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« A MUST-READ NEW BOOK: The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Dr. Curt Thompson (IVP) ON SALE 20% OFF | Main | 6 New Books -- Recent titles to cheer and renew and bless and inspire. 20% OFF at Hearts & Minds »

7 REFRESHING, NEW BOOKS TO BRING YOU CHEER, REVITALIZE YOUR FAITH, ENHANCE RENEWAL, OR DEEPEN YOUR DISCIPLESHIP - all on sale, 20% off.

Evangelical publishers - well, most publishers, I suppose (except those that specialize in current affairs or academic research) offer a lot of books on helping readers improve their lives. Do this, try that;  de-clutter, set goals, take steps, slow down, hurry up. Many are fine, although perhaps not as deeply transformational as they might be. Sincere authors want to help us and good publishers know that these books sell - so we often recommend them. If you ever have any particular concerns or questions or needs, I hope you inquiry of us. There are plenty of very practical books about nearly any imaginable topic.

Especially if one doesn't read a lot, or is mentoring a person who doesn't read a lot, sometimes a basic self-helpy sort of book will work best.  Just this week we got one in by Jay Payleitner called What If God Wrote Your Bucket List: 52 Things You Don't Want to Miss which looks fantastic,  and the ever-popular Max Lucado just released his practical application of study of the Biblical hope of a promised land, called Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now. The paperback edition of his You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times remains a good seller, too.  A very creative and thoughtful young writer, Emily Freeman (who last year wrote A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live) just released Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World which seems to be a lot of fun, very interesting, and really helpful for those wanting a reminder about the most important things in a well-lived life.

soul of shame.jpgAnd then, in a different league, there is the exceedingly significant The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson, which I reviewed here last week.  I was honored that the writer, himself a practicing psychiatrist with expertise in neuroscience, re-tweeted my BookNotes review and that a number of friends and customers ordered it from us. Even as we sometimes read or use with others the lighter, more inspirational sorts of books, we ought to dig deep, learn to be more self-aware, and have wise guides like Dr. Thompson to walk us through what really keeps us from healthy relationships and deep joy and robust visions of vocation. Sometimes we do have to work on some heavy stuff with some substantial books. The Soul of Shame is one of the most important books of the year, one of those that is better than any number of trendy or motivational manifestos.

But reading it myself, while facing some serious personal challenges - not the least of which is a hurting back and a lack of sleep, wearing me down - not only made me eager for a less ashamed and shaming way of grace-filled living, but also got me wondering about other books to read that are not quite so demanding which might be able to cheer me up.

Are you like that, needing a diverse reading list and a balanced diet? I read theology and works about deeper spiritual disciplines and lots of contemporary cultural and social criticism.  Some of the novels I read are a bit ponderous -- I'll say again how good the massive All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is, by the way, Nazis and all.  So, then, you may understand why I went on a search this week looking for books to help out those of us who are entering the fall a bit worn or weary -- nothing too intense, but not cheesy.  I call them mid-level titles (not too easy, not too hard.) Maybe these listed below and on sale now will be both encouraging and inspirational, but more mature then the most simple self-help sort.  

Need some good cheer, know somebody that wants to dig deep, but not toooo much so? Do you struggle with the weight of things in your life, maybe even acedia, and even though you sometimes read heady, meaty stuff, sometimes you just want a substantive book written with a lighter touch?  Here are 7 mid-level books [well, one is pretty somber, and another is will be seen as very significant as it is written by a well known scholar of religion] that I have read, or am in the middle of, which might be just what you need now.

We show the regular retail price, but will deduct the BookNotes 20% off when you click below.

RENEW YOUR ENERGY THROUGH LIFE-GIVING SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

renew your life.jpgRenew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God's Energy Kai Mark Nilsen (IVP/formatio) $16.00 Maybe discovering this book last week was what gave me the idea for this post: it is written precisely for those who are exhausted or longing to find a source of refreshment.  The subtitle talks about God's energy!  This is just what I needed! Rev. Nilsen is on the board of Renovare (hence, the rather contemplative tone of this gentle guide to renewed spirituality.) He has been a pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Gahanna, Ohio, and is a certified pastoral coach for the ELCA.  Chris Hall says he is a "wise, insightful, empathetic guide for weary wanderers."  Nathan Foster's quote most invited me into this here in the start of autumn, when he suggested that "many will find this work gives way to a new beginning - a genesis of sorts."  Yes, isn't this what some of us need now, guidance in turning over a new leaf, recalling how things work in God's Kingdom? Some assistance towards a fresh start? 

