Here are some recent books that I wanted to tell you about as we move towards this Lenten season. Some of them are very, very good and we’re happy to share these good selections with you. We’ve got others here in the shop, of course, and can order nearly anything, so do give us a call if we can be more helpful. You can order anything by using the secure link at the bottom of this newsletter, or the email address there, or the phone number. We’re at your service.
Or, I hope you saw the post we did about our friend and neighbor Chris Rodkey, who did an exceptionally interesting coloring book for adults that follows the lectionary, called Coloring Lent: And Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection. See our review, HERE.
A lot of folks like the list I did last year of books that perhaps suggested themselves as good to read during the season of Lent, but that were not devotionals or specifically Lenten. That was my list for those who didn’t want the daily devo format but were at least open to some intentional, reflective reading during this season. Check it out HERE. There’s some really fine writing recommended there.
This new 2018 list includes some that are specifically written to be used during Lent and some that, inspired by that loose list for those that don’t want such an obvious approach, are new titles that seem right to recommend here, now.
All are on sale and can be ordered by using the link below. As a small, family business with tight cash flow, we truly appreciate your support. We hope you enjoy this curated list and my ruminations on these titles.
The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent Aaron Damiani (Moody) $12.99 This is one of the books I highlighted last year, but simply have to describe it briefly again in this list. It is not a daily devotional, but a fine, reflective book –handsomely designed with some purple ink to start off each chapter – offering a fairly conservative, Protestant rumination on why this practice (typically considered more Roman Catholic than evangelical) is healthy and useful. Granted, “giving up something for Lent” can be construed in odd ways, and any ritual can become wooden or routine, but, as Damiani happily explains, his doubts about Lent have been overcome and he now sees it, when done with proper motivation, as a sort of “springtime for the soul.” This is a very helpful resource for those who aren’t familiar with Lenten practices or who want just want to be more intentional about the season, “clearing to make room for new growth.” I know this was really appreciated by a few customers last year, and I wanted to commend it again, now.
The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sister Wendy Beckett (SPCK/IVP) $15.00 This is a small, square-sized paperback made nicely with glossy paper and excellent art reproductions gracing every other page. On the facing pages the esteemed Carmelite sister and art historian, Sister Wendy, offers remarkable insight that is at once a blend of interesting art facts and art historical exploration and inspiring faith-shaping wisdom. There are over forty paintings, some quite famous and others lesser known, each explaining succinctly and with a natural, winsome invitation to use them prayerfully. This is so nice I’d recommend getting a few – it’s a wonderful book to share with the unsuspecting, one who might not ordinarily read a Christian book or who might not take up a more conventional Bible study. The book is wonderfully designed, too, with full color pages and good graphic lay out. Highly recommended.
Hanging By a Thread: The Questions of the Cross Samuel Wells (Church Publishing) $9.95 This is a thin book but the writing is no only eloquent but often profound. Wells was the articulate predecessor to Will Willimon when he left his position as Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. Wells has since returned to England where he is not Vicar of St. Martin in the Fields in London. (I named his Incarnational Ministry: Being With the Church one of the Best Books of 2017; the sequel, Incarnational Mission: Being with the World just arrived.) Hanging by a Thread is also new and includes short provocative pieces circling around this remarkable statement: “There was a time when the cross was an answer: today, the cross is a question.” Each piece “revisits the harrowing story at the very heart of Christianity.” As it says on the back:
With unswerving courage, elegant simplicity, and captivating example, it scrutinizes the assumption that the crucifixion was about fixing human problems, and instead, suggests it was the culmination of God’s disarming purposes to be with us, no matter what. This transformation from “for” to “with” discloses a profound, moving, and inspiring vision of what the central event of the Christian faith was truly all about.
Chapter titles are allusive and full of wonder: story, trust, life, purpose, power, love, story, but here is what he’s getting at: the reliability of history, the fragility of trust, the fact of mortality, the search for meaning, the nature of power, and the character of love. This really could be read, pondered, prayed through, a week at a time. Nicely done.
Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels Heidi Haverkamp (Abingdon) $14.00 Haverkamp is a writer, retreat leader and an ordained Episcopal priest. She is also a Benedictine oblate at the extraordinary, ecumenical, Holy Wisdom Monastery in Wisconsin (and author of the lovely Advent devotional, Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season.) In this Lenten guide there are six weeks of reflections, with each week offering meditations on a certain theme, related to the practices of solitude and silence.
