the lives of the Hoffmeyer's and the Holts and the Baltimore police officers and informants and the brave CSR squad may inspire you. The conversations they have -- what is true, how do we know, could the gospel be the answer to this existential human quandary of knowing what is right and how to live well, and if we can figure it all out -- will be an enjoyable read, will stimulate your own thought, and even will serve you in your own interest in apologetics. 

Cleary enjoys making up these tales, recounting these fictional philosophical and theological debates, and although I'm sure he would firstly want you to enjoy getting to know his characters and taking this fictional journey, he'd be most happy if through listening in on the dialogue in In the Absence of God and Bridging the Abyss you would feel more sure about what you believe and why you believe it. Learning how to press this honest question about the moral consequences of a culture which has cast God away and how to present a durable answer that can be offered to contemporary seekers is surely one of the benefits of reading these dramatic stories.  In a world of sexual trafficking and urban racism and religiously-hostile intellectuals and all sorts of inner anguish, these kinds of personal stories can help.

And, if the songs on Lands & Peoples are any clue, there is much anguish even for Christ-followers in this world that often seems forsaken. But as Bill Mallonee sings, in one of two desperate songs with baseball allusions, there can be new resolve in finding purpose, discerning meaning. Maybe it is so for many of us: "ever since my eyes beheld your beauty and your grace, I'm going to swing with everything I've got."  Yes, even in this "sad, slow crawl" we can swing with all we've got.  It matters. It matters because there is meaning and purpose and some kind of order in this fallen world, if only we have eyes to see and the moral resolve to act on it.

Just as Dante clarified this for Rod Dreher, Bill Mallonee knows and reminds me. It is why none of his sad songs on his rootsy albums with raw acoustics and fuzzy feedback and Dylan-esque harmonica are finally depressing. Mallonee ends his latest set of allusive story songs with a bit less overtly redemptive hope than is found in Cleary's Christian novel but both the Lands & Peoples CD and the Bridging the Abyss story are clear: there is hope in this hard world, and we can know something about the goodness of God's creation order which impinges upon us because it is real and true and good.

As Marilynne Robinson puts it, in a characteristically Calvin-esque phrasing, there is a givenness to things.

lands & peoples.jpg the givenenness of things.jpg

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CD Lands & Peoples Bill Mallonee     regular H&M price $17.00  --  our sale price: $13.60

The Givenness of Things: Essays  Marilynne Robinson  regularly $26.00 -- our sale price: $20.80

Bridging the Abyss  Richard L. Cleary   regularly $15.99  --  our sale price: $12.79



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October 26, 2015

40 books (or so) displayed at CCO staff seminar: some of our favorites! ALL ON SALE

I had to leave the room - standing in the back of the space where CCO campus ministry staff was worshipping together, I felt tears well up.  Granted the band was very cool, the acoustic guitars and mandolin doing first an old hymn and then a slow, groovy version of "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" with the soulful backup singing by two dear friends creating a reverent and passionate experience of singing before God. But it wasn't just the tone and artful excellence of the song-leading the touched me so; it was how CCO cross cultural director Michael Chen (an accomplished acoustic guitar player and cellist) read Colossians 1: 15 - 19 while the groove continued.

colossians_1_16.pngBeing reminded of this first century worship song - Colossians 1 most likely was used liturgically in the early church - about Christ's Lordship over all of life is always moving for me.  "In Him all things hold together." Christ is to have "first place in everything." He is "redeeming all things." Indeed, the charter for our bookstore work - encouraging the spiritual discipline of reading widely to learn about all things, to deepen curiosity and wonderment, to develop a sense of what is to be done in so many     spheres of life and culture - comes from this very passage.  Just a few days before I was re-reading parts of one of my favorite books - Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat (IVP) again pondering the meaning and implications of this passage so many of us so value.  I hope you know that book; it will rock your world, I guarantee it.

Hearing Michael read the Colossians passage so well, with the guitar overlay, was just so simple and good and moving. (Oh if only the Bible was read well in our Sunday liturgies and mid-week songfests.)  But that wasn't what caused me to become undone.  As the band continued their riffs, six or seven CCO staff quietly made their way to the front and prayed beautifully for various careers areas and academic disciplines found at the universities where they minister.  They prayed for business majors and those working in the marketplace, they prayed for sport and athletics, for those in trade schools and in blue-collar occupations, and for those preparing for careers in the arts and other creative endeavors; they prayed for scientists and students working in labs, math, engineering and they prayed for those in medicine and health care professions.  In each field, prayers were offered thanking God for the goodness of the gifts in those areas and then laments were voiced about how broken and dysfunctional some aspects of those fields are. And we beseeched God for students to become salt and light in these disciplines, deepening their sense of vocation and prophetic imagination, knowing that God would use them to bringing God's own renewal and health to our world.  

Who prays for workers, career by career?

Who prays for college students to do their studies in a manner that is consistent with a Christian worldview? How does our worship form/train us to think about these things, learning to long for the Kingdom coming, in every square inch of God's good but fallen world? Do we see redemption as a restoration of creation - all careers and callings, every zone and sphere of society renewed to its rightful praise of God - and even if we do, do we sing hymns and pray prayers that are consistent with this big hope about the broad scope of redemption?  Does our worship help us live into the reality that "the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof?" Do we pray as if we believe Colossians 1?

So I cried out of sheer joy; if you have walked with God for very long I am sure you have "had a moment" in the Spirit and know what I'm talking about.

Also, I was so deeply appreciative of my friends in the CCO for offering this kind of vision of the wide scope of redemption and the Biblical basis of relevant cultural engagement, and their fun and feisty work with college students. (The Pittsburgh Jubilee conference each February is one of the ways the help students deepen this vision.)

And I was very aware that this kind of liturgical moment is all too rare.

Why have I sat through literally thousands and thousands of worship services and only heard such prayers on the rarest of occasions?

In the moments following this opening worship time I made some book announcements and then did some one-on-one hand-selling of relevant titles for these good folks in their on-campus friendship-building, evangelistic outreach, disciple-making, and spiritual formation.  We had thousands of titles there, but I thought I'd just name a bunch of books that I featured, talked about, showed off or tried to sell at that CCO staff training gig. Of course I'm only mentioning a few that we presented, set up (and lugged home unsold.) But these, at least, were discussed, for sure.

For BookNotes readers, we will offer them at an extra discount, too - 20% off that are mentioned.  We list the regular retail price, but will gladly deduct the discount when you order from us.  Enjoy.

Rhythms of Grace- How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel.jpgRhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel Mike Cosper (Crossway) $15.99  I shared this right away with CCO folks after our moving worship moments and those vocationally-oriented prayers.  Actually, I've been telling folks about this a lot lately, as it not only reminds us of the importance of worship and what congregational worship is all about, but it explores how the narrative of the Biblical story should inform our worship, and how gospel-centered worship recounts the truest truths, week by week. A great little book.

Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults- Life-Giving Rhythms.jpgShaping the Journey of Emerging Adults: Life-Giving Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation Richard Dunn & Jana Sundene (IVP) $18.00 At the Wee Kirk small church conference at which we worked a week before the CCO seminar (which we told you about in a recent post) we were delighted to hear this book recommended to local church folk who want to understand young adult ministry. Naturally folks know the analysis offering in the very popular You Lost Me: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith... and Rethinking Faith by our friend David Kinnaman (available in book and/or DVD curriculum.) But this one is really rich, beautifully written, about how to do work with this particular population.  I take Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults to CCO always, as it is one of a handful of must-reads in this field. CCO staff also often get Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry by David Setran & Chris Kiesling (Baker Academic; $24.99) which is also a major contribution to young adult ministry.

Emerging Adulthood .jpgCalvin Shorts: Emerging Adulthood and Faith Jonathan P. Hill (Calvin College Press) $6.99  Okay, besides the fact that the cover sports a little drawing of John Calvin wearing shorts and Birkenstocks, this new series of small, provocative, and well-researched monographs is excellent. This offers a careful summary and re-assessment of the latest research on the faith development of young adults, and offering critique to some of the popular writers lamenting how young adults are drifting away from church and conventional Christian faith.  This is a very important little document, and anyone interested in the topic should have it. (A heads up: it thinks that some of our popular authors in this developing field get the data wrong.)

By the way, the second in the "Calvin Shorts" series is entitled The Church and Religious Persecution by Kevin den R. Dulk and Robert Joustra. (We should all read something on this urgent topic, and this small book is serious-minded and up to date.) A third in the "Calvin Shorts" will be released soon, a short book entitled Christians and Cultural Difference by David I. Smith and Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim.  David Smith is a H&M friend, and has spoken at Jubilee and helped edited one volume on imaginative and spiritually rich approaches to classroom teaching with James K.A. Smith (yes, a volume by Smith and Smith, but no relation.)

David has written serious works such as The Gift of the Stranger (which is about a faith-based perspective on foreign language learning and teaching) and Learning from the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity, both published by Eerdmans.  We are glad for good scholars who are able to do these kinds of smaller monographs, and glad they are called "Calvin Shorts." 

King of the Campus Stephen Lutz.jpgKing of the Campus Stephen Lutz (House Studio) $14.99  This book by Steve Lutz is one any student interested in growing in her or his faith could start with, a book full of good Christian thinking about all of life, basic discipleship, church involvement, how to be involved in campus activities with a missional mindset, discernment tools for thinking about calling and vocation, and more. I have a blurb on the back saying how good it is, and I stand by that: no other book for college students covers so much good stuff, including good citations from Melleby and Opitz. Steve works for a church with a rich campus ministry in State College, (yes home of the blue and white Nittany Lions.) You should give this book to somebody you know who is off at college.

learning for the love of god.jpgYour Mind's Mission.jpgOf course we sell a bunch of books that are about higher education, about campus ministry, books like the lovely little Make College Count (by Derek Melleby) and the essential Learning for the Love of God: A Guide for Students (by Derek Melleby and Don Optiz) and other books on developing the Christian mind. (I never tire promoting The Missional Mind by Greg Jao, which, I am proud to holler, mentions Hearts & Minds.) These are staples in any college ministry event, and we are proud to promote them.

midnight jesus.jpgMidnight Jesus: Where Struggle, Faith and Grace Collide Jamie Blaine (Thomas Nelson) $15.99  I love sharing memoirs with groups - almost anywhere we go to sell books we note that reading memoirs is not only fun, but a good way to understand others, to realize how people narrate their lives and how we, too, can make sense of things by telling the story of our days.  Anyway, one I featured this time is spectacularly well written, vibrant and wild and fascinating and moving. This author is a late night counselor, has served to help those on the fringes of culture, the hurting, their weird, the broken, and he tells their stories with dignity and grace.  It is one of those books about which you can energetically shout "You will laugh. You will cry." And you will never forget it.

I jokingly said to somebody that Jamie Blaine makes Gen X hip storyteller Donald Miller of Blue Like Jazz look like Barry Manilow.  Here is what it says on the back cover:

Midnight Jesus shares fascinating, bizarre, and sometimes humorous true-life stories of everyday people looking for hope in their darkest hours.  Poignant and unpretentious, Jamie paints beauty where at times it seems none exists--from skating rinks and bars, late-night highways and lonely apartments, broken churches and rundown trailer parks, jail cells, bridge rails, ERs, psych wards, and that place over the levee where God laughs and walks through the cool dark night.

The rave endorsements are from everyone from August Burroughs (Running With Scissors) to River Jordan (Praying for Strangers) and a whole host of others, including a number of rock and rollers and alt journalists. are amazingly strong.  One book review says he writes like "a born again Nick Hornby or Chuck Klosterman" while another said he is "somewhere between Bukowski and Billy Graham" which I suspect has never been said about any other writer, ever.  From off-center rockers to folks seriously plagued by mental illness to those who are just seething and crazed or down and out, Jamie Blaine --  "the late night psychiatric crisis guy" --  tells their story, and brings grace and goodness into the mix.  I ran out of time in my book announcement, but if I could have, I'd have read some of this right out loud, and you'd know I'm not kidding about this one. Whew.

A Praying Life- Connecting with God in a Distracting World Paul Miller .jpgA Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World Paul Miller (NavPress) $14.99  We love having a book that routinely sells, and that we always hear great comments about. People walk by our book display and, noting A Praying Life say "Oh, that is one of the best books I've ever read," or "my friend told me I had to read that" or "Our church studied that one and it was fantastic."  This book has a remarkable buzz, and it is well deserved. One of the best books on prayer I've ever read. By the way, check out his one on Jesus called Love Walked Among Us, too. Or a newer one on the Biblical book of Ruth called A Loving Life -- In a World of Broken Relationships. Thanks to NavPress for doing this great title!

beautiful d.jpgA Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness Marlena Graves(Brazos) $15.99  I have promoted this fabulous book among CCO staff before, and it is ideal for those who want to investigate the life-giving ways of classic spiritual disciplines, written with a bit of candid memoir (the author is a good storyteller, who shares about growing up rural and poor with an evolving childhood faith) and how coming to know and experience God's presence in the wilderness of her painful life gave her courage to keep on and thrive.  This well written book (with a great foreword by John Ortberg & Laura Ortberg Turner) includes lovely, insightful Bible study, a good narrative structure, and helpful teaching about spiritual formation. It's a good read, and a great resource.  The title alone is worth pondering, eh?

