Thanks so much for those who have been so supportive of our store in this past week in our role as a bookseller for the virtual book launch party for the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson called A Burning in My Bones by Winn Collier (NavPress; $28.00 – our sale price $22.40.) What a joy it has been to sell so many of these fabulous books to so many folks who love Winn, the author, and, of course, who esteem Eugene Peterson. I hope you saw my post at Facebook reflecting on how meaningful it has been and how grateful we have been for Winn to encourage people to order books from us. What an honor, and what a blast!
While we certainly have enjoyed Collier’s amazing biography of Eugene Peterson, I look forward to reading next week the recently re-issued older book of Peterson’s called Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life, this edition comes with a foreword by son Eric Peterson in which he writes briefly about Eugene’s funeral celebration. It is published in a compact paperback (NavPress; $9.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99.) In it, Peterson reflects on three post-resurrection episodes of Jesus and three practices we can embrace inspired by these three gospel stories. What a lovely little book for these next weeks!
Still, we need to press on grappling with the insights of some brand new books that are just out by some very contemporary authors. Peterson himself, of course, was a voracious reader and stood in a theological tradition that emphasized reading, study, and the ministry of being a life-long learner. So let’s do this!
SIX BRAND NEW BOOKS. ALL 20% OFF.
Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way and Presence. Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $26.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80
This should be one of the most talked about books of this season, if not this year, because it is so very interesting, a story so well-told, and, yet, provocative; challenging, even. This is what makes for a good book, friends — a book that makes you think and may be generative for you making up your mind (maybe even in fresh or unexpected ways) about things that matter. In this case, Diana Butler Bass tells her own journey – almost like a spiritual memoir – of knowing Jesus in different ways throughout her life. She calls her project memoir theology (not just a memoir that is theological, but the actual doing of theology, informed by her life story.)
Diana is one of those writers I so appreciate because she has written a lot and, to me at least, her works seems to hang together. As a religious history scholar (with a PhD from Duke) she has written books about congregations and demographics and the broader religious landscape. And she has experienced many tribes and tributaries within the broader stream of Protestantism in the late 20th century and early 21st. There are not that many people who experienced faith in mainline denominational settings, within soft fundamentalism, progressive evangelicalism, with those who are seriously Reformed and those who are highly liturgical, who know well Gordon Conwell professors and Marcus Borg and Phyllis Tickle. Anytime she starts writing, you know it’s going to be really, really interesting.
She has written things that have revealed much about her own life, most obviously in two books I adore — Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community (Church Publishing; $22.95) and Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith and Citizenship (Church Publishing; $18.95.) The first is unlike any book I have read and we commend it to anyone interested in faith formation or congregational life because it does seem to tell her own faith journey by way of various (Episcopalian) parishes she was a part of. That is, it is an ethnographic memoir, a look at a handful of churches, exploring those congregations, their ministries, their vision, their family systems, their leadership, worship, strengths and weaknesses as seen through the lens of how she experienced them and her own evolving faith.
Broken We Kneel is a short book that takes place after 9-11 and revolves around questions of the idols of nationalism and unquestioned patriotism, about war and peacemaking as she navigates her own conscience while working at an Episcopal church near the Pentagon that was excessively hawkish. In a sense, I have often said that this is a continuation of her Strength for the Journey book as she explores her own faith’s demands and comforts and convictions in light of one more congregation of which she was a part, for better or worse.
These are both marvelous books by a woman who knows her stuff – Bass attended an upscale, evangelical Christian college, earned her Masters at another exceptional evangelical seminary, and completed a PhD in religious history (supervised by George Marsden, no less) at Duke – but they are personal, too, enjoyable for those who like their sociology, religion, theology, told in personal, conversational ways.
Freeing Jesus is, in many ways, like Strength for the Journey but rather than narrating her faith journey by way of congregations, she does so in light of the various sorts of Christologies she has embraced throughout her life. It is her most personal book yet, even as it draws on the requisite scholarship about various aspects of Jesus’ identity, character, and mission. The subtitle (“Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence”) says almost all you need to know — in various times in her life she almost has (or the Christian culture of which she was a part seemed to) put Jesus in a box. He is this but not that. We call him this, but never that.
