It’s a speedy blog post today, folks. Put on your seat belts, get ready to skim. Gimme five minutes, I’ll give ya a dozen. In no particular order.
Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition Daniel Okrent (Scribner) $17.00 It was a bestseller in hardcover, the author has been awarded a Pulitzer, and this book is somewhat of a companion volume to the spectacularly interesting Ken Burn’s PBS documentary, Prohibition. You will notice that Okrent was in the film a bit–they are good friends. Glad this very readable social history is out in paper! Can’t tell you how interesting this is, how important, how informative and fascinating. Cheers!
Prisoner of Conscience: One Man’s Crusade for Global Human and Religious Rights Congressman Frank R. Wolf (Zondervan) $22.99 If you were even somewhat moved by my serious review a few days ago of the scholarly research in Silenced (about blasphemy codes and Islamic apostasy laws) by Paul Marshall, which ruminates on the dangers of this crisis caused by the repressive Islamists willing to execute people for merely wanting to hold to their own faith or convictions, this exciting memoir will be sure to encourage. That is a masterpiece of analysis while this is a non-partisan story of a brave man and his remarkable adventures around the globe “where bullets fly and babies starve.” It reads quickly and puts you on the ground, documenting injustices and showing diplomatic and helpful contributions. Representative Wolf grew up poor in a tough neighborhood of Philly, with a severe stutter, bad grades, and mom who took him to Sunday School. He eventually got a degree from Penn State, got elected to Congress from the 10th district in Virginia, and is now one of the most effective voices in the world for human rights and freedom.
Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing L.L. Barkat (T.S. Poetry Press) $15.00 This is one of the finest books on being a writer I’ve yet seen and a sharply observed bit of nearly devotional writing by a good friend, a tireless advocate for other writers, a brave, new publisher (though this indie press she started) and a Managing Editor at the popular The High Calling blog. It is not a cliche or marketing hype when a great writer such as Leslie Leyland Fields (The Spirit of Food) says that “this is not just a book about writing well, it’s a book about living well.” I intend to tell you more about this later, but why wait? If you know anybody who picks up a pen, pounds away at a keyboard, scribbles in a journal, any sort of writer or creative type, gift them with this wondrous resource. They will thank you, and they will do better work! This is a truly lovely and fine, fine collection of insights and assistance, inspiring any of us to be more attentive to our lives and to communicate colorfully and well.
Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World Joel Salatin (Center Street) $25.99 Maybe you recall him from The Omnivore’s Dilemma or maybe you saw him in the documentary Food Inc. The New York Times called him “the high priest of the pasture.” Joe Salatin is a deeply religious, very jovial, and remarkably astute agronomist—that’s a fancy word for smart farmer, I think–who is convinced that we can all make a difference by working for reforms in our industrialized food systems–or at least in the way we buy and eat our own food. Remember Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer poems? Maybe Salatin read them. Maybe they are about him, for all I know. Bill McKibben calls it “wonderfully cranky.” It is provocative and yet practical, by a guy who lives it. If you want to see the big picture and are willing to take some baby steps towards greater health, this is for you, whether you like chickens or not.
The Girlfriend’s Clergy Companion: Surviving and Thriving in Ministry Melissa Lynn DeRosia, Marianne J. Grano, Amy Morgan, and Amanda Adams Riley (Alban Institute) $17.00 I suppose you know that there has been in recent decades a large rise in the number of women clergy persons, mostly in mainline churches. Some of the very best pastors and preachers I know are women. Yet, there are not too many books about being a 21st century woman of the cloth. Most of these pastors/authors are youngish and they are wise and fun and helpful. They are Presbyterians. The book is very practical. If you are a woman in church work, you know you need this. If you have a woman on staff as a pastor at your church, you may want to get it for her. But read it first, yourself–it is helpful for us lay folks to realize what our clergy friends are going through. And don’t be surprised when these girlfriends start to dish a bit—short skirts? Pregnancy? Children and families? The Superwoman syndrome? How to command pastoral authority, deal with gender bias in otherwise healthy congregations? Discerning callings? It’s all here, and more. A wonderfully written forward by Carol Howard Merritt, too.
The Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John, and Jude N.T. Wright (Westminister/John Knox) $ 15.00 The “for everyone” series is a personal favorite, smallish and accessible but chock-full of Scriptural insight and teacherly assistance. Wright is a master of first century Judaism and the early Christian movement, so he knows the New Testament literature well. He has a wholistic Kingdom vision that just doesn’t quite, so we are especially eager to have folks read these. He’s almost done with the whole N.T. (with Revelation For Everyone coming soon.) These brief commentaries on epistles not claimed as Pauline make up some of the most important pieces of the formation of the early church. We need to know this stuff, through Wright’s good lens. Handy, easy, and really, really useful. Thanks be to God. By the way, Wright has companion small group Bible study guides to go with most of these, in the N. T. Wright for Everyone Bible Studies series from IVP ($8.00.)