One Lutheran pastor in Iowa wrote that the release of Renew Your Life comes to us in "perfect time for a digitally connected yet detached world."  He says "it's a must-read for busy people who are chasing, but not catching, the wind."  Yep.  There's that.

I won't give too much away, but Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God's Energy  draws much from the generative teachings of Genesis 1. It is a slim, lovely book offering life-giving practices that can point us toward spiritual renewal, time tested and hard earned by the author who went through his own season of discontent. The foreword is by James Bryan Smith and there is a really interesting conversation and reflection guide, making it ideal for personal processing, or for a small support group or spiritual direction study.  Very highly recommended.

FIGHT BOREDOM AND DRY PRAYER BY PRAYING THE BIBLE

Praying the Bible Whitney .jpgPraying the Bible  Donald Whitney (Crossway) $13.99  Obviously, it should be well known that one standard tool to combat listlessness or weariness or anxiety is reading the Bible. And I not only commend reading the Bible, but reading books about reading the Bible.  Really: what joy to learn more about the Bible! This new book, despite having the word Bible in the title, is actually a book about prayer.  It is simple, and written in wise, plainspoken prose.  Dr. Whitney invites us to admit that often we are bored by our praying, mostly because we pray about the same old things in the same old way.  This isn't unusual or wrong, so Whitney reminds us not to blame ourselves.  The Holy Spirit residing within us is drawing us to desire God, to want to talk to God more, to trust that God is seeking us out and that we may pray our heart's desires to HIm.  However, when it is "same old/same old" it isn't our fault, but the problem is in our method.  

Having bad prayer times, though, while not utterly tragic, is troublesome.  If we are bored, and bore others, in our praying, imagine how God feels.  So, we need some help -- not to pray about more dramatic things or with more vigor, but using a better technique. It is, as the title proclaims, the ancient practice of praying the Bible.  He doesn't call it lectio devina, but it nearly is, quite simply, using the Word of God to stimulate our own imaginative sentences, which we offer back to God as prayer. He explains it very well.

Whitney is a bit of a Puritan and is a strong, Reformed teacher. His wonderful book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, if you know it, may come to mind when thinking about this method of praying. In that book he describes seventeen different methods of meditating on the Word!  If any of those struck you as helpful, I suppose you will not need to be persuaded of the value of this small book. He mostly recommend using (and certainly starting with) the Psalms, and he walks us through good, better, and best ways to appropriate the printed page into our verbal prayers. Bryan Chappell says that Whitney's book explaining this approach "relieves boredom and unleashes spiritual power." Trillia Newbell (who wrote United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity, by the way) says:

I prayed through Psalm 23 with tears streaming down my face, asking myself, why have I not done this before? Don't give up on prayer! Praying the Bible will help transform your prayer life.

GET OUTDOORS, GO NATIVE, UNTAME FAITH, UNLEASH SUBVERSIVE CREATIVITY

Rewilding the Way.jpgRewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God Todd Wynward (Herald Press) $15.99 I have been eager to tell you about this book, but had to read more of it, to be sure it was all I had hoped.  And it is!  This is the story of a Mennonite couple - he, a wilderness guide who has spent more than a thousand nights outdoors - who started a very innovative wilderness-based public charter school in around Taos, New Mexico, smack in the middle of the beauty of the Sangra De Christo Mountains.  Wynward's call to "rewild" our understanding of the Christian faith is provocative, challenging, and - for many of us, I'm sure - will be a fresh reminder of the wild call to a joyful and prophetic lifestyle.

He does some great Bible study in Rewilding the Way, although it is upbeat and playful, even, as he pushes us to see that Christian faith is less about certitude and dogma and more about entering into God's grace and living as loving agents of the restoration of all things promised in the Biblical story. He knows some of the original languages, and he offers some refreshing insights. His wanting to be "wild" certainly pushes us to be creative and fun and energetic (he's an outdoors educator, after all, and has worked at camps and in wilderness mission, so you get the picture!) I don't fully trust, and certainly don't resonate with, many of the hipster post-evangelicals these days telling us to be wild and raw and free and crazy, written, too often, I suspect, from the safety of their coffee shop and little house church full of their best friends. Some talk about being "wild" but have little serious insight about what that entails.

