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Do you do Lent? Do you need some resource, some guide, some extra inspiration to ponder this time of year? Whether you are a liturgical aficionado or a beginner, we can help.
I recall growing up hearing about Lent, I suppose, but it wasn’t really an emphasis in my old EUB church, not even when EUBs merged with the Methodists. Wesley’s roots were high church Anglican, of course, but we were a small town congregation of common folk and we didn’t do the fancy stuff. Or anything that seemed Catholic. My Lutheran friends didn’t even talk about it, as far as I recall.
Years later, while working with nuns and other Roman Catholics — people who knew Dorothy Day, even — at Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center I still didn’t quite get this penitential season of Lent. I figured God forgives us in Christ so, rooted in the Reformation’s discovery of free grace, we didn’t need to belabor things. While working against nuclear weapons and world hunger and pondering daily the fate of the earth, giving up chocolate seemed trivial, at best. (Again, even though I was reading Merton and Nouwen and Richard Foster and the like, the deeper consequences of fasting, the re-ordering of our desires, making space for God’s inner transformation, didn’t quite make sense. I suppose I hadn’t discovered Dallas Willard, yet, let alone read You Are What You Love. But I digress.) I’d say smug stuff like I’m giving up sin for Lent. Or apathy.
Which, actually, comes closer to the reason for the season, I think. It maybe was Brian Walsh in Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in Dangerous Times who reminded me that in Walt Brueggemann’s profound The Prophetic Imagination he riffs on the spiritual dangers of a-pathos, apathy that is, the lack of pathos — deep, tragic, caring. Our hearts grow hard and our lives are so enmeshed with the ways of the world we don’t really want anything to change. We don’t care. Discontent, though, can be a spiritual gift, motivating us to holy reform. If anything, the season of Lent should teach us to care and to not care in the right way. We can be deepened and formed to care about the suffering of this sad world and to not care what others thing about our radical commitments to Christ’s ways. Or, as John Piper sometimes reminds us, to not care about our own suffering — our neighbor’s good and God’s glory is the true treasure we seek. We can take up the vocation of offering the world a prophetic word of critique, healing, and hope only if we care deeply enough to weep (subversive) tears and to host some disregard for our own comfort and success.
So, here are a handful of books that might point us in the direction of being formed in the ways of the weeping prophet Jeremiah, the foreteller of the Messiah, John the Baptist, and the Suffering Servant Himself, Jesus the Christ.
Some of these are new, some are older ones I wanted to remind you about. All are on sale and we would be grateful if you used the order form button below to buy a few. Best wishes.
Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith Jen Pollock Michel (InterVarsity Press) $16.00 This isn’t a Lenten book, per se, but, as I hinted above, Lent may be a time to think about our desires, about reforming our loves, about ordering our inner life in ways that are consistent with God’s intentions. Okay, that sounds fine, but what about ambition? What about women, especially, who in our culture are often expected not to want what they want. (Don’t get me started on Augustine’s dumb views of women and desire and sex and such.) Jen Pollock Michel is a great writer and we were early adopters of this fine work. It has a nice foreword by Katelyn Beaty, herself a good writer. This is written mostly in a narrative style, almost like a memoir, and calls us to ponder how God refines and even purifies our longings and heals our unmet hopes and dashed dreams. This is a great book and just might be what you need. Well worth reading during Lent.
A World Worth Saving: Lenten Spiritual Practices for Action George Hovaness Donigian (Upper Room) $13.99 A few customers got this from us last year and said it was very useful. Here is what the publisher says about it:
God thinks the world is worth saving and invites us to believe this too. For anyone who thinks Lent is a seemingly endless time of self-sacrifice and introspection, this 6-week study offers a breath of fresh air. Author George Donigian challenges readers to connect their inner spiritual life with outward actions of compassion in the world. He inspires readers to pray about daily news events and respond to the needs around them by serving others, feeding the hungry, fighting injustice, offering healing, and extending friendship. Give up apathy for Lent this year!
A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $13.00 I mentioned Brueggemann and his remarkable Prophetic Imagination. Here is one he wrote a few seasons ago, a short Lenten collection. As the publisher reminds us, “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 safe, 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, though: 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.” A way not our own.
Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels Heidi Haverkamp (Abingdon) $14.00 This is another one we sold well last year and I want to tell about it again. Here is what I wrote a year ago at BookNotes:
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 Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament Aubrey Sampson (NavPress) $15.99 We were happy to honor this with one of our “Best Books of 2018” awards and we were even happier that it sold at out Jubilee 2019 last week. Well over 3000 college students were hearing about the Lordship of Christ over all of life as they indwell the unfolding story of the Bible of Christ’s Kingdom coming — by telling the story of the goodness of creation, the distortions and pain of the fall, the redemption Christ brings, and the hope for restoration and hope we have as the story moves towards final consummation. I announced this book from the main-stage and exclaimed how moving it is, how it tells of several woman’s serious suffering, and how the Bible teaches about lament… lamenting doesn’t do anything magical, it says, but it can lead us to hope as “God sings a louder song” than suffering does, “a song of renewal and restoration.” This book tells of stress and suffering and outlines in a narrative way a Biblical theology of lament, making it useful for this Lenten season, I’d say.
Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $17.00 This is not designed for Lent and it is not particularly sad or painful, but it is ideal for those who struggle with the weight of the world, but who want to embrace the goodness of creation (and all the various jobs and callings and careers and tasks that emerge from the possibilities and potentials God ordered into creation, knowing that embracing it all can be both hurtful and rewarding.) We know that there is much broken in this hurting world and most of us live within some tension of how things are and how they are meant to be; we live the “now” of God’s victory and the “not yet” of that future hope when it is fully realized. This is the longing Fleming Rutledge writes so wonderfully about in her Advent sermons and it is the constant theme for Garber. He invites us to this messy, complicated world without growing cynical or jaded.
Can we take on the pain of the world as God does and know deeply and still find some measure of proximate justice and proximate joy? This is one of my favorite books and I commend it to you during Lent, especially. Please click on that link at the bottom and order this. It is worth it, I assure you.
Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption Through Scripture Alister Roberts & Andrew Wilson (Crossway) $17.99 I reviewed this more extensively in our end of the year “best books of 2018” list in January (or was in February?) I noted that I really appreciated the way it picks up the “echoes of Exodus” and liberation and freedom that keep appearing throughout Scripture. The authors are conservative, Reformed folks but this should appeal to anyone who likes astute Bible study and the big picture of the healing of the cosmos that is the unfolding drama of the whole Bible. Some of their examples of “exodus” themes are pretty obvious and others are creative and generative. I applaud these authors and commend these 20-some chapters, short and potent. It isn’t arranged as a daily devotional, let alone a Lenten one, but if you are like many, you may not need a handy 40 day devo anyway. Pick this up and spend time pondering this pivotal aspect of Scriptural truth.
Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us Simone Weil (Plough Publishing) $8.00 The Scandal of Redemption: When God Liberates the Poor, Saves Sinners, and Heals Nations Oscar Romero (Plough) $8.00 The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus Dorothy Day (Plough) $8.00 Do you know Plough Publishing? They are a classy small press emerging from the Bruderhof communities, radical anabaptists who have several intentional communities throughout North America. They publish very good stuff and they do a nice job with quality paper and lovely production. These are the first three in a series they are developing called “Plough Spiritual Guides” and affectionally known as “Backpack Classics.”
The Simone Weil one is quite new and, as you might realize, each of these are meditations offered by those who suffered much in their service of Christ’s Kingdom and the good of the world. These are good for Lent, although not designed as such. Kudos to Plough Publishing for offering these gifts to the reading public.
Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon Press) $16.99 What a great new paperback this is. (And there is a DVD curriculum which I’ll mention below.) As you maybe know, Dr. Levine is an internationally respected Jewish scholar whose speciality is the New Testament. She teaches Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and is an upbeat, feisty speaker. She does extraordinary scholarship about first century Judaism and the early Jesus movement. (An earlier book was called The Misunderstood Jew and, more recently, she did Stories Jesus Told: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, not to mention the Oxford University Press release, The Jewish Annotated New Testament.) As an Episcopalian prof from Seminary of the South writes, “Grounded in the rich and compelling scholarship we have come to expect from her, AmyJill Levin’s Entering the Passion of Jesus will surprise many and inform all who walk through Holy Week with her.”
This really emphasizes the risks Jesus took to love as he did which, asking us, too, what role we might place as we take risks to bear witness to and join with God’s work in the world. I maintain that this only isn’t adequate and not the only way to view the passion, but it is part of any faithful interpretation and for that, we have this moving study. Highly recommended.
