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Seeing Everything Anew: A (bookseller's) Meditation

I'm not sure why you have subscribed to BookNotes, or what drives you to support Hearts & Minds bookstore, but we are truly grateful.  It has been a good year for books, if a hard year for bookstores like ours, and I am creating our "best of" list to share soon.  We are glad you seem to be interested in thoughtful religious book-buying from a home-grown place like ours.  When we realize who all has ordered from us over the last years, and who sends us notes, clicks through from Facebook or Twitter, or stops by (sometimes from out of state) we are both blessed and humbled.  You are a fine lot, a community of readers who share some common concerns and a fondness for our quirky wares.  Thanks, thanks, thanks.

Just recently I've had some very unpleasant on-line discussions with a few folk who think we sell really bad books and are warning others against us.  They knock authors we appreciate on their web-page and blame us for the alleged heresies of some ministries we serve.  To read an author with whom one disagees (let alone applaud him or her for stuff they do well) is anathema to them, and they say so with dire drama.  They don't believe in reading widely, and our best efforts to say that this is a wise and good practice have blown up in ugly debate.  There are an array of theological (and other) differences among us, but one large point is that they do not believe Christian disciples should care much about this world.  They believe it is bad and will be soon destroyed. Jesus can save your soul, but not much else.

And so, as a reminder to myself of a more faithful theological perspective and as an encouragement to others, I wrote a little meditation about an "a-ha" moment in a class with a favorite teacher.  It was posted today at Living Jubilee, the blog affiliated with the CCOs February Jubilee conference.  It was a hot summer day in the late 70s and the lesson included a line from a Christmas carol. It was a defining moment and reading about it might help you understand even more why we do what we do.  Although it was written for college students, mostly (Jubilee is designed for collegiates) I think you'll like it. It tells a part of our story here, and, hopefully yours as well.  Happy New Year.  Thanks for caring.

SEEING EVERYTHING ANEW

It was just a week ago that most of us sang Christmas carols.  One of the most enduring is Joy to the World.  I sang it as a child and into my college years until I really heard one line. One line--a line that has been as helpful to me as nearly anything I've heard about the meaning and scope of Christ's redemption. I will never forget the time the "lights came on" and I had a glimmer of the far-ranging truth of that one holiday verse.
 
Interestingly, it happened one hot summer afternoon when some of us were in a class with Dr. Albert Wolters, author of Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview, learning about a Christian worldview, and how to help college students relate their deepest convictions about Christ and His Lordship to the theories and subjects in the university classroom.  That fascinating word, worldview, is used to explain that Christian faith is not only a matter of inward piety, not only a system of theological truths, not only a matter of being a dedicated follower of Jesus. Although personal spirituality, proper doctrine and a serious commitment to obey Christ are indeed vital aspects of Christian discipleship, these must also be allowed to shape our very perception of who we are and how we see reality.  That is, a worldview is like a pair of glasses, that color, tint, make clear (or unclear if they aren't proper) whatever it is we are looking at.
 
And we look at a lot, don't we?  From textbooks to text messages, art work to school work, from the beauty of nature to the ugliness of war, the joy of loved ones and the horror of global climate change, from beautiful buildings to beautiful ideas, from cool computer games to cool TV shows, from broken relationships to broken bread, we look, look, and look, day in and day out, making sense of things, learning how we fit in to all that we see.  We engage.  We interpret.  We make meaning.  Things are construed, valued, cherished or despised, understood as good or bad or something other.  We "lean into life" based on the ultimate story we tell about our life, and this narrative trajectory---the direction in which our life unfolds---is determined by the meaning we construe, the stories we tell, the glasses we wear. 
 
It is possible to be a true Christian with glad assurance of being pardoned from sin and of being part of the community of believers that exalts in Jesus' birth and life, death and resurrection, and not have a Christian framework for understanding the issues of life.  We can believe all the right stuff, experience God's saving grace, and still not have truly Christian perception. We can have other glasses on that distort our way of seeing.  Or, to change the metaphor, we can live by the ethos and values of the daily news, the political parties, the ideologies and ways of life that are told (over and over) on CNBC or Fox News, the cop shows, the schoolbooks, the comics, the movies, the latest buzz on MySpace or Twitter. 
 
It is imperative--and this is one of the chief goals of the Jubilee conference--to tell a better story of what life is about than the one we hear most often in our culture. We must allow Christ's story to shape our understand of everything, to live out of His worldview and into His way of life, even in college.  We need Godly glasses, a backstory and framework and set of presuppositions that are shaped by the gospel, so we can "see" life as we should.
 
