The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream

This is a long review that I wrote which hopefully will appear, at least in part, in our local newspaper.  It wasn’t written for a religious audience, although I think most BookNotes readers won’t mind that lack of Biblical references.

Author Patrick Radden. Keefe hopefully will be on NPRs Fresh Air later this week, and he will be doing a book launch of The Snakehead here in York on Sunday, August 2nd, since some of the story is set here.  I’ll try to get our poster about the event up on Facebook, perhaps.  Do call us if you need more information.  The store is mentioned in passing, by the way, in this prestigious new work, a book which explores Chinese immigration, human smuggling, and the treatment of those seeking asylum.  Pretty amazing stuff, in a very handsome, thick hardback.  There is an extraordinary website that Patrick has done for the book, so after reading my review, please check it out here:

The Snakehead.jpgThe Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream  Patrick Radden Keefe  (Doubleday; 2009) $27.50  414 pp

I can remember the conversation like it was yesterday.  I recall planning the subsequent protest/prayer vigil at York County Prison, the guns aimed at us there on Concord Road, the impromptu press conference.  I recall the natural leadership of my dear friend and local United Methodist pastor, Joan Maruskin as she stepped–pushed by the Holy Spirit, she might say—into the local and national limelight.  I will never forget the gladness in the moment we met the savvy and passionate—ticked off with righteous indignation, he might say—small town Republican lawyer, Craig Trebilcock.  It was obvious that he was willing and able to speak to prison officials and TV reporters and the array of religious human rights advocates gathered at the prison.  It was early August 1993.  It was one of the most important days in my life as it started an involvement with the local support group, People of the Golden Vision, gathered to demand fair asylum hearings for dozens of Chinese immigrants detained by the INS, sent oddly to our central Pennsylvania  prison.

When The Snakehead author Patrick Radden Keefe writes of that day, halfway through his sprawling epic of organized crime in Chinatown, climaxing in the study of human smuggling, including the Golden Venture detainees, my hands shook.  To see an esteemed academic with publishing acclaim—his work gets on NPR and is reviewed at the major papers—was truly thrilling.  Our inter-faith project to provide emotional, spiritual, and pro bono legal aid for this large group of Chinese refugees seeking political asylum as they were detained in York has been told in bits and pieces; local papers did an admirable job covering the plight of the men and women being detained and the labyrinth of government repression (in Tiananmen-era China and Clinton-era USA), not to mention the local efforts to assist them to freedom.  Our populist by-the-seat-of-our-pants uprising on behalf of fair trials and just renderings of perplexing asylum law has been written in magazine articles, a documentary film, and in the novel written by Rod Merrill, the schoolteacher turned song leader for the weekly vigils.  But this prominent work–Keefe has degrees from Cambridge and Yale, and writes for the likes of The New Yorker, is, if I may say so, the big time.  Local folks are rightfully very proud and eager to hear what this observer has written.

When the Golden Venture immigrants left the Fujian Province on their several month journey, one could possibly get legal, political asylum in the United States, seeking freedom from forced sterilizations and abortions as the draconian Chinese health cadres enforced the one-child only policy there.  President Clinton reversed the Reagan/Bush polices, so even as the horrific stories were told, and often verified, like the heart-rending story of Pin Lin, Craig Trebilcock’s client, (well-told in The Snakehead) the INS refused asylum and began deportation proceedings.  We had reason to believe, as did the immigrants, that such deportation would most likely lead to their severe persecution or death back in China.  Our new Chinese friends, seeking the American dream and freedom from communist repression, were in very serious danger.

Our campaign did get national attention as we corresponded anyone who might help, from Amnesty International to embassies and dignitaries.  We spoke with reps from Oprah, Pope John Paul II, and, through a personal friend, President Clinton himself.  Hillary went to Beijing, immigration issues were becoming more contentious, yet our local story was impressive.  We ended up sharing cover space in Life magazine with the U.S. Olympic Team.  Still, we struggled to tell our story, lobby, write, vigil and pray.  Rod Merrill released his CD of “Freedom Songs” and anti-Communist conservatives (literally) joined hands with ACLU liberals.  Republican and Democrat congressional staffers attended our vigils (although usually stood to the side.)  We had agnostics and Buddhists and fiery evangelicals, praying, singing, working, in any way they could. I preached most weeks, my Bible still stained from rain and sleet.  Dissident Chinese leaders and journalists for the Asian presses visited.  Our guys remained in jail, the women moved to a hellhole in New Orleans, and some of us road-tripped there to visit.  Year after year after year the wheels of injustice turned, slowly, as we resisted, case by case by case.

The Snakehead is a riveting true crime expose, an expose that took the author into the Byzantine web of the Chinese underground, an organized crime network as complex, nuanced, storied, and violent as the Sicilian Mafia.  Much of this book reads like Mario Puzo, except deals and murders happen over Chinese take-out on East Broadway in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, not over wine in Little Italy.  Imagine The Sopranos without the pasta.

Patrick Keefe is not only well educated, he is a smart fortune cookie, quick on the up-take,Patrick Keefe.jpg  piecing stuff together, connecting dots, able to follow his nose (as he did, all around the globe, quite literally.)  Besides his journalistic career, working with a Guggenheim Fellowship, he’s got a gig at a respected think-tank, Washington’s The Century Foundation.  In his research for the new book, he tramped the rural roads of Fujian and posh high-rises of Hong Kong.  He interviewed leaders of gangs with names like the Fukienese Flying Dragons and hung out with top FBI and INS officials, some who had gone dangerously undercover learning about the Asian heroine trade.  He crossed paths with those who knew the repression in Burma, came to understand the reasons for human smuggling,  and, yes, grew to care for the unfortunate men and women who paid the “snakehead” smugglers huge amounts to be carried out of China and into the land of the lady of the harbor.  As their American Dream turned nightmarish and the anguished frustrations drove some prisoners to suicide, we in York redoubled our efforts at obtaining appeals, pardons, or stays of deportation.  We filed injunctions and demanded pub
lic hearings. 

In these years, we wondered about the bigger backstory of how these immigrants ended up in the shipwrecked freighter.  We had heard of the money owed to the “snakehead” organized crime leaders like Sister Ping who bought the old freighters and bribed the international harbor officials from Kenya to Belize, Thailand to Panama.  The prisoners told us about the horrible conditions on the vessel, those who had died, the mutiny at sea when the plan when weird.  Odd stories circulated although we had little time to explore these larger international dramas.  New information, twists and fascinating surprises emerged as Keefe sleuthed around the world, digging into places perhaps no one has so thoroughly gone.  The Snakehead offers this narrative, the biggest possible picture and it is at times breathtaking.

Mr. Keefe was drawn to this story, he told us during one of his research visits to York, when he covered for The New Yorker the trial of Cheng Chui Ping, aka Sister Ping, who, by the late 1990s had become the FBIs most wanted Asian criminal.  To understand why the Chinese-American community (especially the prominent Fujian community) so loved her–seen even as a Robin Hood figure—Keefe followed the story into the subculture of Asian immigration, which lead him to China, Burma, Africa, and Central America.  And, finally, to York, Pennsylvania. 

Our local support group, People of the Golden Vision, is well described in The Snakehead and that is reason enough for shelling out for this large study.  To hear about the intricately constructed “freedom birds” made by hand in the prison, to hear the stories of the men some of us knew so well, to learn about home-grown, bi-partisan activism, the way local churches were involved, and the work of members of the York Bar Association, is wonderful.  I feel deeply blessed and grateful, perhaps somehow validated, to have a prominent journalist tell this story in a solid public affairs venue like Doubleday.  Our group gave years of our lives to this local cause; marriages and work and churches and careers were effected.  I cannot imagine how the refugees themselves, or the INS judges or other principles, will feel, seeing their names in print.   It is instructive and good to read about it, whether one lives near here or not, and the author deserves our appreciation..

Keefe is not a partisan as he tells the tale.  He is a good writer, a good reporter, a  well-informed scholar making him a very keen observer, and he knows enough to know that every story has many sides, history unfolds within a mix of people, places, principles, passions, policies… Was there evil-doing behind the forces that brought the Golden Vision men to York?  Yes, yes, more than we ever knew!  Was there injustice shown to decent freedom-loving immigrants?  Yes, yes, and Keefe tells that, too.  I might have wished for more, since the local lawyers and advocates saw such abuse of raw power against the vulnerable. But he allows for various views, telling different sides and interviewing different key players in the story.

