I hope you don’t think it disrespectful to say that of course I am thankful for the usual (American) stuff. Of course I am thankful beyond words for God’s grace shown in Christ, and for the relative safety and stability of our land, even in these hard times. I am glad that some of our personal health issues are slowly improving and I’m very happy (as I wrote last week) for my dear wife and kids. Who wouldn’t be grateful after all of this abundance!
Yet, I am surprised, even today, that I am also thankful for a few particular things that might be of interest to the BookNotes fans. Let me tell you a story to explain.
Late yesterday I got an inquiry from a good friend and regular customer who is writing a paper for a seminary class having to do with the interface of worldviews, tribal cultures in Africa, international development. We have a number of books on worldviews, including some classic stuff done by savvy missiologists. I spent a good number of hours today drawing up a list for him of other titles that might be useful (email me if you want to see it) and then I sent off a note to just a few good friends, including Gideon Strauss, now Director of the Center for Public Justice, asking for their input.
Those that know Gideon know he is an impeccable scholar who came to faith amidst his work in the hard years of resisting apartheid in his native South Africa. And you know he is a remarkable net-worker, and knows people all over the world. Anyway, not only did my friend Gideon come through with a few brilliant paragraphs, within hours my customer and I were hearing back from acquaintances from several continents! There is an Ethiopian philosopher studying in Amsterdam, a new kind of Calvinist thinking about culture and colonialism and such; there are folks who read African novels (yes, Things Fall Apart, a book Beth read over 30 years ago, is still a must); we got a thrilling report from an African who has worked in agricultural development with a good Christian eye; a number of folks pointed us to some of the definitive African theologians. From Udo Middleman to Kwame Bediako to Michael Battle, to Lamin Sanneh; from Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty to Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion to Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom; there is so much to consider.
My point is simple: Seth Godin (whose Tribes I am re-reading this week) is mostly right: the new technologies are enabling us to form networks of friends who care about similar things and these organic tribes—if they have good leadership and the ability to talk back and forth—can change the world. Godin hasn’t quoted that famous Margaret Mead quote yet, but it seems to be more true now than ever: a small group of dedicated people really can make history, and have fun doing it. I don’t know if my friend’s scholarship will “change the world” but the way e-mail and Facebook and even Twitter helped some of the tribe that I am a part of mobilize with insight for me (the bookseller) and my customer (the student) was just thrilling. And it unfolded in a matter of hours. I am thankful not just for friends, but for untold numbers who are in this tribe, this gang that somehow has some connection to Hearts & Minds, good books, seriously Christian thinking, and a longing to make a difference in the world. On good days it feels like a movement, and we seem to think that we, here, play some role, resourcing people who care, and are supported by others who also care. To say “we are all in this together” may be a bit of a Westernized simplification, but it feels like that South African theology that Desmond Tutu speaks of (and that Michael Battles writes about in his new book) Ubuntu.
And, also, I am very thankful that a couple of friends expressed surprise–or was it dismay?–that I am going to try out Twitter. Okay, that I am on Twitter. Like I said on Facebook, I was kinda half-embarrassed about the whole darn thing (and it is modest: it is just a way to get these BookNotes columns more widely available.) But after today’s speedy mobilization about books on African worldviews and development, well, maybe I can be thankful even for this crazy new technology, even as I admit that there are no doubt large and dangerous unintended consequences. And I’m glad I’ve got pals who won’t allow it to consume us.
And, lastly, we received two new books in the shop today from the Likewise imprint of InterVarsity Press. Still our favorite publisher, with excellent titles coming out every month, they have taken a serious turn in recent years (with Likewise, for instance) doing books about social justice, for and from the new generation who are serving the poor, and resources for those who are taking up this struggle to seek God’s reign in ways that bring hope to the hurting and hungry. Solid evangelicals doing amazingly rich writing on social change!
For instance, we just got Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously by Kent Annan (IVP; $16.00.) Kent directs Haiti Partners and has worked in Haiti since 2003. He is a very gifted writer, a passionate wholistic mission worker, and is deeply aware of both the issues of the world, and the issues of the soul. With a rave endorsement by the famous Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat (Brother, I’m Dying), and another by urban activist Greg Paul (The Twenty-Piece Shuffle), this looks to be more, much more, than a report about poverty or a collection thrilling mission stories. This is raw and real, a story about questioning and doubt and faith and pain and joy. It is about, as the title puts it, living fully and loving dangerously.
I can’t wait to read it more carefully and am thankful for evangelical publishers who break the mold of what religious publishing means. It is very exciting these days, isn’t it? Kudos to IVP, kudos to Kent.
Also today we got the long-awaited second book by Scott A. Bessenecker (who not long ago wrote a really great survey of young bucks who are out serving the poor and oppressed, The New Friars.) This new one is called How To Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior (IVP; $15.00.) Bessenecker’s friend and soulmate Shane Claiborne says it is “a simple and scandalous invitation into the upside-down kingdom of God.” Christopher Heurtz (director of Word Made Flesh and author of Simple Spirituality) wisely puts his finger on part of this book’s insight: “In an age of narcissistic entitlement, Scott’s humble but straightforward reflections challenge a leadership-enamored church to discover the grace in service and submission.” If our culture too often prizes leadership uncritically, how do we really hear the radical call to lay down our lives, submitting ourselves to something other than our own desires? This seems like nearly subversive stuff. Bart Campolo says that “this is t
he kind of book that can make someone dangerous to the status quo.”
I’m thankful for books about which such things can be said. There are more books like that these days, and I am grateful. When I was much younger, I discovered radical authors like William Stringfellow and Phil Berrigan; I heard Dorothy Day and read Martin Luther King. I heard John Perkins and Bill Pannell and had Jim Wallis here to the store when we first opened. I also read beefy theology, solid evangelical and Reformed stuff, mostly. I longed for folks who brought together mature doctrinal perspectives, evangelical piety, ecumenical flavor, and who embraced and lived a serious desire to work for peace and justice, renouncing the nonsense of the tele-evangelists and the prosperity (false) gospel. Although it isn’t happening quite like I imagined—everybody in this work should be citing Ron Sider, N.T. Wright, Nicholas Woltersdorff and Sylvia Keesmaat in my view—but it is happening. There are more great books in religious publishing, especially the more evangelical presses, than any time in the last 30 years. It is harder to survive as a bookseller these days (oh irony of ironies) but the renewal in publishing we’ve worked and prayed for is happening.
So: I am thankful for the tribe of which we are a part, and how new technologies help us interact. I am glad that some friends don’t want me to over-do that stuff, and try to keep me sane. And I’m glad for this publishing world of which we are a part. Thank God with us that we have been able to stay afloat another year, that our staff continues to be energetic and caring (working for far less than they deserve) and that folks are willing to shell out for good books, bread for the journey, resources for a world-changing faith, bought from a place like ours, such as it is.
And, of course thank YOU (you know who you are.) You who say nice things, write encouraging words, read and discuss and write books and book reviews. And for those who buy. Ubuntu.