Earlier in the week I gave you detailed list of the books that we announced from up front at the big Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh (at an extra discount, too.) These were exceptional titles but not scholarly or eccentric; that is, I think most could be used in your book clubs or reading groups or adult Sunday school classes. Some you had most likely heard of, some were award winning, and some maybe surprised you; All Things New by Pete Hughes, for instance, was very new so are early adopters of that great read. In any case, if you didn’t peruse that BookNotes yet, don’t miss it.
We want to say thanks for those that shared it—it’s good for a wider audience to see this kind of a thoughtful but accessible list that had some flow and coherence to it, We’d like to think it is helpful to see why I highlighted those titles to the gathering of over 3000 young adults. (I sense there is some anxiety in many ordinary churches about retaining what few young adults they have as congregants, and maybe my words and the books I described will be helpful as you consider that.) In any case, we are very grateful for your interest and appreciate those who show their support for indie bookstores and our particular mission.
Needless to say, while we were in Pittsburgh, new books kept coming into the store. Here is a sneak peak into some of the brand new ones that we are most excited about. These are all amazing! What a good book year 2020 is turning out to be. These are all on sale, too at our BookNotes 20% off. We show the regular price and our sale price. We will deduct the discount when you order. We often send books out the least expensive way (media mail, which is a bit slower) but you can request anything at the interactive order form page. Just tell us how we can help.
You can use the link at the very end of the column which takes you to our secure order form.
Showing: What Pregnancy Tell Us About Being Human Agnes R. Howard (Eerdmans) $21.00 / our sale price = $16.80 Just the other day my wife and I were talking with our staff about publishers that just consistently do great work and even surprise us sometimes. Our favorite publishers offer delightful topics, great writing, good covers, sometimes stunningly so. Eerdmans is surely one of those and although they are known for hefty, expensive, works of Biblical studies and theology, their more “trade” sorts of titles are almost always wonderful. Showing is a perfect example of this very thing – a really well-written book, filling the need for thoughtful rumination on something everybody should care about. And look at that cover – believe me, it’s worth getting this book for this little work of art itself!
Ms. Howard joins the ranks here of a handful of writers who have written a reflection on pregnancy that is part memoir, part theological study, part spiritual reflection, done so with literary pizzazz that just sings, even if a times rather academic. It is a hard book to describe but should appeal to anyone interested in our human experiences, on relating faith to ordinary life, on embodiment and family matters. Heretofore our favorite book on this was the (sadly now out of print) Great With Child by Calvin University literature prof Debra Rienstra. How glad we were to see a long glowing paragraph of Ms. Rienstra’s own prose on the back cover endorsing the writing and insight of Showing.
Although Ms. Howard is herself a mother and writes with intimate understandings of pregnancy, she is also a historian. As Rienstra notes, Howard “provides us with the historian’s best gift: perspective.” So, Showing looks at cultural stuff, medical and religious history and wonders how things have changed over time.
More urgently, though, she explores these broad matters in order to get to the heart of her project, asking what sort of virtues are practices in pregnancy. Courage? Duh, yes! Hospitality? Come to think of it, well, of course! And, as a scholar might, she talks about (get this) “embodied generosity.” Pregnancy involves all sorts of habits of heart and bodily habits and, yes, virtues. Attentiveness to these virtues just might shape women (as much as it births babies.) This is simply fascinating stuff.
Here are two things my quick skimming of this new book showed me. It avoids clinical discourse and it equally avoids sentimentality. It is not a how-to manual, of course, but it is not a gushing touchy-feely sermon, either. In fact, she says it is not fluffy. So there.
But Showing: What Pregnancy Tells Us About Being Human is amazing. I hope it is read by moms and dads (and moms and dads to be) who are somewhat serious readers and certainly by midwives and nurses and doulas and doctors. Maybe especially those sorts of medical providers as it will help give them a deeper, more wholistic vision of the humanness of it all.
Professor Howard teaches humanities at Valparaiso University and at their honors college (Christ College.) She is a senior fellow in the Lilly Fellows Program where she researches the history of childbirth, the culture of pregnancy, and women’s health movements in the United States. She has written for Commonweal, First Things, The Cresset and other significant publications.
Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy Amy Peterson (W Publishing Group) $26.99 / our sale price = $21.59 Lauren Winner wrote the eloquent, compelling foreword to this saying she had read it multiple times (I suspect she was a writing mentor to the author) and that she will read it yet again. It is one of those brilliantly conceived, beautifully rendered, very special books that deserve this kind of recommendation. It will be touted as one of the best books of 2020, I’m sure.