The title alludes to setting Jesus free from those denominational and tradition-bound constraints and integrating these diverse aspects of who Jesus is. This is a tremendously helpful project and I suspect it will cause readers to evaluate their own religious upbringing and past and present. How did we understand Jesus then, and how do we understand Him now? What does the Bible says? Are there some things His Spirit might be calling us to let go of, or embrace anew? Might we need to “free” Jesus, ourselves? Diana tells her own story and it very, very interesting, but, more, it is important.
Happily, Diana is a “both/and” sort of thinker, not an “either/or” one, a characteristic (dare I say a spiritual gift?) I have long valued in her work.
Admittedly, there are those who see her as only a fierce critic of evangelical approaches but I have never quite felt that way – she is critical of less than adequate insights and hurtful practices but usually with a nod to the strengths of her past churches, previous theologies, or older practices. This is nicely evident in this book (with some great stories) especially, as she endeavors to free our views of Jesus from limited construals. She is critical of some of the fundamentalist strains of her younger years and apologizes to those whom she may have hurt in her days as a pretty dogmatic Reformer. (Get out your old copy of Strength for the Journey, gentle readers, and do some cross referencing. The stories do overlap, you know.) Butler Bass does solid (if not comprehensive) Biblical scholarship, showing how the gospels themselves present Jesus as more than any one caricature, not held by any one box or label.
Freeing Jesus is written as a linear story, from her Baltimore childhood’s “what a friend we have in Jesus” Methodism and youthful days admiring the do-gooder, be-nice, teacherly Jesus, to her adolescent years of worshipping the soul-saving, He died for me, Jesus as Savior, to her radical discipleship days in college of grappling with the public implications of Christ as Lord, and on through her conservative Reformed theology years while at Gordon-Conwell to her more recent awareness of what it means that Jesus is “the Way” and a sacred Presence. (We all bring our own biases to any book, of course, and the last chapter, for me, was the one I least appreciated, but that’s another story, I suppose. For what it is worth, some cross-referencing might be useful, here, too – see her very creative and fascinating book on church history called A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story which ends with some similar notions of a God of Presence in a postmodern culture.)
It would seem that she has evolved from one view of Jesus, one Christology, as the theologians put it, to different (more sophisticated?) ones. I know there are many that will resonant with these experiential Christiologies as they themselves have, like Diana, moved from a civil-religious and pleasant mainline Protestantism to a fiery evangelicalism or liberationist-oriented Kingdom activism model; they may have mastered systematic theology or embraced an orthodox sort of sacramental/liturgical worldview, and may have deconstructed some of that and moved on to contemplative practices and mystical encounters. In a way, this mirrors much my own journey and in each chapter as she tells her experiences I nodded in knowing agreement. Yes, yes, yes – that was just how it was. I know some of you are going to find yourself in this very story, or something close to it.