 In Keefe’s hands, the subtitle of The Snakehead—“An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream“–is shown as a story which spans continents and centuries; people are treated well, or not, as large social forces shape international affairs, immigration policy, prison conditions, public sentiments and stuff as arcane as asylum procedures and small efforts to achieve detention reforms.  Topics as large and detailed as abortion, racism, human rights, crime, religion, personal vendettas, and ethnic tensions float in and around this epic story.  Why did some of these young men and women choose the dangers and risks of illegally leaving their homeland?  Did they know they were being used by seriously organized criminal elements?  Why did Mr. Clinton ignore their pleas for so long? (Why, in fact, was not the ship stopped before it ran aground, since it was being watched by intelligence?)   What international issues shaped individual policy positions, and what ramifications did this have on folks in the Chinese Mafia, or our heroes being held in the York County jail?  Is there a lingering connection between anti-Asian biases in 19th century immigration law and the practices of today?

Much is learned here that is important for our times and it would serve us well to think deeply about these matters of ethnic assimilation, immigration policies, the meaning of citizenship, and how our deepest worldviews shape our perceptions of race, justice, rights, law, and hope.  Much is contested in our times, and as our global realities flatten and the world shrinks, where this all will lead is anyone’s guess.  We need to be thoughtful and well equipped for helpful responses.

I cried when I closed this book; obviously those named in the book, and those who were deeply involved in the PGV are invested, as they say.  Still, it is a moving story for any reader, this tale of hard and painful risk, this life-or-death voyage for freedom, this vision of the American Dream, soured by corrupt Chinese crooks and confusing U.S. public policy.  And, somewhat redeemed by local folks acting in good faith, offering hospitality and the plea for justice.

As Mr. Keefe reminds us,

Every shipwreck tells a story.  And if this particular story is in some ways an unhappy one, it is also a story about the awesome power of optimism and bravery and hope, about the many twisting paths that bring strangers to this country, and about what it means to be–and to become—American.

The Snake Head
Patrick Radden Keefe
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Drops Likes Stars new book by Rob Bell

I want to briefly tell you about a stunningly original book, an example of an unusual and rare commitment ondrops like stars.jpg the part of an evangelical publisher, the new coffee-table sized gift book by Rob Bell, Drops Likes Stars (Zondervan; $34.95;  see blog special price, below.)  I have to tell you that I’m not going to tell you what that title means, but you will know by the end of the 150 + page book.

The book is arranged much like some of his other boyant and interesting titles, but, well, more so.  That is, there is just one sentence on some pages, super-graphics, or tiny print, a second color or typeface, or even a scrawl or two (when he mentions that, after spraining his writing hand, he tried to write with the other for a while but it didn’t work out so well.)  There are full color photos, some rather lovely, a few of stunning art works (including one of the most vivid full shots of The David you’ll see outside of a Michelangelo art book.)  The graphics are half the joy of this moving work, this large-sized bookish equilivalent to a quirky Nooma video, with a lot of white space, which helps the eye really see…

The subtitle is important: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering.  I can hardly explain more without spoiling the experience, but this art book is a designed presentation of what seems like a Rob Bell sermon.  It is actually the companion book to a small tour he did, taking this show on the road, exploring this endlessly complex relationship between art and generativity.  It includes some Bible, some stories, some rock song lyrics, a poetry shard, an analogy or two, a quote from a contemporary artist and a funny movie quote.  A story about Johnny Cash. One about Pope John Paul.  A tender story about a child full of wonder.  All presented with very  21st century artistic visual aesthetic.

Is it therefore postmodern? Pu-leese.  It is just a very cool gift book, a coffee table resource, a book with pictures.  An allusive book with hipster design.  A wonderful story, asking about how our suffering can be redeemed, if we can be bored of life, if we can find new passion to live meaningfully, even artfully, amidst the dross and strang fo these times.

If we can see drops like stars. 

Is there a relationship between creativity and suffering?  Is our sad human condition somehow met by the God of the Bible?  Can we embrace prophetic imagination and wonder and joy, even as we lament and experience ache and brokenness?

We want to share this brand new book now, as it will be a blessing to many.  My hunch is because it is a bit unusual–the provocative design and higher price-point—-it will not be on the best-seller list of most Christian bookstores.  We want to sell it considerably reduced price, hoping you will enjoy it, ponder it, perhaps give it.

Here is an article that was in the Christian Century that explains Bell’s appeal  Here is an interesting interview from Christianity Today. His entry at Wikipedia is a good introduction, with a long list of links, including some that are critical.  Check ’em out.  

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Drops Like Stars
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Soul and the City, To Live in Peace, A Heart for Community and other books on urban life & ministry

On Sunday I will be visiting an exciting church plant in Baltimore, helping lead some conversations on being a church in the city.  I’ve been doing some reading on this (for decades, actually.) I’m helping plan an adult education series at my own downtown Presbyterian (USA) church that we will offer this fall.  There is such great literature on this, from mainline denominations and evangelical urban ministries, from historic black and Latino churches to new stuff reflecting on the broader questions of culture, cityscapes and a theology of place.  Call us if you want to talk further… 

soul and the city.jpgOf the many I could write about, I have to tell you about one that I have finally gotten around to reading—oh, how I wished I had studied it when we received it earlier this year as I would have been promoting it with more vigor.  Soul and the City: Finding God in the Noise and Frenzy of Life by Marcy Heidish (Waterbrook; $13.99) is a small-ish paperback, wonderfully written, beautifully done, and is truly a book of spiritual formation.  Heidish is a great writer, cites fascinating sources to very good effect, weaving quotes and passages and illustrations seamlessly.  What is so delightful and helpful (praise be to God) is that she is so utterly ecumenical;  she will be citing Eastern Orthodox or Catholic classics like Anthony Bloom or Julian of Norwich and then tell us about A. W. Tozer;  she cites reformational scholar Richard Mouw and draws on Tilden Edwards and Evelyn Underhill.  She uses Richard Foster and Dallas Willard and Eugene Peterson, but, as a novelist herself, she knows how to use a great literary passages. I loved a passage she cited of Frederick Buechner that I had forgotten.  Her use of Spoon River Anthology when talking about the last days of her atheist father was poignant and powerful.  I want to watch Grand Canyon again, after her making note of one scene about the longing for community.

This sweet book celebrates the God of the mundane, the spirituality of the ordinary, the way incity street 2.jpg which classic spiritual disciplines can help us engage life, embrace culture, dig into our places and make a difference, especially in compassionate service to others.  Although some of her stories comes from her extensive work with homeless women, serving in shelters and community groups, much of this is just how to walk more faithfully with God when we are really, really busy, pressed and stressed.

Urban dwellers, she reminds us, have a constant sense of being pushed and shoved, of hurrying, of multi-tasking, of living in a swirl of noise and smells and possibilities, good and ill.  Her writing rings true as she talks about praying while waiting for a table at a crowded cafe, while being jammed into a too-full elevator, while breathing the fumes of diesel buses, while seeing the juxtaposition of the very well heeled and the poor. She uses screaming sirens as cues to silent intercession and she has allowed God to help her make contact with others, even on busy sidewalks. (Yes, she cites the most famous passage of mystic Thomas Merton, his epiphany of being one with everyone in that busy Louisville crosswalk.) 

downtown church.jpgShe describes her small prayerful escapes into the sanctuary of downtown churches, and she is (again) delightfully ecumenical.  I suppose she is Episcopalian or Catholic as she is so familiar with their liturgical architecture and sacred seasons.  Yet, she readily describes involvement in store-front missions and evangelical community churches;  she reads Jewish prayers and attends charismatic praise services.  Heidish gets around, has tons of urban and urbane experiences and tells her story with a light touch—there is no pride or over-wrought, larger-than-life stories.  Anyone who feels the fast pace of our high-tech world, who works in offices or commutes in exurbs, or who wonders how to be more sane within our secularized culture of power and politics, concrete and ether, noise and speed, will love her invitation to spiritual growth and inner peace, set precisely in the urban heart of our crazy times.  It isn’t about urban ministry, as such, but about contemplative practice while on the run, in the real world.

Happily, Heidish celebrates the city, too.  It is not all corruption, tension, and waste, grim and crime.  She savors the delights of the availability of various foods—she is attentive to the goodness of ethnic diversity—and art and expanding cultural horizons and diverse religious communities.  Yes, she writes tenderly about volunteering at a hospice or homeless shelter, but she also has friends in the financial industry, writes about wonderful penthouse vistas, and works, herself, as successful writer, in journalism, film and media.  (She won awards for doing the novel from which the Cicely Tyson movie A Woman Called Moses, was adapted.)  Her way with words is a blessing, making this book not only a blessed bit of wisdom, but a joy to read.