Winner writes that “you will be charmed by and want to remain in the company of its narrator and will delight in the cunning and precise prose.” Cunning and precise prose? You want to order it now, don’t you, just to enjoy that kind of writing (whatever that means!) Winner continues to talk about the once popular notion of “moral theology” and how Amy Peterson updates older, classic understandings of virtue and how virtue works. (Not reinvented, but recast, she assures us.) The current context – including iphones and climate change and Donald Trump – informs how we live out our virtue. “Amy Peterson shows us what a life of virtue looks like in a world of empire, inequality, dislocation, sexual violence, movement of people groups. What was good for the young lady of 1848 is good for us, too, but those goodnesses need to be recast because so many of our particulars are different from Miss 1848’s particulars.”
Where Goodness Dwells is exceptionally astute and, so far, for me, utterly captivating. Like her earlier Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, Peterson’s ruminations are rooted in a memoir-like telling of her own story. Shannon Martin calls it “exquisite” and Wesley Hill says it is, “one of the most genuinely hopeful books I’ve ever read.” As author earns these sort of impassioned comments not only because she is astute and thoughtful but because she tells her own vivid story with care and grace.
As you can tell from the subtitle, Where Goodness Still Grows isn’t just a reflection on integrity and virtue and goodness (and beauty) but also somewhat of an expose, a lament, a recognizance dive to investigate the church’s hypocrisy. For some this expose and confession will help them keep the faith (knowing there are authors and publishers and booksellers saying this kind of stuff.) For others it will be awkward, perhaps controversial; painful. Hard hitting as it may be, though, it is her story and her wisdom and that includes the virtue of being fair and civil. Although I am only part way through it, I think it is nothing short of spectacular. You really should read it.
Here are a few of the other remarkable endorsements by writers we admire. Please read every one; please:
If the church of your childhood has broken your heart — particularly, politically — if your faith foundations have been shaken by betrayal and complicity, it might seem quaint to turn toward virtues. And yet what are we yearning for but embodied goodness? Amy has given us a well-researched, beautifully written, strong book about the virtues necessary for the apocalypse. We need to lean in further to discernment, lament, love, and hospitality, not in a weak, be nice sort of way but in the muscular, lean way that holds on to hope out of faith disguised as sheer stubbornness. This book is one part lament, one part hope, and entirely necessary for these days. –Sarah Bessey, author, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things and Jesus Feminist
In this poignant, honest book, Amy Peterson confronts her disappointment with the evangelical leaders who handed her The Book of Virtues then happily ignored them for the sake of political power. But instead of just walking away, Peterson rewrites the script, giving us an alternative book of virtues needed in this moment. And it’s no mistake that it ends with hope. –James K. A. Smith, author, You Are What You Love, and editor, Image journal
Amy Peterson reflects the best of the church’s next generation. With biblical faithfulness and wisdom, Where Goodness Still Grows gently critiques the shortcomings of the generation who came before her, then lovingly points the way toward a more holistic and virtuous future for all who claim the name of Christ. –Karen Swallow Prior, author, On Reading Well and Fierce Convictions
Deconstructing is becoming a new normal; re-envisioning a path forward in the shadow of tradition is increasingly rare. Through gorgeous prose and widening her scope to a diverse array of voices, Peterson is doing the hardest work of all: stubbornly clinging to faith while holding it accountable at the exact same time. This book is vital reading. –D. L. Mayfield, author, Assimilate or Go Home and The Myth of the American Dream
I should say more. Where Goodness Grows is surely one of the best books of the new year! We have it on sale and are eager to send it out. Why not suggest it for your book group, church, or fellowship?
A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream Yuval Levin (Basic Books) $28.00 / our sale price = $22.40 I suspect this major work wouldn’t have sold well at Jubilee since it is a fairly scholarly hardback by a serious social critic (who is not a follower of Christ and most likely not well known in young adult circles.) Despite the breathy Kingdom vision at Jubilee that assures us that we can and should transform the world, most younger folks aren’t quite aware of how significant institutions are. A book about this isn’t going to really fly off the shelves anywhere, I’m afraid (since most Americans think they have an aversion to institutions) and most likely not among the rising generation.
