I regret not having time to write up a huge “best of 2010” list. Typical for us, I guess, I do my writing before and after trips to serve at out of town events, and in between conversations with local customers, friends, and sales reps, so it is a touch stressful. Soon, I’ll get the time and energy needed to try to describe to you some of the great reads I’ve been most taken by this last year. I want to do it, but just haven’t finished it. Soon, I hope.
In the meantime, I do want to give a quick announcement, and tell of a limited time offer on a few overstock hardbacks of a very favorite series that is soon to come out in paperback. This Ancient Practices Series, published by Thomas Nelson, edited by Phyllis Tickle, really is award winning in itself, so we’re happy to tell of this now completed set. While supplies last, we are selling the hardcover books described below for 50% off. This makes them less expensive than the paperbacks will be, so it is a good deal.
From the Pennsylvania State Pastor’s Conference to clergy retreats with the UCC, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, a Lutheran Synod meeting and other mostly mainline denominational gatherings, and among my friend in the CCO, over the past year, I’ve been touting the fascinating and useful series called Ancient Practices edited by Phyllis Tickle. If you picked up any of these when I was promoting them and want to add to your collection, in matching hardbacks, now is the time to do so, as the hardbacks will soon be discontinued.
This Ancient Practices Series (Nelson) edited by Phyllis Tickle, each regularly sells for $17.99. We have a few of them at $9.00 each.
I hope this doesn’t end up being a frustrating offer; we don’t have too many left. First come, first served.
Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices Brian McLaren The first one, an overview is a wonderful, succinct call to these older, historic practices of faith development, authored nicely by emergent writer Brian McLaren. One or two serious contemplatives found it a tiny bit glib but I disagree–it is an introduction, after all. I was elated to see this, enjoyed it very much, and in a review I did suggested how much I myself benefited from it, stirred to want to continue in embodied practices that will, in fact, help shape my character and my soul. It nicely framed the look backward to older spiritual formation habits (and explained that this series lifts up practices that are, in fact, shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews) and hinted at why this particular phenomenon and deep yearning is so prevalent in our postmodern cultural context. He discusses the role of practices, of mentors, of grace and how we can slowly be transformed into the sorts of people God desires us to be. Very, very nice.
The next one in the series, the first one to focus on a particular practice was In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson. I’d read anything by this gracious writer (and have enjoyed everything from his travel book to his gardening one, from his excellent one on vocation to his one on baseball.) I am not drawn to “fixed hour” prayer, but this is the best book I’ve read on it (and I have read a few!) Almost made me pick up a “liturgy of the hours” and get me a better alarm clock. And that says a lot. Bob is dear man and a good writer with lots of plain-spoken, clear stories of how this routine of liturgical prayer has shaped him. It seems to me that even though the intent of this book–as in the series—is to invite people to these habitual practices, even if one doesn’t stand in the tradition of daily “fixed hour prayer” one can learn a lot about praying by leaning in close to hear the stories of a guy who prays. If you read it, you will be blessed.
Sabbath Dan Allender I am a sucker for reading books
about the Sabbath and have my list of favorites. Some are particularly
good at Biblical stuff, others at cultural criticism and why we need to
break free from a culture of busy consumption. Some are tender and
spiritual, others visionary and bold. Most seem to agree that “rest” is
a theme of the Sabbath, and Allender doesn’t disagree. Yet, he makes a
very provocative move and roots the Sabbath less in rest and more in
the call to play. Re-creation. Delight. Allender is one of those authors — he happens to be Reformed — that
brings together deep authenticity (he’s a counselor, after all) and a
large commitment to the large meta-narrative of the unfolding Biblical
drama. He’s honest about our hurts and insightful about our context. He understands the way broken families work, he knows and has written about the pressures of leadership, and gets the “big picture” of having our story shaped by God’s redemptive Story, all which seeps into this very fun, very thoughtful, and truly great book on a much-debated topic.
The series really hit its stride with the next two, which were excellently written and important and helpful. The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Sister Joan Chittister tapped in to a very popular recent yearning, and one can hardly recommend books on the church calendar too strenuously these days–in our hectic, virtual time, this ancient sense of ritual time is more needed than we may realize. Thank goodness for her Benedictine good sense and her deep spirituality and fine insight about how this view of time really matters. Whether or not you follow all the feast days and cycles of liturgical holy days, this overview of the church year is very useful and shows how living in this sense of God’s time can change everything. It is very informative for those unaware of theses Catholic rhythms. Sister Joan is known as an activist for peace and justice, is a contemplative and has quite a following. Her pitching the liturgical calendar as a “spiritual adventure” will resonate with many.