When I speak in Baltimore, I will surely have to highlight a few others.  Here are some.

to live in peace.jpgTo Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City  Mark Gornick  (Eerdmans) $22.00  This is the best book on the subject, bar none.  Gornik tells of his years of work in Sandtown, the West Baltimore neighborhood where he moved, and the church that emerged.  This has the most profound theological orientation, the best and most energizing Bible study, and the best sociological insights of any urban ministry book on the market. Thoughtful and a bit demanding, it is the best.  Forward by Miroslav Volf.  Simply a must.

A Heart for the Community: New Models for Urban and Suburban Ministry  edited by John Fuder & Noel Castellanos (Moody Press) $34.99  The brand new collection of essays is an official publication of the esteemed CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) and it includes nearly 30 authors.  As Bob Lupton of Atlanta writes, “With cities gentrifying and poverty suburbanizing, the definitions and practices of urban ministry are changing.  A Heart for the Community is right on time.”  This includes some of the best evangelical practitioners in the nation, sharing fresh insights—very up to date!  There are other excellent anthologies of this sort;  we really recommend the one edited by the late Harvie Conn & Manuel Ortiz called Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, The City, and the People of God (IVP; $35.00.)  It is most likely the best one volume collection.  Highly recommended.

The Urban Christian: Effective Ministry in Today’s Urban World  Ray Bakke (IVP) $16.00   For a solid read, this book written in the 80s by a rural boy gone city,
is a fabulous little classic, a great place to start  I cannot tell you how I respect this guy and the reverberations of his decades in urban work.

Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America  Robert Lupton (Harper) $13.95  Tony Campolo writes, “The story of Lupton’s ministry is one of the most inspiring in America. Those of us who are trying to accomplish something of value in urban settings look to him and his co-workers as models.”  Passionate and stimulating, this is a great little classic, another that is excellent to start with;  the chapters are short, there are tons of stories, it is powerfully written. 

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith  Eric O. Jacobsen 
Sidewalks in the Kingdom.jpg (Brazos) $20.00  You may know of my love for James Howard Kunstler, the fiesty and brilliant writer who has popularized “new urbanism” in books like Home From Nowhere; his scathing critiques of the ugliness of our man-man landscapes are legendary.  Here, Jacobsen offers a very helpful, beginners contribution to how church folks can care about their towns–large or small–and how thinking about stuff as mundane as zoning and sidewalks, really matter in God’s good world.  My, my, if only folks paid attention to half of this, we’d have a more charming and sustainable and just built culture.  One need not be a city planner or architect to read this. Highly recommended.

Churches That Make a Difference: Reacing Your Community With Good News and Good Works  Ronald J. Sider, Philip N. Olson, Heidi Rolland Unruh (Baker) $21.99   Remarkable research was done among churches (in the Philadelphia area) that were doing truly wholisitic, faith-based, multi-dimensional urban ministry.  Some are historic minority churches, some are mainline denominational parishes, some are independent evangelical works.  From these truly effective congregations and their wholistic outreach, they drew principles and came up with best practices.  This really is a fabulous handbook for how to get more deeply involved, making a difference.

Linking Arms, Linking Lives: How Urban-Suburban Partnerships Can Transform Communities  Ronald Sider, John Perkins, Wayne Gordon, Albert Tizon  (Baker) $14.99  I’ve raved about this before and want to commend it again. Especially for those who are not in urban church settings, this is a missional vision that is inspiring, with lots of great stories and concrete examples of great partnerships and mutual sharing.   Biblical insight, practical wisdom, a field guide like none other, this is how to move closer to what surely God intends.  You won’t regret spending some time in these stories, being inspired to dream up new initiatives.

 New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community  Leroy Barber  (Mission Year)new neighbor.jpg $14.99. We have mentioned this before—it seems we are one of the few stores that are promoting this lovely collection of short pieces illustrated by stunning, full-color photography of Brian T.Murphy.  A graphically well-designed, pocket-sized paperback, these are stories–almost call and response, highlighting urban need and injustice, and neighborly care and advocacy–that hold up ordinary folks building the beloved community. This is a project of Mission Year and tells their stories, although any of us could be new neighbors.  This will show you why and how. Beautiful, in so many ways.

beyond homelessness.jpgBeyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement  Brian Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger  (Eerdmans) $24.00  I have raved about this before, and I am convinced it is one of the most insightful and innovative books of my lifetime.  (Ha—my comments were even cited in a footnote in an article about the book in The Christian Scholars Review.)  Not for beginners in Christian studies, I suppose, Beyond Homelessness is nonetheless an unparalleled, Biblical-rooted view of what it means to be at place, why we are or are not at home in this world, how the ecological crisis might provide a lens for healing and transforming faith, and how a vision of God’s redemptive homecoming/restoration could allow us to better engage not only inner city homelessness, but the more general postmodern agnst of our assaulted, beloved world.  There are great Biblical interludes, remarkable stories of urban networks among the displaced and homeless, good environmental theology and a worldview that dares to believe God wants to us to care so deeply that we truly find shalom—home—here, now, granted as gift from our Divine Homemaker.

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Books on Multi-cultural reconciliation, Racial Justice, and Multi-Ethnic Ministry


A good friend was doing some workshops on the topic of racial reconciliation and although she has a lot of good resources, she wondered what was new and important.  I think one of the groups that she was working with was reading through the evangelical classic More Than Equals by Chris Rice and Spencer Perkins;  they knew the ground-breaking work of John Perkins, and maybe had some good stuff by Manuel Ortiz and had studied the classic multi-ethnic history of America, A DIfferent Mirror by Ron Takaki.  Many know the near classic Oxford University Press study Divided By Faith by Christian Smith and Michael Emerson.  They may or may not have seen Eyes on the Prize on DVD but I hope so…I was eager to describe some of our own favorites, a small portion of the large inventory we have on this topic.  I hope you enjoy the list, and hope you are inspired to study this topic a bit.  Read through to the end and you’ll be rewarded with a special blog discount on any of these titles. 

All God’s Children: A Biblical Critique of Racism  Steven McKenzie (Abingdon) $14.95  A powerful study, mostly Biblical, showing how the Bible dealt with race and nationalistic pride and how Christ’s church began as a racially inclusive community.  Very helpful for building  Biblical foundations.

Peppermint-filled Piñatas: Breaking Through Tolerance and Embracing Love  Eric Michael Bryant (Zondervan) $12.99  These short chapters with poignant stories illustrate various ways we can get beyond our stereotypes, and even beyond “toleration” towards authentic relationships and true Christian care.  A bridge-building message about grace, love, inclusive care, and  Godly outreach written by a young evangelical youth pastor.  Very fun, engaging and inviting.

Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Diversity  Randy Woodley (IVP) $16.00  I have often said this is the best book to celebrate ethnic and racial diversity, inviting us to a multi-cultural concern, beyond issues of “black and white.” An excellent primer on the subject, a must-have resource.  Written by a passionate Native Christian, this is a very readable and solid approach.  Highly recommended.

crazy enough to care.jpgCrazy Enough to Care: Changing Your World Through Compassion, Justice & Racial Reconciliation  Alvin C. Bibbs (IVP) $16.00  This Willow Creek leader for multicultural relations has given us a remarkable collection of studies, discussion guides and lesson plans, perfect for preparing programs or for any small group to work through.  This is an expert resource, guiding us through practical issues, rooted in solid perspectives.  I cannot say enough about this fabulous and very useful guidebook.

Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World  David A. Livermore (Baker) $17.99  Although this is  designed for serious youth workers, helping youth and family ministries grapple with important issues, it is helpful for anyone…I can hardly think of a more up to date and urgent book that helps us understand various world cultures, the ethnic and racial diversity common these days, and the need to have some insight about how to be more effective in relating to others. Comprehensive and accessible, proactive and helpful.  I wish I could read you the fascinating chapter titles—you’d really see how thorough it is…great!

Learning From the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity  David Smith
learning from the stranger.jpg (Eerdmans) $20.00  Smith wrote the important book about teaching foreign languages rooted in a Christian worldview (The Gift of the Stranger) and here he offers a broader more foundational approach to what “culture” is, discussing how cultural differences affects our perceptions and behaviors, and why Christians need a robust theology of hospitality.  He shows how Christ’s call to love our neighbor involved learning from others, including “cultural strangers.”  This is a remarkably thoughtful bit of Biblical and theological study, peppered with David’s own stories, insights, and experiences.  It is a beautiful book, a great example of extraordinary, deeply integrated thinking, a wonderful example of distinctively Christian scholarship.  Smith teaches German at Calvin College and is renowned for his perspectives on uniquely Christian theories and habits of education.  Highly recommended for the biggest picture.

Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Challenge of 21st Century White America  Joseph Brandt (Augsburg-Fortress) $17.00  Recently expanded and re-issued, this is a demanding and serious call to rethink racial assumptions, white privilege and work towards diversity and justice.  Very impressive, highly regarded among trainers and activists.  The author has served as a pastor in an urban Lutheran church although some evangelicals might suggest the book isn’t terribly overt about spirituality or gospel proclamation.  This is not a criticism, I do not think, but a realization that he presumes much that is discussed in other books about reconciliation and justice.  This is the manual for serious work, self-evaluation, and a re-orientation of values and systems, exposing and undoing racism and its structural injustices.  Very important.  Glad for this new, updated edition, too.

The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality of Racial Reconciliation  Tony Campolo & Michael Battle (Fortress) $17.00  Tony–the passionate and humorous Baptist preacher and sociologist–combines here with an African-American Episcopalian scholar and churchman, to offer a fabulous, introductory, but very wise study.  This is hard-hitting, prophetic, and yet kind and pastoral, lifting up contemplative practices and (un)common friendship as a key to new ways of faithful discipleship.  Has a chapter on the vision and work of Desmond Tutu that is very nice.  Includes a very, very good study guide, making it excellent as a study book for congregations.

Beyond Rhetoric: Reconciliation as a Way of Life Samuel George Hines & Curtis Paul DeYoung  (Judson) $14.00  Two exceptionally important African American leaders offer us here a warm, friendly, yet hard-hitting study of not just racism, but of brokenness and alienation, inviting us to the gospel of reconciliation as a key to faithful living.  My, my, this is vital and robust stuff, solid and insightful, insisting on action, not just talk.  Very impressive.

Gracism: The Art of Inclusion  David A. Anderson  (IVP) $17.00  This is a lovely book based on grace (the play on words in the title is crucial!)  Anderson has started as vibrant multi-cultural congregation and here shows the positive way to show God’s favor to others, reaching ou
t in care and grace.  The author is rather young, quite energetic, has a Ph.D. from Oxford, and is leading his exciting Bridgeway congregation as an agent of hope.  Sweet!

heart of racial justice.jpgThe Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change Brenda Salter McNeil & Rick Richardson  (expanded edition) $15.00  Just a few months ago this new edition, with expanded content and a new cover, was released and many have noted how great it.  With a forward by John Perkins, this is an excellent resource not to be missed. (It has a very useful study guide in the back, too.)  It exposes important material about the racial divides that plague us, yet it firmly places these struggles within the context of spiritual warfare and spiritual transformation.  Can we allow Christ to remake us?  Can we do evangelism in a way that is truly about reconciliation?  Can we resist social and structural evil with the power of the gospel?  Can social change emerge from serious soul change?  Is there a relationship between, say, healing prayer, and working against racial injustice?

Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line
  Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (NavPress) $12.99  Jon has become known as a co-author and partner-in-crime with Shane Claiborne and the other radically Christian servants in the “new monastics” movement.  He here tells his story of moving to a largely black, rural, Southern church and taking up his place among his brothers and sisters there.  Chris Rice says that this is “one of the most fresh and most important new voices in the American church.”  Shane writes that it “sings truth like old spirituals and lets you sip justice like sweet tea.”  Gotta love a book like that.  Good discussion questions, too.

Race Matters
  Cornel West  (Vintage) $12.95  Although brother West is a follower of Christ and an active churchman, this book isn’t overtly religious, published by a mainstream general market publishing house.  Yet, it resonates with the things of God, has profoundly spiritual insights about the nature of the Western culture, and is, as the Washington Post review said, “as moving as any of the sermons of Martin Luther King, as profound as W.E.B. Du Bois…as exhilarating in their offering of liberation as James Baldwin’s early essays.”  I think it would be hard to be articulate about the conversations about race in our time without knowing this significant work.  A must.

Hope on a Tightrope: Words & Wisdom  Cornel West (Smiley Books) $19.95  I note this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the way it shows–I pithy and short excerpts with cool graphics–how West is so fluent in not only historic black literature, but in soul music, funk, raggae, hip-hop; his brilliant faith-based insights about culture and oppression is liberally enhanced by drawing on pop culture, especially the sounds of soul.  And, there is a spectacular CD of West speaking, reading, prophesying, proclaiming…pretty hip for an academic from Harvard and Princeton!  (The Smiley imprint, by the way, is the publishing efforts of PBS talk show guy Tavis Smiley.)

Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity  Edward Gilbreath (IVP) $20.00 This author is an esteemed scholar, a traditional evangelical who is Black; this is a journalistic report on his experiences, beautifully written and truly illuminating.  It is bold, it is needed, and it is really interesting as he shares his story, offers his vantage point, and leads us–especially evangelicals, but it is good for anyone–towards practices of new hope.  Significant for para-church groups, or any church or organization which is mostly white who wants to be more inclusive, but wonders why it is so often hard.

consuming image.jpgConsuming Jesus: Beyond Race & Class Divisions in a Consumer Church Paul Louis Metzgar  (Eerdmans) $16.00  This is a heavy book, serious and a bit demanding, laden with mature theology and serious social criticism.  It is important the way the author places racial concerns in the broader context of class differences, and the radical call of the gospel to resist consumerism and embrace grace-even grace found in meals shared together, as we become one at Christ’s table.  Forwards by Donald Miller and John Perkins.

I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World  Martin Luther King, Jr.  edited by James Washington (Harper) $14.95  This may be the best introduction to various works of King.  These passionate words can still inspire and leave us more aware, and more stimulated, to act in bold ways.  King’s name is so ubiquitous, it is a shame we don’t study his work more carefully.  Highly recommended.  Do you know his Strength to Love?  Wonderful!

Enter the River: Healing Steps from White Privilege Towards Racial Reconciliation  Jody Miller Shearer (Herald) $14.99  Jody was a young man from Lancaster (who had worked in urban New Orleans)  when he wrote this a decade ago, and it has only become more authentic, powerful, and needed.  This is a personal call to be more faithful, and an amazingly insightful essay on ways to proceed.  Very challenging and powerful.

Subverting the Power of Prejudice: Resources for Individual and Social Change
  Sandra Barnes (IVP) $16.00  Barnes is an outspoken African American scholar (professor of sociology at Purdue) who has made the scholarly work on prejudice accessible and useful for ordinary Christian folks wanting to work on this issue.  Looking at gender, status, age, race, wealth, and such, she shows how we damage others and ourselves when we presume and live out inappropriate biases.  This is an essential, intelligent and helpful contribution in the journey to being set free in Christ, agents of social change, learning to understand and disarm our prejudices and bigotry.  If you think the problem is simple, or if you think you’re well on your way, this could be a wake-up call to renewed commitment and work.

Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility  George Yancey  (IVP) $15.00  Yancey has written other good books on nurturing multi-cultural congregations (which would be good to read even if one isn’t particularly passionate about starting more intentionally diverse churches or fellowships since they are so interesting and visionary.)  This one, though, is an essential read for anyone serious about solving American racial problems without simplistic answers or one-sided blame.  He shows that various racial groups have born unique pains, and have most likely lived out sinful responses in their own unique ways.  Without crass generalizations, he offers a blueprint for mutual responsibility, in ways that are at once sensible and revolutionary.  Firmly Christian, yet widely applicable, this is a brilliant and innovative contribution that is balanced and respectful.  Yancey is a young, black scholar (University of North Texas) who has earned the right to be taken very seriously.  A long-overdue, constructive proposal, fresh and provocative.

White Guilt: How Blacks and Wh
ites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era
  Shelby Steele (Harper) $13.95  Steele was catapulted to fame with is elegant and controversial The Content of Our Character where, as a black man, he insists on not talking so much about race.  He makes a plea to the black community to stop what he termed “race holding” which he describes with great care.  Many felt it was wrong-headed (and it may be that it is what stirred West to insist that “race matters.”)  This newer one is classic conservative thinking, calling for an end to blaming others, insisting on self-reliance, and yet predicts that this is impossible in our time, because so many whites want to assuage their perceived guilt, by being eager to appear against racism.  He has been on the talk-show circuit describing Obama’s win in these exact terms: whites voted for him not so much because they agreed with his ill-defined policies, but simply because he was black.  Whether there is truth or insight here remains to be seen, but it is a very, very important part of the conversation.  Steele is very highly regarded among conservative pundits and his arguments make provocative, interesting, and troubling reading.

Hope & History: Why We Have to Keep Telling the Story of the Movement  Vincent Harding (Orbis) $17.00  This is perhaps my favorite one-volume study of the civil rights movement, by an esteemed activist, historian, theologian and storyteller who helps us recall why this is all so very important.  Amazingly moving!  His There Is A River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America is a classic, too, and should be known among us.  His book on King (King: The Inconvenient Hero is brief and excellent.)