But Wynward rescues dying refugees in the dangerous desert, aligns himself with Christians doing civil disobedience in the face of what they believe is a repressive Empire, and gives away stuff he doesn't need, in joyful response to the Biblical vision of abundance and agape and radical mercy.  He makes a wondrous adventure out of experiential education and studies stuff like watersheds and bio-regions and the local repercussions of climate change.  You want to be wild at heart? This rejection of the culture's assumptions of the "good life" and what is plausible as new creation opportunities as we follow the Jesus Way into the wildernesses, is a great, great resource to stimulate your imagination.  I dare ya.

For some of us, we can recall the first time we read Dorothy Day or heard the stories of Oscar Romero or really took seriously the words of John Perkins. Maybe it came from early articles in 1970's era Sojourners or maybe it came recently from the Irresistible Revolution or the Common Prayer prayer book by Shane Claiborne and his joyful crew of urban activists. I haven't felt the upbeat energy of that wholistic and joyful vision of radical social change in quite a while (even though I read the new monastics and other such books routinely.) This book just offered some truly exciting stuff and it helped these tired bones to enjoy these pages.  Todd Wynward has brought together some remarkable characters, friends and mentors of his, has read and engaged some fabulous authors, and helps us all learn from those who are "recovering from affluenza and restoring a humble place in the community of creation."

Endorsements for Rewilding the Way include Chad Meyers, Mark Scandrette, Nancy Sleeth, Bill McKibben and (former Dallastownian) Rick Ufford-Chase. New Mexican Franciscan Richard Rohr -- whose center in Albuquerque brings together contemplation and activism -- shows up, as you might guess. The back cover says Wynward seeks "the feral foundations of Scripture." You gotta love a phrase like that. Especially written by guy who lives in a yurt.

Brian McLaren says "I read a lot of good books. But seldom have I read a book that inspired me as much as Rewilding the Way. It is important, meaningful - and so beautifully written." 

I'm not as much of an outdoors guy as I sort of wish, and whether you really are or not, I think Todd Wynward's new book, with its great images and metaphors (and beautiful, provocative cover design) is a joy.  I recommend this, and offer kudos to Herald Press for doing such daring work. The middle portion of the book, by the way, offers succinct ideas, "Seven Paths to Wilding Your Way" which makes it practical (if challenging) and do-able.

I'm not gonna lie: Beth and I are not going to very fully take up the watershed discipleship that he describes here, but I was energized by the stories, inspired by his honest struggles, and cheered by the reminder of what it really looks like to affirm our proper place in God's good creation as we fight to protect the great outdoors.  Three cheers for this feral book!

FIND RENEWED INTEREST IN YOUR LIFE BY READING A LUMINOUS MEMOIR

Wild in the Hollows.jpgWild in the Hollows: On Chasing Desire & Finding the Broken Way Home Amber C. Haines (Revell) $16.99 I could write pages about this luminous, creative writing project, this memoir of a woman who, we are told, is "haunted by God."  I believe her. She has here narrated her young life, and some pretty exceptional ups and downs, and some that are more common than we are usually willing to admit.  As Emily Freeman asks, "How can a woman with a story so different from my own be telling my story, too? Amber Haines has found a way...this captivating book stunned me speechless." 

Rebekah Lyons (whose own wonderful memoir Freefall to Fly I've been thinking of re-reading) says that "Wild in the Hollow captivated me from the first page. Amber's brave story invites us to explore our own broken places as she beckons us to wholeness and healing."

You see, this is the very creatively written tale (someone called it "windswept") of a southern born, rural woman who went off the rails in her teen years, deeply involved in drugs, alcohol and sexual encounters that were regrettable. Oh my, how she bravely tells of her journey out of her Bible-believing, fundamentalist culture, and yet, how God remained faithful, always somehow romancing her. What a glimpse into this sort of hard, small town life for an adolescent! And how poignant is her rumination on her journey away from God. There are other more literary and quite profound memoirs about the journey away from faith (the memoir of Kim Barnes, In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown Country still haunts me, years later, and I often think of Addie Ziermans' When We Were on Fire.) But this particularly poetic rendering of it all is also unlike any memoir I've read. Nish Weiseth, who wrote Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World, says "Amber Haines is a once-in-a-generation voice" and even if that is an overstatement, it illustrates the artful significance of this book.