Still, this vision about building up institutions and shoring up the things in our culture that help us flourish certainly is the sort of thing that we all must grapple with if we are to live out a restorative, redemptive care for the world that is lasting. From Andy Crouch’s must-read Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power to Steve Garber’s small but potent A Seamless Life to the brilliant chapter “structure and direction” in Al Wolters’ Creation Regained to the big picture discussions of Christ and culture among those following the work of Lesslie Newbigin to the inspiring stories in John Stonestreet’s All Things New: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People there is much Christian insight to motivate us to think deeply about what it really means to “engage culture” and work missionally for the renewal of God’s world, even in our mediating structures and institutions and civic spaces. Sooner or later we must, as Peggy Noonan puts it on the back of A Time to Build, “recommit to the great project of our common life” and Levin (an exceptionally respected public intellectual) is just the person to guide us to the most fruitful ways to think about this.
A Time to Build is an important book, in a way a follow-up to his important A Fractured Republic. It is serious and thoughtful, to say the least.
This endorsement (of a fundamentally conservative book by a liberal Democrat, I might note) explains it well:
Yuval Levin stands athwart the wrecking ball of anger that is smashing a democracy in desperate need of rebuilding and repair. A Time to Build sets forth an ambitious blueprint for how Americans can work together to strengthen broken institutions we cannot live without. — Bruce Reed, chief of staff to former Vice President Joe Biden
Here is what conservative pundit David Brooks said in the New York Times about the book as it related to the impeachment hearing a month back:
As Yuval Levin writes in his profound forthcoming book, A Time to Build, Trump is an example of a person who wasn’t formed by an institution. He is self-created and self-enclosed. He governs as a perpetual outsider, tweeting insults to members of his own cabinet. At its best, the impeachment process is an attempt to protect our institutions from his inability to obey the rules.
Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age Jay Y. Kim (IVP) $18.00 / our sale price = $14.40 When I saw the carton full of Jay Kim’s brand new book when we got back from Jubilee I smacked my head, exclaiming right out loud in less than admirable language, how I wished this had come a few days earlier. I would have promoted it from the main stage at the conference – it is surely that good and that urgent. And it would have been great to promote to these young adults and ministries that are so effective in reaching them.
The doctrine of creation? You get it here in this book about why we need down to earth, real stuff. Explorations of the fall? Oh my, if God’s good gifts can be distorted and God’s good world can be disrupted – by ideas, ideologies, disordered loves and unwise practices – surely we can see it in how we’ve shifted to our fetish with digital hyper-reality. Redemption? Of course, the saving power and sovereign grace of our Lord and Savior and Kingdom bringer Jesus the Christ is, renewing all things; He is Lord of the digital and can move us, as people and as a society, towards the really real. In Him all things hold together, Colossians 1 tells us, so how we think about and experience our digitally-saturated world can be shaped by Christ’s Kingship and healing wisdom emerging from those guided by His Spirit, who is still hovering over the deep. God is restoring not only our souls but our very lives and the structures and habits and cultures of the world, so we must ask: how then shall we live, in but not of a world that emerged from Silicon Valley? Sorry to preach.
Although this is not the first book to ask these things, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age is current and obviously important. No matter your place or context, if your church exists in the 21st century, you need this book.
At first I thought Analog Church was going to be a slightly more punchy and serious version of the fantastic, upbeat, interesting, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World by John J. Thompson about resisting the mass market and buying local, fairly, face-to-face, supporting boutique shops and joining the creative “makers” movement. (See my review of that HERE.) And in a way, it is. As Ruth Haley Barton puts it in her lovely back-cover endorsement, Kim calls us to “come out of hiding from behind digital walls, to bridge digital divides, and to be human with one another in real time, real space, and real ways.” She notes that this is a shift from “relevance to transcendence” and she is right, although it may seem counter-intuitive or even ironic. We must (as Os Guinness notes) give up idols of relevance to be real, and thereby really relevant, and that is the path to authentic, human-scale transcendence.
But more than other localist or “small is beautiful” calls to resist the abstract and merely digital, Analog Church is, in fact, about the local congregation. It is actually asking the hard question of what it means to be an analog church in a digital age.
You may think this is just for those spiffy, on-line, hot-wired, mega-churches run by Gen Xers and that you, with your old building and conventional liturgy, don’t need this. (Jay Kim is pastor of a hip, evangelical church plant in Santa Cruz, after all.) But you would be wrong about this. I would guess that almost every church has members, and in many churches, many members, who are utterly enamored with their digital lives, taken up by it all, even. The data is clear about that. You may not have on-line Bible studies and use streaming services for your services, or even worry much about your website. But your people do. Some live in their e-world enthusiastically, while others are not even aware of how shaped they’ve been by the on-line cultural manners. As is well known, now, given research done and explained in books like Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, our electronic age and digital culture even effects how we read. How we experience the world – think of many books inspired by The Secular Age by Charles Taylor that explore this, certainly the vital work of James K.A. Smith on this exact thing – influences our expectations and experience of the local church and our weekly worship. You think your flock and your local Bible study group hasn’t been influenced by these habits of reading on line, of being shaped by digital cultural? You don’t think they experience church differently now than they used to? Think again!