However, I do not think this is the best way to describe this story, a linear process from mild to wild, from dogma to ambiguity, from simple to sophisticated, from liberal to evangelical to progressive to mystic. That may be how some will take it, but as Bass herself has said more than once, it is wiser to integrate various aspects of our experiences and lessons leaned, creating more of a spiritual mosaic, with pieces of the puzzle finding their place in the emerging whole of who we are, who we are becoming, inspired by our understandings of who Jesus really is, and who He has been for us at various points in our lives. I do not think, no matter the linear format of the memoir portions of Freeing Jesus, that it is an evolving story of progress, from bad to good. Notice that word in the subtitle, “Rediscovering Jesus as…”
(This process of “freeing” Jesus from the boxes we put Him in, this task of critical analysis and doing experiential theology, is not an inherently liberal or odd or deconstructive process. To be sure, the Bible gives us these different ways of understanding God’s role in our lives and it is helpful to be attentive to which understanding has most grabbed our attention, touched our hearts, informed our practices. In the history of redemption, as the story unfolds, the “old old story” is reinterpreted in new ways in new eras, appropriated, passed down, but understood anew. That’s just Bible 101 stuff, right? We could say the same thing about, just for instance, the way we describe salvation and the work of the cross – some talk about atonement, reconciliation, healing, redemption, adoption, liberation, debts cancelled, freedom offered, guilt forgiven, purpose restored, victory over evil, and more. Good theology is rarely either/or but both/and. That’s just how the Bible works, coming to us as story and narrative and poetry and a contradictory jumble of teachings, sayings, lessons, laws, and letters. It’s a joyful and righteous task to integrate it all into some sort of coherent worldview, isn’t it? Diana, who now does stand in the tradition of mainline progressive faith – I love a picture of her with her nice dress and pearls standing next to her pal, tattooed and edgy Nadia Bolz-Weber, realizing that they are soul sisters – is offering all of us in all corners of the Body of Christ, a great gift and wise challenge. We need bigger visions of Jesus, not more constricted ones.)
I could write much about the stories Diana shares in each of these good chapters. As I noticed and as she has admitted (in a wonderful THINGS NOT SEEN podcast where she was expertly interviewed by the very well-informed David Dalt) she wrote in fresh and almost naïve ways in the earlier chapters of the book because that is how it felt to her in those young years. (When she quoted “It only takes a spark…” from the song “Pass It On” I almost cried!) Later things become more fraught and she describes what seems to be almost spiritual abuse, or at least heavy-handed men insisting they alone had the final, certain interpretation. Portions of the writing grows more tense. In this way, Freeing Jesus is a moving book, gripping at times.
Bass writes with passion as she tells of different books or authors that influenced her on different parts of her journey and she writes beautifully, near the end, about how she hopes to bring these various aspects of who Jesus is revealed to be into a consistent, theologically sound and Biblically-faithfully picture of Jesus the Christ.
More than a decade ago Diana wrote a book called Christianity After Religion (HarperOne; $16.99) She had written several others about healthy practices of healthy churches that seemed to push back against the end of the twentieth century media conceit that mega-churches were the only churches that were thriving and that right-of-center evangelical theology was the only sort that existed. Christianity After Religion surprised many by noting that there was a demographic tsunami of those leaving the church and that there was little we could do to stem that tide. We had to reinvent the faith, she seemed to be saying, if we wanted to minister to the spiritual needs of the de-churched and unchurched, the “Nones” and the “spiritual but not religious.” In that book she referred to the standard religious studies lingo of belief, belonging and behavior, three aspects of any religion and keys to the study of any religion. What sort of belief, belonging and behaviors will we see in this brave new world of 21st century spirituality?
Her next three books are answering that very question. In 2015 she wrote a book about belonging (exploring how we belong to, among other things, nature and neighbors) called Grounded. Then she did a book about fresh spiritual behaviors, including the practice of Gratitude. Next came the most daunting, and it was to be an exploration of theology, exploring what we in the Christian tradition can/should believe in this postmodern era. Alas, she had to talk her publisher into this passionate focus, not a broad theology, but Christology. She wanted to write about Jesus.
Freeing Jesus, as she explains in the podcast, is part of this trilogy of books that follow up her Christianity After Religion project. Fair enough. For those who follow her work, though, I see it as one to be read in tandem with Strength for the Journey, her book about congregations.
I hope this book will introduce her to a new batch of readers, readers who don’t know any of her books but know that their life of following Jesus has tipped and turned, shifted and deepened, even as new aspects of their discipleship have unfolded and been disclosed as they have listened to the life. For anyone who wants a friendly book, written perhaps in the best way theology can be written, on one’s feet, on the road, going through life, refracted through our real life experiences, Freeing Jesus might be just the book you need to help you get in touch with the Jesus’ you have known, the aspects of His identity that have once meant most to you. Maybe you will turn inward a bit even during this upcoming season of Eastertide, and ponder this biggest question of all, not finally asked by Diana, but asked by Jesus Himself: “Who do you say that I Am?”