The Crucified Is My Love: Morning and Evening Devotions for the Holy Season of Lent Johann Ernst von Holst (Plough Publishing) $18.00 This came out last year from Plough and should have been more widely celebrated, although the Bruderhof folks are a quiet bunch. Still, the recent publication of this is remarkable; von Holst was a Lutheran pastor in Riga, Latvia (1828 – 1898) and these stirring readings for Lent have been handed down for generations. They are based on the gospel accounts and are exceptional.
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing) $24.00 This is a perennial title from Plough and matches nice their popular Advent collection, Watch for the Light
Here is what I wrote a while back at BookNotes:
This handsome hardback has brief readings from some of the world’s leading literary and spiritual writers, offering just enough meaty and aesthetically-rich writing to please and challenge anyone who wants to dip in to a more mature sourcebook. Bread and Wine (like its companion Advent volume, Watch for the Light) draws wonder-full excerpts from the likes of C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Philip Yancey, Jane Kenyon; from Frederick Buechner, Dorothy Day, Wendell Berry, Watchman Nee and Dorthy Sayers. How many books have such thoughtful excerpts of Tolstoy and Updike and Christina Rossetti, Fleming Rutledge, Martin Luther and Barbara Brown Taylor, Oswald Chambers and Alister McGrath. As you can see, this is really diverse, delightful, thoughtful; a publishing triumph pulling together such writers and thinkers, poets, mystics, evangelists. With each several-page excerpt linked to a brief Biblical text, Bread and Wine is a wonderful devotional that you will use for a lifetime.
The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sister Wendy Beckett (SPCK/IVP) $15.00 This was our biggest selling Lent book last year when it was released (from the UK) and the companion, The Art of Advent was our biggest selling Advent resource last December. It 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 and in stock now.
Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen: Daily Scripture and Prayers Together with Nouwen’s Own Words edited by Judy Bauer (Liguori Publications) $11.99 This publisher has done other small season devotionals (Advent and Lent) based on the writings of great saints and mystics. We’ve appreciated their ones on Chesterton, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Merton, Saint Benedict, Francis & Clare, and more. As with all of these, Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri Nouwen offers Scripture and prayers and excerpts of his own writing and prayers. It includes a daily practice to deepen one’s spirituality and nicely goes through the second Sunday of Easter.
Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark Walter Wangerin (Zondervan) $14.99 We’ve suggested this over and over since it released in the early 1990s. I have a few good friends who have said this is their all time favorite Lenten devotional.
We like hand-sized, compact hardbacks and so appreciate the fine, fine writing in this powerful little book. I suppose you know Wangerin who has garnered award after award for his fantasy novels, his memoirs, his Biblical work, his children’s books, his book about being a young writer (Beate Not the Poore Desk published by our friends at Rabbit Room) and more. As a poet and preacher and a former inner city pastor, this passionate Lutheran leader reminds us through Scripture and storytelling that “we crucify and we are crucified, are condemned and redeemed.” Eugene Peterson, who said Wangerin is one of the “master storytellers of our generation” insists that Walt is “at his best, writing on and around the Master Story.” This isn’t new and we’ve described it other years here in BookNotes, but wanted to remind you of it again.
Three Hours: Sermons for Good Friday Fleming Rutlege (Eerdmans) $18.00 I suppose this might be the most significant new release this year and it already has become a good seller for us. The cover is brilliant, the compact shaped appealing, and the writing suburb. That she did these sermons all in a three hour service a year ago is remarkable and this book is a prefect follow up to her more heady works (such as the must-read The Undoing of Death and her major work on the cross, The Crucifixion, both published in paperback by Eerdmans.)
There’s a bit of a buzz about this new volume for which we rejoice; I suspect we might even sell out as the end of Lent approaches so you might be wise to order it now. You may know that Dr. Rutledge did a similar book of meditations in 2004 (that is still in print, now in a small sized paperback) called The Seven Last Words from the Cross (Eerdmans; $13.00) which offers a profound devotional experience. We highly recommend them both.
The Beauty of the Cross: Reflections for Lent from Isaiah 52 and 53 Tim Chester (The Good Book Company) $12.99 Tim Chester is a very popular (and prolific) author who is a pastor and evangelical theologian from the UK. He writes wonderfully assessable, gospel-centered books, often devotional in nature (although he has written in other genres including some more rigorous volumes.) He has a few collections of Advent readings that we loved and last year did the Lenten devotion called The Glory of the Cross: Reflections for Lent from The Gospel of John (The Good Book Company; $12.99.)
