Hearts & Minds Holiday Gift Suggestions

Welcome to the 2004 edition of the Hearts & Minds holiday gift-giving guide. Read alongside all the other great year-end book reviews — from the New York Times list to the special book review issue of Sojourners, to the book award announcements at Christianity Today or the numerous end-of-year children’s award listings — our little list tries to recommend stuff you could stuff into Christmas socks. Or stuff you might ask for. (Tell your relatives and gift-giving pals to call or email us, please.)

To paraphrase Erasmus, skip the new fleece vest and Tivas and buy the new book! Not a bad way to share the Christmas spirit or prepare for some heavy-hitting New Year’s resolutions. In the company of Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and C.S. Lewis (among others), resolve to resolve to read more next year, and ask for books to get you started.

So get the peppermint mocha mix and put on The Gift by master finger-picking guitarist Eric Tingstadtand and gentle woodwind player Nancy Rumble (still our most often recommended instrumental Christmas album), light the candles, trim the tree, donate to the poor and work for world peace. (Okay, sorry, I got carried away; you needn’t do all that tonight.) But do praise God for the gift of His incarnation and ponder a bit the goodness of holiday grace — and for the God-given desire to read and study, grow and learn, for opportunities to share books and shape others. Without God’s Holy Spirit alive in our hearts, we wouldn’t want any of that, really”¦

The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen (Baker, $19.99). Who wouldn’t appreciate an excellent overview of the Bible? There are many good guides to seeing the big picture and this — written from a perspective which insists on whole-life discipleship and a transforming worldview based on a Kingdom vision of a restored creation — is one of the very, very best. For a remarkable overview of the book, go to the authors’ website and browse around their contents, endorsements and slide show. This is a great, great book for those newish to Bible study or for those who still hunger to know God’s Word in a more coherent manner.

The Greatest Song: In Critique of Solomon by Calvin Seerveld (Toronto Tuppence Press, $15.00). Although most entries on my Christmas list are new books, there has been a bit of recent interest in Seerveld’s work, especially his biblical writings. (You may know his important, rare books on the arts that I describe in our arts bibliography.) Earlier this year, I raved about his re-issued and expanded How To Read the Bible To Hear God Speak, where he describes three unhelpful ways to read the Scriptures, and offers his covanantal approach (all by using a case study from the book of Numbers). And we’ve been pushing the batch of long-out-of-print Scripture meditations, Take Hold Of God and Pull, that we discovered from England. Seerveld’s week at Geneva College this fall is still be talked about, I’m told”¦so here is a rare recommendation. The Greatest Song is the very gifty over-sized paperback script of Seerveld’s translation of the Song of Solomon. With classy woodcuts and flamboyant renderings of the original Hebrew, this is a great (and I dare say romantic) gift. Look for his forthcoming book on the Psalms later this winter”¦

Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season by Gary Schmidt and Susan Felch (Skylight Paths, $21.95, hardback, or $18.95, paperback). Another book that actually isn’t new, this is a breath-taking anthology of memoir, poetry, essay, and splendid nature writing, compiled and annotated by two literature professors from Calvin College. The brand new companion volume, Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, is similarly spectacular (available only in hardback; $22.99). The giving of either of these might start a seasonal tradition (we suppose that there will be two more volumes, eventually).

These really are unique, to be loved by anyone who appreciates good writing and likes to reflect upon some sort of meaning in the most mundane of things. Click on the publisher website to get a look at the beauty and wisdom of these glorious books. And then come back and order one or both — you will want to take time to look through them for yourself before you give them away.

What the Land Already Knows: Winter’s Sacred Days, The Graces We Remember: Sacred Days of Ordinary Time and Wisdom in the Waiting: Spring’s Sacred Days by Phyllis Tickle (Loyola, $14.95 each). Describing the above two collections made me want to tell you of these three. This trilogy of small hardcovers invite reflection on the liturgical calendar and the seasonal experience of rural life as she tells (in what Publisher’s Weekly called “luminous prose”) of life on her small farm in Lucy, Tennessee. More than “back-to-nature” memoir, these are funny, family-oriented, faith-filled ruminations on God’s mysterious hand amidst the sacred dailyness of mundane life. Delightful.