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity  Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $15.00  This brand new book is getting a lot of buzz as folks are exclaiming how important it is.  Soong-Chan is a popular professor at North Park Theological, and shows that as the global face of Christianity is shifting away from the West (as Philip Jenkins and others have shown) American Christianity must be transformed as well.  Perhaps this is ahead of its time, as we struggle for integration and reconciliation among the most obvious racial groupings of our culture, and remain confused by “America’s original sin” of slavery and mistreatment of native peoples.  Yet, his insight is true: the future is now!  Harvey Cox of Harvard says, “This book is the best and most balanced treatment of the subject now available.”  John Perkins says it is “powerful, prophetic…Rah’s message is one we need to hear and to share with others.”

This Side of Heaven: Race, Ethnicity and Christian Faith  edited by Robert J. Priest & Alvaro L. Nieves (Oxford University Press) $55.00  I mention this only for those who feel seriously drawn to important Christian scholarship; this collection of essays is fabulous, diverse, significant.  The editors are from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Wheaton College and they’ve included noted scholars such as Vincent Bacote, Janell Williams Paris, Peter Chao, Paul Heibert…there are many from many nationalities, offering insights from the Bible, from anthropology, from social policy, etc.  This is a major contribution for libraries (at least) and those serious about studying this professionally. 

Here are just a few that are about and for specific races, from overtly Christian perspectives.  Very nicely done.  Of course there are history books opening our awareness of how these ethnic groups came to America.  Do you know Yellow?  Or Harvest of Empire?
Or Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee?

More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith  edited by Nikki Toyama and Tracey Gee  (IVP) $15.00  This is a passionate anthology, lovely, interesting, and quite obviously helpful for Asian women of various ethnic and national backgrounds.  Eye-opening for anyone who wants to respectfully listen in…wow.

Being Latino in Christ: Finding Wholeness in Your Ethnic Identity  Orlando Crespo (IVP) $12.00  Perhaps like the one listed above, this is a must for Latino/a Christians—the only book of its kind, really–and is also a good guide to anyone who wants to be a respectful ally and friend.  Exceptional.

One Church, Many Tribes: Following Christ Just the Way God Made You  Richard Twiss (Regal) $14.99  There are perhaps more academic books, some with a more militant First People’s perspective (for instance, the work of James Treat or George Tinker), but this is the best to start with, a charismatic and engaging Native leader, reminding Indians of Christ’s call to unity and grace, following the Waymaker.   Brother Twiss is a dear man, of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux.

Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multi-ethnic World  Paula Harris & Doug Schaupp  (IVP) $15.00  I am not sure why some white folks are reluctant to buy this, but it is a hard book to sell.  Yet, with all the talk about race, about the need to reflect meaningful on others, on reconciliation and hospitality and such, this is an invitation for white folks to do that well.  A very admirable little book, highly recommended.  I wonder if those of other ethnic groups might value its candor and insight?  Could create some good discussions!  Evangelist George Verwer says it is “a book after God’s own heart.”  Ron Sider and John Perkins similarly endorse it. 

Check All That Apply: Finding Wholeness as a Multiracial Person Sundee Tucker Frazier (IVP) $13.00  Oddly, this is a natural concern for many, but there is nothing else in print from a Christian perspective about being a multi-racial person and the unique opportunities and struggles such folk have.  Could be very useful for some, and a beautiful example of innovative Christian thinking about culture, race, ethnicity and such.

Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendships  Emily Bernard (Harper)  I reviewed this extensively about five years ago, when it blew me away as I read, in well-crafted, robust, stimulating narratives, the joys, struggles, pains, and perplexities of inter-racial friends.  This is not a Christian book; it includes some peculiar takes (esp the vulgar first chapter, about thugs in Chinatown, playing “the race card” during a failed hold-up.)  I found this to be exceptionally touching, honest, painful, funny, and tender.  There is something very rewarding and enriching that happens between most inter-racial friends; it is often, though, harder than imagined, and sometimes, one friend is less than candid than the other.  What a collection!  This  is now out of print, but we have just a few left…
reaching the world in our own backyard.jpg
Reaching The World in Our Own Backyard: A Guide to Building Relationships With People of Other Faiths
& Cultures  Rajendra Pillai (Waterbrook) $14.99  Okay, this isn’t precisely on racial justice or multi-cultural reconciliation, but about building inter-faith relationships, and doing meaningful evangelism with those of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds.  Still, it is a lovely resource, helpful, and insightful…It notes cultural idiosyncrasies, gestures, and sayings and such,
which will help reminds us to be caring and a bit informed.


(less expensive selection is half price.)

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IAM does an interview with Byron about Hearts & Minds…and a recent reading list published in Comment

IAM conversations.jpgYes, the lively and friendly interviewer Christy Tennant, who works in New York for the International Arts Movement (IAM), did a set of free-ranging interviews with me on the vision behind our store, why we carry so many books on culture-making (and other stuff that typical Christian bookstores may not stock), our take on our bookselling calling and more.  There are two parts, done last April, posted alongside other really great podcast interviews**, at the IAM Conversations part of their fabulous website.  I thought some BookNote readers might like to actually hear me talk a bit…

**I’m not kidding: scroll back and check these out;  Christy chats with former U.S. Poet Laurate Billy Collins, philosopher Nic Woltersdorff, Steve Garber (author of Fabric of Faithfulness, recorded live at the CCOs Jubilee conference), jazz muscians such as Helen Sung and Deanna Witkowski,contemporary artist and IAM founder Mako Fujimura, critic and scholar Don Siedell (God in the Gallery), Andy Crouch (Culture-Making), Susan Isaacs (Angry Conversations with God)…wow!  What a resource!  I’m so honored to be interviewed alongside these stellar folks. 

This may be presumptuous but if anybody is doing any promo work for us, trying to convince their church or college or bookgroup or agency to use our services, why not cast this pod over their way?  It’s just me rambling on, sharing our love for books and explaining our work, but, well, it’s what I do. Help us if you can by spreading the word to others who love indie stores. 

Speaking of finding Hearts & Minds other places than our own blog, I just had some book
stack of books.jpg reviews published at one of our favorite on-line journals, Comment (published by the profound Canadian think-tank cardus.)

One column is actually a reprint of a clever article they published about a year ago, inviting readers to a feast of books, using the food metaphor as I list various sorts of titles–appetizers, main course, dessert, etc.  I’m glad they reprinted it.  Bon Appetit!

Here is a brand new article where I describe some recently released gems, very thoughtful books, from the extraordinary Shopcraft as Soulcraft to the newest Alain de Botton (on work)  to N.D. Wilson’s spectacularly weird and demanding Notes from a Tilt-A-Whirl.  Do check it out.

Thanks to Comment for allowing me the privilege of writing for them. They publish serious Christian reflections on issues of public concern, and usually include odd little suggestions on music, food, or ” small comforts.”  Love it!  You should subscribe, getting their good stuff weekly.

Books about learning to care, service, missions & justice

Sometimes we develop a large bibliography, describing books for a certain customer.  Even those we select things specifically for those needs in that setting, we sometimes feel like others might like to see our suggestions.  In this case, a person who helps college student who are doing short term mission stuff wanted resources that could help shape the habits of heart that would help these students care for justice, have empathy for and insights into the lives of the poor, and become more Christ-like servants of their needy neighbors.  It is a wide ranging list, and I hope somebody out there finds it useful.  It would be fabulous if this list were circulated around amongst those who care–or ought to care–about such concerns. And, to be honest, we desire to make a living selling these kinds of books.  Just yesterday we got a very earnest call from a sales rep selling Christian toothbrushes.  Some days we don’t know whether to laugh or cry, knowing what religion has become for so in this religious goods business.  Sadly, I suspect he has sold more of his peculiar wares than we will of ours.  So, check this out, pass it on, order from us if you can.  Together, we can learn and grow into people who care, and learn to serve.  Thanks. 

The Little Book of Biblical Justice  Chris Marshall (Good Books) $4.95  There is so much great stuff on the Biblical themes of justice (and Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger still ranks amongst my all time favorites, and surely one of the most important books of our time.)  Still, this is simple, clear, short, and inexpensive, written by a renowned Biblical scholar.  Excellent Scriptural foundation.