Miracles- What They Are, Why They Happen.jpgMiracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life Eric Metaxas (Dutton) $16.00  I raved about this (as did many whose writings we respect) when it first came out in hardback, and those who have read it have used superlatives in trying to express the grandness of this report. As always, Mr. Metaxas brings a brainy but winsome style to his well-crafted prose; the important   Kirkus Reviews said it was "erudite and intimate." Miracles is truly fascinating, including excellent storytelling, wise rumination, honest evaluation, deep mystery, and a sense of wonder about the way God seems to work in the world. Excellent for anyone, but really good for those who are skeptical of the notion of the supernatural or whose progressive faith doesn't want to seem anti-intellectual or overly charismatic.  This is a great book, now in paperback.

For what it is worth, we also sold, there, a couple other Metaxas titles such as Bonhoeffer (of course), Seven Men (now in paperback - I think the guy who bought it was going to try to read it with a frat brother) and Seven Women, as well as an older one called Everything You Always Wanted to Ask About God (But Were Afraid to Ask.)  We routinely show off his great compilation of "Socrates in the City" lectures called Life, God, and Other Small Topics. I tell some browsers just to read the introduction, which will make them laugh, and the table of contents, which shows the stellar cast of folks involved. Makes a great gift for a faculty member, too, or any brainy type who enjoys good anthologies of thoughtful talks.

The One- Experience Jesus Carlos Darby.jpgThe One: Experience Jesus Carlos Darby, Judah Smith, and others (Thomas Nelson) $14.99 This is one I held up and tried to promote, although one actually has to hold it and study it a bit to really appreciate it. This is designed for a visual generation, a slightly over-sized paperback - almost like a very thick magazine - with moody and cool photographs illustrating the stories told about people finding new life in Jesus. It walks through stages of faith, I suppose, and each testimony is enhanced with these excellent, beautiful, striking photography pieces. The pictures shown are not real shots of the writers, actually, and if there is any fault in this creative project it is that the models in the pictures are a bit tooo hip. But for the audience (artful and design-savvy young adults, the instagram generation) it really works.  It would be a good book to share with somebody who doesn't read conventional religious texts and who you'd like to invite into an live encounter with Jesus.

Gospel-Centered Life Participants Guide and Leader's Guide.jpgGospel-Centered Life Participants Guide and Leader's Guide (New Growth Press) $11.99 and $14.99 We always have a big stack of these for CCO staff, many of whom buy a bundle each season to use with small groups on campus or at church. These are serious, intense, grace-based reminders of Christ's finished work, how the atonement transforms us, and how the gospel is such very good news for sinners like us. It helps small groups really grapple with the transforming "inside out" impact of the core truths of the gospel -- God's holiness, our need for rescue, the sufficiency of the cross, free grace, true liberation for idols and fears. The sequel, Gospel Centered Community is popular, too.

It's Not What You Think- Why Christianity Is About So Much More .jpgIt's Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven  Jefferson Bethke (Thomas Nelson) $17.99 I wonder if you know the video that went viral a few years ago Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke. The book that followed that, with the same title, is really good (better then I surmised it would be) and young adults all over know it.  If something is going to be so popular, I'm glad it is rich and thoughtful and solid. This brand new one was one of the best sellers at this two day CCO gathering, and we're glad for the buzz on it. 

Bavinck on the Christian Life- Following Jesus in Faithful Service John Bolt.jpgBavinck on the Christian Life: Following Jesus in Faithful Service John Bolt (Crossway) $19.99  We displayed faced out this whole set of books, the "Theologians on the Christian Life" series, all of which are said to be very, very good. The Bonhoeffer one by Steve Nichols is just spectacular, I think, exceptionally useful, and illustrates nicely what is so good about this whole series - taking the life and central teachings of these historic church leaders/theologians and showing how they can Theologians on Christ Life set.pngenhance our own spiritual lives today.

I figured since some of the CCO's influence includes the Dutch Kuyperian neo-Calvinist worldview tradition, they'd snap up this new one about Kuyper's esteemed colleague from the late 1800s. Let's just say I still have some of these left, so maybe some of our mail order customers might want to order them.  It really is great, a book many of us have been wishing for, relating Bavinck's life and work to today. See the whole set described here.

when the kings mouw.jpgWhen the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $15.00  I take this most places we go, whenever appropriate, as it is a splendid little study on how the read the Bible well, using as a case study the way in which an eschatological passage in Isaiah can be understood by a careful reading of Revelation 21 and 22.  Does God really intend to redeem all of life and culture? Does ordinary stuff matter -sports, music, justice, family?  How can we live into this vision of God bringing redemption and hope to the whole groaning creation?  A great little book, jam packed with implications for daily life, by an author we so respect and appreciate!

New Heavens New Earth Wright.jpgNew Heaven New Earth N.T. Wright (Grove) $10.99 Speaking of great little books about the restoration of creation, the full picture of Biblical hope, the promise of redemption defined as a (re)new (ed) earth, this booklet is imported from England, and we think it is a great tool to enhance Bible knowledge and Christian living. There is nothing in print like it that is simple and clear and inexpensive.  I pressed it upon the CCO folks who know that most undergrads aren't going to wade through J. Richard Middleton's New Heaven and New Earth or Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope. You should order a bundle from us. Although you should consider that Middleton book if you haven't yet gotten it.

subversive 2nd.jpgSubversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time 2nd edition Brian Walsh (Wipf & Stock) $15.00  I mentioned Walsh's Colossians Remixed above in my intro, but at CCO I also showed off this recently reprinted small collection of powerful talks given by Brian in the years after his groundbreaking, now classic Transforming Vision (co-written with Richard Middleton.) Transforming Vision was a seminal and generative book within CCO decades ago, and we still commend it, wishing more people could get caught up in its social analysis and expose of dualism and idolatry within our deformed society. I'm glad for Subversive, though, and it is a poignant, thought-producing little collection, with Biblical exposition and cultural criticism and poetic preaching. One of the challenging chapters in Subversive Christianity was first delivered at a old CCO Jubilee conference and is still as timely as ever. A good endorsing foreword by N.T. Wright, too.  Woot.

The Story of Everything- How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit into God's Plan for the World Jared.jpgThe Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit into God's Plan for the World Jared C. Wilson (Crossway) $15.99  When the writers for the Gospel Coalition and Crossway books -- known for conventional Calvinism and a lot of theology books -- get this vision of a broad, big, winsome picture of all of life redeemed, it is time to notice, and rejoice.  I like Justin Holcomb's note on the back: "If you need to hear some incredible news, read this book. It will change you."  CCO's big Jubilee conference has as it's theme this year "transforming everything."  This is why.  God is telling this big story of creation being rescued and  how everything matters.  Are you listening?  Nice!

Garden City- Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.jpgGarden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $20.99 I raved about this cool-looking, very easy to read hardback last week, and did so again with our friends at the CCO event. It is perfect for today's young Christians, those eager to relate faith and life, but who don't have the vocabulary or theology or Biblical knowledge to see how being fully human, caring about work, culture, is explained in the Scriptures, and therefore can't get a good handle on the claim that all of life is spiritual, let alone how it really plays out.  As I've mentioned this new book is hip and fun and even a bit funny and solid and good, refreshing and exciting. Maybe it should be considered the best introduction -- that younger readers will actually gladly read and finish -- about vocation, calling, work, rest, and God's big Kingdom.  He knows well the academic literature (J. Richard Middleton or N.T. Wright, just for instance.) Garden City is fantastic.  Spread the word!

Broken- Restoring Trust Between the Sacred and the Secular.jpgBroken: Restoring Trust Between the Sacred and the Secular  Greg Fromholz (Abingdon) $16.99  I was glad to announce this when it first came out and thought CCO folks would appreciate it now.  It is creatively written, reflective and energetic, eager to help followers of Jesus get how to more wisely navigate the culture in which we live, thinking faithfully about why God cares about it all, and how to be appreciative of God's work in the world, even the worlds of culture, film, art, social institutions and media.  We've created this ungodly disconnect, and this shows us how to reconnect faith and practice in the real world. CCO folks get this already, but are always looking for fresh ways to explain our vision, and get others enthused about an all-of-life redeemed sort of vision.  Plus, anything with a vivid endorsement from Gabe Lyon's is sure to catch their attention.  I think it should be widely known, and you just might enjoy it a lot.

every good endeavor.jpgEvery Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work Tim Keller & Katherine Leary Alsdorf (Dutton) $16.00  I've already noted how CCO is unique among campus ministries in part because of their passion for whole life-discipleship that includes helping collegiate think about faith and vocation, Christian perspectives in the classroom, and learning to desire practices that help us relate faith and work, careers and callings. We always take to CCO staff training events a large batch of different books on calling and vocation, and then a bunch on work and labor, hoping these campus workers will have this stuff so much in their bones that it will spill over into the lives of the students with whom they are in contact.

Their annual Jubilee conference does this so well, but they know that for students to benefit most from that big Pittsburgh gathering, they need some prep work. Even a small booklet what is vocation good one.jpglike What Is Vocation?  Steve Nichols (P&R; $4.99) can be life-changing: everything matters to God, including our sense of calling to a career or occupation. I am always glad to hold up Os Guinness' The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life which is still one of my all-time most-recommended books ever. And there's Parker Palmer's beautiful Let Your Life Speak, Robert Benson's The Echo Within and a splendid, brand new guide to help students think about what they want to do someday called Your Your Vocational Credo by Deborah Koehn Loyd .jpgVocational Credo by Deborah Koehn Loyd which is a bit more practical and upbeat then the serious, wonderful, wise Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God Given Potential by Gordon Smith. To frame all of this well I always like to recommend A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World by Charles Drew.  Excellent writing, wise, good, thoughtful.

And for those mature in this, wanting an enduring book to live with perhaps for a long time, the exceptional Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. After showing a big stack at CCO I did an announcement about it, inviting the activists at the criminal justice reform conference exploring mass incarceration about it. Garber gets around, and I am committed to helping his book get where he sometimes doesn't. I know you know how much I value it.

The Keller book is one of the very best on work itself, but we have others. For instance, How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of How Should We Then Work Whelchel.jpgWork by Hugh Whelchel is great and clear -- no-nonsense, very concise, quotes Kuyper, and offers a fabulous, Biblical foundation. Finding Livelihood by the exquisite writer Nancy Nordenson (published by the always interesting Kalos Press) -- as I've said in a long BookNotes rumination, here, is reflective and beautifully penned, full of mystery and wonder and pain and power. We had maybe a dozen or so others -- Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Sherman, Work Matters by Tom Nelson, Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor by Ben Witherington and a number of Paul Stevens -- at the CCO. We appreciate their effort to make disciples who will think about these things and hope our BookNotes readers will continue to let folks know about our large selection in this faith/work area. For more, see this list, here.

The World Beyond Your Head- On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.jpgThe World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction Matthew Crawford (Random House) $26.00  Speaking of books we sold about work: some in the CCO circles were significantly influenced by hearing Jamie Smith two summers ago, and his Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom remain very important books for our conversations about the nature of effective ministry and how to relate worship, spiritual formation, and all-of-life redeemed work in the world.  Interestingly, some of the staff that work at vocational and trade schools were talking about how this recent book by Matthew Crawford is consistent with Smith's own views, and how his first book - Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work is so very important for our thinking about not only work, but learning, discipleship, habit-formation, character and more. Both books are meaty, provocative, wise, and important. We have reviewed them both. I hope you know them.

Serious Dreams cover.jpgSerious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life  edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $12.99  Okay, I didn't really announce this to CCO since they know all about it (it is dedicated to them, after all.) But this collection of graduation speeches by serious Christian leaders who have given such attention to this integration of faith and vocation, thinking faithfully about discipleship and culture, work and the common good, well, it is good for CCO staff to share with their students, even though it was designed as a gift for young adults transitioning out of school.  Could it also be good for you, or somebody you know, reflecting together with some of our best thinkers about the impact you can make on the world around you?  Sorry to promote my own little book, but the authors are fantastic and their sermons are so good; even the packaging and page design and discussion questions have gotten some nice comments. Read chapters by Richard Mouw, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Amy Sherman, Claudia Beversluis, Steve Garber, John Perkins, me, and an epilogue by CCO staffer Erica Young Reitz. You can read more about it here.

good of p .jpgThe Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Introduction James W. Skillen (Baker Academic) $24.00  Just like any pastor or spiritual director, we who are leaders, and CCO campus ministers, naturally, will be asked in the coming months about our views of the political campaigns, and what we think about regarding our citizenship, the elections, and who to vote for. Getting a solid, historically-informed, Biblically-shaped view of the task of the state and the role of government is essential.  I have written about this before (here is one of my most-circulated columns from a few years back) and have commended Jim's important volume often. In our CCO circles, this book (he is an old friend of the organization, having done staff training in the past, and has spoken at Jubilee) should be considered a must-read.  I reviewed it at length here, explaining why Jim Skillen's work is valuable for us today. 