The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn & Wintertime and The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle (Doubleday, $29.95). I cannot mention Phyllis’ little “Stories from the Farm in Lucy” books without reminding you, as we do from time to time, that she is the author of the critically-acclaimed and widely-used new prayer books of the Liturgy of the Hours. Her glorious three-volume set was done in response to the recent interest in fixed-hour prayer and to help us focus on daily rituals of devotion. Recently, a married couple (from Wheaton, Illinois, no less!) told me that these volumes not only assisted them in their prayer lives and Scripture reading, but significantly helped their marriage. Expertly printed in two-color and neatly bound with ribbon-markers, these are truly exquisite books.

Let Us Bless the Lord Year One: Meditations on the Daily Office by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton (Morehouse Publishing, $18.95). This fall we finally got to meet an author we have long admired (you may know of our love for her beautifully rendered memoir, The Sewing Room). Barbara has a gift for short and pithy devotionals, and this is the first volume of a collection of eloquent thoughts inspired by her years of fixed hour prayerfulness.

The Rhythm of God’s Grace: Uncovering Morning and Evening Hours of Prayer by Arthur Paul Boers (Paraclete Press, $15.95). Increasingly, I read anything released by this little publishing community of pray-ers, and we stock all of their books. Arthur Boers is not new to writing (he is a Mennonite pastor who has written wisely on the interface of prayer and social justice in the excellent On Earth as in Heaven and whose articles show up in places like The Christian Century and Reformed Worship). This is a brief, lovely book making the case for routine, fixed-hour prayer. Rave reviews on the back from John Witvliet and Eugene Peterson. Nice.

An Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence by Ruth Haley Barton (IVP, $15.00). This lovely hardback would be a bargain at twice the price! Here, our good friend pours out her conviction — hard-won in her own busy and hectic life — that we all need more authentic spirituality, received as gift in the midst of solitude. There are other important books on this topic, and I found this to be the most useful, most practical and clear-headed I’ve read. The warm cover art speaks volumes: it is an invitation to rest in God’s good care, allowing God to re-make us as we listen to the still, quiet voice. Forward by Dallas Willard.

Not the End of the Road: The Journey Toward a Virtuous Life by Gary Thomas (NavPress, $14.99). Gary Thomas has found his way into these reviews over the years as we have come to appreciate his solid spirituality, his light-hearted writing and his deep wisdom. (Publisher’s Weekly once called him “the evangelical Henri Nouwen”). While all of his books are worthwhile, this is a gift edition, with warm photographs and slightly-tinted pages, with brief pieces inviting us to spiritual disciplines that actually leads to transformation towards greater Christ-likeness. This is a handsome book and the content is powerful.

Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels by Rodney Clapp (Brazos, $21.99). I have eagerly waited and waited for this book, anticipating it almost as much as anything this year. (Well, you know how excited I was by the Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, the Walsh & Keesmaat manuscript that we celebrated last month; Rodney had an initial hand in that, too!) This book — its title taken from a line from George Herbert — may be one of the more urgent books to read amidst the recent resurgence of spirituality, courses on inner formation and the trend to seek out spiritual direction. Here, Clapp reflects on the normal embodiedness of our lives, the very corporeal kind of creatures we are and, hence, the down-to-earth ways we live out our spirituality.

Eugene Peterson (whose hints at these themes I routinely cite) says that it is the “freshest contemporary approach to Christian spirituality that I am aware of.” If that doesn’t call out to you — for you to want to read it, or for you to want to give away to someone well read in the literature of formation — I don’t know what will. Please, do us all a favor and spread the word: Christian tradition and the ancient ways of the church are decidedly human and humane — not weird or Gnostic — and any foray into spirituality must, if it be biblical and orthodox, be about the commonplace and real. This is a very important contribution.

(Since Rodney includes in his writing some stuff about country music, you might want to slip on your CD changer the fabulous new re-issue — expanded with three new songs and remastered sound — the Christmas classic by Emmylou Harris: Light of the Stable (Rhino Records; $12.95). It really is a keeper, and you can order it here, of course.)