This new one, The Beauty of the Cross, is mature and thoughtful and and reveals an important reminder of Christ’s suffering.
Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2017 Justin Welby (Bloomsbury) $13.95 This was the big Lent book for the Church of England last year and while you may have heard about it, I bet you haven’t seen it around much or reviewed stateside. The Archbishop of Canterbury (formerly Rowan Williams, now Justin Welby) always picks a book for the Church to read during the season of Lent. The following year, then, it is usually released in the States. This is the first time (I think) that the Archbishop actually wrote the annual Lent book.
Certainly in the Bible and certainly in our time, mammon is one of the chief idols, a good deformed that captures our hearts and damages our society. This is important. Looks powerful, eh?
The Passion of the King of Glory Russ Ramsey (InterVarsity Press) $16.00 This book is the second in a trilogy and all three deserve much, much more than I can say here, now. Let me entice you by saying that Ramsey is a creative, colorful, passionate writer. I raved about his near-death memoir — one of the best! — called Struck: Oner Christians Reflections on Encountering Death and I’d read anything else he writes. He is a Reformed pastor, visionary, missional, caring about the gospel and caring about the world. In this set of 40 reflections Ramsey offers retellings of the gospel narratives. It captures the lively and passionate feel of the Bible stories so much so that writer Trillia Newbell says “you’ll wonder if he sat down and spoke with all the people involved in the story.”
How a creative writer “throw opens the curtains” (as Scotty Smith puts it) and invites us into the story, feeling it is a mystery, but he has the gift. These forty short chapters, arranged in five big sections, recounts key episodes and offers a taste of what it must have been like to be there with Jesus irsthand.
The first volume in this set, by the way, is called Advent of the Lamb of God and the third is The Mission of the Body of Christ. Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Chruch in Nashville.
Prayer: Forty Days of Practice Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson (Waterbrook) $16.99 This is not a Lenten book as such but this would make a great companion for anyone wanting to focus on their inner life for a season. We’ve promoted the previous self published edition and this is one of those rare instances when a big time publisher picks up a volume that was self published. Justin is a great writer, an artist and coach of creatives, and public speaker while Scott is himself deeply read and yet primarily a visual artist. Together they’ve created a book that is full of prompts and ideas and short reflections to help you ponder and pray, all arranged around a set of very contemporary graphic-like art pieces done by Scott the Painter. This invitation to deeper intimacy with God has gotten nothing short of rave reviews by all kinds of folks, from hip hop artists Propaganda (who highlights how the marriage of words and image work) to seminary president Mark Labberton to writer and missional adventure Sarah Thebarge (who calls it “a gift of a book) to Shane Claiborne and many others.
Listen to Anglican priest and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren:
In my home we have a special shelf where we keep sacred things of beauty. On the shelf are a few icons, seashells, the Book of Common Prayer, and this book, Prayer. Each person in my family–from children to adults–sits in quiet wonder as they flip these pages. This meditative and practical book brings together prayer, practices, and visual art to provide a feast for the soul. McRoberts and Erickson have created something beautiful, thoughtful, and mesmerizing.
Or this from activist and author Dominique DuBois Gilliard, author of Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores:
Prayer empowers us to walk by faith and not by sight. In a world where death, oppression, and violence all too often feel like the final words, we’re prone to forget that prayer truly changes things. Prayer begets revelation, enabling us to see, name, and confess the brokenness within us and our world. Prayer then leads to repentance, which reorients our posture toward God and neighbor. This book prophetically uses art to inspire us to remember God’s faithfulness amid the darkness. It also structures prayer in ways that draw us simultaneously inward and outward, producing a more faithful witness.
LENT FOR CHILDREN
Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter Laura Alary, Illustrated by Ann Boyajian (Paraclete Press) $15.99 Wow, what a wonderful children’s picture book, delightfully illustrated and nicely told. It is an invitation for children to wonder about the Lenten story, helping children to experience Lent with all their senses. They are taught to see it as a special time for creating a “welcoming space for God.” As it says on the back, “Simple activities like cleaning a room, making bread and soup, and inviting a neighbor for supper become acts of justice and kindness, part of a life following Christ.”