Unleashing Opportunity- Why Escaping Poverty Requires.jpgUnleashing Possibility: Why Escaping Poverty Requires a Shared Vision of Justice Michael Gerson, Stephanie Summers, Katie Thompson (Falls City Press) $11.99 What a joy to promote this up front at the CCO staff training time -- Steph Summers, now CEO of the Center for Public Justice, worked for CCO for 12 years, and remains loved and very highly respected by all who know her. The publisher -- Falls City Press -- is founded by a former CCO staffer, too, Keith Martel, who works now in higher education as a professor, while his wife, Kristie, continues to be associated with CCO. (She is the interim director of multi-ethnic ministry at Geneva College, by the way.) So, this book - which I reviewed last week (which you can read HERE) with so many CCO connections, is a delight. I'm really a fan of this little volume, and want to again remind you of its usefulness.

I like how slim and concise it is, and how it brings together a bit of urgent data about poverty, great framing and re-framing the topic in light of Biblical themes and theological insights, and lots of great stories of creative service, faith-based ministries doing social advocacy, and inspiring ministries with the poor.  Not only is this a great guide to next steps of social outreach and service, but it offers a very helpful way to think about how serious problems like poverty can be partially solved by both energetic volunteerism  and specific, if limited, involvement by the government.  That is, it draws on the best instincts and strategies of both Republicans and Democrats, and shows how to really solve pressing problems. It studies early childhood intervention, foster care issues, juvenile justice, the graduation gap and....  See also Keith Martel's own co-authored book (with Brian Jensen) entitled Storied Leadership which was the first book to roll out of Falls City Press. Yes!!

possible.jpgPossible: A Blueprint on How We Think About Changing the World Steven Bauman (Waterbrook) $22.00  We took this very inspiring book to New Orleans to the Christian Legal Society conference a few weeks ago since Steven was speaking there and we wanted others there to appreciate his good writing. We took it to the Wee Kirk conference, thinking that small church leaders needed this kind of winsome oomph and big hope. We took it just the other day to the conference on mass incarceration, and it was one of the first books we sold there in that gathering about fighting racism, advocating for restorative justice, ending the injustice of solitary confinement and other prison reforms. Bauman is the CEO of World Relief and has lived in Africa, so he knows something about how change happens, and the wholistic call of Christ into the world of hurt and need.  A very inspiring book.  CCO friends, you should know this guy!  And so should everybody else.  

Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates .jpgBetween the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau) $24.00  CCO has a long-standing commitment to be engaged in conversations about racial justice and to not only be a more multi-racial organization, but to be used by God to reach the diversity of students we find on most college campuses.  We bring dozens of books on this topic to their events including evangelical standards -- More Than Equals (Spencer Perkins/Chris Rice), Many Colors (Soong-Chan Rah), Living in Color (Randy Woodley), The Heart of Racial Justice (Brenda Salter-McNeil), Welcoming Justice (John Perkins/Charles Marsh), Divided by Faith (Michael O. Emerson/Christian Smith) and so many more.  We were very glad that we sold a few of the new Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way, a serious work by the late Richard Twiss, who spoke at CCO's Jubilee years ago!  (Kudos to IVP for releasing this final work by Richard after his death; IVP has long been the leader of multi-ethnic books within evangelical publishing, and this one is exceptional.)

This recent book by Ta-Nehisi Coates  -- a moving memoir designed as a letter to his son, by turns tender and polemical -- has been a much discussed New York Times best seller this year, and anyone involved in the hard work about race simply must know it. (Coates earlier book, The Beautiful Struggle -- a coming-of-age memoir set in Baltimore with his brilliant but broken Viet Nam vet father who hung with the Black Panthers -- got much acclaim and is by my own bedside now.) We lugged a bunch of Between the World and Me first to the CCO event, and then, of course, to the mass incarceration/prison reform conference, too. 

In case you are unaware of how respected this book is, and why you should know of it, consider the level of urgency and beauty in these rave endorsements:

"Powerful and passionate . . . profoundly moving . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today."--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Brilliant . . . [Ta-Nehisi Coates] is firing on all cylinders, and it is something to behold: a mature writer entirely consumed by a momentous subject and working at the extreme of his considerable powers at the very moment national events most conform to his vision."--The Washington Post

"I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates's journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading."--Toni Morrison

"Ta-Nehisi Coates is the James Baldwin of our era, and this is his cri de coeur. A brilliant thinker at the top of his powers, he has distilled four hundred years of history and his own anguish and wisdom into a prayer for his beloved son and an invocation to the conscience of his country. Between the World and Me is an instant classic and a gift to us all."--Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns


"I know that this book is addressed to the author's son, and by obvious analogy to all boys and young men of color as they pass, inexorably, into harm's way. I hope that I will be forgiven, then, for feeling that Ta-Nehisi Coates was speaking to me, too, one father to another, teaching me that real courage is the courage to be vulnerable, to admit having fallen short of the mark, to stay open-hearted and curious in the face of hate and lies, to remain skeptical when there is so much comfort in easy belief, to acknowledge the limits of our power to protect our children from harm and, hardest of all, to see how the burden of our need to protect becomes a burden on them, one that we must, sooner or later, have the wisdom and the awful courage to surrender."--Michael Chabon

"A work of rare beauty and revelatory honesty . . . Between the World and Me is a love letter written in a moral emergency, one that Coates exposes with the precision of an autopsy and the force of an exorcism. . . . Coates is frequently lauded as one of America's most important writers on the subject of race today, but this in fact undersells him: Coates is one of America's most important writers on the subject of America today. . . . [He's] a polymath whose breadth of knowledge on matters ranging from literature to pop culture to French philosophy to the Civil War bleeds through every page of his book, distilled into profound moments of discovery, immensely erudite but never showy."--Slate

"Immense, multifaceted . . . This is a poet's book, revealing the sensibility of a writer to whom words--exact words--matter. . . . As a meditation on race in America, haunted by the bodies of black men, women, and children, Coates's compelling, indeed stunning, work is rare in its power to make you want to slow down and read every word. This is a book that will be hailed as a classic of our time."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

just mercy.jpgJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Bryan Stevenson (Spiegel & Grau)$16.00  Now that this is out in paperback, even more folks are buying it! Although CCO had hosted Bryan at their Jubilee conference years ago, and we sold a number to them a half a year ago when it came out in hardcover, we are glad it is now a nice sized paperback with an affordable price. I hope you know it and own it.

I had displayed Bryan's Just Mercy next to some other books that are particularly passionate about institutional racism and structural adjustments needed as we moved towards what King called "the beloved community."  For instance, if you are serious about this stuff, you should know The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone, Dear White Christians by Jennifer Harvey and Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Baltimore pastor and Black Lives Matter activist, Kelly Brown Douglas. I like that CCO insists on historic orthodox faith and a lively evangelical vision based on standard Biblical teaching, but also commends reading widely, with discernment, in community, wanting to engage the most important work available in this field. We take a variety of books to these CCO gatherings, and we appreciate any groups that are willing to struggle with stuff outside of their own comfort zone.  Kudos.

Allure of Gentleness- Defending the Gospel in the Manner of Jesus.jpgThe Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Gospel in the Manner of Jesus Dallas Willard (HarperOne) $26.99 Thoughtful evangelicals as well as many mainline Protestants are increasingly aware of the profound work of the late Dr. Willard.  This is thoughtful, lively, and very, very good, as all of his books truly are. Few can bring such deep commitments to spiritual transformation and such intellectual dexterity and write books so helpful to so many. We showed all of his books there, as well as books by his friends John Ortberg, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, Ruth Haley Barton and the like, but think this new one if very special, especially for those doing any kind of evangelism or outreach work as does the CCO.

fools talk.jpgFools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion Os Guinness (IVP) $22.00 I suppose you can imagine that this would sell well in CCO circles, with their deeper emphasis on worldview formation and their work within very diverse and pluralistic campus cultures.  Most twenty-somethings thought are not fully aware of the legacy for which Guinness is known, even though we displayed maybe six of his different books, and this kind of heady book is actually a hard-sell among those new to this kind of mature exploration. I really, really recommend it to anyone interested in evangelism, apologetics, or political action, especially those wishing for a more civil public square. If you care about personal respect or public discourse, start with Richard Mouw's lovely little Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World and then move to this remarkable, serious volume.  One of the CCO "areas" is going to read it together as a staff.  Hooray!

rainbows for fallen world.jpgRainbows for the Fallen World Calvin Seerveld (Toronto Tuppence Press) $30.00  It isn't every group that has a pair of young adults reading out loud one of the more challenging chapters of this book on aesthetics over lunch.  And it isn't every group where offering his devotionals - the serious set of Bible-based sermons in Take Hold of God and Pull and the powerful short ruminations on art pieces in On Being Human Imaging God in the Modern World--is appreciated. (Thanks to the CCO guy who waved On Being Human around in front of my face to assure me he was buying one! You made my day!)  Rainbows for a Fallen World is a true personal favorite by an extraordinary scholar and powerful, passionate writer. 

Bigger on the Inside- Doctor Who.jpgBigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Ned Bustard & Greg Thornbury (Square Halo Books) $17.99  Well, why not? There are geeky sci-fi fans everywhere, but these smart essays are exceptionally well suited to feisty young adults, those who like the famous show, or just those who want to see solid theological reflections growing out of an iconic piece of popular culture. CCO's own Ivan Strong Moore has a blurb on the inside of this great paperback.  One person said she wished I had a "My Other Vehicle is a Tardus" bumper sticker.  So, yeah, there's that.

By the way, we had most of the core titles of the Square Halo Books backlist, too, per usual: It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God, Objects of Grace, C.S. Lewis and the Arts, Intruding Upon the Timeless, Rouault-Fujimura Soliloquies, etcetera. So good!

Spiritual Friendship- Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian.jpgSpiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian Wesley Hill (Brazos) $14.99  Some in CCO circles know Hill as he has occasionally spoken to campus fellowship groups out near and around Pittsburgh, and many have read his important and beautiful little book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.  I took all three of his books to the CCO staff gig, as I always do. (His other one is on Paul and the Trinity, and we sold one of those, too!) I hope you read my lengthy review of Spiritual Friendship at BookNotes a while back as it is truly moving book, insisting that a Christian view of things must include a deeper awareness of and commitment to the art of friendship.  This is more important than any other book I can imagine on the topic, including (dare I say it?) The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.  It is vital for all of us, but certainly urgent for young adults who are still forging their life-long friends.  Thanks, Wes, for this generous and profound study.

generous spaciousness.jpgGenerous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church Wendy VanderWal-Gritter (Brazos) $16.99 I have reviewed this big book elsewhere, and in the serious desire to help organizations develop a mature theology of dialogue and respectful discussion on this (and other) topics, I bring this along, careful to encourage people to consider it carefully, inviting, as it does, gracious, open-minded discourse around how best to pastorally discuss our differences about sexual ethics. VanderWal-Gritter used to work for the now-defunct Exodus.  Their founder, by the way, just released his own biography, including some never-before-told aspects of his life and ministry called My Exodus: From Fear to Grace; and it looks very moving (it includes a few chapters by his wife) but I have not yet read any of it. 

soul of shame.jpgThe Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves Curt Thompson, MD (IVP) $22.00  You may recall that I wrote a lengthy rave review of this when it came out this summer. Curt has spoken at the CCO's Jubilee conference and a few staff recalled that this was in the works and we're eager to pick it up. It was great to show it off at their staff training - we find that it is selling nicely wherever we go, and its invitation to think about all of this is resonating widely. (Perhaps it is offering more deeply Biblical insights into some of the same concerned given lively voice by Brene Brown in her popular books such as Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. Thompson's Soul of Shame is doubtlessly one of the important books of the year, very, very helpful. We also displayed and sold out of his previous book, The Anatomy of a Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships. We've got 'em here, now!

the ology A-zon.jpgThe Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New Marty Machowski / illustrated by Andy McGuire (New Growth Press) $29.99  We usually take a few children's illustrated books to the CCO, since many of their staff have young children, and we were eager to show of this brand new release. This is a really hefty volume, over-sized and full color on glossy paper and a ribbon marker, and it, too, was popular among CCO staff.  The art here is soft (perhaps designed with chalk or wooden pencils) and yet still very, very creatively crafted -- a few of the pictures are breathtaking in their loveliness, and a few are properly bizarre and striking. I do not know of any more comprehensive book about Christian truths for children, nor one with such a grace-based, gospel-centered faith perspective.  Wow, this is going to be used for years to come, I am sure, and was delighted to unveil it at the CCO staff seminar.  I thought you'd like to know of it, too. 