Reading the Bible With the Damned Bob Eckblad  (Eerdmans) $19.95  This is a spectacularly interesting account of reading the Bible (literally) with the poor, the homeless, and those on death row.  This encounter with “the damned” helps us see the central message of the Bible, God’s love for us in our brokenness, and how Christ’s Kingdom is bringing a new vision of inclusion, outreach and care.  I’m not sure you could assign the whole thing, but parts might be really useful…  The sequel that he wrote spells out more of the values of God’s reign and, again, could be very helpful.  It is called A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God (Eerdmans; $19.95.)  Some of this could be very, very useful in helping students understand the broadest themes of God’s concern for those who are marginalized or hurting.

Deep Justice in a Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrongs Around Them  Chap Clark & Kara Powell (Zondervan/youth specialties) $18.99  An absolutely fabulous collection of articles and pieces designed for those who are serious about teaching youth about service, missions, justice, the wholistic nature of God’s work, and the call to be agents of social change.  A must-have resource with contributions from Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, John Perkins, and many more!

Deep Justice Journeys: Moving From Mission Trips to Missional Living  Kara Powell & Brad Griffin (Zondervan/youth specialties) $9.99  This student journal is designed for those who want to make a difference, for those doing service projects of some sort, and who want to harness their compassion and idealism into a long-term commitment to missional lifestyles.  Creative, fun, provocative exercises, reflection questions and guides to further thinking.  Arranged in a “before, during, and after” format, with short readings and great discussion pieces for each experience.  Very, very good.

The Justice Project
edited by Brian McLaren, Elisa Padilla & Ashley Bunting Seeber (Baker) $21.99  This soon-to-be-released book looks to be an absolutely stunning collection (I know some of the contributors, and count a few as dear friends.)  This will become “the” go-to book for those who need serious studies of the call to think faithfully about justice ministries.  Sections include essays on God and justice, justice in the Bible, in the US, in the greater world, and in the church.  Over 30 brief articles.  Due in Fall 2009.

Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace & Healing
  Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice (IVP) $15.00  Again, there are many great books on the need for a vision of shalom, reconciliation and peace with justice, but this collection of short pieces from the new Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School is excellent.   Katongole is an African bishop (who has written about Rhwanda and Rice is known for books he has written about race.)

Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration  Amber Van Schooneveld  (Group) $12.99  This is a great, great resource, handsome, insightful, full of teaching about poverty and compassion, some journalling pages, discussion stuff and moving graphics and pictures.  A five-week journey, with 25 daily readings and reflection opportunities; a few of the lessons are exactly what you’ve asked about.  Done in cooperation with Compassion International.

Crazy Enough to Care: Changing Your World Through Compassion, Justice, and Racial Reconciliation  Alvin C. Bibbs (IVP) $16.00  Nothing confronts a person’s faith quite like injustice, pain, suffering.  Where do we begin to live out our faith in service?  This collection of brief essays and discussion questions and Bible studies is one of the best handbooks and resource guides for discussions on compassion and justice.  Very practical and really useful for small groups.

Mission Trips That Matter: Embodied Faith for the Sake of the World
  Don C. Richter (Upper Room) $15.00  I believe we stock nearly every book on short term missions that we know of, but this may be most useful for you as it is less about planning, getting shots, and learning to serve appropriately, but more on the inner journey of those who reach out, Biblical stuff for those on trips, activities and reflections and other stuff which offers ways to best understand the spirituality of these kinds of opportunities to serve.

Missio Dei: Students Talk About Service  James R. Krabill & Stuart Showalter (Mennonite Mission Network) $3.95  This small booklet is a collection of great stories of college students who have done short term missions, service projects, work camps and the like.  Brief stories and testimonials and reflections on how these experiences have shaped them.  Nothing like it in print!

Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World Chris Heuertz  (IVP) $15.00  Do you know the wholistic mission movement, Word Made Flesh?  Chris is their founder, and this is a spiritual journey into the heart of service, the stuff that is learned–humility, service, and such.  Excellent overview of the call to justice, tons of moving stories, and great insights about how these encounters with others effects our discipleship.

Hearing the Call Across Traditions: Readings on Faith & Service
  edited by Adam Davis  (Skylight Paths) $29.99  This is a wonderful hardback published by a well-known inter-faith publisher;  with a forward by the progressive Islamic activist Eboo Patel, it is a very up-to-date, new voice.  A collection of voices, actually, old and new; from Cesar Chavez and Dorothy Day to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dali Lami;  from Abraham Lincoln to Flannery O’Conner, Abraham Heschel to Gandhi.  Many religious leaders are excerpted making it a lovely resource

Learning from the Stranger: Christian Faith and Cultural Diversity  D
avid I. Smith (Eerdmans) $20.00  David is well known in Christian college circles for his helpful workshops on helping teachers integrate faith and learning, and for his philosophizing on how to create Biblically-shaped educational efforts.  His own scholarly work is on Christian views of foreign language learning (he teaches German at Calvin College) and is the director of a thinking that helps Christian teachers.  Here, he offers a calm discussion of what culture is, why it is pertinent for today’s college students, and why we need humility and hospitality in our personal interactions with those who are different than ourselves.  And excellent, foundational guide to thinking about our culturally interconnected world.  Very, very thoughtful, rooted in a mature Christian worldview.

Cultural Intelligence: Improving your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World
  David Livermore (Baker) $17.99  Many have heard about “emotional intelligence” but here is a guide (esp for older youth or young adults) on being culturally aware.  Whether one is learning to be hospitable in the culturally diverse settings of our modern colleges, or preparing for a mission trip, this is a very insightful guidebook to cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity.  Excellent.

Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace  Cathleen Falsani (Zondervan) $19.99  This is a beautifully written collection of essays and articles where the other finds God showing up in the strangest of places.  From rock songs to mission trips, from finding grace in relationships to see God’s hand amongst refugees, she tells wondrous truths in memoir style.  Some chapters would be quite inspiring to your students, I’m sure.

Peppermint-filled Piñatas: Breaking Through Tolerance and Embracing Love
  Eric Michael Bryant (Zondervan) $12.99  This is an exciting and youthful study of why evangelical Christians should be more embracing of others, how to reach out beyond mere “tolerance” and towards loving our neighbors, different though they may be.  Great, great stories, touching insights, great applications, on engaging others beyond boundaries.  Fun!

Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers  Elizabeth Newman (Brazos) $22.99  This is a serious, demanding book—quoting the likes of John Milbank, Alister MacIntyre,  and Gerhard Lohfink— and may not be as easily used with students, but I needed to mention it because of it’s brilliant exploration of the themes of hospitality and service within the setting of higher education.  Theologically astute, culturally profound, this is a serious and important study about resisting the modern world’s ways which erode Christian virtue of hospitality..

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as A Christian Tradition  Christine Pohl (Eerdmans) $20.00 This book is one of the most important books of the last several decades, and has gotten the gracious practice of hospitality renewed attention.  Very, very good, and so important!  We’ve got other great books on this theme, some perhaps even more practical, but I think this is the very best.  A must-read.

Befriending the Stranger  Jean Vanier (Eerdmans) $15.00 Vanier started the L’Arche community movement where folks share lives with the mentally challenged; famous spiritual writer Henri Nouwen joined such a community before he died.  Here, the lovely and gentle Vanier reflects on building community and how to be compassionate to others and ourselves.  See also his brand new book, part of the Duke Reconciliation project, Living Gently in a Violent World (IVP; $15.00) co-written with Stanley Hauerwas. 

The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life  Henri Nouwen (Orbis) $18.00  This small hardback is a collection of magazine articles first done in the 80s in Sojourners.  What gentle and prophetic wisdom, reminding us of the virtues of saying no to fame and power and success, and embracing servanthood, humility and compassion.  The world lures us to “upward mobility” and the call of Christ is to “a self-emptied heart.”

Compassion: Thoughts on Cultivating a Good Hea
rt  compiled by Amy Lyles Wilson (Fresh Air Books) $12.00  This is a small hand-sized, square book, produced with a modern and hip feel.  Yet, it is to be read slowly and deeply as these short essays are all about the various ways a more compassionate life honors God and our truest selves.  Very thoughtful, appealing, useful as we enhance our capacity to care.

Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life  Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison (Image) $10.95  A true classic of grace and care, this deeply spiritual reflection could be used with anyone going to mission projects, doing service work, or just wanting to experience the power of God’s care as we care for others.  Rich, wise, thoughtful…

Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living
  Charles Swindoll (Word) $13.99  This isn’t on missions or engagement with the poor but a wonderful, basic book on being a servant to others.  The most thorough book on the topic I’ve seen!

Be Last: Descending to Greatness  Jeremy Kingsley (Tyndale) $12.99  Pretty standard fare evangelical inspiration, noting that humility + service = greatness.  Energetic and exciting, he shows how to more faithfully follow Jesus by having a servant’s attitude.

Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor  Gary Smith (Loyola Press) $17.95  This radical Jesuit priest has followed his calling to serve the poor in inner city Portland, and his journal is insightful and powerful.  Showing love amidst despair, this honest study is extraordinary…

The Twenty Piece Shuffle: Why the Poor and Rich Need Each Other  Greg Paul (Cook) $13.99  A seasoned and poetic urban activist (from Toronto), Paul writes passionately, creatively, and frankly.  One of the most urgent books about urban service I’ve yet seen, it is very moving.  Highly recommended!  His earlier book God in the Alley (Multnomah; $12.99) is a bit safer, less edgy, but shows how we can be Christ to others, and how others can be Christ to us.  Again, highly recommended.

Touch: Pressing Against the Wounds of a Broken World
  Rudy Rasmus (Nelson) $14.99  This is a powerful collection of stories from the renowned African American church in Houston, Rudy’s life, his response to God’s grace and his passion to touch others with God’s love. 

New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community  Leroy Barber (Mission Year) $14.99 We are one of the few bookstores stocking this marvelous collection of very short pieces alongside stunning full-color photography of folks reaching out to be good neighbors.  What insight, some of it so poetic, artfully presented as the story moves from needs observed to gifts offered, injustices observed and restoration seen.  Where is community?  Here!  What a marvelous, marvelous hand-sized book, and spectacular resource about service, care, friendship, justice and the formation of what King called “the beloved community.”

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yoursel
f   Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert (Moody) $14.99  There are many great books offering strategies for urban ministry and many also on public policy, the pros and cons of welfare, etc, etc.  Respected scholar and activist Amy Sherman writes, “I can honestly report that this is the single best book I’ve seen on this topic.”  The chapter called “short term missions (without
doing long term harm)” is very good for those who design such experiences and could be helpful as you think through guiding students into service projects.  Done in cooperation with the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College, Chattanooga, TN. Outstanding.

The Spirit of Service: Exploring Faith, Service, and Social Justice in Higher Education 
Brian Johnson & Carolyn O’Grady  (Anker Publishing) $40.00  Not sure if you need anything like this, but while I’m listing great titles, I thought I should note this important scholarly text on service learning and such.  Pretty interesting.

Commitment and Connection: Service-Learning and Christian Higher Education
  Claudia Beversluis & Gail Gunst Heffner (University Press of America) $58.00  It is rare I get to say that there is absolutely nothing like this in print;  what a great need this extraordinary work has filled.  This is the work of one of the most important voices in the country for academically-based service learning, a resource that goes discipline by discipline, showing how an experiential and service-oriented vision can enhance learning in that arena, and focus the Christian scholarship in that field for greater human flourishing and social justice. I cannot recommend this more highly for anyone serious about service, learning, the integration of faith and higher education, or anyone seeking a more creative vision for service projects and thoughtful missional living.  Kudos to Calvin College in Michigan for making such a major contribution to the field.  A must for every church-related or faith-based institution of higher learning.

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Reading through the crackle of 4th of July fireworks:Thomas Jefferson (Christopher Hitchens) and Luther Martin (Bill Kauffman)

The neighborhood kid’s firecrackers and bottle rockets have finally calmed down—so annoying to a man like me, flat on his bed, from another painful back injury.  Even as the stupid little pop-pop-pops where driving me nuts, I took some patriotic inspiration and roared through two serious books pertinent to the rocket’s red glare.  Or, more precisely, to the debates and characters and ideologies that raged in the late half of the 18th century and into the first decades of the 19th, giving shape to this great nation.  (I believe I first heard from Os Guinness the notion that the U.S. was the first nation ever to be created by intent, by an idea.)  So between the jabs of pain I read a spectacular little biography of Thomas Jefferson, one I’d been meaning to study as it seemed one of those perfect matchings of author and subject.  I refer to the contemporary Enlightenment modernist and religious skeptic Christopher Hitchens and his compact volume Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (HarperCollins; $15.95.) This controversial, world-renowned scholar has done a book on Thomas Paine, too, which I am sure I will read soon. 

jefferson hitchens.jpgIt is hard to underestimate the robust scholarship, wide reading and great learning that are presented in Mr. Hitchens’ book.  Just under 200 smallish pages, it is in the lovely and respected Eminent Lives series. (Other fabulous match-ups in this series include historian Paul Johnson on George Washington and world religion scholar Karen Armstrong on Muhammad.)

I am simply unable to (I can blame it on the back pain and Vicodin, but I am sure even at my best I cannot) do justice to how much ground Hitchens covers, how insightful he is about Jefferson’s worldview—his involvement in the French Revolution, of course, his scientific ways, his scoffing at orthodox Christian faith.  And he shows the excitement of the years leading up to the Revolution, and the serious debates that followed. (More on that, below.)  I had little idea of the large international intrigue during the Jefferson’s presidency, as he shrewdly played off the interests of Great Britain, Spain, and France (think, Napoleon Bonaparte!) Mr. Hitchens knows the best Jefferson scholarship (and roundly mocks the worst) even tossing great accolades to Gore Vidal’s great novel Burr.  The questions of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings are well described without breathy moralism, briefly cutting through some of the controversy in that area.  (Of the massive amounts of letters Jefferson wrote, the ones that would most likely cover this have gone missing.)

Jefferson’s years serving in DC are well covered as is his evolving views, and his desire to do agrarian work at Monticello, his founding of University of VA, and the start of the Library of Congress after the first batch were burned in the War of 1812. (Some congressmen were not sure they wanted his books, laden as they were with atheism and French Revolution works.) Hitchens makes a case that besides writing the first draft of the Declaration, his greatest legacy was perhaps the Louisiana purchase and the spectacular achievement of planning and funding of the extraordinary Lewis & Clark expedition.

Hitchens is deeply interested in revolution, and is well schooled in and influenced by the Marxian critique of power.  He is a (British) atheist on the left living in Washington who supported the U.S. war in Iraq. Hitch is renowned for his sharp tongue and he despises any who might subvert liberty; his awareness of and work against Islamo-fascism drew him to become a strange bedfellow of the American right.  Oppression of non-Muslims inspired by the Koran plagued Jefferson’s foreign policy and led to the Barbary wars, and the first time the flag of the American empire was planted on foreign soil, in Tripoli, Northern Africa.  Of course, the most serious on the serious right in America are in many ways Jeffersonian. (It was Jefferson’s nemesis, the New York Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, who stood for markets and wealth and a consolidation of centralized power.) As I said, it seemed a nearly perfect task for the redoubtable, anti-imperial, Mr. H. to write about all this.

Of course there is the awful topic of slavery—the only slaves Jefferson ever freed where his own children to Hemings.  That such an awful inconsistency would plague such a great scholar and activist for liberty needs even deeper exploration, even though Hitchens brings it up often.   For what it is worth, this is no hagiography!  (By the way, I have a friend who I respect completely, a scholar and Christian leader himself, who is working on a manuscript that is very, very good, comparing the respective views and actions regarding abolition of William Wilberforce and Thomas Jefferson and what leadership lessons can be learned.  If any prominent editors are looking in, do give me a call, as this is a manuscript that I pray gets picked up soon.)  

I know there are other major books on Jefferson. Hitchens proclaims that Merrill Peterson’s is the finest and best written of the condensed biographies, only surpassed by th great work of R. B. Berstein.  Other books are given helpful summaries in the moving acknowledgments, moving, mostly, for his description of the Jefferson room at the Library of Congress.