For instance, there are five days of “Solitude and Struggle” and “Solitude and Journey” and “Solitude and Hospitality” and “Solitude and Resistance.” The last days for Holy Week are under the rubric of “Solitude and Confinement” and moves from Jesus’ imprisonment to Daniel in the Lion’s Den to John of Patmos and more. I have to admit I’ve jumped ahead to the Holy Saturday reading and the Easter Sunday one, “Mary Magdalene at the Tomb.” There’s an appendix called “Ten Ways to Be Silent.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs it. The soft, beautiful cover just makes it just perfect.
The Glory of the Cross: Reflections for Lent from the Gospel of John Tim Chester (The Good Book Company) $12.99 We really like Tim Chester, who has written books from his native UK on this publishing house and on Crossway here in the States. He’s gospel-centered, grace-based, Reformed and missional. I like him a lot, and his energy and clarity about Biblical teaching is helpful. Here he walks readers through the gospel of John with a bit of Lenten tone, although it isn’t deep or mystical, nor heady and visionary. It’s just solid, standard, stuff, a bit of meat amidst the milk, but accessible and interesting and edifying. These meditations really do push us towards the foot of the cross where we “gaze at Christ in all his glory.” And if that doesn’t get you — that God’s glory is most revealed in this horrid, suffering, then maybe you should benefit from this warming and solid work. 47 short readings.
A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $13.00 Again, I mentioned this last year, but I’m afraid some won’t click the link offered above to see that list, so I felt like I wanted to be sure it wasn’t missed. It says on the back, “We begin our Lenten journey addressed by the remarkable assurance that the God who summons us is the God who goes along with us.” If I am attending well to this, I can get choked up just reading that line. Of course, this feisty, poetic, scholarly, passionate Old Testament scholar is good on stuff pertaining to times of wilderness and wandering “from newly freed Hebrew slaves in exile to Jesus’s temptation in the desert.” God has always called people out of their save, walled cities into uncomfortable places, revealing paths they would never have chosen.
As it says on the back, “Despite our culture of self-indulgence, we too are called to walk an alternative path – one of humility, justice, and peace.” I think these short readings might be prophetic for you as they are for many. Hold on, this isn’t sentimentality or mere inner piety. This will lead to a life-changing, challenging, beautiful life that comes “with walking in the way of grace.”
Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out: A Bible Study for Adults Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $14.00 This is one of those books that is not created as a Lenten study but just cried out to be listed now. It is, in fact, a Bible study, full of Bible notes and discussion questions and stuff to look up and process. Okay, maybe the format isn’t that creative, but a set of short Bible lectures by Brueggemann and then conversation questions, is a remarkable resource. There is nothing quite like it among the dozens of Brueggemann books.
The theme, too, is urgent. There is nothing in print that I know of that gets at this so bluntly. “Silence,” he says, “is a complex matter. It can refer to awe before unutterable holiness, but it can also refer to the coercion where some voices are silences in the interest of control by the dominant voices.” It is the later silence that Walt, not surprisingly, explores here, urging us to speak up in situations of injustice.
Here is a bit how the publisher describes it:
Interrupting Silence illustrates that the Bible is filled with stories where marginalized people break repressive silence and speak against it. Examining how maintaining silence allows the powerful to keep control, Brueggemann motivates readers to consider situations in their lives where they need to either interrupt silence or be part of the problem, convincing us that God is active and wanting us to act for justice.
If you are involved in any social justice work, desire to be an agent of reform, maybe feel called to be some kind of whistle-blower, or just desire to be more wise and vocal and faithful in taking your stand, you will find this to be emboldening. If you are not there, not sure if we should stand up and speak out, or are afraid of the price such outspokenness might cost, I doubly recommend this set of short Bible reflections. Do it alone if you have to, or, speak up, and invite others to join you in this courageous study.