The Biggest Story- How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.jpgThe Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden Kevin DeYoung (Crossway) $17.99  Wow, this colorful, artful, creatively-produced children's book was the talk of the event.  The almost eccentric combo of retro design and upbeat, new art styles, and the great, enticing re-telling of the whole Bible story -- think of the Sally Lloyd-Jones must-have The Jesus Storybook Bible on steroids, visually high-energy and more wordy -- makes this a stunning kid's Bible storybook Bible unlike any you've ever seen.  It is sometime eloquent and sometimes very colloquial, making it majestic at moments and then very down to Earth. 

That some classic theologians have suggested that the whole Bible is a footnote to God's promise in Genesis three to crush the head of evil becomes evident here, and the "back to the garden"/Paradise Regained trajectory is beautiful to see made explicit in a children's Bible. 

CCO staff (many who have young children) have been biggest story page spread.jpgbig fans of The Jesus Storybook Bible and the equally fabulous Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing as well as other children's resources that bring to the fore the covenantal reading of a Christ-centered vision of creation-regained sort of faith. That this was our biggest seller this past week is pretty cool.  We wanted to be sure you knew our enthusiasm for it, and that you, too, could order it from us at the BookNotes 20% off. biggest story another page spread.jpg



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October 17, 2015

3 fantastic new books -- 20% OFF: Unleashing Opportunity, Garden City, and 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know

When Girls Became Lions.jpgArt of Memoir.jpgSo many great books have been released in the last week or so, and I'm sad I can't tell you about them all.  Recently we've been eager to read the eagerly awaited Mary Karr's Art of Memoir, delighted to get When Girls Became Lions, a lovely new sports novel by Valerie Gin & Jo Kadlecek about the impact of Title IX and women's friendships, glad to have the important new study of the history of contemporary evangelicalism in America, Awakening the Evangelical Mind- An Intellectual History.jpgAwakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement by Owen Strachan.  In between thinking of how I want to review all of these, I've dipped in to the new collection of love poems by Mary Oliver, Felicity.

We get a lot of books in that are really good, even if not useful for everyone; we are proud to announce the significant new Mark Noll volume on Oxford From Nature to Creation- A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World.jpgUniversity Press, In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life 1492 - 1783And, the latest in the "Church and Postmodern Culture" series edited by James K.A. Smith, From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World by Norman Wirzba, which is extraordinary. I've been pondering the latest work by Eastern University philosophy professor, R.J. Snell, whose rare volume is called Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire.

These all are on a growing short list for my consideration of the best books of 2015, so I've got some serious reading to do in the weeks ahead. You too?  I know you're eager to read and learn more but have time for only the most important and/or lovely and good.  I wouldn't mention these if I didn't think you'd want to consider them, even without further ado.

There are three, though, that are brand, brand new, three that I have deep affinity for and even some connection to, that I must describe for you.

Knowing what I do about many of our readers and customers, I suspect you will appreciate them greatly, and may want to get them right away.  I will try not to go on and on analyzing them in detail, but will try my best to assure you that you will be glad to know about these books.  Maybe you'll want to order them from us at our discounted prices for BookNotes friends, maybe to read with others, or to give to someone who just has to have this kind of energetic resource.  Read on, please!

Unleashing Opportunity- Why Escaping Poverty Requires.jpgUnleashing Opportunity: Why Escaping Poverty Requires A Shared Vision of Justice Michael Gerson, Stephanie Summers & Katie Thompson (Falls City Press) $11.99 I mentioned this in passing a bit ago, before it came out, knowing it was going to be released soon by our good friends at Falls City.  A day or so ago the Center for Public Justice announced the launch of this book that they co-published and nicely told their members that we had it. We're glad for those that rushed orders to us!  In just under 125 pages these three authors have created a book unlike any I've read  -- and I've read a lot in the sociology of poverty, the need for social justice, a Christian response, and ways to be involved in alleviating poverty. It really is an exceptional little contribution, and therefore quite important. 

It might be said that the book has one overarching theme or subtext: to overcome the injustices of income inequalities and opportunity disadvantages - that is, poverty - the government cannot be expected to do everything, since politics cannot solve every human problem, but it can be expected to do some things. Unleashing Opportunity invites us to "a shared vision of justice" by exploring how private sector volunteerism, compassionate assistance, and faith based ministry (and all of civil society and its mediating institutions) can be enhanced by good government and, conversely, how thoughtful, moderate, pro-active, just government can enhance the on-the-ground realities that families, neighborhoods, schools, businesses and courts need to be sure that justice is done and that they can flourish as mediating agencies, serving locally and effectively.  

cpj logo.pngThis really is the wheelhouse of CPJ; neither religious right nor secular left, they believe the Bible teaches a high regard for good government, but their vision also insists that most of life's problems cannot be fully solved by government alone. In this book they flesh out with very concrete studies how poverty can be pushed back and opportunities enhanced by a wise and well-ordered partnership between government and private sector institutions.  It is nonpartisan and powerfully clear, reminding us of the need for a thicker more detailed account of social institutions, including the state, and refreshing ways to consider how individuals, families, and churches can play a part in overcoming poverty in our communities.

The three experienced authors explore how this works out in five key areas that must be enhanced if the growing opportunity gap is to be decreased and all children are given a fair shake: it looks at early childhood services, foster care, juvenile justice, the graduation gap, and the exotic, but breathtaking problem of predatory lending. 

Unleashing Opportunities is arranged in a thoughtful and helpful way. Their analysis in each of the five chapters includes discovering a bit about the magnitude of the particular problem being explored, framing the issues with enduring principles and theological insight, and engaging the issues with concrete facts, case studies, and real-life stories, some of them quite dramatic and full of inspiring hope.

The combo of discover, frame, and engage - data, theology, and stories - makes this really, really useful.

katie thompson.jpggerson.jpgSummers-headshot.jpgIn each section, they directly ask how notions of being made in God's image, the idea that God's world includes structures and systems, and questions of how to live wisely, might influence our engagement with this arena of concern. With this lovely, accessible bit of theological reflection -- image, structures, wisdom -- they make the compelling case that government must play a vital role and that we as citizens simply must affirm strong, involved government (as the Bible teaches, regarding the task of the state - see Psalm 72, just for instance!)

But these writers equally make the case that the kind of government involvement needed is not some big-time, welfare state solution of passing out checks to the poor, merely offering more and more entitlements to consumers of government services.  Rather, they explore how wise, detailed legislation and regulations, tax credits, institutional partnerships and discreet funding of specific projects can shore up the best civil society stuff happening in towns and schools and churches and agencies. (It is no surprise that CPJ released, on the same day as the launch of Unleashing Opportunity about overcoming poverty a book co-authored by their associate Stanley Carlson-Thies, along with Stephen Monsma, called Free To Serve on protecting the religious liberty of faith-based social service organizations using their model of structural pluralism. I commented on it in our last BookNotes blog.)

This is a very particular sort of approach of addressing domestic poverty, neither liberal nor conservative, really, an approach which breaks with the dead-end radical individualism of the right and the socialism of the left.  I sometimes call CPJ a "third way" beyond the left and right, and trust that this helps illustrate not only the bridge-building, refreshing characteristics of the innovations found in this little book, but also its exceptional significance. 

Listen to what Katelyn Beaty, the editor of Christianity Today, says, which clarifies some of the background agenda of this little volume:

In a time when our political system seems ill-equipped to address perpetual injustice, this book recaptures a Christian case for politics. Whether or not you hold political office, you are a political person, and God intends for you to pursue justice in all spheres of life. This book will provide you with a clear, compassionate, and hopeful vision for doing so.

Without attempting to sound breathy or exceedingly passionate about social justice, it quietly and reasonably reminds us of our calling to be good stewards of the privileges of citizenship that we have, and ways we can affirm wise civic initiatives for the common good.

I appreciate what Art Simon, the legendary Lutheran pastor who founded Bread for the World (the Christian citizen's advocacy group that organizes anti-hunger advocacy), says about Unleashing Opportunity:

It's a gem. With uncommon wisdom, Unleashing Opportunity pinpoints five aspects of inequality that cry out for a compassionate response. It shows how personal involvement can change lives and promote public justice - a compelling invitation for believers to help narrow our truly alarming and dehumanizing opportunity gap.

Unleashing Opportunity- Why Escaping Poverty Requires.jpgKudos to these fine authors for offering us nearly a handbook of good citizenship and involvement, at least in the area of fighting poverty and providing lasting and sustainable solutions to the sadness and struggles that so many of our neighbors face in these hard times. 

Perhaps in reading it you will be motivated to learn more about how better foster care regulations might help restrain sexual trafficking; you might be motivated to volunteer by becoming a youth advocate in the juvenile justice system to assure that some kids don't get lost in the harshness of the system; perhaps you will be inspired to get your church involved in after-school programming like the Pittsburgh one Presbyterian pastor Dave Carver helps lead and about which Katie Thompson tells us. Perhaps you will be moved to think about these things when you talk about the poor. Maybe some of this will even inspire you to get involved in your local school board, or the foster care agencies, or to even consider how to be involved in helping those stuck in incredible debt from scandalous lending schemes.

Importantly, it will help you be informed about some of these things when you consider the policy proposals of the various candidates for public office.  And who doesn't need some wise guidance from trustworthy authorities with experience in compassionate service? 

None of the proposals for escaping poverty and shoring up our fractured social/civic architecture are too complicated, but they are not simplistic, either. None are that sexy or dramatic; they are down to earth and need to be lived out locally. This book is an invitation to move from rhetoric to responsible action, a guide to how our struggling mediating structures and civil institutions need support, from ordinary folks, local leaders, church groups, and, yes, from government. It invites you to embrace and share and advocate for this winsome, workable, balanced vision of public justice and care for our needy neighbors.

I love that this book itself is framed by an exceptionally clear and moving foreword by Richard Mouw, himself a respected political theorist, and a strong, evangelical voice in public theology. His lovely overview of God's desire for human flourishing in a well-ordered society and creative culture, and how politics figures into this redemptive view of God's work in the world, is inspiring and a beautiful addition to the meat and potatoes of this useful book. "Politics," he writes, "as we are reminded in these pages, is not everything." But, he continues, "God created us as social beings with a mandate to serve the common good through many different kind of services and vocations.... We need - we desperately need! - the kind of wisdom that is made available to us in these pages."


Kudos to Mike Gerson, Steph Summers and Katie Thompson for their collaboration in bringing us this wisdom for being a good neighbor, a good citizen, a faithful Christian. 

Gerson is a nationally syndicated columnist, author, and former staff member of the White House. Summers is CEO of the Center for Public Justice (and former staff member of the CCO, the campus ministry organization we so love where we grew to respect her immensely. Katie Thompson holds a dual degree from Gordon College in political science and creative writing and is perfectly suited for her work as editor of, an online publication for twenty-and-thirty somethings published by CPJ. 

Garden City- Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.jpgGarden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $19.99  I am still pondering this fun and upbeat book, wondering how to explain my joy in discovering it. I nearly want to shout about it from the rooftops!  It just may be, for a variety of reasons, the new go-to starter book when wanting to read about (well, as the subtitle puts it) work, rest, and the art of being human. Comer is chatty and funny and a little bit sarcastic and full of clever stories and analogies, making this a perfect read for younger folks who don't want to wade through dense religious lingo, with small type and big words. It is inviting and interesting and vivid and amazingly right on.

I am not saying Comer has "dumbed down" the whole-life vision of "creation regained" and "all of life redeemed" that we so often write about here. This new book is smart - really smart. It is just that he writes in a style that seems a bit influenced by any number of cool young communicators who use a hip and colloquial style. He seems in a bit in style somewhat like Rob Bell - even the two color graphics on some pages, the broad white spaces, the super-sized font on a few pages with reverse color printing, the minimalist cover sans dust jacket - just like early editions of Velvet Elvis, etc.  Before realizing how very good the content is, this book is just looks pretty freaking cool.

And, the content is really great.

Or, as he might say,





You. Get. The. Picture.

The page numbers have 0 in front of them. Whatever; it's cool.