Haines works with images of home, extended family, the journey away from the true self and the rediscovery of who one is meant to be - homecoming!

 I loved Sarah Bessey's comment in her own rave review:

This book made me feel homesick and at home all at the same time. Only Amber could so beautifully and rightly write into the parts of our human experience that usually defy words.

Well, maybe Ms. Haines isn't the only author to be able to do this, but the superlatives point us to something: this book is well written, captivating, and one which could bring you fresh hope and help you ponder your own life as it intersects with the story of a God who makes himself known in the broken places. Haines has gone through renewal and revival, sin and separation; she has made dumb choices and valiant ones and life has thrown her some hard, hard stuff.  She almost always writes well - a bit too poetically purple on some pages - and I was heartened in every chapter by how she could explain her story and her relationships and her longings and her hope with such color and candor. 

There is stuff in Wild in the Hollow about sex and infidelity and abortion; she tells of her heart -- her experience of isolation and disappointment and hollowness, Christian renewal and spiritual realities and sparkling joy. She writes of romance and marriage and financial struggles and the young adult journey of not only finding an authentic faith but an authentic faith community and church. The parts about a lively gang of friends who served one another, ate lavish, loud meals together, had each other's backs, touched me very deeply. Amber and her husband have lost babies and she has delivered a number (four energetic boys!) which she tells us about. I suppose younger married women may be the main audience of this creative nonfiction project, but, again, I am energized and made glad by those who can be so very honest about their lives, their ups and downs, fears and pains and hopes and dreams. I loved this book. 

Wild in the Hollow is a memoir and a creatively told story, so it is richly entertaining. By the end, Amber does beckon us to a broad and grace-filled Kingdom vision. With closing chapters like "Hope of the Exiled" and "Whole in the Sick Places" and "Siblings in the Wild Yard" she invokes Eden restored, even now, amidst the brokenness of this fallen world.  She is a true sister with a good voice, and whose vision of faith and community among the outcasts will push you onward and give you courage.  Enjoy!

LAUGH.  BE INVITED INTO BETTER VALUES, REAL CONNECTION. AND THEN LAUGH MORE.

The Year Without A Purchase- One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting .jpgThe Year Without A Purchase: One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting Scott Dannemiller (Westminster/John Knox) $16.00 Sometimes it doesn't hurt to let go of some of your anxieties and stress by laughing a lot. I've really, really enjoyed in recent years a few of the memoirs about people wanting to eat local, or simplifying their life, stories of a year of gardening or raising chickens or eating better.  I love memoirs and was eager to read this new one, but I had no idea how blasted funny it is. It was one of my favorite reads this summer.

I won't tell you much, other than to say that this high-powered and professionally-driven couple went on a short term Presbyterian mission trip and through that discerned a call to spend a year in poverty-stricken village in Guatemala as a Presbyterian missionary doing low-key development projects.  We learn that after that impactful year they then came home, convinced that their lives would forever be connected to the poor families they worked with in Central America, that their own lifestyles would be guided by a mission statement illustrating their priorities of service and embracing a Christ-like economics.  A mission statement that they had artfully commissioned and expensively framed on the handsome walls of their new suburban home.  Perhaps you can see where this is going.

A couple of kids later, they realized they had drifted considerably from their passion for justice not to mention their values about simple living, generosity and solidarity with the needy.  Without much religious intensity, they decided to enter into this plan - a contest, even? - to not buy anything other than food and truly necessary items for a full year.

There is an earnest desire to be faithful to Jesus, and there is a little Bible lesson either starting or concluding each chapter, but this isn't spiritually deep stuff.  The Dannemiller's don't seem to be overly pious evangelicals, just pretty ordinary mainline church peeps, doing something just a little bit crazy.  Or really crazy, come to think of it.  And the writing is hilarious. 