The story unfolds reminding the child of the things “we” do — meaning the church of which she is a part. Maybe your church isn’t “dressed in purple” and maybe you don’t have a Maundy Thursday service (but I sure hope you do!) Most of us don’t go to a lake for a sunrise service as the parish in this story does, but kids can realize that these are the kinds of things some churches do. Maybe it will inspire them to make suggestions of Lenten practices for your church or family! I think it is a fine book for almost any kind of Christian.
As our friend Gary Neal Hansen (author of Kneeling with the Giants) writes about Making Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter:
The book reveals what is usually hidden: what we knew as penitential is actually life-giving and faith-building. After reading the book to my kids, my five year old daughter exclaimed “I can’t wait for Lent! I just can’t wait!”
Holy Week: An Emotions Primer board book Danielle Hitchen, illustrated by Jessica Blanchard (Harvest House) $12.99 This has already become one of our best sellers this season and a favorite among our staff. This simple board book does some things that no other book does (as far as we know.) It shows various episodes or characters of holy week and links each to a particular emotion. How interesting! This is part of an excellent series (called “Baby Believers”) which are done in colorful styles, offering a helpful way into many Biblical themes. (One is called From Eden to Bethlehem: An Animals Primer and one is called Psalms of Praise: A Movement Primer and another is Let There Be Light: An Opposites Primer.) These aren’t goofy and they aren’t shallow, even though they are designed for little ones and little hands. Again, this holy week one uses Scripture to teach about emotions. Highly recommended.
Teach Us To Pray: Scripture Centered Family Worship Through the Year Lora A. Copley & Elizabeth Vander Haagen (Calvin College Press) $29.99 We know this is both pricey and hefty. At almost two inches thick and a big square size (almost 9 x 9 inches) with 864 pages, it is impressive. More impressive is the remarkable two-page spread for each day, clearly offering a pattern of daily devotion under the categories (highlighted by symbolic icons) of Preparing-Inviting-Stilling-Singing-Bible Reading-Dwelling-Praying-Blessing. Teach Us To Pray has some experimental feel, a bit of a liturgical feel, and is wisely construed for families with children wanting to dwell within the ancient church calendar. (There is a very nice, useful several page introduction to all this and a lovely little chart for those needing some quick guidance.) The authors are both ordained CRC pastors and were supported in this project by the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship.
A FEW GOOD DVD CURRICULUM CHOICES
Additional components for a six-week adult study include a comprehensive Leader Guide and a DVD featuring author and pastor Adam Hamilton teaching on site in Israel and Italy.
- The Call of the Fisherman
- Walking with Jesus in the Storm
- Bedrock or Stumbling Block?
- “I Will Not Deny You”
- From Cowardice to Courage
- The Rest of the Story
DVD or book Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon Press) paperback book= $16.99; DVD= $39.99; Leader’s Guide for DVD = $12.99
I hope you noticed I mentioned this as a stand alone book, above. We recommend it, even though it’s a rather audacious project: a non-Christian scholar of Jesus reminding those who are followers of Christ what that maybe entails, based on interpretations of the first century cultural context. This is fascinating stuff and Dr. Amy-Jill Levine is a fabulous communicator, so watching the DVD (alone, or, better, with a group) would be a stimulating experience.
Here is what the publisher says to explain it all:
Jesus’ final days were full of risk. Every move he made was filled with anticipation, danger, and the potential for great loss or great reward.
Jesus risked his reputation when he entered Jerusalem in a victory parade. He risked his life when he dared to teach in the Temple. His followers risked everything when they left behind their homes, or anointed him with costly perfume. We take risks as we read and re-read these stories, finding new meanings and new challenges.
In Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week, author, professor, and biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine explores the biblical texts surrounding the Passion story. She shows us how the text raises ethical and spiritual questions for the reader, and how we all face risk in our Christian experience.
Entering the Passion of Jesus provides a rich and challenging learning experience for small groups and individual readers alike. The book is part of a larger six-week study that is perfect for Lent and includes a DVD, and a comprehensive Leader Guide.