What does a Christian worldview and a new story about seeing all of life from God's perspective have to do with the beloved Christmas carol?

As we struggled to think how to explain the Jubilee conference to students, and invite collegiates to see the implications of Christ's salvation for all of life, our teacher Al Wolters quietly quoted Joy to the World as he does in his book.
 
He comes to make
His blessing flow
far as the curse is found
far as the curse is found
far as, far as, the curse is found
 
A cornerstone of a deeply Christian worldview is to see Christ as the long-awaited Messiahwho comes to do something, something the carol writer understood: to bring His redemptive grace wherever " thorns infest the ground."  Where are there thorns and curse?  Everywhere, and in everything!  Where, then, is Jesus at work, bringing healing and hope?  Everywhere, and in everything!  Indeed, all of life is in spiritual struggle, as sin and grace battle.  Nothing is as it should be, but everything can be better than it is.  God is at work, just like the carol assures. Christ did not come just to save our personal souls or to bring inner change to a few.  Anywhere there is curse, He is turning it to blessing.
 
The far-reaching scope of this broad view of the power of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension cannot be better said than in that life-changing stanza of Joy to the World. And---to add insightful icing on the cake---the carol lyric notes that this is to be known among the nations.  Indeed, "He rules the world, with truth and grace."

The mid-February Jubilee conference is about hearing a new story, a deeply Biblical worldview, a way for students to see their college experiences through the light of Christian truth.  Because, after all, He comes to make/His blessings flow---far as the curse is found.  In your life, in your family, in your major, at your college, in your future career.  Wherever there is sin and brokenness, Christ rules.  That gives us an exciting worldview that raises the horizons of possibility for faithful Christian insight.  Next time you sing Joy to the World, I hope its glorious truths polish up your lenses.  You'll see everything anew.
 

7 Comments

Bravo for your good work, Byron.

I'm so sorry to hear about people bad-mouthing you. Fear is so strange and powerful. I don't know what to say. You are in the right place, doing the right work, and I thank God for you.

"Far as the curse is found." May it be so!

As a Lutheran Christian, I appreciate the wide variety of books available through your store...

... texts from evangelical Christians rediscovering the ancient liturgy, praying the hours, prayer books

... texts across the church, discussing the meaning and significance of how modernism and postmodernism have shaped faith

... texts that address justice, the environment, poverty, racism, sexuality issues

... great memoirs

I commend you for opening up a wide selection of authors and perspectives. It is good to be curious about what others are thinking and believing and living BEFORE any judging or discerning. Always, always, always, we are to speak the Truth in Love... is it true? is it king? is it necessary? are the questions that help me to do this.

I pray that we may become more gracious and more open to one another. Amen!

While I don't have the opportunity to order books from you as I'm located in Europe, I highly appreciate your reviews and recommendations. Please be encouraged and have courage to carry on in spite of negative voices that refuse to be informed about the world or theology.

Thanks, friends. It is an honor to have you post here. A New England Episcopalian, a central Pennsylvania Lutheran and a European Reformed evangelical. What a treat you all are!

For anybody looking in, Greg's book Living Spirituality is a wonderful, wonderful read, linking contemplative practices and full-orbed discipleship with "in/not of" the world embodiment. He's a friend of L'Abrai, it seems, so it makes sense: solid and open-minded, doctrinal and practical, thoughtful, yet readable. It is kind of a hard book to find in the states, and we have it! Yay.

Byron,

I'd like to add the voice of a Baptist Pastor from Saskatoon, SK, to the others above to say how much I have appreciated the breath and depth of your reccomendations, and the rich variety of books you folks offer at H&M. My worldview has been broadened and I have been enriched in every way through your efforts. Please keep up the good work!

Blessings!

Byron,

From a simple man who is always wrestling with the ideas of visual art and being and artist your bookstore has been a blessing to me, But better yet you and Beth and your staff thru the years have been the true blessing to me, always there with great wisdom not just found in books but in your actions and willingness to share Byron I would ask have these people met you? or Beth? that the could question your actions or ethics it makes me tear up thinking that are little community would have nothing but love for you and Beth.

Well I better stop for now getting and get myself in the prayer closet.

Sincerely
Paul

Byron,
Thanks so much for you kind words about my book Living Spirituality.

Your work is both necessary and essential. Please carry on in the knowledge that your book reviews, posts, and recommendations help shed light into the darkness.