A rich summer array of brand new books on spiritual formation.

My youngest daughter, Marissa, graduated from her charter cyber-school at a state-wide ceremony this weekend.  We had a lovely party in the backyard on Sunday and took her to the airport on Monday to arrive in time for her first early college class at Calvin College in Michigan.  From high school grad to college student in 48 hours.  I'm exhausted.

Our other daughter, a decade older, is for this week a retreatant at an ecumenical Benedictine monastery in Ann Arbor.  Her facebook announcement noted "a car, bus, train, plane. It feels like living in a Richard Scary book."  And then, "Stephanie is getting herself to a nunnery."  Shakespeare fans can laugh.

Thanks for your support of our family, your prayers for Marissa, and the lovely notes on facebook and twitter.  We're glad that our "family business" sometimes really does seem like an extended family, and we are grateful.  Please pray not only for us, but for other customers and friends who themselves continue to struggle, who have great needs, whose lives and circumstances are not as happy as ours are this weekend.

That Stephanie has some (academic) interest in monastic ways should not surprise us.  One of the great trends we noticed about a decade into our book-selling biz is that evangelical customers stopped complaining that we carried Thomas Merton; even conservative pastors were citing Henri Nouwan in their sermons and nearly all the reputable religious publishing houses were releasing books of spiritual formation, re-discovering the devotional classics, talking about sabbath and liturgical customs and contemplative disciplines.  Eventually, even the hipster crowd emerged with a real distinctive concern for embodied practices of faith, including practices that will aid in our intimate knowledge of God.  Postmoderns talked about ancient-future approaches, moving forward by looking backward.  

Many folks---including younger folks--- want to draw on the array of customs and disciplines that have enabled older saints to walk with God.  Not a few Protestants have published books with names like Cloister Talks: Learning From My Friends the Monks (by Jon Sweeney; Brazos Press; $14.99) or Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants by Dennis Okholm (Baker; $15.99)  One of the best introductory books I know about Benedict is, in fact, written by a Presbyterian.  See Ancient Paths: Discover Christian Formation by David Robinson (Paraclete Press; $16.99) which I reviewed several months back.

Richard Foster, of course, is one of the writers who has brought that heritage to the contemporary religious publishing world.  (Celebration of Discipline [HarperOne; $24.99] is surely one of the most important books of the last 50 years!)  And he has a new book coming in September, which looks to be very good---Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer (to be published by IVP; $16.00.  You can pre-order it from us now if you'd like and we'll send it at a discounted price when it is released.)

And so, here are a few such books that have caught our attention here in recent weeks.  All of these are new this Spring and are titles that we most thoroughly recommend.  Perhaps you can commit to reading a few this summer.   Enjoy.

ProductImages.ashx.jpgThe Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life Joan Chittister (BlueBridge) $19.95  Many of our readers will know this popular Benedictine author, one of the biggest selling spiritual writers in recent years.  Here, she offers an introduction to the Rule of Benedict as a lens for how to see all of life as an opportunity to reverence and joy. (She has written a very good book on this years ago called Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of Saint Benedict [Harper; $13.99] by the way, but the style and tone of this new hardback is so much different!)  It is written as lyrical poetry, a soothing and moving book, called by Phyllis Tickle "beautiful and welcoming" where she has "outdone even her own past work."  One reviewer says this is "like a holy distillation of all that Joan Chittister has written to date."  Lovely.




97229522.JPGSeeking Spiritual Intimacy: Journeying Deeper with Medieval Women of Faith  Glenn E. Myers, With a forward by James Houston (IVP) $15.00  I mentioned in my opening remarks that evangelical publishers are doing great work releasing high quality books about spiritual formation.  No one publisher releases more consistently good writing on the spiritual life than InterVarsity Press in their formatio line.  This richly detailed study is an example; an evangelical Protestant publisher has just given us the defining work of the Beguines, a network of Catholic faith communities in medieval Europe where women organized their world around one thing needed---simple life with Christ at the center.  A few of these women mystics have become well known among those learning about historic devotional writing (think of Mechthild of Magdeburg or Hildegard of Bingen.) The others discussed may not be known---how much do you know about 12th century Flemish women, after all?  Ha!   But before you think this is just too arcane, please know that this book not only presents fabulously interesting information but is created to be used devotionally.  There is a reflection exercise at the end of each chapter so you, too, can experience the great love of God that these valiant women knew.  These are odd times in our postmodern world, but perhaps is somewhat similar to the shifting ground under their feet as well.  Isn't it interesting that such ancient insight might be the most applicable wisdom for our own age?  Remarkable. Three cheers for IVP in bringing such rare insight to us, and making it so very, very helpful.