The Journey to Jerusalem: A Story of Jesus’s Last Days John Pritchard (WJK) $14.00 There has been so much written – scholarly and popular – about Jesus’ last week. Last year, for instance, we commended the excellent academic study by Andreas Kostenberger & Justin Taylor called The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week and the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived. This year has seen a fabulously, short resource that is an imaginative retelling of the Gospel of Luke, from Luke 9:51 where Jesus “sets his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is good for anyone who wants to learn a bit, “get in the mood” (which is a crass way of putting it) or needs to get reacquainted with the story if a fresh way. It is great for small groups, too, and includes weekday readings for Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. There is a poem for each Saturday, too, so, with the format and the reflection and discussion apparatus, it is more than just a historical novella. This is a fine small group option, written by the last Bishop of Oxford and Archdean of Canterbury. Pretty darn nifty, eh?
Messy Easter: Three Complete Sessions and a Treasure Trove of Ideas for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Jane Leadbetter (IVP) $14.00 I hope you know about the innovative, intergenerational creative arts programs for churches to us — or anyone, for that matter — as a way to express worship and invite newcomers into an experience of one’s faith community. These “Messy Church” services started in the UK and we carried their creative guides as imports several years ago. (Thanks to Fresh Expressions, by the way for introducing us to the British MC volumes.) Now they are increasingly popular here and IVP has released a US-version of the “Messy Church” volumes, an Advent/Christmas one (which we told you about before) and this all new one for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. Not a bad thing to have on hand, even if you don’t intend to do it as a full-on program. Nice stuff, for sure.
Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change our Lives and Open Our Hearts Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $21.99 I know it might be a bit of a stretch to suggest this as a Lenten reading, but, well, maybe not. Let’s make a list:
- It is a daily reading book, so although it isn’t a Bible reflection, it does have that format and vibe.
- It is, in a back-door, tell-it-slant kind of way, a book about spirituality. That’s obviously Lenten.
- It is about writing, pausing, organizing our lives; inner peace and character formation is ideal for Lent.
- Why not give up your crazy-making schedule and disorganized panic for Lent? Marilyn can help.
I make my point: this is a book about inner transformation evoked by new habits, and seeing the “spirituality of the ordinary” when one takes up intentional practices, or frames the common place as liturgies. If you like nice writing, you’ll be delighted. If your interested in discovering deeper meaning in a common practice, you’ll be impressed. But if you’ve read Jamie Smith or Tish Harrison Warren, you’ll really appreciate this. If you haven’t read them, order this, for sure, but get Smith’s You Are What You Love and Tish Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary now, too. I’m not kidding. Make a list about which ones to read when.
I hope you know how we routinely rave about this fine writer, literature prof, and poet. We always take her Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies everywhere we go to sell books, and usually her recent Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice. We like her Bible ruminations found in What’s in a Phrase: Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause, which itself could be a fruitful Lenten resource.
I love the quotes on the back of the cover that offer praise for the author – Shauna Niequist and Michael Card, Richard Rohr and Samuel Wells. Listen to what Lauren Winner says:
Reframes one of my existing daily habits as spiritual practice… Life giving and edifying.
Blessed are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World Amy Simpson (IVP) $16.00 We were delighted to meet Amy Simpson at a Parish Nursing conference here in Central PA a few years ago, and were blown away by her honest, insightful, riveting telling of her family’s story about her mother’s schizophrenia. Her book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission tells that tale, and offers accessible, wise insight. Her own foibles are shared candidly in Anxious. I greatly suspect that this new one, Blessed are the Unsatisfied, is deeply informed by her own narrative and her deep awareness of mental health issues, but it is a more general book than that, designed for any readers who are pondering how to find meaning amidst life’s disappointments.
As Drew Dyck (himself an author you should know) says on the back, simply, “How freeing it is that being unsatisfied doesn’t mean I’m a defective Christian!” He continues, “Simpson gave me permission to stay hungry for ultimate satisfaction while providing strategies for pursuing the abundant life of which Jesus spoke.”
Of course it seems that Amy – now working as a life and leadership coach –invites us to use our lack of satisfaction in ways that it leads to greater intimacy with God. Obviously. But I trust that she isn’t glib about that, as, here, East of Eden, even that can be fraught with brokenness. I do not know if she exposes the wrong-headed teaches of the likes of Olsteen or the overly pious John Piper on this topic, but I am sure she is balanced, realistic, honest, and sober. And, points us, indeed, to true spiritual heath that surely starts in humility and, yes, un-satisfaction. It seems a perfect read for the season of Lent.