A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice by Don Saliers and Emily Saliers (Jossey-Bass, $21.95). This is in the highly regarded “Practices of Faith” series edited by Dorothy Bass, all of which we’ve greatly appreciated. Here, a classically trained church organist (and theologian of some note) and his edgy rock star daughter have combined talents to reflect on the meaning of music in our lives. While it is a hoot to be able to have a Christian book with endorsing blurbs by the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Mary Chapin Carpenter alongside Barbara Brown Taylor, how’s this from Lauren Winner: “What do gospel choirs, praise choruses, jazz quintets, and Elvis Presley have in common? In a remarkable and deliciously provocative book, the Saliers dad-and-daughter duo blur the distinctions between “Ëœsacred’ and “Ëœsecular’ music, exposing the transcendent, luminous quality of all music. If you’ve ever suspected that your spiritual story is best expressed in song — whether rock “Ëœn’ roll or Gregorian chant — this book is for you.”

Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller (Nelson, $13.99). This may be the coolest paperback release in ages, and if you know anybody under 30, this is a must-read. Older folks might “get it” too, but it is quintessentially young memoir, rooted within the evangelical emerging church subculture. If the name hasn’t rung a big “Ëœol gong yet, Miller is the author of Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. He really is a fine, fine writer, creative and clever and, fortunately, a man of much substance. Those who heard him with us at Ivy Jungle this year used the word “genius” and “amazing.” This is a book your young friends need to have.

My Faith So Far: A Story of Conversion and Confusion by Patton Dodd (Jossey-Bass, $21.95). Rather a cross between Traveling Mercies, say, and maybe Blue Like Jazz, this stunning memoir is a telling of this guy’s struggle with faith, charismatic renewal, deep conviction and postmodern culture. It is an honest telling, painful at times, very real and very gripping. Gregory Wolfe, editor of the arts journal, Image, and an amazing essayist himself, writes that Dodd “is an evangelical trying to break free from the superficiality and smugness of his subculture, but he is never more evangelical than in his pursuit of this struggle. This book is an urgent dispatch from the cutting edge of religious and cultural change. This is news.”

The Art of Being: Reflections on the Beauty and Risk of Embracing Who We Are compiled and edited by Contance Rhodes (Shaw, $14.99). The very design of this book shouts “give me to an artist!” or “hipster thinkers will love these testimonials!” This is a fine collection of essays by very smart contemporary Christian musicians, each reflecting on what it means to be true to themselves, how to be more authentic and ways in which their art reflects their deepest sense of calling. (The wise and elegantly-written preface by Charlie Peacock is itself a work of art.) Listen to the likes of Linford Detweiler (Over the Rhine), Don and Lori Chaffer (Waterdeep), Jonathan Foreman (Switchfoot) or solo artists such as Jill Phillips, Sarah Mason, Ashley Cleveland or Phil Keaggy tell of their discoveries about the hard art of being. Very, very nice.

From the Library of C.S. Lewis: Selections From Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey compiled by James Stuart Bell (Shaw, $16.99). Harold Shaw was a publisher who, years ago, insisted on high literary standards and invited evangelicals to consider a worldview that was rooted in truth and imagination. (Yes, his wife Luci is the renowned poet.) What a tribute to this important publisher — now an imprint of Waterbrook — that they release a collection of pieces all taken from the favorite books of C.S. Lewis. Of the many outstanding and glowing reviews this has garnered, hear this, from Walter Hooper, the literary advisor to the Lewis estate: “This is the perfect entrance to the world C.S. Lewis inhabited, and it arrives just when that world of books is under threat of extinction. Thanks to those who have given us such a gold mine.”

Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C.S. Lewis by Lyle Dorsett (IVP, $12.99). Dorsett — himself converted decades ago as a professor when a young student gave him a Lewis book — has spent years engaged with Lewis’ life and work. Here, he gives us a truly remarkable and, we think, very significant book. Dr. Dorsett explains how Lewis’ personal spirituality developed, not just his ideas, literary criticism or apologetics; this, surprisingly, is nearly all new stuff and is not only an important contribution to Lewis studies, but a deep blessing for anyone longing to integrate head and heart.

