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« Comparing Keller & Nouwen at the Reviews column | Main | An American Awakening and other new books for post-election civic conversations and action »

The perfect post-election, culture-making book: How Free People Move Mountains

Since this is a book blog and not for punditry, I won't indulge myself by sharing many thoughts about this historic time in our nation's history and the election of Senator Barack Obama.  I loved the gracious and insightful concession speech of Senator McCain last night, and found the victory speech of Senator O to be an excellent one.

Interestingly, Mr. Obama sounded some Republican and conservative notions--- mostly, that the government cannot solve all our problems and that social reforms and cultural renewal are best achieved outside of legislation and government.  As many of us have learned to say, politics is downstream of culture.

We often recommend books that can help us with cultural renewal, usually from a faith-based perspective.  Great stuff has been coming out lately, especially from evangelical publishing houses.  (Thomas Nelson, for instance, just released a wonderful study guide from Christianity Today called Engaging the Culture...I'll write more about it later.)   Andy Crouch's Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP; $20.00) is the definitive book yet done on why, and a bit on how, Christian folks (and others) can develop faithful postures that allow us to wisely do good stuff.  It is one of the best books of the year, breaking new ground, too, and we commend it now more than ever.  We have a special price deal, too, from our previous blog post about it.

However, being social entrepreneurs, starting social change projects, becoming local art activists, film critics, or intentionally thoughtful homemakers is only a portion of our human task to create cultures, and Andy is helpful in showing us how culture-making is not (only) about the arts or high culture.  We live amongst our neighbors in a state, and our civic and civil lives demand some adjudication.  That is, we have to learn to get along and work well in public---from schools to neighborhoods, in townships and varied social arenas, as President-elect Obama so powerfully challenged us to do late last night.  I hope he sounds that note often, calling us to care, and implying that we must attend to civil society.

And so, I must tell you, I have been waiting to tell you, about one of the most enjoyable and interesting, and thought-provoking books I've read this fall.  It caught me by surprise, and I've been itching to speak of it, to get that right time when some of our BookNote friends would pay attention.  I think this book would make a fabulous and righteous resource for a book club now, a library meeting, a bi-partisan conversation starter or a study book for anyone interested in what we do next to heal this divided land. We need this book now, and now is the perfect time to buy and use it.

I am referring to a new book by Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer (yes, that Franky, who I reviewed last December, who wrote famously and perhaps not fairly of his famous evangelical parents, Francis & Edith Schaeffer in his controversial memoir, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of it Back.)  Frank has written several books about his son being in the Marine Corp, how many in his upper-middle class, swanky New England neighbors have little interest in supporting those in the military, and the enlistment of his son led him to deep, deep consideration of what it means to be a military family and why so few of his social goup seemed disinterested. 

During this work, he came to know, write a book with (AWOL) and travel on book tours with, Ms Roth-Douquet, a well-educated, former Clinton White House staffer, a lefty idealistic politico, with remarkable political experience, who has a husband in the military as well.  They traveled around, wondering how to get Americans to care more deeply about their country, to resist apathy and consumerism and shallowness, and come together around thoughtful, enduring civic concerns.  Roth-Douquet is very impressive as an alert political activist and idealistic patriot. He love for her Democratic party is evident, although she struggles with questions of ultimate meaning, and understands and enhances Schaeffer's call to a coherent and sustainable set of convictions that might be called a worldview.

The two of them, fresh from arguments, both funny and heated, contentious and tender,  heart-to-hearts, and speechifying and chose to write it all down.   Some is literally written as a script (apparantly transcribed while the tape was rolling.)  It is an incredibly interesting and at times very moving little book, chatty and yet truly serious, important. 

It is called How Free PeopleHow Free People 2.jpg Move Mountains: A Male Christian Conservative and Female Jewish Liberal on a Quest for Common Purpose and Meaning (Collins; $24.95.)  We hear a lot about finding "common ground" but not too many are really doing it.  This is the real deal.

They have given us a back and forth co-written set of diatribes, conversations, debates and discussions and I literally (literally!) couldn't put it down.  For several days, I carried this book everywhere I went (do I need to be blunt?) and followed their discussions and debates, feeling the weight of their arguments and the heat of their passion.

As you might guess, Schaeffer still has some of his old Calvinist apologetic, pushing this idealistic secularized Jew to the deepest inconsistencies in her views of humans, her understandings of truth, and how we can develop a consensus on what is right and what is wrong without some reflection on our presuppositions.  She puts up with his protests of her humanism, and poking of her liberalism, and pleasantly puts him in his place on occasion as she reminds him of the oddity of his post-fundamentalist fundamentalism.  But yet, he continues to raise these solid questions: if we are to find some way of living together based on transcendent values---justice, goodness, stewardship of the land, quality of community---we must convince people that the crappy stuff of the American dream is inadequate.  These civic questions push beyond politics to our cultural lives, what we want for society, ultimately, to religious questions.  What fun and interesting and wise conversations these two, different and yet deeply connected friends have had.  What a blessing that they've shared it with us.  What a blessing that friendships like this--obviously they like each other, and tell lovely and painful stories about their families to one another, despite their political and ideological differences.  (For what it is worth, they have a lot in common, and calling Schaeffer a Christian conservative on the cover is good copy, but not altogether clear, on either matter.  His faith is a bit tentative and hardly orthodox, and his conservatism seems to be for conserving decent culture, like European buildings and human-scale cityscapes, and the Earth, nearly sounding like Bill McKibben or Wendell Berry, without the pacifism, at times.  He's not your typical conservative, making his partnership with Kathy R-D a bit more understandable.  I'd love to hook him up with crochety old Bill Kauffman, colorful front porch anarchist, author of Look Homeward America; I'd bet they'd like each other. )

I commend this as the perfect post-election conversation starter.  If we are to maximize and exploit (in a good way) the current interest in public life, this contemporary window of opportunity, and enhance the positive feelings around our nation breaking the racial barrier by electing a non-white President, we must act soon, raising big questions, starting good conversations, digging deeper, engaging our neighbors in important discussions about values, truth, civil society and who knows what and why.  Of course, I think this will naturally lead to a natural and contextualized kind of evangelism.  But that aside, these deep questions of how we can bridge our divides, come closer together as a people, and work together to move forward on many critical, urgent matters, are the right ones to purse.  How Free People Move Mountains can help.  We highly, highly recommend it.

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