Disruptive Discipleship: The Power of Breaking Routine to Kickstart Your Faith Sam Van Eman (IVP) $16.00 This is one of those books that is perfect for the “I want to read something about spiritual growth that challenges me to a deeper walk with God and a better manifestation of faith, hope, and love but not by reading a Lenten devo” kind of book. I often summarize Sam’s wonderful insight about needing to break our routines and get “outside our comfort zone” to disrupt our spiritual status quo so we might experience some kind of true maturity and growth, by noting that he says that that is why we give something up for Lent. We just do some 40 day experience and see how God shows up, hoping that the little exercise of self-sacrifice might afford some new occasion for growth. (Or maybe, truth be told, we just do it because we heard we should and don’t reflect or maximize or even debrief the experience to see if it bore fruit. Maybe we don’t even think it is supposed to bear any particular fruit.)
Although Mr. Van Eman is very well schooled in outdoor education, experiential learning theory, and has years of experience and expertise in leading wilderness excursions and missions trips, his insight isn’t that unusual – of course we have to do something special to kick-start our faith sometimes; all the great spiritual masters have said as much. Disruptive Discipleship invites us to think about ways that happens for us, tells stories of all kinds of scenarios and experiential learning models he’s played with, and suggests that we might want to form some pilgrim band of fellow seekers who want to be accountable to a process or learning curve or spiritual growth opportunity. It’s not rocket science, but to be honest, I don’t think I know a book like it, that is so intentional about getting at this playful way of true learning.
So, I love this book (and awarded it one of the Best Books of 2017 in case you missed those big lists from early in January and I reviewed it at great length HERE when it first came out.) We are bringing Sam to York on Saturday morning, March 17th (feel welcome if you are in the area) to First Presbyterian Church to guide us through some interesting Lenten type exercises and experiential learning opportunities. I’m not an “experiential education” type learner – give me a good old lecture any day – and am the kind of person on the Enneagram that doesn’t like to do the Enneagram. But I’ll work with Sam, any day. I think maybe you could benefit from this moving book during this season of transformation. It wasn’t written for the Lenten journey, and it is maybe more fun than you might think this season allows. But it really could work for you, and I highly recommend it.
Sam is also doing a break out workshop at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh July 23-25.
Made for a Miracle: From Your Ordinary to God’s Extraordinary Mike Slaughter (Abingdon) $18.99 If this were by another author, I’d leave it off this Lenten list. It seems a bit upbeat for this time of year, and given the great insight in books on spiritual longing and dissatisfaction by Amy Simpson’s and the nuance of Hanging by a Thread by Wells, it might even seem out of synch. But I like Slaughter, an admittedly upbeat United Methodist mega-church guy, who has been surprisingly outspoken against commercialization of Christian holidays and who has written good pastoral stuff on suffering and several books about simple living and faith economics in a needy world. He starts this book about miracles with a rumination on the holocaust-produced masterpiece Mans Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It has endorsements from Will Willimon (who calls it a “empowering, hope-filled book) and Rachel Billups (who wrote Down to Earth and Sent) who talks about its “grit.”
Okay, so this is a fine, Biblical study about health and wholeness and mission and justice and faith and works and service and the Kingdom breaking into our lives, both personally and in society. It is about the amazing stuff God just might be willing to do and how we can cooperate with that. In fact, as Slaughter makes clear over and over, miracles are not “for” us, but God working through us, “for others.” As Rev. Slaughter examines two aspects of the miracle stories in Scripture and shows how there are always two components – divine action and human responsibility.
For a real miracle to take place, we must act with God, using the abilities we have, and directing them toward God’s work in the world.
And MfaM is colorful and inspirational, too. And well written – I particularly got a kick out of how he quotes right-wing Eric Metaxas on Bonhoeffer and progressive Lutheran Nadia Bolz-Weber on the wildness of Easter and Latino charismatic Juan Carlos Ortiz on radical discipleship and Richard Rohr and Oswald Chambers and Cardinal John Henry Newman. What fun.
Here is the basic flow: after talking about how we “made for miracles” and that “miracles come with a cost” he has a chapter called “The Miracle of Love.” Subsequent chapters explore faith and prayer and health and healing. And, then, it ends with a chapter on Resurrection!
There is also a video curriculum, a leaders guide for the videos, and even youth versions of Made for a Miracle. Let us know if you want more information about any.
Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World A.J. Swoboda (Brazos Press) $19.99 Wow, what a gift, a hard, challenging, lovely, grace-filled gift of very good writing, contemporary cultural analysis, spirituality and radical discipleship with the trajectory towards a good, good life. A good life lived in resistance to the ethos of the age, the idols of the times. I am so eager to read this brand new (but long-awaited and much-publicized) major new work by one of my favorite contemporary writers and while I hope it doesn’t supplant more traditional Lenten devotionals, it surely could be the most important book you read this season. Perhaps the most important book you’ll read all year.
Perhaps you will recall my remarks in last year’s Lenten list about Swoboda’s stunning book about the Triduum, A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tensions Between Belief and Experience. If you didn’t read that last year during the weekend of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, you really should.
And now he has this new one, that isn’t Lenten, per se, but is ideal for a good read this time of late Winter into early Spring. This is, as I will explain in greater detail after I’ve spent more time with it – oh how I wished I had had an advanced copy so I could be on top of telling you all about it now – this is one of the best books on Sabbath I think I have ever seen. Just judging from the table of contents, the many, many footnotes, the authors with whom Swoboda is in conversation, Subversive Sabbath is simply a must-read for anyone serious about this classic spiritual practice. The title (as he notes in the first pages) is an echo of Brueggemann’s much more slim, but equally potent study, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. Man, do we need that now.
As John Mark Comer (author of the great Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human, who will be at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh in two weeks, by the way) writes on the back of Subversive Sabbath:
“Few things are as subversive to the hurry addiction in our modern world than the practice of Sabbath. And few things are as life-or-death important.”
Swoboda’s book carries a lovely foreword by Dr. Matthew Sleeth, who, as a Bible-believing medical doctor came to sense a call to resign his medical practice and work on more preventive medicine, namely environmental studies. His several books on creation-care and his wife’s wonderful Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life on a more normative, sane, stewardly lifestyle, are all wonderful, and his good words here point us towards the insight that Swoboda isn’t interested in a merely legalistic response to not working on Sunday, just resting up a little. No, this is closer to the remarkable Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight by environmental theologian Norman Wirzba. That book is a serious stunner, too, for how Wirzba (a friend of Wendell Berry’s I might note) shows the counter-cultural lifestyle implications of God’s principles of Jubilee justice, shalom, rest, and stewardship. But A.J. Swoboda is a poetic writer, too, making his challenging prose sing in a way that isn’t always as present in the books of his mentors in this topic — Marva Dawn, Wirzba, Tilden Edwards, Abraham Heschel, of course. They are wondrous authors in their own right, but John Mark Comer is right in saying AJ is “soulful” and Ken Wytsma is right in called Swoboda’s book “rich and energetic.” A longer review will have to discuss his extraordinarily wide research and the brilliant sources upon which he draws – from the lovely evangelical wordsmith Mark Buchanan (his book The Rest of God is a delight) to patristics and Puritans, to generative thinkers such as Miroslov Volf, Richard Mouw, Celtic mystic John Donoghue to Jewish journalist Judith Shulevitz and back to Wendell Berry and Marva Dawn. To see Moltmann and Barth quoted with Dorothy Bass and Barbara Brown Taylor next to Eugene Peterson is just a delight.
Despite the serious learning and detail to attention, it seems that Subversive Sabbath is not designed as a scholarly treatise or academic project. This hefty book is written for you and me, ordinary Christian people wanted to get beyond platitudes and simple practices to a robust and sustainable sort of discipleship that is faithful, relevant, and a blessing to the world God so loves. It quotes Batman and Tolkien and funny, organic farmer Joel Salatin, not to mention Calvin and Hobbes. I am confident this is going to be on any reliable Best Books of 2018 list.
Shirley Mullen (President of Houghton College) says, “If I were permitted to recommend only one book on Sabbath-keeping, Subversive Sabbath would be it.
The always cool and quite wise Mark Sayers (whose books are all well worth reading — his most recent is called Strange Days) says:
Our smartwatch-driven age can measure every heartbeat, every step, even the quality of our sleep, but it cannot measure the health of our souls. Our limitless freedom has paradoxically imprisoned us in an achievement culture of constant measurement. Escape from the exhaustion of endless opportunity and embrace the singular God behind the singular Sabbath day of rest. Stop, breath, read this profoundly helpful book and be remade.
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