Nora Gallagher is an excellent writer, a West coast Episcopalian memoirst, whose other books are beautifully done (including a novel) and it was good to see her in this series. The Sacred Meal is perhaps one of the most moving books I’ve read on Eucharist, and Lauren Winner’s nice blurb on the back nearly chokes me up–it speaks to the power of books, and the power of God’s grace in Holy Communion. Winner writes, “Gallagher is a writer I would follow anywhere, but it is a particular thrill to follow her to the Lords Table; I know of no contemporary writer whose insights about the Eucharist match hers.” Or, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “This is the book I have been waiting for–to give to seekers who are wary of pious language, to believers who have dozed off in their pews, to pastors who want to know how to speak in fresh ways of old truths, to anyone who asks me why I am still a Christian. This is the book I’ve been waiting to give, but it is also the book I’ve been waiting to read.” Makes me glad to be a bookseller and invite you to consider what these author found to be so enriching. Agree with the details or not, this is rich food, fruitful for living a deeper sort of discipleship.
The next two were not the biggest sellers (for us, at least) which is a shame as they teach us much about customs that are sometimes not taken seriously as weighty spiritual practices. They explore practices that are seen to have much, much substance when opened up by these capable authors. The first practice is passed over, perhaps, because it is too scary or may easily be abused; the second isn’t often explored with deep and gracious rumination because the topic seems legalistic or pragmatic in nature. I refer to the practices of fasting and tithing. Skip food and pay up; how thrilling is that, really? Really? Read on!
Fasting was penned by North Park prof Scot McKnight and I think choosing him to be a part of this series was a stroke of genius on the part of the editors (Ms Tickle, I presume.) Scot is a New Testament scholar who is both evangelical and ecumenical, widely respected, sharp, a quick writer, and fun. Furthermore, besides his legendary blogging, and several volumes on Jesus, he has done a few things on liturgical prayer. So he has the right chops for this series, the cred, the vibe. But, alas, does he himself fast? He can describe the Scriptural and historical background, and he can walk us wisely through the dangers and extremes. But does he allow his own body to talk in the way he describes here—he calls it “whole body spirituality”— in good and mature ways? Is he a practitioner? This is very profound and was for me one of the great surprises of the series. Yes, he knows. Yes, he tells us what he knows. Highly recommended, for the solid teaching and for the nice bit of personal reflection. It is simply the best book yet done on the topic.
Tithing by Douglas LeBlanc is the next in the series and, again, may seem less than sexy (as they say) than some. Rich topics like Eucharistic prayer or the renewing power of Sabbath, writers of McLaren’s or Benson’s popularity, these are easy to explain as “must reads.” But tithing? Oh my, I can’t tell you how this surprised me, much as McKnight’s poetic and insightful one on fasting did. The first clue was a blurb by Beth Maynard, the Episcopal priest who put together the fabulous Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching Through the U2 Catalog who raved about it. A good sign, I thought; she likes U2 and two of my favorite writers (Steve Garber and Brian Walsh) were accepted for that sermons collection. LeBlanc writes for Christianity Today and is an Anglican, so he’s in touch with a wide variety of folks across the denominational traditions and is theologically sound. In fact, this book is mostly stories, examples of testimonials of those who are generous with their money, committed to tithing. In tight financial times, perhaps nothing is as helpful as telling the tales of others who have sought to be faithful, to be giving, to live into and out of a sense of God’s abundance and generosity. This may be the most ecumenical of the series as the author has reported on all kind of folks and their remarkable stories. If you like intimate journalistic portraits, this is for you. If you are interested in how different kinds of faith communities are renewing a sense of living missionally, this will thrill you as it did me. This is a book of compassion and joy. Do it!
Sacred Journey Charles Foster This barrister from England has published a very thoughtful book on science, and has a new one forthcoming on the arguments about the historical resurrection of Jesus. He’s really smart, and a very, very energetic writer with not a little bit of pluck. It makes sense that this guy who sets off on pilgrimages all over the world–mostly in the Middle East— is on the move, and his writing has a verve and humor a
nd daring unlike any in this series. I’ll be brief: I didn’t intend to read this one. I care about pilgrimage even less than fixed hour prayer. I read the prayer one because I so enjoy the lovely prose of Mr. Benson. But this? One of my favorite books of the year was Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability, about putting down roots in a badly mobile culture. Last year, one of the very best books of the year was by the heavy-weight thinkers and activists, Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh called Beyond Homelessness that suggested that even our disregard for the Earth and the urban poor is somehow related to our transient lack of place, our dis-placement. So along comes the hiking science guy/lawyer, reminding us that most characters in the Bible were pilgrims and that sojourners never quite ought to fit in, that we’d be wise–physically, spiritually, relationally, politically–if we moved more, if we got out to see the world, and find God in wild places away from our comfort zones. And he makes a compelling case. Foster means it quite literally, he says, and his stories of pilgrimages are proof–and fascinating. Reading at times like a holy travelogue, with a bit of history and Bible study thrown in, he mostly calls us, though, (at least) to embrace the metaphor of journey. Who doesn’t relate to that, that we are on a journey of faith? Phyllis Tickle, in a humorously candid forward, notes that she, too, was less than thrilled with the idea of this topic and the one she delayed editing. Alas, she names it as her favorite. You may be in for a surprise as well. What a fun book. Agree or not, it is a good journey to read along. Go for it!
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