Really, this well informed book is seriously researched and draws deeply on other vital writers such as Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Richard Middleton, Tim Keller, Walter Brueggemann, Abraham Joshua Heschel -- all of whom he thanks in the fun acknowledgement pages. Comer writes, "I doubt I ever had an original thought. My goal is just to spread your work as wide as I can. Hopefully, I make you proud."

john-mark-comer.jpgWell, we need good popularizers of Al Wolters and Andy Crouch and Ben Witherington and Chris Wright and Miroslov Volf. And John Mark Comer captures them well, offering his take of Richard Middleton on the imago dei or summarizing Tim Keller on work or Preston Sprenkle on Biblical nonviolence or Parker Palmer on calling. The important trade journal Publishers Weekly wrote of his writing style in his previous book (Loveology), "his writing is informal and infectious, growing on the reader as the topics get more intimate." But his energetic, cleverly conversational writing is informed by the best stuff being written these days and he is passionate about educating others, helping us really get the implications - the book feels light and fun yet somehow urgent. 

In the footnotes, even, Comer is playful and explanatory, sometimes exclaiming - with double exclamation points!! - that you really have to read this or that book or article. He reveals in one note that Willard's The Divine Conspiracy is "one of my top three favorite books of all time" and of Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope he says "This is hands down the best book on eschatology I've ever read. In fact, one of the best books on anything I've ever read. Go read it!!"  He also has a footnote (following a very famous movie line) noting "That was my mandatory Princess Bride" quote."  Ha.

This fabulous, fun book does offer the overview of the Bible that starts in a garden and ends in a city, so the title is evocative and apropos. This broad overview of the unfolding drama of a coherent Biblical story is so, so important, so this is good.

But more, Garden City by John Mark Comer explores the meaning of our human lives on the way to that renewed Earth. Our work matters, he insists. And so does our rest, our play, our eating and sleeping. Our ordinary life can have great meaning because there is no dualism between the so-called sacred and secular (I love those pages where he says we must "go to war with sacred/secular ideology  -- because it essentially compartmentalizes God.") Man, this is the stuff I preach about often, and when I do, the response is often very interesting - people love hearing that their mundane lives matters to God.  Serious Christian folks sometimes feel guilty over some disconnect between faith and work, or faith and leisure, and we still sometimes wonder if God cares about the ordinary stuff of daily life. This is one of the best surveys of a whole-life spirituality I've seen, and I am so, so glad for it. You will be too!  It is liberating and compelling and very, very helpful.  And righteous.  Dude, it really is!!


Listen to this very important observation by visionary Skye Jethani (author of Futureville) and what he writes of Comer's Garden City:

There is an awakening happening in the Western church. We are rediscovering that God's mission includes all of creation, not just church work, and he intends for us to be flourishing people, not just religious disciples. John Mark Comer's book continues this awakening with accessible insight into forgotten biblical truths about the importance of our identity as women and men created in God's image, the value of our vocations in the world, and a ravishing vision of the beautiful future we are building with God today. Everyone who reads this book will see themselves, their work, and their world with new eyes.

And here is Scott McKnight, offering an excellent recommendation:

In Garden City John Mark Comer takes the reader on a journey--- from creation to the final heavenly city. But the journey is designed to let each of us see where we are to find ourselves in God's good plan to partner with us in the redemption of all creation. Smack-dab in the middle of this set of ideas is Comer's excellent sketch of work, a sketch I find both pastorally mature and an exhortation to each of us to know that all we do has value before God. There is in Garden City an intoxication with the Bible's biggest and life-changing ideas.

Yes, yes, yes - "an intoxication with the Bible's biggest and most life-changing ideas" indeed. I hope you consider ordering it from us right away.

75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know- The Fascinating Stories Behind Great Works of Art.jpg75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories Behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music and Film Terry Glaspey (Baker Books) $29.99 What a great, lovely, interesting, and inspiring book this is. We are thrilled to tell you about it.

If you have any curiosity at all about art, literature, film, or music and the true stories behind the great masterpieces of the world, this informative and beautiful book will provide hours and hours of wonderful reading. It is going to be a fabulous gift for gift-giving this holiday season, but you should buy it now so you can read it before gifting it this December. I'm not exaggerating - it is a marvelous idea, and wonderfully written. It is not tedious or overly complex, but it offers enough serious background and interpretation of the art and the artist to appeal to a very wide variety of reader. Hooray!

Some of the greatest artists of all time have taken their inspiration from their Christian faith and exploring how so many great masterworks emerged from artists of deep faith and Christian conviction is the starting point for these delightfully informative explorations.

terry glaspey.jpgMr. Glaspey has written several books on faith formation, reading the Bible, a short biography of C.S. Lewis (Not at Tame Lion) and a book on reading great classics, and he works in the publishing industry. In our own work we have crossed paths a time or two, and I've read his other books; I respect him a lot as I say in my own blurb that appears in the book:

Terry Glaspey seems to know a bit about everything and a lot about the things that matter most. I would read anything he wrote, but this unique volume surpassed my great expectations. If you enjoy pondering the connections between faith, art, culture, and daily discipleship, you will adore this. 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know is itself a masterpiece. Who else can tell you about a painting by Caravaggio, a novel by Jane Austen, and live album by Johnny Cash all in the same book? Thanks be to God for Glaspey's clear faith, informed knowledge, and winsome writing that can help us glean spiritual insight in cultural projects from Dante to Dylan, from Rembrandt to the Tree of Life.

I was hooked on this idea from the minute I heard of it, knowing it was a great idea, and that Glaspey could pull it off.  But I was really hooked when I realized he was including contemporary rock albums such as a trilogy by Larry Norman, Bruce Cockburn's Dancing in the Dragon Jaws, and The Joshua Tree by U2. And - yay! -- contemporary novels such as Frederick Buechner's Godric and the short stories of Flannery O'Connor. The most recent pieces described are from 2011. I hope you know the painter and the filmmaker described in those final pages!

 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know starts with early Christian art in the Roman catacombs and then tells us of the amazing story of The Book of Kells and moves on through the Middle Ages (including some stunning cathedrals that are beautifully described) and the obvious selections of that productive era as it lead towards the Renaissance (The Divine Comedy, Rublev's Holy Trinity icon, van Eyck, Durer, Bosch, Michelangelo's famous work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and so many more.)  Interestingly, he includes a little song from the early 1500's "A Mighty Fortress Is our God."

Several of these are pieces I didn't know at all, or well, and a few are not my favorites. (He gives some advice about this in a good introduction, by the way, and invites us to work a bit at this since the artists themselves, of course, worked very hard. His good guidance and curation are helpful for those of us not well schooled in art history.) Even if you don't know them well, these pictures and descriptions are mostly all very moving and, of course, are truly important works. Rembrandt - Return of Prodigal Son.jpgGlaspey's descriptions are very, very helpful and you will be glad to be inspired by it all.

The listing is arranged chronologically, so one gets to read about Donne, Herbert, the famous St Teresa in Ecstasy sculpture by Bernini next to Rembrandt's famous Return of the Prodigal Son. Or, much later, a review of Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather), a 1928 film about Joan of Arc by Theodore Dreyer, and Head of Christ by George Rouault in order. Fascinating.

Dancing-In-The-Dr-298268.jpgThere is found here exquisite but teacherly descriptions of stained glass, classical music, poetry, a few plays, films and jazz albums. To read 70's-era pieces such as a European symphony Henryk Gorecki, a folkie album by Canadian Bruce Cockburn, a novel by U.S. Southerner Walker Percy next to a Japanese painting of The Last Supper by Sadao Watanabe (1981) was remarkably moving for me.  75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know really is a very great book.

Here is what Jeff Crosby - an astute music lover and great book man himself -- says of it:

New York Times columnist David Brooks has written that when "you experience great art, you widen your repertoire of emotions." If Brooks is right (and I believe he is) then Terry Glaspey has given us a profound resource for expanding our repertoire through the works he introduces and reflects on wisely, deeply, and artfully in this book. Feast on the sights, sounds, and words covered here as Glaspey does what few could with such elegance: dwell on centuries of art, architecture, poetry, books, music, and film created to the glory of God and in doing so, open a well of appreciation - and emotion - in the hearts and minds of his readers.

Popular women's author and Proverbs 31 Ministries President Lysa TerKeurst says what many of us will want to say:

What a treasure to see how God has used the talents of his people to express their faith and his glory through music, literature, architecture, and more. I loved seeing threads of God's goodness woven throughout each unique story. Thank you, Terry, for your passion to bring these masterpieces to our attention and into our hearts.

I hope you are as thrilled as we are to be able to offer such a handsomely produced, spiritually-enriching, educational book that is a joy to own at such a reasonable price. It's a treasure, to be sure, and Lysa TerKeurst is right: we should thank Terry Glaspey and Baker Books for doing such a fine project for us to enjoy.

See and enjoy an array of other hearty and artfully written endorsements, here. And then -- please --  come back and order it from us, at our BookNotes discount.

Unleashing Opportunity- Why Escaping Poverty Requires.jpg

Garden City- Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human.jpg

75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know- The Fascinating Stories Behind Great Works of Art.jpg



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October 8, 2015

Books sold at the national CLS gathering -- and short reviews of two wonderful books by Rod Dreher (The Little Way of Ruthie Leming and How Dante Can Save Your Life.) ON SALE

If you have seen our recent facebook updates or twitter posts you may know that we had a friend drive a large rented van to New Orleans (we flew down and back) in order to set up a large book display for our friends at the Christian Legal Society national conference. This diverse gathering serves ordinary lawyers, judges, law professors and law students helping them think faithfully about their callings in the field of law. 

redeeming law.jpgA big seller there is Michael Schutt's excellent, thoughtful Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession (IVP; $25.00.) Mike helps emcee the event each year, and he is a dear friend.  It's a must-have book for anyone interested in this field written by a fine and energetic leader who has really thought deeply about his own vocational stewardship. I once joked that it was malpractice for a Christian who is in law-related fields not to own this book, but, you know, I really wasn't joking. 

Others in the core library for lawyers who follow Christ that are maybe a bit more basic, but still  excellent include The Lawyer's Calling: Christian lawyers calling.jpgFaith and Legal Practice by Joseph G. Alligretti (Paulist Press; $12.95) and Can a Good Lawyer Be a Good Christian.jpgCan a Good Lawyer Be a Good Christian: Homilies, Witnesses & Reflections edited by Thomas Baker & Timothy Floyd (University of Notre Dame Press; $25.00.)  I wish other fields -- public school teachers, engineers, doctors, for instance -- had such thoughtful Christian resources that are interesting, helpful and faithful.


We sell all sorts of books on legal theory -- we had almost a hundred, I'd bet, but should at least note these significant ones:

God's Joust, God's Justice: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition by John Witte, Jr. (Eerdmans) $36.00

Law and the Bible: Justice, Mercy and Legal Institutions edited by Robert Cochran & David VanDrunen (IVP Academic) $24.00

Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought by Michael McConnell, Robert Cochran and Angela Carmella (Yale University Press) $50.00. 

Justice: Rights and Wrongs Nicholas Wolterstorff (Princeton University Press) $32.95


Christianity and Human Rights edited by John Witte & Frank Alexander (Cambridge University Press)  $34.99

peacemaker sande.jpgMost CLS participants aren't law school profs or academics, though, and most are just doing ordinary work, day by day, being salt and light in their field. A number of the attorneys that show up are actually involved in encouraging litigants to settle out of court, and be at least somewhat reconciled. We featured the remarkably practical and very useful book The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande (Baker; $16.99) which we highly recommend.  CLS even had a special training on this model of conflict resolution, although the book itself is good for anyone, anywhere. I hope somebody in your church has a copy around!

Others do work with immigration law, for instance, and some are fighting sexual trafficking.  A few prosecute bad guys stateside and there are Locust Effect- Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence.jpgusually a few international folks around, too, some who may work for groups like IJM or Not for Sale.  Of course we had a good handful of these sorts of books, and are happy that we sold a few of the must-read Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence  by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros (Oxford University Press; $18.95.)

Still other CLS members work, often in a pro bono capacity, doing legal aid for the underserved and poor.  The stories of how Christian Legal Aid clinics are popping up around the country is very, very inspiring.  For anyone who has read important books like Robert Lupton's Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, and How to Reverse It or his brand new Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results or the popular Helping Without Hurting series by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (or heck, Ronald Sider's still relevant and nearly unrivaled  Just Generosity: A New Vision for proverbs31-verse.jpgOvercoming Poverty in America) you know that addressing root causes and reforming structural matters are often more effective and just then mere hand-outs and soup kitchens. Hearing about lawyers serving the legal needs of the poor is a great example of the kinds of social support and development that can truly make a lasting difference.  Three big cheers for CLS for this being a part of their Godly agenda of setting up free or reduced cost legal aid clinics in places of need. Here is a brief video of a rather ordinary lawyer talking how she gives a few hours a month to a local Christian Legal Aid Clinic.

just mercy_bryan.jpgAnd while most ordinary lawyers don't do this kind of work up close, there was a keen interested in Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice & Redemption (Spiegel & Grau; $16.00.) Of course.  (I hope you know we've promoted this from it's first day, and have been glad to see it becoming well known. Truly one of the best books of the year!)

good of p .jpgBooks more generally about public theology and civic life are important to this crowd. I pushed the great little book by Vince Bacote, The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life (Zondervan; $11.99), Miroslav Volf's passionate A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Brazos Press; $18.99) and made a plea from up front for folks to work through James Skillen's major work, The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (Baker; $24.00.) We sold books on worldview and work, leadership and leisure, culture and the renewal of society, the Christian mind and a bit of philosophy. (Okay, not much philosophy.) Two of last year's CLS keynote speakers have new books out, so we plugged those and they were a natural fit for this gathering: Russell Moore's Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (BH; $24.99) and John Stonestreet's Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People (Baker; $16.99.) They were perfect sorts of books for many in this crowd.