This amazing book pushes back against “digital faith” and calls us to embodiment, face-to-face, real relationships and experiences. But this isn’t just fuddy-duddy, holier-than-thou, Luddite stuff. It’s solid and interesting and helpful, maybe prophetic. It’s a very important new book.
Listen to these amazing endorsements:
We are clearly sitting within a technological and digital revolution―but a revolution against what? And to where? In this book, my friend Jay Kim serves us as a true pastor, showing us that this revolution is unparalleled in its spiritual implications. After reading this book, I have a much clearer understanding of how technology has shaped the church and how we can change. With an impressive bibliography, thoughtful exegesis of Scripture, and terrific prose, Kim shows us how the digital revolution requires an analog response―and why God’s church is the essential respondent. –Chris Nye, pastor and author of Less of More: Pursuing Spiritual Abundance in a World of Never Enough
Sometimes the best books about the future involve the ones that start with a look backward. In this very important work, Jay reminds us of God’s vision for the church as the plumb line for how we view and leverage technology. In making digital the servant of analog we are moving in the right direction. Reversing the two leads us to something fundamentally different than the deep journey God has called all of us to. The church was always meant to be waiting for us when everything else failed to live up to our deep longing for transcendence. This book is the map to that. –Nancy Ortberg, author of Looking for God
It’s a grave miscalculation for the church today to think relevance depends on the ability to keep up with the pace, gloss, and hype of our technological world. Our frenetic, fidgety age does not need a frenetic, fidgety church. Our Insta-perfect, polished age does not need a photo-shopped, inauthentic church. Our tech-weary world does not need a tech-obsessed church. Jay Kim’s Analog Church understands this, presenting a compelling case for the church’s most radical act in today’s world: not to be a trendy, shape-shifting, chameleonic copycat, but to be a transcendent Christ-centered community whose difference from the world is why it makes a difference. — Brett McCracken, senior editor at The Gospel Coalition and author of Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community
When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse Chuck DeGroat (IVP) $22.00 / our sale price = $17.60 Over the years we have had bunches of books on toxic faith, on dysfunctional churches, on recovering from spiritual abuse. They have not sold that well because not that many folks are in cult-like groups, not that many congregations are abusive, not that many, or so we thought, were caught up in heavy-handed discipling relationships or submitted to over-wrought hierarchies and super-strict, authoritarian religions leaders. With a few ugly exceptions (and the super weird outliers that really are cults) most churches have little going on in terms of authority structures; our individualist worldview allows us to (or insists that we) just ignore what our churches and pastors and leaders think, believing what we want and doing what we want.
When one of the most respected writers I know (Dan Allender of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology) called this a “landmark” book, I have to admit I was skeptical. But since it was Allender, and since I so esteem Chuck DeGroat (having read his other brilliant books) I figured this one must be different. That IVP issued it in hardback indicates that they are taking it very seriously. After perusing it, I believe they are right. This is a landmark and serious book and we should take it seriously.
I think the difference that makes this new book so important is that it is, as Nancy Ortberg says, “a deeply thoughtful treatise on this subject that also points a healthy way forward.” And it is crafted by a stellar writer. Further – and this is important – DeGroat uses the insights of trauma studies and, particularly, the social dysfunction known as narcissism as a key to unlock the unhealthy relationships common in many churches. Why, he asks, does narcissism seem to thrive in our churches?
This increasingly common disorder (you may know the book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean Twenge) is found, Chuck explains, not just among ministry leaders but is embedded in church systems. He’s a serious thinker, has done remarkable research, and this book is surely one of the most important congregational life titles in recent years.
Another selling point for this book for me (and I hope for you) is the very interesting and positive foreword by Richard Mouw. Rich writes, “I am in awe of how he combines pastoral experience with a grasp of psychological theory and therapeutic savvy. And he does this with solid theology.”