Diana Butler Bass is one of only a few modern Christian writers who can absolutely blow me away with both spiritual insight and beautiful writing. She is a brilliant scholar and a wonderful storyteller, charming and devout, erudite and deeply human. She speaks for me in Freeing Jesus as in all her books. — Anne Lamott, author of Dusk, Night, Dawn
With each new book, Diana Butler Bass goes more deeply into what it means to be a Christian now, in a moment when many can’t summon the energy or the hope required. This may be her finest yet. — Bill McKibben, author The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation
Combining childhood memories and mature theological musings, personal story and Christian history, Gospel texts and present-day contexts, Bass invites all feeling caged by doctrine, silenced by tradition, or afraid of doubt to find not just freedom, voice, and the glory of mystery, but also to find Jesus on their own terms and in their own lives.” –Amy-Jill Levine, author of The Bible With and Without Jesus and The Misunderstood Jew
Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair Duke L. Kwon and Gregory Thompson (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
You surely know that we have tons of books on race relations, multi-ethnic ministry, racial justice issues, and books by minorities – authors of color, as some say these days – and titles about Black, Asian, Latinx, and Native cultures. It has been an interest of ours since before we opened the story and while we know there is so much more to know, more to grow into and experience, we are proud that we have long stocked books on inclusion and diversity, white privilege and insights about God’s call to be anti-racist. We have overtly Christian books and those not rooted in Christian faith. We have adult books and kids books. We have old ones and brand new ones. We hope it helps in these days of a resurgence of blatant racism and discriminatory policy.
I say this to set the stage for my quick comments insisting that this brand new book is excellent. Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair is co–written by an Asian-American evangelical pastor/Biblical scholar/public theologian and a white scholar/activist/artist and it is simply one of the very best books on racism that I have read in years. And there have been an awful lot of good ones, just this year.
We have basic ones, honest ones, spiritually inspiring ones, angry ones, those for beginners, for med-level readers, some that are super-scholarly. This one, Reparations, is exceptionally profound but accessible for nearly any interested reader. It is offering some fresh insight and covering what might be new ground for many as it explains basic concepts about our legacy of institutional racisms as clearly as any book of this sort. It is deeply rooted in a Biblical vision but seems written in a manner that even non-religious readers would appreciate its candor.
Perhaps one of the reasons I think this is surely one of the best books of 2021 is because it is tackling a question that has been raised in several places, talked about in almost quiet hushes as a dreaded topic. Who doesn’t want to work against racism? Who doesn’t even realize there are some structural or institutional obstacles that have to be addressed (not least prejudicial policing and judicial practices that cause what has come to be called racist mass incarceration. Most people of good faith know that racism remains an issue and cause for lament and anyone who knows their Bible knows that breaking down cultural and ethic barriers is a constant theme of the gospel itself.
But reparations? Really?
This is controversial stuff and seemingly endlessly complicated, impossible, perhaps, to wisely adjudicate even if one concedes that the wealth of most established white Americans has been derived from systems set up years ago that were exploitive, unjust, and caused a unarguable housing, education and material asset gap between races. Most of us know now about the inequities even after World War II, how white people of my parents generation got what we all called the G.I. Bill, even though black soldiers did not. Most of us now know that loans were widely available for baby booming young white families to populate the growing suburbs in the middle of the 20th century but red-lining and other fundamentally unfair banking and real estate practices continued even after they were denounced and, in some cases, prohibited. But, still, that was years ago and who should pay whom to make things right? It’s almost too much to ask, and so we do not think about it much. Are we all really implicated in our place in history? There is no overtly Christian book like this that I know of that is doing this sort of serious, thoughtful, and important work, adding to this necessary conversation.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “A Case for Reparations” 2016 article in The Atlantic was not the first or only major think piece about this in recent years, but it certainly was a bellwether hotly debated. I do not know of any popular-level, thoughtful, book-length response in all these years from Christian authors of this sort. (Kudos, Brazos Press!) Reparations is historic, and in this sense, agree or not with its modest proposals, it is one of the most important books in a long time. If you care about this topic, you should own it.