9781587680649.gifA Lever and a Place to Stand: The Contemplative Stance, The Active Prayer  Richard Rohr (HiddenSpring) $15.00  A few weeks ago I announced Fr. Rohr's very significant new book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossy Bass; $19.95.)  About that time, this little sleeper of a paperback was released and in many ways it is also a "holy distillation" of much of what Rohr has been about over the years.  These were lectures given (and if you have heard him or his recorded talks, you know he is a great communicator and vibrant speaker) at a center in London dedicated to offering seminars in Christian meditation (in the mystical tradition of silence as taught by John Main) and how that might equip us to be spiritual leaders for world peacemaking.  And so, this little volume invites us to ponder the relationship of the journey inward and the journey outward, the ways in which contemplation can ground us for our work in the world.  A Lever and a Place... is classic Rohr, exploring the inner texture of our deepest selves and God's call to commission us to be agents of peace and justice in the world.  

9780195378726.jpgA Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation  Martin Laird (Oxford University Press) $18.95  You may know of Laird's Into the Silent Land, the much talked about and often recommend book that came out just a few years ago from this Catholic priest and professor at Villanova University here in Pennsylvania.  Rave reviews came from sources as unique as Rowan Williams and Christianity Today.  This brand new one seems to be a sequel or companion volume (with the same smallish chunky size that so nicely fits the hand) and is an elegant and beautifully written reflection on the need for silence in our lives.   It gets a bit heavy at points---drawing on the best of the contemplative tradition he calls for a spaciousness that accepts sound and silence and that rejects foundational dualisms. Whew.  If  you've read any of the accounts of the desert fathers or appreciate Russian Orthodox spirituality this might appeal to you.

001aef78_medium.jpegRavished By Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality  Belden C Lane (Oxford University Press) $29.95  I have been waiting for the strength, time, and emotional energy to read what I believe may become one of my favorite serious books of the year.  I haven't touched it yet, but want to commend it to you on the strength of the author's earlier books, the rave reviews of a few trusted friends who have it already, and this fine blurb on the back by William Dyrness (of Fuller Theological Seminary) who himself has several important books about the arts, beauty and aesthetics:

Belden Land has provided a contemporary spiritual theology perfectly suited to the restless longings of our consumer culture.  Rereading Calvin and Edwards, he finds neglected (and surprising) resources in the Reformed tradition for seeing creation as a rich and wild theatre of fulfilled desires.  In the process he teaches the reader to share creation's passionate and conflicted yearning for God, and to join its praise of God's     loveliness.


I appreciated this review by social ethicist Larry Rasmussen, too

Exemplary!  Christianity's ecological phase requires Earth-honoring retrieval and recasting of its deep traditions.  Lane brings to the task a good historian's unflinching honesty as well as the pilgrim's personal passion.  The result is Reformed spirituality transformed by its own strong sense of God's presence amid streams of earthly beauty across "landscapes of desire." A timely, ecumenical gift.



Professor Lane does indeed have personal passion.  And great experience to write a book like this---a number of his fans (many who are wilderness hikers and rock climbers) have long awaited this highly anticipated work.  His previous two books were about the relationship of landscape and spirituality; The Solace of Fierce Landscapes (Oxford University Press; $17.99) is, in fact, part outdoors hiking memoir and part study of the role of geography in the Bible.  From the desert fathers to holy mountains, he studies, prays, hikes, prays, does the whole outdoor adventure thing and writes about it thoughtfully.  His embodied, Earthly spirituality is beautiful and righteous (and at times as demanding as the fierce landscapes of which he writes.) 

So, he has a deep and lived appreciation of natural beauty, which drew him to prolific Reformed thinkers like Jonathan Edwards (yes, that Jonathan Edwards) who was as much as a naturalist as preacher, with a constant theme of beauty underlying his understanding of God.  And, he seems to draw quite a lot on Calvin who insisted that the very creation itself is the essential theater on which our lives unfolds.  Like I said, I'm working up the courage to work with this this summer.  I am sure I'm not alone to affirm the credos that beauty matters, and that authentic spirituality does not lead us away from this world.  Lane will help sear this into our lives, I am sure.  Ravished By Beauty is a very important work.