The Ineffable Name of God: Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel (Continuum, $19.95). As we near the end of our holiday suggestion list, I wanted to show off a title that few may even know exists: Heschel is the extraordinary Hebrew scholar who has been described as one of the most important religious writers of the twentieth century. His beautiful book on the Sabbath and his rich studies of the prophets are hugely important and rewarding, if serious-minded and deep. Who knew that he started in his early twenties as a poet? These bi-lingual presentations — in Yiddish and what are said to be impeccable English translations — give us a glimpse of the radical rabbi and God-haunted scholar. Some are saying this newly-released volume is already to be considered a classic.

The Book that Breathes New Life: Scriptural Authority and Biblical Theology by Walter Brueggemann (Fortress, $35.00). Any new collection of Brueggemann pieces is worthy of celebration and this anthology of essays, reviews, articles and sermons is worthy of his best. It is serious scholarship, sometimes a tad arcane and technical, but always breathed with such passion and care that even his most rigorous scholarship comes across as energetic and vital. His important response to our friend Richard Middleton’s critique in the Harvard Theological Review is in here, as are other important pieces (including the lovely autobiographical essay on his love of the Bible, originally given at a progressive Presbyterian gathering). Produced in a handsome hardcover, this makes a great gift for any Bible scholar or any serious-minded, post-critical preacher.

Those who like W.B. but realize the above title may be a bit much, you could consider the very handsome slim-line hardback collection of Brueggemann sermons called Inscribing the Text: The Sermons and Prayers of Walter Bruggemann, which was released less than a year ago (Fortress; $22.00). These were preached over the course of a career, and are provocative, Bible text-based sermons and passionate prayers (he was known for this, with some students moved to tears as he prayed even before detailed lectures on complex nuances of, say Hebrew poetry or canonical criticism). I love these sermons and would suggest them to anyone whose mind is open enough to consider the words of a modern-day, left-of-center, biblical prophet. Powerful and potent.

Importantly in this post-election era, we remind you that we stock shelves and shelves of books on public affairs. We feature titles about racial diversity, social justice, Christian studies on political concerns (see our August column for a few) and all sorts of work on missiology, global concerns and being a world Christian. There are too many good ones to try to describe even a few, so call us if you have interests in these areas. We can discuss all sorts of new and important books, like Cornel West’s new Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, surely a very, very important title (one respected young man told me it was the most significant book that he has read in nearly a year!). We are happy to report that Ruth Tucker’s classic study of the history of missions, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, has been expanded considerably and reprinted by Zondervan in an good hardcover text edition, the kind of book, though, that many missionaries can’t quite afford. (Can you play St. Nicholas to a book-lovin’ missionary?) Anyone interested in nurturing mission-mindedness in families should share Becoming a World Changing Family: Fun and Innovative Ways to Spread the Good News by Donna Thomas. We note these just to whet your appetite. Hope it is helpful as you consider what sort of books you will be reading next year. Thanks for allowing us to be a part of it”¦

Ho, ho, ho. I think I’ve run out of space to tell you about other sorts of books we might describe that we are singularly impressed with — from biographies to theology, fiction and poetry, science to leadership studies, marriage books, guides to good parenting, books about the family household and tons of fun cookbooks. If you’ve got children on your list, do call us about kids’ books (holiday titles or others). Or teenagers! And music? I can’t tell you which I’m listening to more, the new U2 or some very cool folkie Christmas stuff. (And did you hear there is a new Christmas Indelible Grace recording!) My, my — call us if you want to talk. Even during the hectic retail days of the Christmas season, we chat by email about all kinds of books, music, and other such stuff.

Merry Christmas from all of us here behind the counter and behind the scenes at Hearts & Minds in Dallastown. We value your interest in our work and are glad for your partnership in the work of God’s Kingdom. You and your development remain the reason we are here. Peace.