Renaissance -  Os Guinness.jpgRenaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times by Os Guinness (IVP; $16.00) was also one we prominently display; we continue to think this is a helpful antidote to culture wars and social division and religious frustration, and a reminder to trust God and put first things first. I do hope you'd consider reading it and sharing it. It's a book that should be well known among us.

Many lawyers are drawn to apologetics. Last year one of our biggest sellers at their conference in Boston, in fact, was by a prominent lawyer and highly regarded U of Penn Law School professor, John Skeel, whose True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World (IVP; $16.00.) had just come out.

fools talk.jpgThis year in NOLA we sold a bunch of Os Guinness's very thoughtful, recently released book on Christian persuasion Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (IVP; $22.00.) I trust you saw our BookNotes review describing it and it's value when it came out.

I promoted it passionately during a book announcement, and invited these thoughtful leaders to purchase it and read it carefully -- in many ways, it is the life work of Guinness, offering insights he learned from his own main intellectual influences (C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and Peter Berger.)

Of course, many of the CLS tribe know Guinness and his books good on civil society such as A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future and The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity (both IVP; $16.00 each.)

I hope you know them.

global public square os 10 - 8.jpgfree peoples suicide os 10-8.jpg

And, naturally, we always tell thoughtful readers about Steve Garber's Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP; $16.00) which I continue to say is one of my all time favorite books.  How to keep on loving God's world even while we know "how the sausage is made" is an important matter for visions of vocation.jpgall of us, and certainly for those working in law, since I suppose they quite often have to deal with set-backs, compromises, and great, great human brokenness. If you haven't picked this up yet, don't hesitate.  It is beautifully done, exceptionally thoughtful, and very, very wise.  It is not a simple or quick read, but one to savor and ponder.

Despite the emphasis on social renewal and religious liberties and the like, we also featured rows and rows of books on faith formation, spiritual disciplines, missional discipleship, and practical stuff such as resources on work/life balance and family life (not to mention a few great kids books!)

Free to Serve- Protecting the Religious Freedom of Faith-Based Organizations .jpgOne of the books that we were especially honored to feature was Free to Serve: Protecting the Religious Freedom of Faith-Based Organizations co-authored with former Congressman and legal scholar Stephen V. Monsma by our friend Stanley Carlson-Thies (Brazos Press; $16.99.) We were the first place in the country to have it, launching it there, as it were, as Stanley was there doing workshops and panels on religious freedom and principled pluralism.  Not to show off too much, but here are some of Stanley's impressive credentials:

He has a PhD from University of Toronto (and had studied at the Institute for Christian Studies) and is now director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, in partnership with the Center for Public Justice (CPJ), in Washington, DC. He is a senior fellow at CPJ and at the Canadian think tank Cardus. He convenes the Coalition to Preserve Religious Freedom, a multi-faith alliance that advocates for the religious freedom of faith-based organizations to Congress and the federal government. Carlson-Thies served with George W. Bush's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and served on a task force of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Christianity Today.

Free to Serve focuses on the debates about whether and what kind of religious freedoms should be legally honored -- think of the lawsuits about Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the right of campus ministry organizations like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to have their leaders sign a statement of faith and still be a valid campus organization, or whether churches, synagogues or mosques can rent public school space in the same way other organizations can, the legal questions about whether Muslim men can grow short beards while in prison or whether Native people's can religiously use Peyote (CLS says yes, by the way!)

Anyway, we are grateful for the work of the Religious Freedom Alliance and glad for Carlson-Thies justice-for-all, bipartisan vision.  We now have this excellent new resource which makes practical the questions about what it means to live justly in a pluralistic society.  Not everyone agrees with this approach but I think it really is a great book to explore these questions, with lots of stories and case studies and lots to consider.  If anyone can advocate for religious freedom without seeming belligerent or unreasonable, who truly stands for liberty and justice for all, it is these two soft-spoken and very smart authors, Monsma & Carlson-Thies. Why not order it today and learn about their proposals for helping to solve this complicated matter in our contentious social fabric.

decline of african american theology.jpgThabiti Anyabwile.jpgOf course we sold books by the main keynote speakers there at CLS New Orleans. Our favorite new friend is Thabiti M. Anyabwile, author of many, many books which we stock -- on topics as diverse as the revitalization of the historic black church to the little hardback What Is a Healthy Church Member (Crossway; $12.99) to the communal nature of spiritual formation in The Life of God in the Soul of the Church (Christian Focus; $14.99) to a lovely small book called The Gospel for Muslims (Moody Press; The Life of God in the Soul of the Church.jpg$12.99.) He was a fantastic presenter, a great gospel preacher who walked the gathering through the Good Samaritan passage with fresh power and insight,  and then even allowed us to recommend books to him, which he will devour, I'm sure.

gifted hands.jpgIt was fun watching the buzz about the arrival of pediatric neurosurgeon turned Presidential candidate Ben Carson (he had been booked to speak long before histhink big.jpg announcement about his candidacy.) We had just gotten his brand spanking new one on the constitution, A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties (Sentinel; $26.95) although Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story -- his own story -- is still his most inspiring volume and Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence is one we often recommend (especially for that chapter on reading!)

possible.jpgStephan Bauman.jpgSpeaking of plenary speakers it was really great to be with our friend Stephan Bauman, energetic visionary and CEO of World Relief -- you just have to read his Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World (Multnomah $22.99.)  We've mentioned it before, here, and still think it is a very, very moving book -- great for anyone wanting to make a difference, to relate spirituality and efforts for justice, and for those that want an experienced guide into working for God's Kingdom by serving the common good.

What a blast we had, serving this fabulous, diverse gathering. What interesting books we get to transport to events, what a joy to curate and display a pop-up bookstore for those who want to be life-long learners, eager to relate faith to every aspect of their lives, including their work and careers.

Of course, we have all of these here at the shop, so do send us an order if you need any of these kinds of resources.


The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life Rod Dreher (Grand Central/Hachette) $16.00

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem  Rod Dreher (Regan Arts) $29.95

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming- A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.jpgDante Dreher.jpgTwo books I most want to tell you about, though, are from yet another speaker at CLS,  Rod Dreher, who we were very eager to met. To hang out a bit with him and his hilarious wife Julie (who we feel we know from the The Little Way of Ruthie Leming memoir) was a highlight of the trip.

We promoted Dreyer's The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life when it came out in hardback a year or so ago, and awarded it one of the best books of the year in our BookNotes end of the year awards. Beth had adored it and voted it onto the Best of 2014 list and although I was quite taken with the premise, just never found time to read it straight through.

But once I started it in earnest, recently, I just couldn't put it down, racing through it, only to stop to wipe away tears or to ponder the deeper questions it was raising about my own life, family, and vocation and sense of place here in central Pennsylvania.  I can honestly say it is one of the best books I've read in years!

The plot line of the book is simple: Rod Dreher (who you may know as a witty and thoughtful conservative pundit and Orthodox Christian thinker) found out that his sister, Ruthie Leming, was dying of cancer, and although he and his wife were fast-tracking around the worlds of serious think-tank journalism in the yuppie Eastern seaboard, they were oddly drawn to the colorful cast of down-home country characters in his old hometown in southern Louisiana. They would fly down to visit with Ruthie and so admired her, her husband (a fire-fighter) and her good friends.

I've never watched the TV show Swamp People and am only mildly amused by the antics of Duck Dynasty and am not even sure why I bring them up (since Dreher does not, although he does tell about people with nicknames like Big Show and Boo the pharmacist and towns with names like New Roads.) In mentioning a drive in joint kids would visit in his youth that got a "bug zapper the size of a mop bucket" being a big deal, he noted, "It was that kind of town.") You can imagine the culture shock when Dreher and his wife and kids determine to move back to the Saint Francisville parish and the tiny town of Starhill and reconcile with extended family there.

This was a major move for them, but warranted. As it says on the back cover, "Dreher began to wonder whether the commonplace life Ruthie led was in fact a path to a hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness."

The Little Way of Ruthie... is a rumination on place and small town life, on the ways local folk help one another, about real family values -- values and folkways that maybe look different when embodied in Starhill then abstractly politicized by the spokespersons of the religious right. It tells a moving tale, artfully hinting at what Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her blurb as "love, surrender, sacrifice, and family."  

rod and ruthie.jpgI was struck by a few things in reading The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. First, just how enjoyable a read this was, as good as any great memoir or novel. The subtitle, after all, features a Southern girl and a small town, not to mention "the Secret of a Good Life." (Okay, it isn't Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon, but the movie rights have been optioned!)  We happily commended it often when it first came out, but now I really know how good it is and want to redouble our efforts to spread the word.  It isn't ponderous or difficult, even though there are huge cultural and spiritual questions floating around and behind the narrative. I've gone so far as to say that if you've enjoyed Wendell Berry's novels (such as Jayber Crow or Hannah Coulter) you'll like this.

dreher-family_wide-705c77696db62252a7900a77c72f76bdd3aca9fa.jpgWhile Little Way of... is no tell-all, sappy soap opera, Dreher's own foibles (and there are foibles) are admitted and his own spiritual longings are part of the story. His being drawn by beauty to deeper Christian faith, his love of Paris and fine food, and older, historic cultures, are moving parts of the story. His yearnings are palpable and inspiring. It isn't a major topic of the narrative, but he and his wife become Roman Catholic, and then Orthodox. They seem like the ideal urbane sophisticates and heading back to a town with less than 1,700 folks and not much to do (as we say) was surprising and fascinating; his framing this in light of not only his desire for a more sane and healthy life but as part of his own spiritual formation and faith development is instructive.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming- A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.jpgAnn Voskamp says "This book will make you feel hunger pangs for what you didn't know you even missed. And then it will feed you, line upon line, like soul bread." Indeed, it comes to us as a low-key, even sentimental story, but there is rich theological truth here.

Here is another thing I liked: it is not published by a religious publishing house. Many evangelical publishers would blanch at the talk about drinking wine and margaritas and skinny dipping and ghosts and sex and Catholic shrines and bayou river parties and barefoot pall bearers. The writing is frank (although never gratuitous) about all manner of Southern things. It is a profoundly religious book, even though it isn't pitched as a religious testimony.

Of course, when one leaves such a close knit family, and returns amidst tragedy and grief, thinks are not rosy; how could they be?  Much of The Little Way... is a tribute to the remarkably joyful Ruthie and her friends and co-workers at her school who rallied with and for her in her final year but much is also about the subtle pains and dysfunctions of this larger-than-life southern family.  Can you go home again?  That is the question.

In one scene many of us could imagine, he bumps into an old girlfriend where there was some old tensions and hurts. 

This is what it means to move home," her writes. "Communitarian romanticism is fine, but what do you do when the past isn't even past, but is in fact jogging down your street, and stepping onto your front porch to say hello?"

We loved Mrs. Ruthie Leming and her daughters and we loved Rod and Julie Dreher and the extended family we got to know through reading this fine book, including Mam and Paw. It did not end with completely resolved happiness, which is as it should be, I suppose. You will close the book glad for having met these folks, feeling perhaps bittersweet about the whole situation, and most likely wishing for more.

And -- who knew? -- you will get more.  A lot more.

Dante Dreher.jpgMr. Dreher's recent book How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem is not just a thoughtful contemporary Christian telling us about Dante's 700-year old Commedia, it's a memoir.  In fact, he says in the preface that if you want an intellectual survey of this seminal work in the Western canon, you should look elsewhere.

Dreher quickly says, How Dante Can Save Your Life "is not a literary analysis, it is a person view. It's a self help book for people who may not read self-help books, but who are curious and delight in journeys of self-discovery along roads not often taken. Nothing would make me happier than for you to finish this book and take up the Commedia -- but it's not strictly necessary."

You see, Dreher himself (as we know from The Little Way of Ruthie Leming) is a seeker and he has burned some bridges and found himself in his own dark wood.  He starts off this book noting that he had grown anxious and stressed, even being afflicted with a related autoimmune disorder from his depression.  

"This is a book about exile" he tells us. "What does it mean to know you can never go home? This was Dante's dilemma -- and in a different sense, it is mine."

Rod encourages us all, whatever perplexities we may face, whatever you may face: "Dante showed me the way through. He can do the same for you."