When you buy this, be sure not to skip Mouw explaining how Chuck probes beneath the surface, explaining different aspects and types of narcissistic personalities, and what might be going on, spiritually and theologically. (He draws on Augustine, of course.) Mouw notes what I, too, had noticed – that DeGroat makes use of the seminal work of Christopher Lasch. And he does break some new ground because there really doesn’t seem to be a lot of research on narcissism among pastoral leaders. Dan Allender is correct: When Narcissism Comes to Church is a landmark book.
Plus, you’ve got to love a book that has a page-long opening epigraph from none other than Thomas Merton, an important passage from New Seeds of Contemplation. Yes!
The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity Jason Thacker (Zondervan) $22.99 / our sale price = $18.39 If there was any one book that I wish would have come a week and a half earlier so we could have taken it to Jubilee, it would have been this. There was a well-attended workshop there by a serious scholar of AI and practitioner of big data (and another on cyber security.) While these leaders were surely thoughtful about relating faith to their discernment of the issues in their field, none had a solid, go-to book that studies this stuff from a reliable, Biblically-informed worldview. Some professions have plenty of such books, but in emerging field, there is a drought. I actually tried to get this book a week earlier, hoping the publisher would be able to ship it early but that didn’t work out, so now that we have it, I want to spread the news.
Although Derek C. Schuurrman’s marvelous Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology is still the foundational book for any Christian thinking on computer science, this brand new one, The Age of AI, seems to be the next must-read volume. It looks into the not very distant future and shows how AI will influence our shopping, education, family life, medicine and wars. What are being called “the data industries” are more influential then ever and will continue to be. By drawing on the theology of the imago dei and the great commandment to love our neighbors, Thacker gets us thinking about big data in faithful ways. (And, happily, Derek Schuurrman has an endorsement on the inside, which further illustrates its importance.)
As the always-thoughtful Russell Moore puts it, “No ethical issue keeps me up at night as does the question of artificial intelligence. This book is a balm for anxiety in the age of technological disruption. The years ahead will require wise Christians in a time of smart robots. This book shows the way.”
For what it is worth, Zondervan is doing another book (in June 2020) on these concerns by scientist and philosopher John Lennox called 2084: Artificial Intelligence, The Future of Humanity, and the God Question (Zondervan; $19.99/our pre-order sale price = $15.99) which will also be a critical examination of technological enhancement, bioengineering, and AI. Pre-order that forthcoming one now if you’d like. For now, though don’t miss The Age of AI by Jason Thacker. It’s important. And on sale here.
We Were Spiritual Refugees: A Story to Help You Believe in Church Katie Hays (Eerdmans) $24.99 / our sale price = $19.99 I am part way through this and it is, in many, many ways, thrilling. It is wonderfully written, captivating, and, as one who is often looking for new examples of healthy church life (including nonconventional faith communities) I was eager to read this story of the outreach to the so-called “spiritual but not religious” or “nones.” I assumed, and was right, that We Were Spiritual Refugees is a book that will appeal to those who loved (as I did) Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints or Sara Miles Take This Bread and Jesus Freaks or even Laura Truax’s Love Let Go and other reports of what we used to call emergent churches. That Doug Pagitt, founder of Solomon’s Porch, wrote the foreword makes perfect sense. As I have come to expect from him, the few pages he wrote that opens the book are fascinating and compelling.
The church Katie Hays founded – her passion emerges somewhat from the harm she experienced from her conservative, fundamentalist background – is located in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas and is called Galileo Church, which, in their own words, “seeks and shelters spiritual refugees.” The book tells in vivid prose how she got it started and their first several years. Of course, this desire to build Jesus-followers among those who may be merely curious or even reluctant – including disillusioned young adults and LGTBQ+ people, among others often not welcome in other faith communities – makes them a bit unusual and their style and approach may not be your own. But I still believe it is a good read. A few parts just made me weep, and more made me laugh right out loud. The story is somehow hopeful, a good story of a good effort, and we should be glad, even if it isn’t your wheelhouse. It is the report of an unusual church plant, complete with flashbacks of old facebook posts and emails and sermon ideas. As Brian McLaren puts it on the back as he celebrates this book telling the story of what he calls an “amazing church”, after you read it, “Who knows what you might be inspired to do?” And isn’t that one mark of a good book, that it might inspire you?
Krista Tippett (of the NPR radio show “On Being”) says,
Katie Hays’s radiant theology and being, and her fierce intelligence and integrity, are magnetic. So is her soaring, hard-won readiness to question and evolve, stretch and create, in response to the tenderness and tumult of this age. This account of ‘making a church’ lights my imagination about the new forms and meanings of Church, community, and belonging our world is giving birth to.
Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shapes Our Lives Tim Chester (with a foreword by Sinclair Ferguson) (Crossway) $17.99 / our sale price = $14.39 We have a very hefty and diverse collection of books about the sacraments and sacramental theology, here at the shop in Dallastown. Authors of various theological stripes and dispositions have weighed in – in part because for most of church history, in most quarters, this topic is essential and life-giving stuff. Eating and drinking together in church, or seeing one pass through the waters of baptism – what some Lutherans now call The Bath – are physical rituals, but more than that. They are God’s own appointed signs. We all agree on that.
I must say I ordered this not because we really need more books on this (our shelves are jam-packed) but for two reasons: I really trust this gospel-centered, missional, British author and stock almost all of his many books. And because I loved the title: Truth We Can Touch. You know? The book is short and might be inspiring for one who has read headier stuff or might be a good introduction for one who hasn’t read anything in this field. He is an evangelical free church guy (who has a PhD from the University of Wales and pastors Grace Church in North Yorkshire.)
Sam Allberry, a PCA leader and speaker for Ravi Zacharias, says, “This is hands down the best book on sacraments I’ve read.” He says it is, “warm, compelling, eye-opening, and saturated in gospel encouragement.” I love it when a well-read author says stuff like this: “ I hadn’t realized how much I needed it.” Maybe you, too? Why don’t you give it a try?
A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love Katherine James (IVP) $16.00 / our sale price = $12.80 This stunning book did not just come out this week; I read it as soon as it came, more than a month ago but hardly felt worthy to review it. James is a noted and award winning novelist (her Can You See Anything Now? was published in the respected fiction line of Paraclete Press and both Beth and I enjoyed it.) Her husband has written books on living out faith in our culture and they have both become friends of ours. Years ago, Kate earned a fellowship at Columbia University and she taught fiction there. I say this to assure you that anything she writes is serious and well-crafted. She is a writer you should know.
But, oh my, what a sad and heavy story. I couldn’t put it down and related to its broadest theme of a parent’s love (even though I must admit I have not had much relationship to this particular sorrow of drug abuse.) I’ve read other narratives about addiction but this captured me completely. From the beautiful, strong cover and the very first page, I was taken in, wanting to know where this story would go and how it would end.
You see, Katherine and her husband are connected to an internationally known evangelical para-church ministry. She attended Wheaton College. They are solid, thoughtful, open-minded, caring evangelicals – the best of all worlds, it seems, well -read, devout, but not legalistic. Religion was real in their home, very real, but not toxic. They had a creative, cool family, and yet..
In a way, A Prayer for Orion is the story of any number of families Beth and I might have known. Had we been more hospitable and artistic, it could have been our own story, I suppose. As the reader soon learns, Kate and Rick hosted many neighborhood kids in their home. They created a safe place for them to hang out – a fixed up attic space above their garage — and taught art and read poetry and didn’t get fussy about the (perhaps marginalized, rougher) kids that showed up and their cigarettes and tattoos and attitudes. I thought of the sort of friendly space many wish to offer where honest questions can be asked and people of strong Christ-like faith can minister to the disaffected without shame or churchy pressure. In a way, their place became a refuge. They accepted and tried to see the best in her son’s friends who they dubbed “The Lost Boys.”
And then they realized they had befriended drug dealers; that their son’s experimenting lead to overdoses and addiction. I am choked up even reporting this obvious fact about the book.
As it says on the back cover, “When Katherine James and her husband found out their son was using heroin, their responses ran the gamut: disbelief, anger, helplessness, guilt.” Even for those of us whose children have not been quite so wayward, this is nearly universal stuff. What parent hasn’t felt regret, anguish, fear? Who among us hasn’t blamed others, blamed ourselves, blamed God? Who hasn’t struggled to figure out how to show grace, to love well, to weep and laugh even in the hardest of times? In a very real way, A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love is one of my all-time favorite parenting books, and certainly one of my favorite memoirs. It is intense and it is about addiction, true enough. But it is more than that, and it is good and gracious and I recommend it very, very much.
Forgive me for not saying more. I want to write more profoundly about this profound book but I also don’t want to spoil a thing. It is literate and lush, sure to captivate anyone who reads literary fiction or artful memoirs. It will offer insight for those who struggle with hard stuff with their families or loved ones.