62809684_b.jpgThirsting for God: Spiritual Refreshment for the Sacred Journey  Gary Thomas (Harvest House) $13.99  Gary Thomas is one of those writers about whom I have pledged to read everything he writes.  And it isn't a burden as he has a light touch, a great sense of humor and that knack for illustration and analogy that the best teaching preachers have.  Gary is one of the finest evangelical writers about spirituality, I'd say, and this is a major reworking of an early book of his (then called Seeking the Face of God.)  This one expands on that book's introduction to the deeper spiritual classics, translating their insights and allowing ordinary contemporary folks to learn to appropriate their piety and wisdom.  It is hefty (over 300 pages) but wonderfully breezy, covers tons of good information, and never seems repetitive or tired.  It is more than a bargain for its immense value and we are positive it will be of great benefit to God's people.

I suspect you agree that much that passes for faith development these days is like "fast food."  There are fads, formulas and promises of experiencing God's presence but few such authors--despite the great packaging of their books--really deliver.  In Thirsting for God, Thomas guides us through the best writers of church history, showing us how they learned to know God more intimately and live out their discipleship more faithfully.   This is the faith passed down, the best-practices that have endured, the writers you ought to draw upon.  It is ecumenical in the best sense and draws on a wide range of solid (and often beautiful) writing.



Even as we reject formulas and cheap grace and overly sentimental evangelical faith, we can say also that books like this really do have to "meet people where they're at" and speak in ways that are helpful and understandable. (That John Ortberg has a rave endorsement on the back says something, eh?)  If you want to set meaningful goals for your spiritual life or overcome temptation or thrive in times that feel like the desert, there is help here.  I can't say enough about this wonderful book, and hope you will give it a try---get a few friends together and read through it together.  It will speak to your heart, shape your world in positive ways, and guide you into the next steps of an intentionally faithful life that slacks its thirst with the Triune God.  Please take a look at this great little video where he talks about the importance of the book which might help you understand why we like him so.  He says that he has written this mostly for two different groups of people---maybe you are in one of these groups.  Enjoy!

9780830835539.jpgInvitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More  Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (IVP) $15.00  Recall what I said about InterVarsity Press' imprint formatio?  This is another wonderful formatio release, a book that so beautifully illustrates the strengths of this great line of resources.  Ms Calhoun had written an earlier, large resource, The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (IVP; $18.00) which is about as useful and practical a guide to the spiritual life as we could possible recommend.  She has been a colleague and co-worker with one of our favorite writer in this genre (Ruth Haley Barton, whose Invitation to Solitude and Silence and Sacred Rhythms (IVP; $17.00 and $18.00) we have often mentioned here and are not to be missed!)  Calhoun is a certified spiritual director and a graduate of Gordon Conwell Seminary (her husband is a pastor in New England.) This new book is a good example of some of the best writing within contemporary faith formation.

I love Invitations from God because it circles around a variety of topics that mean a lot to me, and that I suppose mean a lot to you: rest, ego, embodiment, grief.  It is a helpful and even joyful book---I so enjoyed starting it a few nights back sitting outdoors under a string of lights set up for our daughter's graduation party.  So it isn't too heavy and certainly isn't a "downer" of a book; it is a pleasurable read.  As she says in the first page, there are a variety of invitations that come our way over our life and our response to them is what makes us who we are.  (There are invitations that do not come our way as well---from childhood on we are often excluded and sometimes neglected, disappointed and hurt.)  Ms Calhoun explores the invitations from God, invitations which call us to be more fully human, to own up to our brokenness, to be in touch with our deepest aches and longings and joys, to think through and act anew in ways that trust Christ's redeeming power to transform us.  

Adele is an astute observer of the human condition and she is a person who lives a real and active life.  No, those who are attentive to the more contemplative spiritual disciplines are not necessarily monastic nor are they usually disengaged from the struggles of middle class daily life.  Like her colleague Ruth Barton, Adele knows of the ups and downs of parenting, of being a spouse, of dealing with the family budget (and the extended families extended issues), the pleasures and anxieties of ordinary modern living.  She is as normal as you or I and therein lies the great goodness of this book.  

Through her good writing she is a conduit for God's own Spirit, which calls to us, invites us to rethink, to slow down, to attend to our hurts, to relax and reflect, to care, to give, to forgive.  Can we become people of mercy, people of joy, people of integrity?  If so, some of it will come because we've followed the sage advice as we see in this warm book.  Will we be able to shed tears, to lament, to protest?  Will we sense joy in the real world, reject our constant busyness?  Will we be able to identify and overcome the classic roadblocks that prevent us from moving forward?  (She is very helpful on this!)

