And, now, these. A handful of good books that seem right, good ones to mention as we move forward. What do we do now, if we were inspired somehow to see renewal, if we are drawn to "first things" and, aware of life's fleeting nature, we want to cry out to God, recommit ourselves to spiritual disciplines, if we want to recommit ourselves to being the sorts of people God calls us to be?
Well, this isn't a master list of spiritual classics (but such a list is coming soon!) These are a few new ones that fell into my lap at the right time. We're happy to sell these kinds of resources and hope you take advantage of our BookNotes discount. Click on the order form link below and we'll ship 'em right out. Thanks.
To Love Another Person: A Spiritual Journey Through Les Miserables John Morrison (Zossima Press) $14.99 When pondering some of the deepest things of life these last days---death, justice, forgiveness, compassion, injustice, politics, revolution, faith---I thought of the splendid novel and moving musical Les Mis. There are oodles of books (thank goodness) on C.S. Lewis and Christian studies of Tolkien, faith-based ruminations on all sorts of novels, but this is the only recent, distinctively Christian approach to the themes of Hugo of which I am aware. It is written by a retired Episcopal priest with advanced degrees in literature. What a great idea! Thomas Howard writes that in picking this up we are "sitting at the feet of an excellent teacher, theologian, and literary and drama critic." Canon Denis Brunelle has degrees in the study of liturgy and medieval theater and he writes, "Hugo's commentary on the social life and ills of 19th century France is timeless and becomes, through Morrison's work, a reflection on how we 'miserable ones' of today are called to plunge deeper into the realities of God's presence and love for all." Yes, a book for our time, and any time. If you haven't read the great novel, maybe this season is a good one to embark. Morrison will walk you through it.
Invitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember, and More Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (IVP/formatio) $15.00 This isn't brand new and I wrote about it in a column about spiritual formation when it came out earlier this year. I said that I so appreciated this invitation to consider God's invitations to us: yes, God calls and invites and beckons us. And, as the subtitle suggests, God doesn't just invite us to happy-clappy lives of faith and victory. We are called to bring to God our cares, our fears, our anger, our needs; God invites us to lament, to doubt, to remember. If you long for an experience of spirituality that is both fully human and yet drawn into the Divine, this guide book is a treasure--it is a book to experience.
Solid thinkers like New York pastor Tim Keller and spiritual formation guides like Ruth Haley Barton have endorsed it. Calhoun is surely right that life necessarily brings invitations and how we respond ends up shape who we are and what we become. As she puts it, our yeses and noes "form the terrain of the future." There are good reflection questions for your own pondering, journaling and reflection and they are also ideal for use by a small, trusted group. Nothing quite like it. It seems especially needed now.
Rumors of God: Experience the Kind of Faith You've Only Heard About Darren Whitehead & Jon Tyson (Nelson) $15.99 For some reason I have a bit of an allergy to marketing plans (and book subtitles) that suggest we haven't even come close to experiencing what the authors have. I don't like stuff that smacks of formulas or over-promises. It strikes me as prideful and dumb---unless you are trying to reach some perfectly demographed seeker who has heard of faith but has no clue, why imply the prospective reader has no experience of God but has "only heard" about it? Having said that (there!) saying why I was put off by the subtitle of this, let me shout that this book is not at all pompous. It is humble, kind, gentle, insightful, wise, and strikes a perfect tone for seekers, new believers, those who haven't read a ton of Christian living books or for those who have and want to perhaps move towards a balance and thoughtfulness that was a bit lacking in other such books. This isn't arrogant or overblown and it isn't simplistic. And there are rumors out there---in the Bible, for starters--that things can be (as Brueggemann likes to say it, "otherwise.") Phil Yancey wrote a marvelous book Rumors of Another World and of course my favorite rock star, Bruce Cockburn, wrote a song Rumors of Glory. So the rumor is afoot, and these guys helps explain it. People do seek, and they do find. Their powerful stories attest to this and it is wonderful to read them. This new book is, I believe, one of the best books of its genre: a clear-headed, multi-faceted, mature and accessible overview of vibrant Christian faith, robust and sturdy and enjoyable.
I've seen Rev. Tyson before in some of the great Q Ideas That Matter DVDs that we often recommend and he is very good--a New York City church planter who hails from Down Under. Very impressive. Mr. Whitehead is no slouch, either, also an Aussie, who now works at Willow Creek. Their footnotes and examples are really, really good, and I sometimes wonder how authors like this do it, reading so widely, being such good communicators, coming up with clear and yet exciting ways of saying some very old truths. Kudos to them and the publisher for pulling it off with class!
There are endorsements by Louie Giglio, Gabe Lyons, Scot McKnight, and Alan Hirsch. (Note that again: a passionate worship leader, an engaged and savvy cultural reformer, a respected New Testament scholar, and an energetic missional activist.) Each shares how this simple book really could influence your views of discipleship, draw you away from triviality and move you towards what is more than a rumor: a better way, a Kingdom dream, an "unimagined future." Unless we are utterly jaded, most of us hunger for a spiritual life of intimacy with God, and a walk with Christ that is lively and real. We want our worship to matter and our lives to count. We know we must engage the culture around us and that a life with God means a life of civic integrity and social concern. I'm telling you, this book is both a clear-headed and a bit of a visionary guide, well-grounded and forward-thinking. There is a good discussion guide making it ideal for a book club, study class or Bible study. Highly recommended as these two pastors know how to communicate, are helpful guides and, as young leaders, have earned the right to be listened to.
Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer Richard Foster (IVP/formatio) $16.00 I have had a small hand-sized advanced copy of this for a while and I've carried it around, outdoors, to coffee shops and cannot tell you easily how much it has helped. I don't naturally find silence appealing and I don't often hear the voice of God. I don't take the needed time and when I do it isn't very fruitful. This book reminded me of much and taught some new things.
Watch this lovely video to hear Richard talking about this short book, a lifetime in the making. You will enjoy the many names he cites at one point, I'm sure, as he reminds us that the resources are many. He is uniquely situated, I think, to teach us about them and to distill their ancient wisdom for our busy lives today. The guidance Foster offers is clear as a bell and the material is solidly Biblical, so I commend this to one and all. Foster is eminently reliable and his wide awareness of the best spiritual classics and devotional literature of the ages make him one of the finest and most important writers in spirituality. He includes a lot of Bible study, yes, but he tells stories from his life, too. The stories (including a major chapter at the end of each section where he narrates a particular experience) rang true--I met Foster once and had a remarkable and memorable episode that blessed me profoundly, so I can imagine that his stories and illustrations are quietly so. He is gentle, not breathy, but also very profound and serious.
Richard Foster has written a bit about meditative and listening prayer before (in Celebration of Discipline, for instance) and many of us have long wanted more good guidance about this discipline. (Foster, by the way, notes that Dallas Willard's Hearing God is one of his favorite contemporary books on this subject and we agree!) Of course he draws on older authors like Madame Guyon and even older authors like Theophan the Recluse. He warns against inappropriate versions of meditation, new age or Eastern, and affirms a keenly Biblical approach. (There are those who mistrust Foster but we are proud to carry his books, glad to stand with and for him, and eager to commend this book on meditation to you. I am not a mystic and certainly no master of the sorts of stuff he invites us to. But I hunger for it. Don't you? I love Ruth Haley Barton's good Invitation to Solitude and Silence and perhaps that is a more foundational place to start. But if you want simple guidance about silent, listening prayer, about Christian meditation, entwined with Foster's telling of his own on-going journey to the "sanctuary of the soul", this book will be a beloved ally for you. Certainly in these hard days of political controversy, of national sadness, and of the already hectic new season upon us, we need to be still. This book will help us, and now is a good time to read it. Highly recommended.
Start Something That Matters Blake Mycoskie (Spiegel & Grau) $22.00 One of the things that was nice about the 9-11 coverage was the cutaways and human interest stories of people doing good work, volunteerism, thousand points of lights and the like. One of those stories, I forget which one, inspired me to tell you about this book by the founder of TOMS shoes. I suppose you know that books about upstart entrepreneurs are often inspiring, can teach us a lot about getting involved, following our dreams, taking chances, solving problems, making a difference, and they are also, I suppose, nearly a dime a dozen. As one who enjoys trying to motivate others, equipping folks to be more than they are, who feels called to promote books that educate and inform, I could write about these sorts of books often, but they often seem a bit out of reach. Sure we can learn much from the founder of IBM or Starbucks, but, really. Who of us can do that? (The founder of Zappos has a cool book, Delivering Happiness and started a foundation to build a movement.) Well, when I read how Blake started TOMS shoes with a free intern in his shared apartment, I literally broke out laughing. I thought we started small. I thought we were sketchy, trying to get free publicity and keep the bill collectors at bay, pretending to be more professional then we were. Blake is a go-getter and he is deeply concerned not only about cool fashion but about global justice. (You surely know that TOMS gives a pair of shoes to impoverished children for every single pair he sells!) He wants us to know how he stepped up to do something so that we, too, might follow our idealistic dreams and make a difference. Or work with those who are stepping up, supporting and buying from or praying for or volunteering with...yep, we can all make a difference. As Andy Crouch says at the end of Culture Making, we can all take initiative, maybe with just three friends.
Blake Mycoskie challenges us, tells his own story, and inspires readers to find a "new model of success" (as he puts it) and to make a difference in a hurting world. Look, I like TOMS, and like this startup vibe and I even like the graphic appeal of this handsome book. Start Something That Matters is for you, or someone you know. In the post 9-11 world, one thing is certain: folks are eager to get involved, to do something bigger than they might have before. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and many people, including people of faith, are allowing God to lead them to good things, missional endeavors, ministries, classes, programs, ways to love and serve and care and give God the glory as the love is spread. This is a fun book, but more, it could light the fire under you or somebody you know. (And, with every book you purchase, naturally, a new book will be provided to a child in need through Blake's latest dream, One for One.) TOMS, by the say, stands for Tomorrow's Shoes, shortened from his first slogan, dreamed up on a vacation to Argentina: Shoes for a Better Tomorrow. A better tomorrow, indeed.
Check out this very cool video of (rural?) street rapper David Bowden who did a piece of spoken word slam poetry over edgy guitar, inspired by the title of this book. Start Something That Matters. Or as some folks said in another context, "Let's Roll."
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