The next book I devoured (skipping a few pages here and there when I couldn’t adequately concentrate) included a very moving library tribute also.  Bill Kauffman, one of my favorite writers, dedicated kind words to a few smaller libraries, the Maryland Historical Society and such. It isn’t surprising as Kauffman is the consummate homeboy.  (You remember, I sure hope, my rave review a few years ago of his “sense of place” story of returning to his small town to take up a buying local campaign and coach a little league team, endearingly entitled Dispatches From the Muckdog Gazette, or his more politically-minded collection of essays on weird and wonderful front-porch revolutionaries, Look Homeward America, or the almost equally weird and wonderful study of anti-war conservatives, Ain’t My America.)  So, Kauffman’s a small town wise-ass, and he may be the only author alive able to make the detailed blow-by-blow speeches of the Constitutional Convention interesting, and even funny.  Man, can this guy write. 

forgotten 2.jpgThis, too, seems a nearly perfect combo of biographer and bioed.  I do not mean anything demeaning to the down-home Mr. Kauffman, but this book is called Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI; $24.95) It is in the  “Lives of the Founders” series published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a thoughtful, paleo-conservative think-tank who publishes the likes of Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk and, yes, Edmund Burke.  Kauffman is an anti-Empire, anti-war, “front-porch revolutionary” and we can only guess why he is drawn to write about good-hearted and eccentrics; perhaps it is his counter-cultural wont, or maybe a bit of the gospel.  He likes Dorothy Day and Wendell Berry, after all, and has a healthy blue-collar suspicion of the big-wigs and abstract talkers, which may be why ISI publishes him, although it seems to surprise me a bit;  he is anything but stuffy, unlike, uh, well, most
of their other prestigious authors.  So, anyway, quite naturally, Bill loves the anti-Federalists who worked hard to defeat the writing of the Constitution in that summer of 1787 (the secret writing of the Constitution was done under strict rules which Kauffman summarizes as “What happens in Philadelphia, stays in Philadelphia.”) When these protesters lost, they worked hard to defeat its ratification in the states, a story told well here. These guys were for localism, decentralized government, anti-military and a Bill of Rights.  Antis included the likes of Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams and George Mason (did you know these great revolutionaries resisted the Constitution?!)  Luther Martin was esteemed in their midst, but never achieved their fame; he was a character—a radical who was ruffled, uncouth, a rough-speaking sot who was as known for being long-winded as un-sober.  He nearly drove people crazy with his sprawling 15-hour speeches (sometimes given over two days) and yet was highly regarded as one of the most compelling jurists of his times.  He could lecture about things his hearers didn’t think mattered, only to show—sometimes, at least—that obscure details did matter.  Similarly, Kauffman is not terrible well-known but knows US history as well as anyone.  And he does go on and on.  About some really, really arcane stuff.

And, like our Esquire & Judge, the pontificating Martin, just when the sledding gets tough, and the eyes start to drop over the page, the most outlandish thing is said, the most controversial notion documented, dots connected in new and stunning ways, and I once again can’t put the darn thing down. A detailed book on one of the Founding Fathers we never heard of?   Life is short, why bother? My back hurts and these darn bottle-rockets are killing me.  Luther Martin? Really?  Well, I literally don’t want to skip the boring parts of this tedious book because I know if I did, I just might miss something illuminating, important, inspiring or downright outrageous.  Kauffman is vital and impressive and his passion for the man—he calls him the “Confounding Father”—comes through on every page, even the complex or saddest ones. 

Like Hitchens’ Jefferson, Kauffman’s Forgotten Founder is no hagiography.  How could it be; Luther Martin was a mess of a man, a troubled genius, a beloved character, broke, drunk, but always kindly, except for those he came to cross swords with, most notably, Thomas Jefferson. (When, early on, we learn that Martin came to detest Jefferson, who was close to his republican, localistic, Anti-Federalist persuasion, Kauffman wryly writes, “Patience, dear reader.  No shortcuts via the index, please.”)  Which, just to prove my independence, I promptly checked, only to find a list of every person from this era you’ve ever heard of in history class, and then some; L. Martin was connected and nearly legendary (even if often scorned.)  Martin’s wife was the daughter of the great Jonathan Edwards, and his lack of Calvinist piety most likely broke his in-law’s hearts.  Yet, he was known as a Biblically-literate man, and more than one roommate on a patriot’s trip noted him using the Book of Common Prayer before sleep. 

I say again that Kauffman is a feisty and clever writer, tossing out asides like one about the famous 1700s George Clinton not being the funky parliamentarian (if that isn’t the best quip you’ve heard all day, you might not get it, so google, quick.) He is usually pithy in his all too true observations.  When quoting a Fed framer during the convention who talks highly about being above local concerns, not bound by particular places, but having a grand vision of the global vision, Kauffman quips, “Behold: the Founder as IBM recruiter!”

Kauffman shows how Luther Martin was a complicated thinker and a confusing man.  He spoke and ruled as a judge (he became the Attorney General for the State of Maryland) in favor of abolition and had heart-felt concern about the plight of Africans.  Yet, he owned slaves at one point, even as he worked as a pro bono lawyer for a very committed Christian abolition society.  Confounding, indeed.

I am not sure I can agree with Mr. Kauffman, who ends the book admitting (as he does throughout) that Martin had faults and wrong views and, well, issues.

As we survey the minatory contours of the U.S. government and see a powerful central state involved in perpetual warfare around the globe, a tax-gathering apparatus with its grip on every paycheck, states and localities reduced to mere administrative units of the central state, this anti-Federalist suspects that for all his vices, for all his inability to shut the hell up, for all the gallons upon gallons of rotgut he imbibed, Luther Martin was not a reprobate, but a prophet.

Go here for a nice overview of the book, some blurbs and endorsements, and a good interview with Kauffman about it. 

It seems to me that many of us don’t know as much about this time period and these thinkers and these debates as we should.  They still reverberate, of course.   As the usually contrarian Hitchens writes near the end of his wonderful study, “Jefferson is one of the few figures in our history whose absence simply cannot be imagined: his role in the expansion and definition of the United States is too considerable, even at this distance to be reduced by the passage of time.”  Few would disagree.

Yet, Hitchens continues, writing about the sinister ways Jefferson’s phrase (in his last letter) of the American “experiment” has been also alluded to or used by despotic socialists, Nazis, Ho Chi Minh and other communist dictators.  He concludes, though, “The French Revolution destroyed itself in Jefferson’s own lifetime.  More modern revolutions have destroyed themselves and others.  If the American Revolution…has often betrayed itself at home and abroad, it nevertheless remains the only revolution that still retains any power to inspire.
Beyond these two books there are other classic and well-known works on the subject.  Well loved recently is David McCullough’s award-winning John Adams and the Pulitzer winner, Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis.  Do you know The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800 by Jay Wink (HarperPerennial; $17.95)?  One reviewer wrote of it “Riveting…Spectacular…Dazzling…One of those books you want to buy for friends and family.  And our country’s leaders.”  The serious Gordon Wood wrote in the New York Review of Books that it is “unusally engaging…Winik is not a political scientist but a storyteller, and a superb one.”   

While not a specific history of our land, Os Guinness has written wisely and urgently aboutcase for civility.jpg the “first freedom” found in the Bill of Rights, and the need for a vision of the public square that can allow robust debate about the deepest things.  I’ve often recommended his Case for Civility, And Why Our Future Depends on It (HarperOne; $23.95), but kept thinking of it as I read these other two biographies this weekend.  How does freedom of and from religion work out in a pluralisistic culture?  And can we keep the bonds of our union together?  A must, must read!

political visions.jpgI have also I have I have also suggested this one before but, again, I dare not leave this topic without the invitation for us who are Christians to do serious study and discernment of the spirit of the age, the shaping ideas then, and now.  No better serious resource can be found that the brilliant Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (IVP; $20.00) by David T. Koyzis, whose book traces the ideologies of the Enlightenment that so influenced Federalists and Anti-Federalists alike, supporters of McCain & Obama, progressives and traditionalists. It is slow going, but would be very rewarding as a summer read and we highly commend it. 


The U.S. holiday weekend is over.  My meds are making me sleepy.  The folks in the neighborhood apparently still have some blasting fireworks, noise but no show.  These books are not like that: these are noise and show, sound and fury, fun writing and very, very serious content.   Regardless of your political persuasion, I would think that dipping into these printed fireworks will be an education, and perhaps will light up the contours of our times for you.

Oh: I mentioned that both authors, Hitchens and Kauffman, thanked librarians and that Hitch wrote a bit about the Library of Congress, both his own use of it, and the creation of it under Jefferson.  Libraries make another brief appearance in Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet; Kauffman quotes childrens writer Jean Fitz, in her Shhhh!  We’re Writing the Constitution, who noted that Luther Martin talked too long and bored people.  And that he stole books from the Philly library.  Obviously that is in poor taste, but it does remind me: if you don’t want to buy these from us, you can get ’em at the local library.   But in the amount some of you might stack up in library over-due fees, you might as well buy ’em…  

June monthly column up under “reviews” Books on Prayer

I had reason to develop a big ol list of my favorite books on prayer for a friend, so thought I’d post it as the June column here at the website.  I describe each book, and there are some wildly different sorts there, some more theological, some more practical, some quite oriented around Biblical prayers, others a bit more contemplative, from Walter Brueggemann to J. Oswald Sanders; C.S. Lewis to Scot McKnight.  Want to grow in intercession?  Have a favorite book on praery that you have used?  Click here to see my large listing.  May you find resources that nourish your soul, that equip you to greater faithfulness in this urgent aspect of Christian formation.

Just for fun, here are justin constant prayer.jpg a few covers of some of the titles I describe.

ORDER any on the list and get a special 20% OFF prayerful blog-readers discoun
.  And, we promise to pray for you.  Seriously. 

Order here.   Or call us at 717.246.3333.  Thanks.

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