The wonderful Invitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to... is honest in helping us work through this crazy world of idols and false promises.  She puts us in touch with our feelings and cares and guides us to a richer, fuller life.  I love these invitations and I love how she walks us through some tender ground. Nice cover, too, eh?  Very highly recommended.

0835478.jpgAbundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace Jan Johnson (IVP) $15.00  Once again, the IVP imprint formatio knocks another ball out of the park with this home-run of a book.  Just the cover art is worth the investment---wouldn't you and your house guests be blessed just to see this beautiful cover and the evocative subtitle?  Dallas Willard says "If live is what you want, you must free yourself from trivial entanglements."  Well, that is a journey that lasts a lifetime, no?  Jan Johnson has written clear and helpful books on other evangelical publishing houses but this is certainly her best yet.  Drawing on truly ecumenical sources---I love these rich footnotes and wise citations and quotes---she helps us say no to materialism, to the zeitgeist of bigger and bigger and bigger, more, more, more.  Her cultural antennae helps her discern the idols of the age, and her practical guidance is so helpful, thoughtfully drawn from St. Francis, George Fox, John Woolman, Thomas Kelly, Richard Foster, Ronald Sider (not to mention contemporary researchers about happiness and reporters about the nature of the North American way of life.)  Spiritual directors like Norven Vest have affirmed its usefulness, noting it's self-reflective style and piercing questions.  This is more than a call to a more simple lifestyle, but is an invitation to be grounded in ways that allow us to live good--truly good--lives.

Missionary educator Paul Borthwick nicely writes,

In a world where abundant has come to mean prosperity and simplicity is often equated with scarcity, Jan Johnson proposes an alternative. She introduces us to a biblical lifestyle of fullness--full in ways that only God can fill.  In our materialistic, over-scheduled, stress-filled world, we need to tame the monster called "more."  Abundant Simplicity is a monster-tamer.

6a010536b8214c970c014e892a0e5c970d-120wi.jpgA Spiritual Life: Perspectives from Poets, Prophets and Preachers edited by Allan Hugh Cole, Jr. (WJK) $20.00  This is a splendid collection, itself another "monster-tamer" as the Johnson one was described.  This collection includes often vivid (if sometimes a bit academic) writing about the interface of culture and spirituality, prayer and daily life, the prophetic witness against the foibles of our age and good insight from the pastoral work about the formation of souls.  The question its many authors are all getting at is this: "what makes a good spiritual life?"  And that (as I hope would be obvious) entails a lot more than simplistic formulas for prayer and Bible study.  

I appreciate the diversity of authors (their styles, ethnicities, perspectives, and vocations) and suggest that this mix of views and voices is just the thing you may enjoy, too.  Here you will  find some famous authors---liberal pastoral counselor Donald Capps and pop culture aficionado, Greg Garrett.  There are famous literary voices like Gail Godwin and congregational voices of not-famous mainline pastors.  I love the books of two pastor-authors, Michael Jinkins and Michael Lindvall, and was delighted to see they have creative contributions here.  On the topic of spiritual disciplines we all owe a debt to spirituality guide Marjorie Thompson---Soul Feast (WJK; $15.00) remains one of the top books of this genre--- and her chapter in this collection is very nicely done.  You will find the pastoral wisdom of United Methodist leader Will Willimon (actually, a fairly controversial piece critiquing the fad of "practice" language, a version of which appeared in The Christian Century) and the powerful insights of memoirist Lauren Winner, with a fine, fine essay on the making of pies.  Yum. 

Many of these pieces are quite specific.  Stephanie Paulsell, author of Honoring the Body, has a chapter "Reading St. Therese" and Princeton Seminary prof Richard Osmer writes of "Fantasy Literature and the Spiritual Life."  Not everyone may be drawn to the one by Kerry Egan on "Nursing, Eucharist, Psychosis, Metaphor" but I think it was brilliant.  There are nuns on reading poetry as a spiritual practice and a piece on chronic illness that is very important. This is the sort of book you can use for a long time, dipping in now and then as the topic strikes you...

I hope these sorts of essays will be useful for you.  I think Philip Yancey's endorsement of The Spiritual Life rings true for all of the above good books:

Don't look for a traditional approach to faith or a unified voice in this diverse collection.  You can, however, count on graceful prose and an honest, reflective search--and that, I found, was enough to make my own pilgrimage seem more authentic and less lonely.  
Alan Hugh Cole is Academic Dean and a professor of pastoral care at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is a popular speaker and WJK author.  Kudos.