You will love the funny bit about whether they should or shouldn't tell their kids about this year without buying stuff.  The chapter about making a gift for a childhood birthday party is fantastic.  (Man, you have to buy a lot of stuff when you have kids!) The marital conversations are funny (perhaps they could sell some of these as scripts to Modern Family. Mrs. D does not cut him much slack, I might note, and their maintaining their wedded bliss is another part of this journey which was great.) I roared out loud, laughing about his using his daughter's girlish travel bag when his stylish (and masculine) luggage broke; I loved how he admitted forgetting his socks on a trip, after his wife had specifically reminded him.  No, he couldn't run out to a Target near the hotel and buy more.

These really are interesting stories, but this is less Thoreau and more Dave Berry,  part Bill Bryson and maybe a bit of Anne Lamott thrown in for good measure. There is tender stuff here, poignant and important, even.  The profundity of what is really going on in resisting materialism --  think of the great stories in the Advent Conspiracy video curriculum that we promote each year, for instance --  is just so important, but it is shared in The Year Without A Purchase with such zany joy and so little self-righteousness that it just sneaks up on you, until you realize that you, too, can lighten up, figuratively and literally.  I want to be more generous, funnier, happier, even as we experiment with new models of faithfulness. Humorists can help us see how to navigate hard times by not taking ourselves so serious.  Chesterton even said that, but I don't think Dannemiller is the sort to quote a stuffy Brit.  He's too busy making some home-made alternative to a much-needed item for his kids or himself.  Or coming up with new ways to have devotions as a family, or spend good time really connecting. This book was a great, pleasant gift to me, and maybe it will be to you, too.  Enjoy!

EXPERIENCE HOLY DISCONTENT.  ATTEND TO YOUR PAIN AND THE SUFFERING OF THE WORLD.

Prophetic Lament- Call for Justice in Troubled Times.jpgProphetic Lament: Call for Justice in Troubled Times Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $17.00  Sometimes, when one is a bit discouraged, tired of carrying the weight of the world, and wanting to read something inspiring and motivational, what might be really doing on is something described in a fine book by Bill Hybells called "holy discontent."  That is, God is stirring up something in your heart beyond the tiredness that comes from stress and lack of sleep, but is actually a burden which could lead to deeper cares and concerns. That is, rather than avoid or cover up our dissatisfactions, we might hear in them a holy calling.  And so, I invite you to this powerful, challenging, passionate book. There are other books on lament that have come out in recent years -- some, fairly detailed works of eye-opening Biblical scholarship, others poetic and poignant.  This, though, is not just about how the American church tends to avoid lament and how it is an essential component of Biblical faith -- it is a guide into what it means to lament well and why it matters.  I think it will be on our short list of the very best books of 2015.

Soong-Chan Rah is a professor (of evangelism) at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.  He has written important works about the global church, about racial and ethnic diversity (Many Colors) and recently collaborated on the extraordinary lament project called Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, which we have commended at BookNotes before.

In Prophetic Lament Rah offers us a profound way to name our pains and anxieties, and to move towards repentance and change, and he does this by taking us into a close reading of the book of Lamentations.  He draws on the best commentaries, and the footnotes are well-informed and fascinating.  This reading of the canonical text of Lamentations - written after exile and the destruction of Jerusalem, of course - is a much needed corrective to evangelical (and American?) triumphalism, exceptionalism and views of faith that are glib and unrelated to the world of woe we all inhabit. Who knew that this harsh and often un-read Biblical book could be so relevant and vibrant?

Hear this great endorsement by Native theologian and George Fox Seminary prof, Randy Woodley:

Rah gifts the church not only with his caring prophetic voice but also his pastoral calling, which helps us to grieve the sins of society and those of the church. This book is timely and reaches very deep theologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As Christena Cleveland writes,

Soong-Chan Rah leads us beyond a shallow understanding of peace as the absence of conflict and a one-sided understanding of sin that fails to acknowledge the suffering of the victim. In doing so, he prophetically calls us to examine the work of reconciliation between those who live under suffering and those who live in prosperity.

Brenda Salter McNeil -- a delightful woman of color and evangelist who works for IVCF -- was asked to write the foreword to Rah's book when they were both in Ferguson doing anti-racism work, including a fair share of heart-broken lament.  Her few pages are powerful and important, and it is lovely to she her in print again, setting up this volume.