Hip-Hop Redemption: Finding God in the Rhythm and the Rhyme Ralph Basui Watkins (Baker) $17.99 There are two or three must-read bo
oks on this topic and now we have another world-class bit of scholarship that grooves. From Gil-Scott Heron (yeah) to Funkadelic, to rapper Ice-T on through Mos Def and Lauryn Hill, this brother gets it really right. Daniel White Hodge (author of the must read Soul of Hip Hop:Rims, TImbs, and a Cultural Theology) says “This read is for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of not only theology and culture but also how hip-hop’s redemptive value is shown in its style, prose, syntax, and spirituality.” Anthony Bradley notes that “American Christians easily find redemptive themes in the music of Bob Dylan and U2. What Watkins provides are the resources for Christians to understand that if all truth is God’s truth, then God can also be found in the world of hip-hop.” Indeed, as Bradley continues, “I hope Hip Hop Redemption will ignite needed conversations about the ways in which this music and movement can be used to understand the complex urban narratives in American so that the gospel can reach all the communities for Christ.” Watkins, by the way, has a PhD from Pittsburgh and now teaches at Columbia Theological Seminary. Did I say he is a DJ? Oh yeah he is.
Going Deep: Becoming a Person of Influence Gordon MacDonald (Nelson) $15.99 I read everything this guy writes. He is a natural teacher and pastor inviting us to Godly lives, lived richly, drawing on who we are “below the surface.” Here he picks up the creative fiction style of the book he did about an imaginary church fighting over contemporary music and whatnot. (That was called Who Stole My Church and it was not hard to imagine at all, really.) He realizes that the people on both sides of that frustrating deadlock were, frankly, not deep. There were plenty of good people, plenty of sincere people, but not enough deep people. This just came but I cannot wait to read it.
Close Enough to Hear God Breath: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy Greg Paul (Nelson) $15.99 I was blown away by this author’s earlier books about his raw ministry among the urban poor. (God in the Alley and The Twenty Piece Shuffle) so I was thrilled when I heard there was a new, creatively written study of God’s deep desire to be near us. Paul uses intense writing, moving prose and amazing stories—really!—and helps us, as he says, resist the “thousand voices telling me who I am. Or who I should be.” Only God gets to define who we are and this book will help, I’m sure of it. He uses stories from his own family background (to which many will be able to relate) and also from his own work with street people in Toronto. And, he uses the “creation-fall-redemption-restoration” vision of he unfolding drama of Scripture that many of us find so helpful. This guy has guts and clarity and yet has an enjoyably, creative prose style that is more than merely clever. This is a notable book by an important writer. Len Sweet says of it “This book has a heart that beats louder than most any book you’ll ever read.” How’s that for an endorsement?â€¨â€¨
25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to Essential Spiritual Classics selected by Renovare (HarperOne) $18.99 This is the sort of book I just love and I’ll try to review it in greater detail soon. It is a very thorough review of each of the 25 books listed, explained and described, along with study aids, discussion resources and an excerpt of the book in question. Renovare, of course, is the contemplative spirituality ministry organized by Richard Foster so these are what is considered devotional classics. The subtitle is true. These choices and the apparatus developed to become familiar was led by a team of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Phyllis Tickle, and Richard Rohr. Several who helped were Gayle Beebe, Emilie Griffin, Frederica Mathewes-Green, John Wilson amongst others. Besides these top 25 books—-from On the Incarnation by St Athanasius to The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen—there are sidebars with many other authors listing their favorite 5 books. And an appendix listing some of the best authors writing today. Wow, this is a book-lovers delight, a must for anyone wanting to build a good library or who has a vocation of shaping or guiding others in their spiritual journeys. Highly recommended for our fans and friends.
Tutu Authorized Allister Sparks & Mpho Tutu (HarperOne) $29.99 It isn’t every year we get to announce a “publishing event” but this is surely one, the mcuh-anticipated, eagerly- awaited authorized biography of the famous, South African Anglican leader. To appreciate the global and prominent nature the book, get this: the blurbs on the back are from Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, The Dalai Lama and the President of the United States. The forward is by Bono. This is very exciting and will tell his life story and rise to fame in a manner that is legitimate and well informed (one of the authors is his own daughter, Mpho.) It just came and a quick skim of the footnotes shows that the authors mention some things of great interest to me (Kuyper!) and some names I suspect would be important (like Stephen Biko and Alan Boesak and Alan Paton) so I’m impressed. Look at that cover, just look at that. This is a book many of our friends will want, and it is a book some of our friends might benefit from reading, even if they are not full fans of the Archbishop.
The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity Jeffrey D. Sachs (Random House) $27.00 I’m not gonna lie. This came today and I’ve barely cracked the cover. I read the acknowledgements and, yup, he’s really, really famous. And hangs with the world class leaders you have come to expect from his important work. (I hope you know his much-discussed The End of Poverty and the one called Common Wealth.) As you know, Sachs has spent his years as an economist working on global issues. Now he is alarmed about the “moral crisis” and “decline of civic virtue among America’s political and economic elites.”
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