Thanks to friends at Geneva College (Beaver Falls, PA) who allowed me to speak briefly at their sociology department forum on globalization last night. I had the great opportunity to supplement the interesting and insightful lectures, video pieces, and small group conversation with some hearty suggestions on books that help us live in this shrinking/stretching world, the hot-wired world Friedman called flat. I described basic stuff on global justice issues like Rod Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, to the insightful study of how the ideology of idolatry works to drive the inter-connectedness of the most urgent problems of our age, Hope For Troubled Times, by Bob Goudzwaard, Mark Vander Vennen & David Van Heemst, and Subverting Global Myths, the seriously profound and highly recommended critique by Sri Lankan evangelical Vinoth Ramachandra. We displayed more than a dozen different books on various aspects of the globalization phenom, and it was great to expose younger Christian students to semi-scholarly Christian books or activist guides to help them as they think through the implications of transforming faith in the 21st century.
And further thanks to the student development office who allowed me to preach to their professional staff—resident life people, career guidance staff, outdoor education leaders, health care providers and counselors, multi-ethnic specialists and the campus ministry team who all conspire to help students “weave together belief and behavior” in Steve Garber’s memorable phrase (which is the subtitle of Fabric of Faithfulness.) I talked about defining moments in my life, key Biblical texts and theological “aha” moments that have pushed me to be a cheerleader for the integration of faith and the Christian mind, thinking about vocation and calling, reading as an act of Kingdom fidelity, and the transforming/worldviewish “life is religion” perspective that animates us here at the bookstore. I asked if they–mature Christians at an evangelical institution of higher learning–have had formative times and helpful places where they’ve been guided into how their faith impacts their understanding of the institutions and settings in which they work. (What would you say? Has anyone asked you how you’ve come to think about your own calling and career? What does it mean to “image God” in your own work? Have you ever read a Christian book about your particular passion or vocation?)
And, yep, somebody was counting how many books or authors I cited or alluded to the hour lecture—from Jamie Smith to Andy Crouch to Derek Melleby & Don Opitz, Calvin, Luther, Kuyper, King. Nearly 20, not the least of which was the amazing new book Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by researcher Christian
Smith (Oxford University Press; $24.95.)
In the last meeting I participated in, I spent some time with a few valiant leaders who are helping foster conversations on campus about community involvement, service learning, social transformation, and justice advocacy as part of spiritual formation and theological witness, which is one of the tasks of their Center for Faith and Practice. My own less-than-stunning forays into public action became the jumping off point into talking about how best to sustain wholistic ministry that cares about word and deed (Good News and Good Works as Ron Sider’s book puts it.) There are quite a number of resources that can be used–DVDs and Bible study booklets and brief books that are designed for reading clubs or discussion groups and we are glad some of their folks may be using some of them.
I suppose it shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the things that comes up–in talking with youth, young adults, or any other cohort or generation—is the deep question of how to sustain healthy practices of serving, even standing up for social change, being prophetic, subverting the idols, rocking the boat, without growing overwhelmed, cynical or jaded. The Bible says not to grow tired of doing good. Isaiah 58 promises that those serving the oppressed will have intimacy with God as God shows up for us. Yet our world is full of brokenness, our lives are touched by sadness, and often our views of faith development and our experiences in church don’t particularly honor this human side of life East of Eden. What do we do with all this pain?
I drove the 5 hours home excited about book-selling, glad to have shared ideas and resources for integrated Christian lives, lives that make sense and are coherent, informed by the Biblical story. But I was haunted by my own weariness, the sadness of disease and injury and disappointments, even close to home. (Please, please pray for my neighbor Marc who is in critical care after a motorcycle accident.)
I put on the new Amy Grant album, Somewhere Down the Road. Think what you will about Amy as a symbol of CCM, but she is a smart, smart almost middle aged woman, a fine pop singer, and a substantial thinker. There have been tons of cheesy evangelical pop and not a few vapid, inarticulate evangelical stars, but, with a few exceptions, Amy has avoided the schmultz and has produced a serious body of entertaining and artful pop music.
Her new album is a thematic one, about life as journey, about “road” as metaphor, and about the ups and downs of life under the sun. It is not quite Eccelsiastes, but she has named her own pain and broken-ness before, and this record includes some of those older songs (one in a bare acoustic version) that are in what Francis Schaeffer called “the minor key” of Christian art. For many of us, the hard stuff is not so minor, but a fairly major aspect of our lives. Not enough of the most popular Christian music admits that.
The first song made me cry. I had to pull over. Simply put, it says that our cries and laments and miseries are, to God’s ears, “better than a hallelujah.”
Perhaps that is a good part of what I was saying at Geneva. In a globalized world of complexity (both delightful and dangerous) and injustice, our human-ness matters. God cares for the suffering. As student affairs staff come alongside young adults in their journey of faith, they come across significant pains and losses and griefs, and God can be found in these hard times; we are, as Nouwen memorably put it, “wounded healers.” And, yes, as we mentor folks to do the hard work of wholistic ministry, being missionally-minded Good Samaritans, we must encourage them to cry out, to know that–like in the Bible–God hears the cry of the suffering. Lament and fear and tears may be, “better than a hallelujah sometimes.”
Here is a lovely youtube video somebody made to this brand new Amy Grant single, “Better Than a Hallelujah.” It is a very sweet song, a wise set of lyrics, and a touching slideshow. It is worth watching (and we would love to see your comments—post ’em as a “comment” at the Booknotes blog if you care to.)
Here is a youtube video of Amy talking for few minutes about the concept of her new album. You may enjoy hearing her describing her interest in roads and life as journey. [I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a little when I realized there was a song about hopping a train–the beautifully coiffed Amy, for crying out loud—but the darn thing works, the tongue-in-cheek “What’s the Chance of That?” cracks open the song along with the killer harmonica.] The album has a few great songs (and includes a pretty hip track sung with her daughter, Sarah and one cleverly co-written with Mindy Smith about not being critical of others .)
We have the CD, of course. It sells for just $13.99. You can order it from us here.
Thanks for your support, buying books and music from us, which allows us not only to sell good stuff, but to go out on the road sometimes, bringing encouragement and resources and energy to folk doing the hard work of serious ministry. It is a privilege to partner with them, and it is a privilege to sell books to those–perhaps like you–who are on the journey “somewhere down the road”, and who know that God hears you in the ups and downs, just like Ms Grant sings—“into the arms of love.”