Let me be clear about two things: firstly, this new book offers a vision of this question that is thoughtfully rooted in the Biblical teaching about justice and restitution. Evangelical Christians informed by direct Bible teaching were among the pioneers what of what is now called “restorative justice” and this alternative sort of criminal justice theory is widely assumed by social conservatives and liberals alike to be a helpful, Biblically inspired theory, a Scripturally rooted approach to criminology (shaping both practices and attitude.) It is out of this vision of a theologically infused and Biblically based perspective that Kwon and Thompson have developed their proposals. Some of it is simply groundbreaking material.
Nobody, in my view, should offer opinions about this topic without having read this book. It is, in this sense, definitive, thus far.
I agree with historian Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism who says “Reparations is a book for this moment.” He notes that “while Christians should have been leading the way on this all along, sadly, too many have demonstrated compromise and complicity instead.”
Of course, not all who disagree with these proposals are necessarily compromised or complicit in institutional racism or resistant to making things whole, but, we must admit, some are. There are still those are who complicit in (if not aligned with) the forces and structures and practices and policies that tend towards injustice. I think it is true that in this fallen world, standing in this history as we do, we are all implicated in one way or another. In any case, agree or not, this book is thoughtful, urgent, important, and moves the conversation about faith-based racial justice work in a concrete and specific (and surprisingly local) direction.
As one reviewer has put it, the authors have done “a compelling job laying out the historic legitimacy, the moral necessity, and the biblical urgency for reparations from slavery.”
Please consider this endorsement of the book by conservative, evangelical Gospel Coalition leader and pastor of Anacostia River Church, in Washington DC, Thabiti Anyabwile:
Duke Kwon and Greg Thompson have given us the careful yet daring, gracious yet trenchant, historical yet relevant, principled yet persuasive teaching the church and the world has desperately needed. Here is a study written with a rare combination of pastoral tenderness and intellectual rigor.
You will learn (if you have not noticed) that the very word “reparations” is akin to the root word “repair.” Jews, of course, describe God’s call to repair and mend the broken world by using the phase tikkun olam. Biblically based as they are, Kwon and Thompson remind us that we must own the ethic of restitution; we must own the ethic of restoration. There is “a call to repair.” They present this call in the very way Anyabwile describes, with tenderness and intellectual vigor. It is gracious yet trenchant.
Again, I think Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair, is very important and although I guess I cannot promise this to all readers, I found it hard to put down. It is gripping, compelling, interesting, inspiring, wise. Our friend Tish Harrison Warren calls it “a rare book” that is “blessedly troubling.” The Biblical scholarship is impressive, the footnotes are fabulous, the stories moving, and careful suggestions really stimulating.
I am glad for the long introductory chapter that highlights three sorts of understandings of, or levels of, racism, to which they add a fourth. This is very good stuff and worth the price of the book just to have these clear descriptions and insights at your fingertips. So good.
So, again: firstly, Reparations is interesting, Biblical, compelling, and urgent.
Secondly, just a quick word about these authors. Kudus to these two scholars and leaders who are not black for being so informed by the black experience in America and informed by the faith-based aspects of the historic American civil rights movement. Duke L. Kwon is a Korean American pastor in urban Washington DC with a heart for cross-cultural community about whom it has been said that he is “uniquely situated as a mediator in public conversations about race.” He has contributed chapters to two sober-minded, theologically sound but honest books that emerge from the PCA tradition, Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation and Unity in the Church and Hear Us Emmanuel: Another Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church. He has written for The Washington Post and Christianity Today.