A Prayer for Orion, as Jen Pollock Michel puts it in her lovely endorsement blurb on the back cover, reminds us that:
“…to know God is not to be spared the grief of this broken world. It is, however, to watch hope – as small and inconspicuous as Elijah’s cloud – grow heavier with rain.”
On Birth, On Marriage, and On Death Timothy Keller (Penguin) $10.00 each; small boxed set $30.00 / our sale prices = $8.00 each or $24.00 for the slipcased set These three small-sized paperbacks just arrived and they are provocative, wise, helpful. They are in what Tim and Kathy Keller are calling the “How to Find God” series and in the preface they note that many people are drawn to the biggest questions of life during times of transition. We catch ourselves pondering some of the deepest questions of our existence during major changes in our life stages — questions such as what am I really living for? do I have what it takes to face challenges? what do I believe about religion and do I have a relationship with God? — so these three books are designed to offer guidance to navigate some of these questions by pondering three pivotal life experiences.
Keller, it seems to me, is enough of a neo-Calvinist in the line of Kuyper, say, to want to invite us to think well and faithfully about all of life so it is natural that he would offer a uniquely Christian perspective on these almost mundane (if important) moments. (He did a major book on a Christian view of work, after all.) But he is also enough of an evangelist and apologetics guy (think of his weighty books Reason for God and Making Sense of God) that he truly wants to offer a reasonable life-line of gospel hope to anyone pondering life’s most momentous occurrences. Significant events such as birth, marriage, and death are milestones, after all. As it notes on the back cover, these are times when we experience our greatest happiness and our deepest grief.
As to be expected, he starts with some sociological and cultural studies, citing classic literature and contemporary articles. In On Death he shows our tendency in our modern world (unlike most times in history) to either despair or deny. It’s so good.
As we note above, you can get any of these three or the little boxed set. (By the way, do notice the way the string on the cover art of each is different.) All are at our 20% off BookNotes discount.
Mother To Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope Jasmine L. Holmes (IVP) $20.00 / our sale price = $16.00 Oh my goodness, I’ve been waiting for this for months, and can hardly believe it is actually here. Jasmine Holmes is said to be a very good writer and, of course, the topic here is extraordinarily poignant, if not extraordinary. For people of color, these talks are not uncommon. For those of us in the majority culture, we still may not know this, but every black family I’ve ever asked about this assured me they have had “the talk.” And I’m not talking about the birds and the bees, but the talk about what to do when (not if) the police stop you for no good reason. Talking about race and racism is simply a must for all of us in these hard times and we all need as much help as we can get.
We stock a number of books like this, memoirs written by people of color about turmoil experienced in their inner and outer lives and many are exceptionally gripping. Some of these stories that are laden with racial injustice and struggle and the hope for redemption in this hard world are especially artful and moving. (I’ve mentioned often before how much I so esteem Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and named Heavy by Kiese Laymon and Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard and I’m Still Here by Austin Channing as some of the best books I’ve read in recent years.) As I’ve suggested, this is important stuff for all of us, seeing through windows into the lives of others.
Whether they are religious or not, vulgar or not, some books about coming of age as persons of color are simply brilliant.
This one, however, will stand above the crowd, I’m sure. It fills an interesting niche within this interesting niche – Mother to Son by Jasmine Holmes is, in fact (as the subtitle notes) about identity and about hope, by which she means that it is an overtly Christian take on these subjects. What is our identity? (I’m not sure she puts it so prosaically, but some might ask, “do you see yourself as a black person and a Christian, or a Christian who is black, or a black Christian?” Questions of class and gender make this quest that much more fascinating for us, don’t they? In any event, Jasmine writes these literate letters as a black Christian mother with hope that they will help her son navigate this hard world with hope and joy in the power of the Lord. The gospel clarity of the evangelical faith of Jasmine Holmes is deep and deeply informed. We have a lot to learn from her.
Interestingly, Jackie Hill Perry (who spoke at Jubilee 2020 last week in Pittsburgh) wrote the foreword. She has struggled herself with these questions of identity (her own memoir Gay Girl Good God reflects a bit on her own struggles and clarity about her own self-identity) and she, like Ms Holmes, is a seriously Reformed, evangelical thinker. Holmes teaches humanities in a classical Christian school in Jackson Mississippi. She writes for thoughtful, evangelical blogs and publications, from Fathom to Modern Reformation to The Witness and for the Gospel Coalition. And she does this as a strong black woman.