Prophetic Lament is the first in a new series of books called Resonate, where scholars will attempt to write less for their academic guild but for a more popular audience, and which offer Biblical resources for cultural renewal.  "Each contributor to Resonate seeks to bear witness to Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, through the written Word in and through his or her own life story and the broader cultural context." The Executive Editor of the Resonate series is Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, the extraordinary professor of Christian theology and theology of culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary and director of "New Wine, New Wineskins" the Institute for the Theology of Culture at Multnomah University.

GET GROUNDED IN EARTH, WATER, SKY, FINDING GOD'S PRESENCE HERE, NOW.

Grounded.pngGrounded: Finding God in the World - A Spiritual Revolution Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $26.99  NOT YET RELEASED available October  6, 2015 Perhaps this is the sort of book you most need right now - a delightful combination of social research, progressive theology, beautiful science writing, personal storytelling, and practical guidance to finding God's presence in the ordinary stuff of Earth. We are taking pre-orders for this as it isn't released yet, although we will be able to ship it early in October. In my own weariness and in my own search for a book that isn't too heavy but not too light, that is serious but not ponderous, this looks like almost a perfect fit.  It will be discussed a lot, I am sure, in the months to come, and I hope you read it so you can join in the conversations, but mostly I hope it will touch you now, deeply, where you need to sense God's presence, despite all.

As Shauna Niequist writes of it

I've long respected Diana Butler Bass for her intelligent approach to the religious conversation, and never more so than in the pages of this book. Grounded made me love this beautiful world more deeply, and made Gods' presence more visible everywhere I looked.

I, too, respect and enjoy Diana.  Some have found her outspoken liberal views a bit off-putting; her frustrations with evangelicals and fundamentalists are often evident. Her scholarly reputation as a sociologist and historian of American religion -- especially of spiritual awakenings -- is solid, even if some quibble with her crunching and interpreting of the contemporary data. Her last book, Christianity After Religion is a major rumination about how the mainline churches might respond to the decline in church membership and how we might appreciate the much-discussed shift of the number of folks who describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious" and "nones."  Agree fully or not with her assessment of the culture, or her own journey away from the evangelicalism of her earlier days, Diana Butler Bass is a very important figure, a smart and charming writer, and her books should be on your list. From the stories of rather ordinary, often small, neighborhood churches colorfully told in Christianity for the Rest of Us to her unique book on church history (fascinating!) called A People's History of Christianity and on into Christianity After Religion, she is on a journey to listen to the religious concerns of contemporary people, to understand, and to equip us to cope with large religious changes happening in our lifetime.

I've read the first 125 pages of this forthcoming volume, and have enjoyed it immensely. (I will write more about it later, as it deserves a more careful and serious review and I have some criticisms -- imagine!) I was truly taken in by Part One which includes three long chapters of marvelously written, insightful, and stimulating reflections on Dirt, Water, and Sky. Yes and yes! In this regard, Grounded stands with many other books about "practicing the presence of God" and discovering a spirituality of the mundane, books such as  An Altar in the World or The Luminous Web by Barbara Brown Taylor or Being Home by Gunilla Norris or the many writings of John Philip Newell, the popular Celtic Benedictine or some of the religious comments of Wendell Berry or Wes Jackson. It reminds us a bit of the less overtly mystical but wonder-full writings such as those of Aldo Leopald (she cites Sand County Almanac) or the best parts of Annie Dillard.

You may recall the mystic Julian of Norwich reporting about God showing her small truths in visions "no bigger than a hazelnut."  This ancient mystic realization animates Grounded even if it is presented as a new postmodern revolution, away from conceiving God as a distant, heavenly King to a nearby, tender Presence.

where is god quote from DBB.jpgThe title and subtitle of this book are perfectly chosen: this is truly down-to-Earth theology, and insofar as it reminds us that God is imminent, near, close (if not exactly in all things; Bass early on reminds us that she is not a pantheist!) and that our spiritual practices can develop with an attentiveness to the ecological realities of this dappled creation (yes, she cites Gerard Manley Hopkins and Mary Oliver) then I believe it is going to enrich and bless and deepen the lives of many. She is inviting us to new habits, a word she reminds us is akin to "habitat" and "inhabit." This is a spirituality of home, of neighborhood, of the commons.