Gregory Thompson, by the way, is known for having written and produced a highly regarded hip hop musical – think Hamilton – set in Memphis, about the historic sanitation workers strike that drew Martin Luther King there in April of 1968. He lives in Charlottesville (he has worked at UVA with both James Davison Hunter and Charles Marsh.) He currently is working on an initiative to build a national memorial to the Underground Railroad outside of Philadelphia and is a research fellow in African American heritage at the historic (HBCU) Lincoln University and is the James Lawson Fellow for Faith and Justice at Historic Clayborn Temple in Memphis. Two years ago at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh he told me he is hoping to write a book about the nonviolent strategies of MKL. This is some some deep, good stuff.
Very highly recommended.
Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We Left Behind Grace Olmstead (Sentinel) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60
I have an affection for books about small towns and rural places. I’ve reviewed several here, have highlighted others at events, and have even done lectures and sermons on ministry in small towns and forgotten rural places. I’m interested in the thick, regional locales of American culture – the rural South, the great mid-West, the rustbelt cities and towns, the great American Southwest and, of course, the weird glories of Appalachia. My one grandfather was a coal miner and the other a tenant farmer, and both were expert fly fisherman, so maybe I get it honestly. Most small towns are not like white-bread Mayberry USA and Uprooted reminds us of that by focusing especially on her own small town, Emmet, Idaho. Her great, great, grandparents down to her grandparents and parents were farmers in this lush agricultural region and after having moved to the East Coast to go to college and after having stayed in the suburbs of DC, she now wonders if it was right to abandon the legacy of her family’s homestead and farming legacy.
We’ve heard of “brain drain” and we’ve commended books like Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America by Patrick Karr & Aria Kefalas (Beacon Press; $20.00.) It’s in the edges of stories like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Dirt by Mary Marantz and (speaking of Idaho) Educated by Tara Westover and in great fiction (like, as Grace Olmstead reminds us, the Wendell Berry novel Remembering where Andy Catlett has lost his land and his sense of membership in the community.) From Sarah Smarsh’s award winning Heartland to Timothy Carney’s brilliantly told Alienated America to one of my favorite books of last year, American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland (by Mari Mutsuki Mockett) to the lovely, decent, small-town writing of Michael Perry, or even the Academy Award nominated movie based on the nonfiction reporting in Nomadland, we are all wondering what is becoming of our places, what happens when we leave.
The very first few pages of Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind made me fight back tears – because it says in a few pages what so many of us feel in our hearts and also just because it was so artfully and wonderfully written. I knew then that this was going to be a great, great read.
And it is. Grace Olmstead is smart, deeply religious, witty, and the sort of writer who is hard to categorize in terms of the often-limiting horizontal spectrum left to right. She writes for Christianity Today and First Things and The National Review. She is committed to conservative principles, it seems, which leads her to be what Rod Dreher has called “crunchy cons.” She (like Wendell Berry, say) values the local, the small, the traditional, and therefore necessarily opposes suburban sprawl, Walmart, agribusiness. She is so shaped by her rural, farming place that she must resist the monied forces of modernity that she shows is exploiting and extracting resources and vitality from farming communities. She knows her De Tocqueville and cites Simon Weil on “rootedness” and tells the stories of contemporary free-range radicals like the delightful Christian restorative farmer Joel Salatin. But she has Idaho and its crops deep in her memory.
In fact, Uprooted was not exactly what I expected. It is a wonderfully told story of her own family’s past, a bit of the history of farming in the pacific North West (including reference to what should be unbelievable, but is sadly believable, racist laws saying those of Asian descent couldn’t own land, etc. etc.) As I turned page after page I thought I might skip ahead – enough of Idaho history, gold rush, dust bowl, Great Depression, her family’s genealogy and ups and downs. But I kept reading because I didn’t want to miss a thing. Olmstead is such a fine writer and such an energetic storyteller and a good history teacher that I learned and learned, grew sad and happy and angry and more. What a story.