The book’s six chapters include:
- Jerusalem: Risking Reputation
- The Temple: Risking Righteous Anger
- Teachings: Risking Challenge
- The First Dinner: Risking Rejection
- The Last Supper: Risking the Loss of Friends
- Gethsemane: Risking Temptation
- The Man Who Won’t Go Away
- A Revolution of Humanity
- The Power of Forgiveness
- Why It’s a Small World After All
- Three Days That Changed the World
A FEW FINAL IDEAS
The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent Aaron Damiani (Moody) $12.99 I started with a passing reference to “giving something up for Lent.” Here is a book that we’re suggested before for those who are not familiar with (or have some suspicious about) that practice. Written by a conservative evangelical Protestant, it is handsome and nicely done, inviting folks to this classic spiritual practice.
As I’ve said at BookNotes before, I liked this a lot and even appreciate the handsome design (with touches of purple ink.) Nice job, Moody Press.
40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. a Different Kind of Fast. Dr. Alicia Britt Chole (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 This has been a popular one for us, a very interesting and easy read, but yet challenging. It is useful for any time, but maybe is designed for Lent — especially for those that aren’t terribly connected to a liturgical tradition and just want to enter a 40-day experiment. It calls us away from trivial sorts of symbolic gestures and invites us to give up dangerous stuff. And, significantly, it invites us to do so in community, as small groups or families or maybe whole congregations. Wow — this is worth considering!
Here is how the publisher describes it:
“What are you giving up for Lent?” we are asked. Our minds begin to whirl: Chocolate? Designer coffee? Social media? Forty days later, some feel disappointed in their efforts (it was a limited-time blend), some feel surprised by their success (didn’t even miss it), but perhaps precious few feel spiritually renewed.
Can such fasts alone truly prepare us to celebrate Easter? Or any other chosen time of reflection during the year?
Or could it be that before we can be duly awed by resurrection, we need to daily honor crucifixion?
40 Days of Decrease emphasizes a different type of fast. What if you or your church fasted comparison? What if your family fasted accumulation? What if your office fasted gossip?
40 Days of Decrease guides readers through a study of Jesus’ uncommon and uncomfortable call to abandon the world’s illusions, embrace His kingdom’s reality, and journey cross-ward and beyond.
Ancient Practice Series: Fasting Scot McKnight (Thomas Nelson) $12.99 Do you know, or do you maybe recall hearing about, the “Ancient Practice” series that the late Phyllis Tickle put together almost 10 years ago, now. She found authors who could write in ways that were deeply ecumenical, informed by ancient ways, and yet accesible and even upbeat. I loved these books — Dan Allender on sabbath, Robert Benson on fixed hour prayer, one on pilgrimage and one on eucharist and one on the church year and one on tithing. (Interestingly, these are practices shared by Christians, Muslims and Jews.) Anyway, McKnight here has given us one of the most insightful and helpful books about fasting. It’s a good time to read it, no? Very nicely done.
Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom from Habits That Bind You Erin M. Straza (IVP) $17.00 Well, how about you? I know I’m often feeling overwhelmed and stressed and perhaps (truth be told, but we’re among friends, eh?) a little jealous about the success of my friends and peers. I do not feel like we live a life of ease, although I realize any complaining I do is always in the context of first world problems. We’re not starving. Still even though I fret about my own pain and worries, I realize that there are comforts I cling to (complaining? feeling like I ought to have privilege?) and, like many middle class folks, maybe ought to take a hard look. I’m not going to lie: I haven’t read this and not sure I will. Without digging deep, my first instinct is I don’t have that much comfort to give up.
But those who have read this have said it is excellent; maybe you, like me, ought to check it out.
See how four authors I deeply respect have described it:
“In an age when the problems of the world are one keystroke away, never has it been so tempting (or so easy) to retreat into our cocoons of comfort. Never has it been more vital that we don’t. In Comfort Detox, a simultaneously profound, personal, and practical book, Erin Straza invites us to live for something more than our own comfort―to discover the truer peace that comes from knowing the divine Comforter and extending his comfort to those in need.” Hannah Anderson, author of Humble Roots and Made for More
“Erin skillfully captures the nature of our addiction to comfort and its power and ubiquity in modern American life. Weaving personal narratives, Scripture, and practical advice, Straza shows how we can leave behind a worldly, desiccated vision of comfort for the true comfort of Christ.” Alan Noble, author of Disruptive Witness
“Our obsessive pursuit of comfort may be the most acute and least diagnosed malady of North American Christianity. In Comfort Detox, Erin Straza helps readers imagine something more glorious―if also riskier―than a life insulated from interruption, inconvenience, and even anguish. I am grateful for her invitation to keep company with Jesus―and keep watch with a sorrowing world.” Jen Pollock Michel, author of Teach Us to Want and Keeping Place
“Comfort Detox exposes the way our everyday complacencies keep us from seeing and responding to the needs of those both near and far. With compassion and conviction, Erin Straza shows us how we can and why we must break the habits that serve self rather than others.” Karen Swallow Prior, author of Booked and Fierce Convictions and On Reading Well
Ms. Straza herself writes:
For too long I have lived life on comfort mode, making choices for life engagement based on safety, ease, and convenience. It has left me very little wiggle room, just a small parcel of real estate upon which to live, move, and have my being. It’s not quite the abundant life Jesus was offering.