Does this capture the views of enough people to call it a spiritual revolution, what's really happening now?  Unlike more devotional books, Bass inspires us even as she offers her scholarship, documenting trends and shifts and explaining the prevalence of contemporary longings for this kind of ecological faith.  She offers statistics alongside anecdotes, and narrates her own deeply spiritual journey through stories of farmers markets and praying through the beauty of beaches and parks. (I got choked up imagining my friend kissing the beach as she sensed Divine wonder there with the waves splashing on her Capris.) Her chapter describing her walks along the Potomac River are splendid. Few spiritually-oriented books draw so robustly on science and environmental studies as does Grounded and although Bass is clearly situated in the (progressive wing) of the Episcopal Church, the book should be read by all manner of Christian folks, and may appeal to those outside of the Christian tradition. (She talks about non-Christian faiths a lot.)

There is afoot a broad, spiritual revolution, she insists, and, again, those who are spiritual but not connected much to religious institutions are not only to be welcomed, but their insights are to be appreciated. In this she is radically Protestant, it seems: we don't need priests or church-run ceremonies to mediate the goodness of the Divine for us and God can bid us outside the walls of the church. Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit I think the Latin has it.

As a fairly conventional Presbyterian evangelical, myself, you might realize that I worry about the trajectory of all of this: will it lead to a "spirituality of the ordinary" consistent with the great tradition of what the church has taught about the character of God and the centrality of the person and work of Jesus the Christ, bodily incarnated and bodily resurrected? (I'm on the N.T. Wright side of his big debate with the late Marcus Borg, you know, nicely documented in the point/counterpoint book The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions a decade ago, and while I've read plenty of Matthew Fox, and appreciate his "creation-based spirituality" I understand those who dismissed him for moving beyond orthodoxy and syncretisms.) That Diana draws on Borg and Fox isn't necessarily troubling, as she also cites more traditional theological voices, including some evangelicals whose missional sensibilities allow them to embrace the localities of their neighborhoods and serve the common good well.

Does being grounded in soil, which is sacramental, and in watersheds, which are essential for sustainable life, and even in sky (the air that we breathe seems a lot like Spirit, after all) -- does all of this necessarily lead us away from evangelical faith? I think not, although for the author of this thoughtful book, it seems to. She sees this post-Christian shift and at some points celebrates it, but, she also says "it breaks (her) heart."  Although I have not quite experienced the same stops along the journey as Diana has, I was very moved to read about her "third conversion" in the aftermath of 9-11. It is no surprise, I suppose, that she ends with a nod to process theology, and that the contemporary theologian she seems to cite the most is Sally McFague whose most famous book is about the metaphor of the world being the very "body of God."

I hope you know that the books I review at BookNotes and that we sell at Hearts & Minds are selected for the sake of serving serious readers, and that we often suggest books that we realize are theologically diverse, maybe even controversial for some readers.  We encourage reading widely, enjoying the great gifts of those who write well and thoughtfully, being readers who are happy to appreciate good and important writers who stretch us a bit.  Diana Butler Bass writes the kinds of books we're happy to promote, and even if I have questions and comments scribbled on many a page, it is, surely, a book that is energizing and enjoyable and useful. I am glad it is in my hands now, and that we can ship it to you soon.

Listen to these lovely endorsements:

I've been grateful for Bass's razor-sharp mind, but upon finishing Grounded, I found myself in love with her mystical heart and gorgeous storytelling. We need to believe that God is with us, in dirt and water and our suffering and homes and neighborhoods. God is definitely in this book. (Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior)

Grounded is a wise and beautiful book. It is, in fact and in places, almost an anthem to the sacred unity of the physical and the spiritual in the formation of human faith and in the maturation of the human soul. (Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence)

An absolutely gorgeously written book about real faith in the real world. (James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage)

Well, dear readers, there are some ideas to help energize your heart or mind, or both, and seven books to consider.  I've selected books that are neither saturnine nor simplistic, but the kind of resources I trust will help you if you need, as I do sometimes, a pleasant read that is informative and stimulating, inviting and encouraging.  Buy one or two of these and give yourself the gift of the time to read them.

Ponder a bit, chat with some friends, maybe over some wine and tasty cheese.  Enjoy these pleasant days in early fall. Thank you for caring about books and reading. It is good to know that we have friends who are quixotic enough to believe, in this day and age, that books still matter, that reading can be an act of spiritual renewal. 
 


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