Uprooted, then, follows a classic and useful device, telling a big, sprawling story of American cultural history to help us understand big social dilemmas and our ethical quandaries (buying organic? supporting free-range beef production, caring about our local social ecologies) by way of telling one particular story. By exploring Emmet, Idaho, and her own journey East she has drawn us all in to the large questions of sustainable, faithful, wise living in our own places.
I was a bit surprised by how much about farming and farm culture there was in this book. In a way, it is a primer on culture and agriculture, on land stewardship and animal husbandry, sheep and trees and irrigation and pesticides and more. If you like the agrarian stuff of Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson and Fred Bahnsan and Norma Wirzba, you will love Uprooted. If you are interested in economics or agriculture, soil biology or stewardship of water and forests and animals, this really is so informative. There’s a lot of agricultural history and critique of the downsides of agribusiness and government policy and policy makers from the notorious Earl Butz (Nixon and Ford’s Secretary of Agriculture) to Trump’s Sonny Perdue.
If you want a gentle bit of prodding to ask if you owe anything to your past, your extended family, even your old hometown, this will inspire you to wonder. If you are concerned about the thinning communities and alienation creeping across most of our land – if you want to be a “sticker” rather than a “boomer’ (to use the words of Wallace Stegner as Olmstead does.) Uprooted is a great read and while learning and being entertained it raises the haunting question: What are we will to sacrifice for profit and progress? Young, talented, caring and obviously lovely Grace Olmstead is candid. She hasn’t quite figured it out herself, either.
“Olmstead does the important work of examining perhaps the most overlooked aspect of American identity: place. For those privileged enough to choose where they make their home, she suggests a value set beyond cultural prestige and financial conquest–belonging, commitment, stewardship. Uprooted offers our fractured society a path toward wholeness.” –SARAH SMARSH, author of Heartland
“Many rural young Americans face a conundrum–should they stay true to their roots and lose out on a big career, or leave behind those they love to try to make a difference in the world? Olmstead handles this problem beautifully and honestly, highlighting its urgency, all while avoiding easy answers.” –CHRIS ARNADE, author of Dignity
“Uprooted helps us understand what is lost when people lose their connections to particular lands and communities. It also helps us appreciate what is gained by a patient and enduring commitment to nurture the places and people that nurture us. Reading Olmstead’s book confirms that the need for roots is one of humanity’s universal and essential needs.” –NORMAN WIRZBA Professor of Christian Theology at Duke University Divinity School, author of Making Peace with the Land and Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight
Recovering the Lost Art of Reading: A Quest for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful Leland Ryken & Glenda Faye Mathe (Crossway) $21.99 OUR DISCOUNTED PRICE = $17.59
Above I mentioned I love books about small town life and the social history of how our culture has developed as it has. Yep. But – surprise! surprise! – this bookseller (just like many of our bibliophile customers) loves books about books. Of course two favorites in recent years have been The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction and Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind by Alan Jacobs, the first about enjoying books, the second about learning from old, old authors. But, geesh, I recently re-read for like the third time the brief but fabulous little pocket sized book about book covers The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lariri.
So we are obviously happy to tell you that the legendary Christian critic (and old school lit prof at Wheaton College) Leland Ryken has joined with novelist Glenda Faye to remind us again of the joy and art and value of reading. As journalist Janie Cheaney says, it is “both practical and inspirational.”
As I often say when out doing talks (or, these days, on Zoom) about books or the spiritual value of reading, it is helpful to recall that God made humans in God’s own image – that is, we are image-bearers of a creative, speaking God. No wonder Adam and Eve named animals and wrote poetry and no wonder humans to this day tell stories, and offer the common grace gifts of writing good fiction, nonfiction, poetry and more. God’s gift of language and creativity spurs some of us on to be writers and should spur all of us to be glad recipients of the holy – if often profane — gifts of said writers.