0425239640.01.LZZZZZZZ-e1301438148590.jpgPraying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit  River Jordan (Berkley) $24.95  Okay, I'll admit that a few of these books may seem a bit daunting.  I know most BookNotes readers don't want silly formula books, and also are looking for books written well and that might actually enlarge the heart and stretch the mind.  But let's face it: some summer evenings we may not want to wade through serious historical theology or be confronted with the deepest condition of our hurting souls. 

Perhaps there is a book that combines some reflective insight about our spiritual formation that might, uh, be suitable as a beach read?  Look no further.  I'm not kidding: this is a memoir that reads like a novel, one of these popular and oh-so entertaining stories of somebody doing something for a year.  This is, in fact, about a novelist (whose two sons were going off to Iraq and Afghanistan) who resolves to pray for a stranger every single day for a year.  And it is the beginning of something amazing, truly amazing. It is a bit theologically confused at times; but it is really nice read nonetheless.  As memoirist Neil White (a stunning writer himself, author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts) says of it "Praying for Strangers reminds us (through the power of this tiny, seemingly insignificant act) that we can never assume we know the vast universe that exists inside the person next to us--or the one we are yet to discover inside ourselves."   See this moving video clip of her telling about her resolution and the book.  You just may want to read it after seeing this!

Want to explore our weird, broken world?  Want some fascinating encouragement to pray?  Interested in human inter-connectedness, pathos and joy?  Want a bit of well-told inspiration that is a captivating read?  This, as one author puts it, "will bless you and alter the way you see those seemingly random people that God places daily in your path."   Listen to this line where Jordon reflects on one of the lessons learned in her experiment of faith: "Instead of discovering how much the world needed me, I discovered how much I needed the world."  Maybe reading this will help you with your next big resolution.  Pray, pray, pray. And love your neighbor.  Not a bad beach book, I'd say.  

A FEW VIDEO OPTIONS

sacred-rhythms-WP-small-now-available.jpgDVD  Sacred Rhythms: Spiritual Practices that Nourish Your Soul and Transform Your Life  Ruth Haley Barton (Zondervan) $31.99 (This includes a Participants Guide and the DVD.)  I've reviewed this before at the BookNotes blog, sharing how insightful and gracious her good teaching is.  This is simply the best media piece we know for teaching about spirituality.  We think it should be very highly recommended, made available in your church or group.  Here is a youtube trailer that nicely invites you to this project.  Hope you order it from us!

u91851vggcd.jpgDVD Convergence: Where Faith and Life Meet: Spiritual Practices: How to Meet God in the Everyday  Donald Miller hosts this very informal series of three conversations, person to person, each sitting on nice easy chairs.  Here, there is a charming dialogue with Lauren Winner author of  Mud-house Sabbath and fascinating storyteller and teacher about Jewish customs, Christian spiritual practices, and modern writings about spiritual formation.  Very nice.  (We stock about ten of these, by the way, although this is the one that is most obviously about spirituality as such.)  There are a few Scripture verses and discussion questions in the booklet that comes with the DVD so there are no additional books needed. Visit their website which offers more supplemental material as well.



51ivaHJlzSL._SL500_AA300_.jpgDVD  Q Studies Staying Grounded: Restoring the Ancient Practices  Five Sessions hosted by Gabe Lyon (Zondervan) $36.99 (Includes one Participants Guide/study book and DVD; additional Participants guides are needed for each person; $9.99.)  I've raved about these resources that come out of the Q conferences, sort of TED talks for the faith community.  In this new one you'll hear Phyllis TIckle on "Recovering the Ancient Practices", Andy Crouch insightfully reflecting on "From Purchases to Practices", Shane Hipps (who has a book on technology) pondering "The Spirituality of the Cell Phone" and environmentalist and medical doctor Matthew Sleeth powerfully reminding us of the significance of "Observing the Sabbath."  A fifth session walks participants through a conversation about a culture-shaping project which is in the book and debriefs it all.   Here is a promo video about the series (most of which are more about cultural and societal reformation) which shows the style and tone of these very cool videos...Highly recommended for all, but especially younger adults. 