Though the Commedia was written by a faithful Catholic, its message is universal. You don't have to be a Catholic, or any sort of believer, to love it and to be changed by it. And though mine is a book that's ultimately about learning to live with God, it is not a book of religious apologetics; it is a book about finding our own true path. Like the Commedia it celebrates, this book is for believers who struggle to hold on to their faith when religious institutions have lost credibility. It's a book for people who have lost faith in love, in other people, in the family, in politics, in their careers, and in the possibility of worldly success. Dante has been there too.  He gets it.

I am not a purist about what I read, and How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem is, in a way, a perfect book for me. (Again, one does not have to read Dante first.) Maybe it will be useful and fun and inspiring for you, too. It is not a scholarly treatise, but, as a memoir of Dreher's own inner struggles, we learn a lot about the three volumes of The Divine Comedy. Isn't that cool in many ways -- you don't have to read the imposing epic poem first.  It's a great doorway into classic literature, accessible, moving, relevant, but not dry or abstract.dante-header.jpg

Again, in the introduction, Dreher reminds us

For the poem to work its magic on the reader, it has to be taken up into the moral imagination in a personal way. You have to engage in dialogue with our Florentine guide along the pilgrim path. When I gave myself over to him, I found that Dante is not a remote figure from an alien world but a warm companion with whom I had far more in common than I could have imagined. He is simply a fellow wayfarer who has seen great things, both terrifying and glorious, along life's way, and wants to tell you all about it.

Dreher, too, has some some terrifying and glorious things.  I mean that.  And he, too, wants to tell you about them.  He knows, as he puts it, that "there is no easy way out." 

Virgil said to the pilgrim Dante, "Let us go. The long road urges us."  What a great way to start this literary memoir of self discovering and spiritual salvation.

I will just say this much more.  You don't have to read The Little Way of Ruthie Leming  to appreciate this story of Dreher's Louisiana encounter with Dante. But it might help.  And, if you have read Ruthie Leming  but thought that Dreher's Dante book is not for you, think again. In some ways it really is a sequel to Ruthie Leming.

How Dante Can Save Your Life starts, in fact with this good line:  "Florence has the Arno; Starhill has the Mississippi." 

Oh yeah, I thought, this is going to be good.

He continues,

Aside from that, the fields and orchards of the rural Louisiana settlement where my family has lived for five generations is about as far from the Tuscan capital as any place in the Western world.

This is the story of that place, and of two men who grew up there and whose lives have been defined by its traditions: my father and me.

So, yes, Rod's daddy, Ray (also known as Paw in Ruthie Leming) is a key character along with Rod and his family in How Dante Can Save Your Life. Bet you didn't see that coming?

I sure didn't. I thought Dreher was back to his classical punditry, his conservative Catholic cultural studies, and giving us a (snooty?) guide to serious Western lit that we all should know.  Nope.  This really is another memoir, the ongoing family saga, the struggles he and Julie and his kids had once they moved back to Starhill.

There is heavy pain here, a few miracles, some church history (St. Francis of Assisi died just forty years before Dante, and surely influenced him), serious reflections upon ugly church scandals and personal struggles faced and chronicled. One chapter wonders what sons do and do not owe their father figures. There is some fine advise about finding a mentor. There's a sidebar box called "How To Live with Mystery and Grace" and a chapter about "ties that bind beyond the grave." (How could he not reflect on the nature of Purgatory?)  

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-changing Wisdom... explains that "When Beatrice died, Dante lost her iconic image and became  enthralled by false ones." Yep, there's a chapter on lust, thoughtfully frame as disordered loves, and then some brief guidance on "how to gentle your heart."

You see, this really is a self-help book for those who aren't attracted to such books.

And, it is a literature guide for those who aren't attracted to such books or who don't study older classics.

And is it truly is a colorful memoir you are sure to enjoy, even if you tend not to read creative nonfiction.

Dante_3D_CoverAndCase_HiRes_RGB-554x424.jpgAnd, for what it is worth, it is expertly designed, beautifully done, from the handsome, 3/4 sized dust jacket to the full color frontispieces. It's truly a great book.

Here is what Eric Metaxas writes of it:

Sometimes a book comes along that you want to press into the hands of everyone you know. A brilliant, searingly honest account of one man's path to real healing, and an invitation to the rest of us to join him.

Order either of these mentioned above from us today at our BookNotes discounted prices -- we think you will be glad have them, maybe even discuss them with a book club or small group. It was a joy for us to meet these many authors, and hope you are glad supporting our efforts offering good books to enhance our lives, our culture, our world. 

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September 28, 2015

The remarkable new book "Servants and Fools" (Arthur Boers) and 5 Other Short Reviews of Recent books on Leadership or Pastoring (and a whole lot more.) ALL ON SALE - 20% OFF

When I hear high powered leaders talking about all they accomplish (or get others to accomplish) I sometimes think of that old Emily Dickinson poem - I'm nobody!  So I was struck when Dr. Curt Thompson, in his splendid work The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves (reviewed here) reminded us that we are all leaders, or can become leaders, in our own way, in our own places. We need not be (to use Ms. Dickinson's image) "public like a frog -- to tell one's name the livelong day" but we can be co-creators with God, helping craft our days and touch the world around us. I deeply believe this.  And because I so firmly believe that we are made in the image of a creative, working God,  we are culture-makers -- at our very essence. (See Andy Crouch's must-read Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power for very helpful explorations and reflections on this. These InterVarsity Press classics are Hearts & Minds essentials!) 

Besides, apart from this conviction about the nature of who we are and who we can become as image bearers and culture-makers, we've repeatedly seen how books and reading can transform ordinary people, giving them refocused vision and new competencies, deep confidence and joyous commitment.  Nobody is a nobody! And, as the saying goes, readers are leaders.

Even though many of us believe what the Bible says about the "priesthood of all believers" and enjoy pondering what it means to be "salt" or "leaven" or "light" in the world just as Jesus said, we still are sometimes cynical about the field of leadership.  There are so many prideful, power-hunger, stubborn leaders, aren't there?  And sometimes religious leaders just seem to take on the worldly ways of Wall Street or whatever trends are popular on the management bestseller list adopting the worst traits of the society around us.  

So let's think about leadership - no need to avoid the subject or assume the worst, as if all the books on developing leadership skills are from the Donald Trump School of Taking Charge.  A lot of them really are thoughtful and helpful.

We have bunches of books about leadership and it would be fun to hear what you have found most helpful.  I have a few friends who read these sorts of books religiously (no pun intended) and we are always refining our go-to titles and the ones we most recommend.

Henri Nouwen's little reflection on the temptation of leadership (really, the temptation of any of us) called In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership still remains a good seller for us.  Do you know it?  It is a bit counter-intuitive, but we really like Dan Allender's Leading with A Limp -- what an interesting, liberating book!  With the Pope's visit fresh on our minds, you may want to consider 2013's Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads: Lessons from the First Jesuit Pope by Chris Lowney.  Lowney wrote a really interesting and very helpful study a few years back called Heroic Leadership: Practices from a 450-Year Old Company That Changed the World.

For now, though, here are just a few very new ones that are worth knowing about.

storied leadership.jpgStoried Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective Keith Martel & Brian Jensen (Falls City Press) $18.00 Okay, this one isn't brand new, and we promoted it when it first released early last spring.  But I wanted to start off with it as it is a very good, truly delightful, brief survey of what some call "the Biblical meta-narrative" and how that big picture of the unfolding plot lines of the Bible can and should shape our views of reality. Without using the word "worldview" this offers a foundational Christian view of life, out of which can come a Christian view of society and subsequent social imaginaries.  And yes, out of all that can bubble up a coherently Christian view of what leadership is and what it looks like.  The chapters are short, the writing crisp, the insights profound.   I think it is a really good entree into thinking faithfully and learning new ways to practice faith and leadership in the real world.  We recommend it for students, for those new to this topic, and I am sure that experienced leaders will be glad to review it, being struck by notions such as "Kingdom Collaboration" and (with a nod to Steve Garber) "Proximate Leadership."

And that is just the first half.

The second part of Storied Leadership includes a good handful of specific skills or habits that good leaders will embrace. From learning to manage expectations to daring to be "disarmingly honest" to working through conflict with a vision of restoration, mentoring others to networking to learning the rhythms of rest, the second half of this fine, small book will help you dig in and start doing new stuff, making a difference right where you are.  I love it.  You should buy a few, ready to hand them out to up and coming folks you may be guiding or leading.

By the way, this is the first book from a very small, indie press that Martel and his wife started out of their Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, home.  Look for a new book from them launching mid October called Unleashing Opportunity: Why Escaping Poverty Requires a Shared Vision of Justice, a passionate and well written study of domestic poverty, the scandal of check-cashing scams and unjust lending practices, and how to help overcome the problems of the poor. It is co-authored by the CEO of the Center for Public Justice, Stephanie Summers, the always-eloquent Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson, and Katie Thompson of the on-line journal and movement Shared Justice. I have read the manuscript and am very, very eager to sell it, once it releases in a few short weeks.

Servants and Fools- A Biblical Theology of Leadership.jpgServants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership Arthur Boers (Abingdon) $19.99 There aren't many, but maybe a small handful of good books that deconstruct the standard-fare, worldly ways of thinking about leadership, books that move away from power and maneuvering, or technique and control, or benign use of communication skills.  In contrast, there are many books offering to Christians standard fare management stuff with a gloss of religiosity on top, books full of promises about success and influence.  Some are for Christians serving in the work-world, and some are for pastors or church leaders.  Some have even adopted the once-revolutionary phrase "servant leadership" and have tweaked that to be about crass power or manipulation and the metrics of efficiency.  For pastors trying to see more clearly the pretenses and dangers of this, and to discern a more pastoral view of their work, Eugene Peterson has of course been the most significant voice. His quartet of books on "vocational holiness" (at least Under the Unpredictable Plant and Working the Angles) are essential. As in most of his books, he gently but directly exposes how the ways and means of following Christ and leading a God-centered life is quite counter to the ways and means of typical North American life.

One of Eugene Peterson's (somewhat) younger friends and allies has Arthur Boers, a long-time Mennonite pastor who was recently ordained as an Anglican priest.  I have read several of Boer's books (most recently the very generative study blending the critical insights about technology from the Catholic philosopher Albert Borgman and classic spiritual formation practices to come up with a brilliant book called Living Into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distraction.) Boer has written on conflict resolution and spirituality and daily discipleship for decades, and is now a professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.  This brand new book opens with a fabulously fascinating foreword by Pastor Peterson where he says "this is by far the best treatment that I have ever come across on this much-discussed feature of church life in changing times."  And nicely assures us, too, that "Arthur is both generous and discerning, having lived deeply and well what he is writing for us."

Another passionate prophet against Christian writers accommodating themselves to the customs and assumptions of North American leadership gurus is Marva Dawn (who has also co-written with Peterson.) She says of Boers (not surprisingly, since, although Lutheran, Marva has been influenced by the Mennonite and Anabaptist tradition) "Arthur Boers punctures all pretensions, unveils delightful discoveries, and exhibits perceptive insights. Servants and Fools is the most potent book on Christian leadership!"

Even Will Willimon, who himself has written extensively on leadership says "Arthur Boers has written the book we have sorely needed, a book that is destined to become the main text in my seminary courses in church leadership. Boers underscores the joyful peculiarity of Christian leadership. His book is unique: a biblically-based, christologically-grounded defense of leadership in the name of Christ."

So there's that going on.

By which I mean this isn't a lovely meditation or an encouraging handbook of how to get stuff done. This is serious, upsetting, challenging - and joyfully peculiar - study of power and leadership in the Bible and in Jesus, especially.  

Boers has been working on this for years, and his wide reading and study is evident.  His own work draws much upon those situated on the margins, although the Harvard Business School scholars show up sometimes, too. (As do a few good lyrics from a few good songs of Bruce Cockburn!)

arthur-boers_0.jpgYou see, Boers is aware that much of the Bible, carefully read, is a critique of worldly power. (Just for instance, he cites Daniel Berrigan's poetic and powerful commentary on Kings who notes "David dies intemperate, transfusing his venom into the veins of his son."  Of course he cites Walter Brueggemann, including his article "The Prophetic Leadership: Engagement in Counter Imagination" and much more. That most leading characters in the Bible are fraught with moral ambiguity should be better known and acknowledged among us, especially by those who swipe episodes out of context to give us a "Biblical" view of leadership success. It shouldn't take one shaped by the faith of the Mennonites (but maybe it does) to remind us how uniformly badly the Biblical kings are described, and how Jesus brings us an "upside down kingdom." This book powerfully explore the meaning of Biblical service and sacrifice, reversing much of what we think leadership is about. He isn't the first to say this, of course (think Jacques Ellul or William Stringfellow, just for starters) but Boer brings a lot together in fresh ways, making this a truly remarkable, hard-hitting work.