I have only skimmed Mother To Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope and can’t wait to start it in in earnest, one letter at a time. If you don’t care much about race issues in our culture (or think too much is made of such things) I beg you to read this. If you are aware of these things, I suspect you will want to read it right away. You are invited into this intimate conversation where a mother helps her son, Wynn, live faithfully as a young black boy becoming a young man.
Consider these wonderful endorsements:
The love of black mothers for their sons defies easy categorization. It’s at once fierce and tender. It’s folksy and sophisticated. It careens toward indulgence but insists on growing up. Black mothers somehow combine both the romance all mothers feel for their sons with the realism required in a racially cruel world. The love of black mothers for their sons is a gift to the world―and the church. In these pages you will see why, as Jasmine Holmes speaks to her sons and to the church about her sons, about black boys, about black mothers, about hope and pain, love and fear, justice and gospel. Anyone looking for an honest yet hopeful exploration of what it means to be black, a mom, a wife, and a Christian―in all the ways those labels interact―will find a witty, womanly, biblical, theologically sound guide in Jasmine as she talks with her boys, and ours. –Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church, Washington, DC
As I read Mother to Son, I couldn’t help but think of the many African American mothers who will read and be able to take a deep, long breath and say, ‘I am not alone.’ This book is rich in theological and foundational truth about God and about who we all are because of God. Yes, it’s for a mother and son, but anyone who reads will benefit. A treasure of a book. Trillia Newbell, author of Sacred Endurance and God’s Very Good Idea
Materiality as Resistance: Five Elements for Moral Action in the Real World Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $15.00 / our sale price = $12.00 The fantastic, vivid foreword by Jim Wallis (which recommends this for Sunday school classes and Bible study groups) might give you a hint, but if you know anything about Brueggemann you will love, even savor, how he uses words; can’t you just imagine his deep voice, drawing out words and phrases, using words such as materiality, like poetry. You may not always get what his allusive wording means at first, but stick with him and it becomes powerfully clear. This book is about how to care about human flourishing by attention to money, food, body, time, and place. He lays out very clear ways that we can reengage our materiality for the sake of our neighbors and the common good.
As Brandon Robertson (author of True Inclusion) puts it,
Walter Brueggemann has crafted a compact but potent call for the modern church to return to Christ’s message and model of living – one that seeks to bring tangible restoration and redemption to our world for the common good of absolutely everyone.
This potent little book is fabulous, I think, and could be a good introduction to Brueggemann’s other, heftier work. There are discussion questions, too, making it that much more useful for personal study or small group use. The publisher calls it a manifesto; I think they mean that besides a Brueggemann-esque call to a prophetic imagination that subverts the ungodly status quo, that it is in some ways a summarizing of much of his work. It is energetic and clear. As I mentioned, it’s about how we use our money and food, our bodies and our places. It is down to Earth stuff. As he does in other volumes (from Bible commentaries to theology texts to sermons and prayers) he insists that the Bible is a very material book and its teaching about this should shape our own sense of our own materiality.
He closes out the book with one of my own favorite passages that I have often preached and taught from – Jeremiah 22:15-16. In this specific passage about knowing God, about what we might call spirituality, the defining features of one who does or doesn’t know God is, in fact, connected to materiality, including real estate and housing practices. Walt is not making this stuff up. You should read this little book and learn in detail what it might be like to deepen your discipleship by stewarding your materiality more faithfully.
Truth and Hope: Essays for a Perilous Time Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $30.00 / our sale price = $24.00 It seems WJK has done this before — issued a major, serious, expensive volume and a slim, potent, smaller book. I’m glad, since the above-listed Materiality one is brief (and useful) but to get the full range of Brueggemann’s deep insight one really should wade through his more dense essays. These articles, scholarly essays, reviews, and sermons are a gold mine, it seems, and we surely have to recommend them here, now. This sturdy paperback is 260 pages (that is, you really get your money’s worth!)
Want to see what I mean? Walt writes in the introduction:
The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann Volume 3 (WJK) $35.00 / our sale price = $28.00 By the way, speaking of WJK’s robust Brueggemann publishing program, they also just released the marvelous third volume of his Collected Sermons. They have a whole set of collected sermon volumes by a variety of important preachers, and this is the third volume of Walt’s in this series. It is called, simply, The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann Volume 3. There is a foreword by Barbara Brown Taylor, too (which is the only thing I’ve read in it so far. But, well, wow.) This collection features sixty sermons, preached mostly in the last five years. For his final public appearances, he preached at various churches and the famous Festival of Homiletics, including his last address there in 2018. Most of these collected here are based on lectionary texts, with numerous sermons on Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter.
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