The publisher explains it like this:
Whether we’re aware of it or not, our minds, bodies, and souls often seek out what’s comfortable. Erin Straza has gone on a journey of self-discovery, awakening to her own inherent drive for a comfort that cannot truly fulfill or satisfy. She depicts her struggles with vulnerability and honesty, and shares stories of other women who are on this same path. Straza also provides practical insights and exercises to help you find freedom from the lure of the comfortable. This detox program will allow you to recognize pseudo versions of comfort and replace them with a conviction to embrace God’s true comfort. Discover the secret to countering the comfort addiction and become available as God’s agent of comfort to serve a world that longs for his justice and mercy.
Sounds like this time of Lenten reflection towards the cross might be a time to dig into this. Anybody in?
City of God: Faith in the Streets Sara Miles (Jericho Books) $16.00 We love the extraordinary writing and remarkable storytelling of colorful Episcopalian convert and author and activist Sara Miles. We recommend her stunning story of her own unlikely conversion in Take This Bread and the exceptionally moving, feisty, raw book about urban ministry called Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, and Raising the Dead. City of God (now out in paperback) is her third since her coming to faith. What a writer! We commend City of God for this time of year, though, because it is a further rumination on her life among the under-resourced in the Bay area of San Francisco, working out of the famously eccentric St. Gregory’s, framed by her experiences on Ash Wednesday, make this a memoir well suited as a Lenten reflection. In fact, most of it is about her ministry of offering ashes out on the streets. Wow.
Here is just a little of what I wrote in a longer review three years ago when it first came out and I first spent time with it:
…. I want to tell you about one of the most interesting books I’ve read in quite a while and it is perfect to read here as we approach Lent; as you’ll see it is a memoir mostly about experiencing Ash Wednesday. It arrived into the shop a few weeks ago, but, because I know this writer is thoughtful and such a very good wordsmith (and would be writing about some fairly intense stuff that I would want to consider carefully) I wanted to hold it until I had time to savor, to appreciate, to ponder, and to grapple with it.
Today I feel a little like Jacob after that long night of struggle, a bit banged-up myself, but blessed for the effort. I read the new book City of God: Faith in the Streets by a truly fascinating person and gifted, remarkable writer, self-confessed Episcopalian “church nerd” Sara Miles. I have read her earlier books and spent a few days at an event with her a year ago. I respect her a lot, as a writer and as a follower of Christ.
The City of God: Faith in the Streets is mostly about celebrating in high church fashion the service of putting ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent.) And doing it out on the streets, for one and all.
City of God is an amazing book for several reasons. Firstly, it chronicles one day in Mile’s life, a busy Ash Wednesday, and three Ash Wednesday services in which she was involved that day.
Coloring Lent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Resurrection Christopher D. Rodkey & Jesse & Natalie Turri (Chalice Press) $12.99 Lastly, I hope you have seen the BookNotes posts we have done about our friend and neighbor, UCC pastor and postmodern theologian, Chris Rodkey, and his three exceptional adult coloring books. Along with some Pennsylvania artist friends, he did an unusually interesting Lenten coloring book for adults that follows the lectionary, called Coloring Lent. Trust me — there is nothing like it. See our earlier review, which is pretty interesting, actually, HERE.
For what it’s worth, Chris and his artist friends did another one called Coloring Advent and also a new one — which you really should check out — called Coloring Women of the Bible (Chalice Press; $14.99.) As I’ve suggested in our reviews of the other two, there is more meat here than meets the eye and the captions and art (kudos to Natalie Turri ) and the footnotes all make for a deeply provocative, learning experience as one takes time to attend to this approach to the Biblical texts.
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