41IfQbl0-mL._SL500_AA300_.jpgDVD  The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond  Bill Hybells (Zondervan) $24.99  Four sessions.  Late last summer I read the hardback book from which this is taken and reviewed it at BookNotes, naming ways it so moved me.  I think this is solid, good stuff, and a topic most of us wonder about:  can we really hear God's voice?  How do we learn to discern how to be guided by God's promptings?  Hybells is an excellent communicator and a real master at teaching applicable truths in honest, sensible ways.  Very professionally done, very compelling. The Participant's Guide sells for $9.99   Here is a youtube clip promoting the DVD.  Check it out.

889590.gifDVD  The Divine Conspiracy: Jesus Master Class for Life  Dallas Willard with John Ortberg (Zondervan) $24.99  I can't tell you how many people name this book as one of the all time most important in their lives.  Richard Foster's fabulous forward is among the most exuberant raves in print!  Yet, not everyone---this writer included--quite get it.  I, and apparently many others, need some help. And while I respect and appreciate the jovial but no-nonsense philosophy prof Dr. Willard, having the up-beat and practical John Ortberg interview him, and work with him here is a stroke of genius.  Together their tag-team makes this DVD an exceptional resource, serious, meaningful, profound.  Six Sessions. Participant's Guide sells for $9.99  Want to see what I mean about this?  Watch this brief youtube clip.

2456.pngDVD  The Life You Always Wanted John Ortberg (Zondervan) $24.99  Six Sessions   I believe that this may be one of the top rentals in our DVD department here at the shop and folks who use it sometimes want to use it again and buy it for themselves.  While Ortberg calls the wonderful book from which the DVD is drawn "Willard for Dummies", it is essentially about the practice of the spiritual disciplines. And what a hands-on, zany show it is. Rev. Ortberg is a born teacher, using great stories and hands-on illustrations in his little class as the course unfolds.  You will learn about spiritual disciplines, helpful practices, and how God can transform us day by day---not by just "trying hard" but by wise training. Participant's Guide sells for $9.99  Highly recommended.  Get a feel for this wonderful, fun series by watching this brief promo.

resize.jpgDVD  God Is Closer Than You Think  John Ortberg (Zondervan) $24.99  Six Sessions  If the previous DVD class walked participants through classic spiritual disciplines--in upbeat and contemporary ways---this is an equally pleasant and very engaging study of how to find God in the ordinary moments of ordinary days.  How do we actually experience the presence of God?  Again, Ortberg is an excellent communicator, a good teacher, and presents important material in interesting and helpful ways. Participant's Guide sells for $9.99   A personal favorite!  Watch this trailer for this well done series. God is closer than you think!  Love it!   (By the way, I really liked the original cover art of the first edition of this book---google it and find the one that looks like an eye chart.  I guess our tastes were in the minority as they changed it shortly after the release.)

psalmist-product-bundle.jpgDVD The Psalmist's Cry: Scripts for Embracing Lament  Walter Brueggemann (House Studio) $39.99  Wow, is this amazing! And some of the amazement is that an affiliated of the Church of the Nazarene's are publishing UCC Bible scholar, brother Walt. This package includes a 5 session DVD and a very visually-exciting book---created, as other House Studio products (DVDs of Shane Claiborne (The Economy of Love) and Stanley Hauerwas (Sunday Asylum) for instance) with edgy, youthful verve.  In this footage, Brueggemann notes that we all live in a state of denial, covering up our pain and our cultural dislocation, and the Psalms that emerged out of the horror of exile truly offer us tools for naming our pain.  Failing to do so may literally result in losing the gospel itself, and these short, raw, dramatic pieces should generate deep thought and important conversation.  More books are available for $12.99. Is this about spiritual formation?  The last session is entitled "the juice of emancipation."  You tell me.  Whew.

thumb_17573.jpgDVD  When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy  John Piper  (Crossway) $29.99  I know that Piper may be a bit bombastic for some, but he is a pastor who cares deeply for his people's joy.  Of course, he teaches that we are most satisfied and delighted when we make much of God and are conformed to Christ--leaving everything for that pearl of great price.  But, yet, what if we don't really want to search for God?  What if we are stuck in apathy and don't desire a spiritual awakening? These 2 DVDs include straight up Bible preaching, six sessions, about a half hour each, by the famous Baptist teacher.  Maybe you don't think you'll love him.  But this is such important material that I'd beg you to consider it.

 Here is a sample of it; passionate and serious and important! (By the way, in this clip he is talking about fighting sin and temptation, using helpful distinctions between justification and sanctification.  Some of the messages are more obviously about joy, about fighting for the pleasures of God, and what to do as we remind ourselves of God's great glory in our dry times.  Don't let the heady excerpt or blunt topic scare you away!)

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