The first part of this mature book is called "Christians and Contemporary Leadership Fascinations." You can see why Peterson commends it. The second part is "Reflecting Biblically on Leadership" and is the heart of the book - there is lots of close reading and provocative interpretation, well worth spending time with, whether you are particularly interested in leadership or not. In the important third section of four chapters, Boers offers "Constructive Suggestions toward a Contemporary Theology of Leadership."  I jumped ahead to the last chapter where he provocatively asks if we "want to be in that number" and if that means extolling "heroes or saints"?   You can guess his important answer.

Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership really is a remarkable study, drawing on significant Biblical scholarship, Jewish and Christian, classic and contemporary, and he writes with both prophetic fire and a bit of wit.  (One chapter title on Jesus playfully alludes to Peterson's most famous book, which was drawing on Nietzsche: "A Long Rebuke in the Same Direction.") 

David Gill, Professor of Workplace Theology and Business Ethics at Gordon-Conwell says "Servants and Fools is brilliant and essential.... I can't imagine ever teaching another class on leadership without assigning and discussing this book."

H3 Leadership- Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle.jpgH3 Leadership: Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle Brad Lomenick (Thomas Nelson) $24.99  Well, this could be, at first glance, an example of some of what Art Boers finds so troubling, a rather glitzy and upbeat view of leadership, with language of going on a noble quest, pushing boundaries, being passionate and such, but not related to the Bible much, let alone the subversive and counter-cultural ways of Jesus. It is marketed, as is his legendary Catalyst conferences, with whiz and bang -- I love the cool, striking hardback design sans cover.  

So, hmm. I was inclined to be skeptical.  

As with his last book (The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker) Lomenick won me over with his raw honesty, his serious experience, and his clear passion for teaching us what he has learned in ways that are exciting, clear, and actionable.  I appreciated that he started H3 with his own story of nearly burning out, needing to take a break, of being hungry for something different -- something more -- in his life.  (Ahh, if only we all had the opportunities and freedom to take a sabbatical and come up with big plans!)

Lomenick had developed quite a team of young and creative leaders in his Catalyst movement, and that in itself speaks volume -- he had friends and associates and teammates and could create an exit strategy knowing good folks were in line to carry on the work he had poured his life in to. His time of discontent proved fruitful, and he eventually found himself pondering these three mantras, around these three words: humble, hungry, hustle.  

And he had to start with one of the big ones: identity.  Most leaders, he tells us, are mission focused and eager to get things done.  Such driven people can soon forget who they themselves are (and their projects or organizations become "ships without a captain" running like ghost ships.) His world and style are very different then my own, but I was deeply, deeply moved by this portion, and it drew me in.

Under each of his three major mantras he listed the most important habits that embody and deepen those traits.  He ended up with twenty key habits and they "reestablished for me my core leadership foundation. These are habits that will provide the practical playbook for the next thirty years of my leadership journey. Ironically, these are habits that all great leaders have in common."

I like books that find patterns in things, that see how these characteristics work together to form traits and habits. Of course, I am mostly drawn to the sort Boer wrote, more philosophical and foundational, but when I find a more application and real-time guidebook, I sometimes can get very excited. This book not only examines and explores the key habits, but he challenges us to do something to make these things work for us.  He is passionate about passing on this information, and on almost every page you can feel it.  Don't read this book of you want an armchair rumination or abstract treatise.  Do read it if you want some Good to Great author Jim Collins says on the back cover "There is no better path to social improvement then deploying legions of exceptional leaders into the teeth of our most-pressing problems."  

The other endorsements on the back of H3 Leadership are pretty remarkable, all glowing tributes about Lomenick and his work, offered by some of the most recognizable names in this field.  Blake Mycoski (TOMS Shoes), Seth Godin, Jim Collins, John Maxwell, Dave Ramsey, TV guy Mark Burnett.  Broadcast journalist, producer and philanthropist Soledad O'Brien says "H3 Leadership makes a case for every leader, at every level," in ways that will "make leadership better and last longer."  As you can tell, these are not pastors or churchy types, but social entrepreneurs and cultural creatives and people doing good work which is not ministry as such.

I am a fan of Brad Lomenick's first book, and I am sure I will be a fan of this one. But here's the thing: it doesn't do anything at all what Art Boers does in Servants and Fools.  Read them in tandem, I'd say.

Wisdom In Leadership- The How and Why of Leading the People You Serve .jpgWisdom In Leadership: The How and Why of Leading the People You Serve Craig Hamilton (Matthias Media) $24.99  In our effort to curate a selection here that brings fresh and sometimes harder-to-find books to the shelves, we discovered this new work from an evangelical Australian publisher.  We have appreciated their clarity about outreach and creating fun resources that are contemporary and doctrinally solid. As a publishing venture they are all about the first things of the gospel, and, if I might, could call them a "gospel-centered" ministry.  Their practical books are intense with a robust blend of usable guidance while pointing readers to the cross of Calvary and the finished work Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection.  So I was eager to see what kind of a book they'd create.

I have not worked much with this yet, but I'll say this much: although it is almost 500 pages, the type is not small, so it is nicely usable, and maybe not as daunting as it appears.

Secondly, it does not engage - positively or negatively - with much contemporary leadership scholarship. It cites Patrick Lencioni and Bill Hybells and John Kotter's Leading Change a time or two, but it simply isn't that kind of a book.  Wisdom in Leadership covers tons of topics and much ground --  there are 78 short chapters!  A handful of the chapters (maybe a fifth of them) will be of particular interest to those who are tasked with leading teams. It is clearly written for folks in the church.

And I mostly like this promo paragraph, which drew me to it in the beginning:

It often seems like there's a choice to be made for those engaged in Christian ministry: to be a Bible-and-theology person or a leadership and management person. You either read books by John Stott or you read books by John Maxwell.  Craig Hamilton definitely saw himself as a Bible and theology person. In fact, he still does.

But he also noticed that when groups of people get together in God's world they function in certain predictable ways that he could learn from and harness for their benefit and for the flourishing of the world around.

Hamilton does seem to have a discerning and working knowledge of the sociology of people, how change and transformation happens, and how secular management principles can be redeemed from their "godless, faithless pragmatism." He has obviously considered this carefully and with a desire to be faithful.  In Wisdom in Leadership he seems to apply these learnings to doing ministry in the church or para-church, whether one is a pastor, paid staff member, or volunteer.  It looks sane and practical and wise. It is theologically-inspired, conventionally evangelical and tilting Reformed, I gather. I know some of our readers will appreciate it a lot.

The Imperfect Pastor- Discovering Joy in Our Limitations.jpgThe Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations Through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus Zack Eswine (Crossway) $16.99  This brand book on being a pastor just came yesterday and while it is not about leadership, generally, it certainly seems to fit this little list now, so I have to announce it. Heck, I don't think it would matter what this list was, I'd want to name this now: he is a really, really good writer, and we should read whatever he has to say.

You may recall his last big book called Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being which Jerram Barrs said "is one of the finest books on being a pastor written in this generation."

I liked Ray Ortlund's lovely endorsement, that goes like this:

C.S. Lewis wrote that friendship is born when one man says to another, 'What! You too? I thought that no one but myself...' Many pastors will find a new friend in this remarkable book. To everyone who wants to serve the Lord with a heart set free from pretense, I commend Sensing Jesus.

Well, The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations... which examines not just our humanness, but our brokenness -- "limitations" as the subtitle discreetly puts it -- seems almost like a sequel.  What he starts in Sensing he brings to fuller flower in Imperfect.  My, my, this is good, rich, honest stuff.

Ken Shigematsu (who wrote the fabulous spiritual formation book God in My Everything) says "This is simply the best book on pastoral ministry I have ever read."

Mark Galli, Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today says of Eswine,

No one today shows more insight into the perils and joys of everyday ministry in the local church -- a refreshingly honest and beautifully written meditation.

One of the best books of cultural criticism I've seen this year is A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World (which I raved about a few months ago, noting that it is mostly about cynicism in our "whatever" culture.) He writes,

I wish I'd read this book twenty-five years ago when I first began to consider pastoral ministry. The ground Zack covers is vital for novices and senior pastors alike.

I am not a pastor and I am not even sure I can be called a typical leader; I don't really do ministry as I am a shop keeper and businessman. But I intend to read this and I am sure I will savor it. It invites us to a deeper walk with Jesus, to a realization of our needs and limits, and a desire to allow Christ to apprentice us into His ways, even though difficulties.

Wendy Der says his personal stories of his own ups and downs will "challenge and encourage anyone who seeks to minister in the name of Jesus."  

By the way, you gotta love a book that alongside Mary Oliver and Gerard Manley Hopkins cites Charles Spurgeon and Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry and Richard Baxter, Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris and No Little People by Francis Schaeffer.  Kudos, Zack for not only bringing an honest, human and humane approach to pastoral leadership, but for making it so darn interesting.

cowboy year.jpgThe Cowboy Year Ethan D. Bryan (Electio Publishing) $16.99  I mentioned something about curating an interesting selection here at our bookstore?  Well, I wanted to offer a bit of a curve-ball here in this list, a surprising one.  This father-and-son memoir is not, at first blush, about leadership.  Or is it?

You may know Ethan Bryan's books as I have touted them here before. I adored his Run Home and Take a Bow about going to a season's worth of Kansas City Royals baseball games, often with his young daughters.  His Catch and Release is a well told story about playing games of catch (sometimes with the famous, sometimes with the hapless -- he almost came here to have a game of catch in a bookstore! ) in order to raise money to release captives of child slavery and sexual trafficking, giving funds to the abolitionist organization Not for Sale.  He is a sports fan, a wholesome family man, a musician and creative worship leader and one who practices his craft of writing, doing his art, telling his stories, giving his life away to others.  He got himself fired from at least one church job, so I don't know if he's much of a leader.

He did travel around doing free concerts for social justice and got people to sign his guitar, and wrote a book about it, a lovely, inspiring, low-key Tales of the Taylor. Who does stuff like that but one who has some curious leadership DNA coursing through his veins?  Maybe what Professor Boers would call a "servant and a fool" perhaps? Indeed.

And a Biblical fool testifies, creatively, and in so doing, invites people -- as Donald Miller and Bob Goff have famously put it -- "to tell a better story."  And in storytelling, conjuring up episodes of his own life and putting them on paper, Ethan Bryan gets readers inspired to make something different of their own lives. If that isn't a form of culture-making, of servant leadership, I don't know what is.

And so, this newish book, a book I announced a while ago, but never really promoted adequately.

You see, Ethan never shot a gun more than a time or two in his life.  He's a progressive sort of Baptist, earnest, peaceful, kind. And his dad, who in this book he calls J-Bar, is a multi-state cowboy action shooting champion.

What is a multi-state cowboy action champion, you ask?

Well, Ethan, too, wants to find that out. He felt compelled to take a risk and try something completely new (as he puts it) and joined his father in this thing -- apparently it is a thing, at least out West -- of competing in a cowboy re-enacting contest which, yes, involved shooting.  And buying Stetson hats.

Bryan writes, "Competing under the alias "Fret Maverick," I was introduced to a slice of Americana I would have never known otherwise. The Cowboy Year is a quirky and beautiful, Midwest-set, father-and-son memoir." 

But ultimately, he tells us, "The Cowboy Year is a story about having the courage to tell new stories."

Ethan is widely read and uses a lot of good quotes to lead off his chapters.  One, called "changing lead dogs" (there's a leadership principle in there somewhere, I'm sure) he quotes the famous Gary Paulsen and his beloved book about the "fine madness of running the Iditarod" who wrote "I do not hold the record for the person coming to disaster soonest in the Iditarod. But I rank close."

Things do go wrong in this book, in these games, and in these new sorts of conversations he is having with his father and his cowboy subculture. It isn't easy, always, and it isn't all sweet kinship.  There are conversations about handguns and domestic violence and global injustice. It is funny and serious and ends up being quite a stirring narration.  It is about facing fears, about making new friends (which, Ethan says, wisely, "matters immensely.") It is about forming relationships as a way of getting around sticky political differences.

In one moving scene, Bryan recounts hearing the mother of one of the children killed in a now famous mass shooting tragedy.  He recalls the beauty of her transcending culture wars rhetoric and "sides" of the gun control debate by inviting people to be in real relationship with friends, neighbors, strangers, children. It was deeply moving, jarring, even, in a book about different kind of firearms, making old fashioned ammunition, and doing dude ranch kinds of cowpoke things. You see, Ethan is a justice activist and a baseball fanatic, but dressing up in cowboy gear and shooting wasn't his culture, wasn't his comfort zone. But he forged into new arenas, and made new friends, and realized the power of risk, the power of relationship, the power of story.

That, too, is a good part of leadership. Who knew?

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