Leland Ryken has worked out a very coherent and beautiful worldview in earlier books about art, music, literature, about work, time, leisure, even. I’ve respected and learned much from his thoughtful Christian books inviting us further in to this deep awareness of God’s good gifts found in God’s good creation. I still treasure a text he edited, The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing that was done through Harold and Luci Shaw’s publishing imprint (He also did a surprisingly fascinating book called Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were which has stuck with me for years.)
And so, when I realized Ryken and Mathes were doing a new book on the art of reading I was excited. It obviously addresses the current decline of serious literacy – obviously brought on (in part) by smart phones and Google and Facebook, as documented by folks like Nicholas Carr (The Shallows) and Maryanne Wolf (Proust and the Squid and Reader, Come Home) and, of course, Neil Postman. But it is not just a lament of our lack of literary skills and commitments these days, it teaches us how to learn to not only value but also enjoy time with the printed page.
In a way, Recovering the Art of Reading is, at least in part, a more theologically infused, culturally-engaged, updated version of How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. It really does offer a lot of practical suggestions as it holds up reading as a delight.
Much of this book is going to be treasured by book lovers. Some of it will be life-saving for those drifting fro their passion for learning and needing to be reminded of God’s call to delight in and appreciate the role of books in our lives. Some will disagree with some of it. And for a book about not just the true and the good, but the beautiful, some of it seems notably clunky. (Having several pages about a rather arcane discussion about which translation of War and Peace is best early on, as an illustration, I guess, of the complexities of some classics, seemed odd and uninspiring to me. The long tirade about dishonest in memoir and creative nonfiction felt almost vindictive against Oprah for hosting – decades ago – a memoirist who eventually admitted he made up some of his tale. )
Still, some of this just sings and some of it is a bold reminder of why books matter, why reading well might be considered an art, and the calling of creativity and writing, even.
And then there is the big middle section, offering expert guidance on wise ways to approach different genres – nonfiction, children’s books, poetry, novels, fantasy, the Bible. What good words about “words of delight.”
Recovering the Lost Art of Reading is not a deep and captivating story about reading as we might find in something like The Call of Stories by Robert Coles or the literary reflections of Toni Morrison in her Goodness and the Literary Imagination or as enjoyable as the tender and surprisingly delightful End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. It is more in the mode of the excellent On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior.
David Urban, a professor of literature at Calvin University notes that he found some of it “harrowing” and that it “persuasively exhorts us” which, if we seriously engage this book, will cause us to be “blessedly refreshed.” How’s that for a promise? Learning to read with greater care and success is surely worth it. Recovering the Lost Art… is a resource that will help you be, as they put it, be a ‘partner with the author.” Yes!
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship: Moving from Shallow Christianity to Deep Transformation Peter Scazzero (Zondervan) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
Just when I thought that maybe Peter Scazzero’s “emotional healthy” franchise had run its course, with his Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Emotionally Healthy Church, Emotionally Healthy Leader, and his wife Geri’s Emotional Healthy Woman, I was more than pleasantly surprised, I was elated, to see the chapter titles, the depth of obvious insights, and the extraordinary broad influences that appear in the remarkable footnotes. I was a tad cynical of another Christian celebrity writing yet another book about the same old thing, and I think I fretted needlessly. It seems abundantly obvious from my quick skim that the brand new Emotionally Healthy Discipleship is a fresh and potent volume that will live up to its vital subtitle.
Just listen to this quote of endorsement on the back from Scot McKnight:
“There is so much to like in Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Discipleship—he pushes against the ‘let’s get ‘er done’ approach to measuring discipleship and advocates instead a slowed-down be-with-God measure to following Jesus. What I like most is his emphasis on getting to know the crucified Jesus and ridding ourselves of the Americanized Jesus.”
It is brand new, but I can tell you a few quick things.
Firstly, although it is pretty well written and influenced by a very wide arrange of authors from Fleming Rutledge to public theologian Richard Mouw, from Celtic poet John O’Donohue to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. Although he is informed by this ecumenical and often beautiful writers, in his book he is teacherly, instructional, with charts and goofy diagrams. Okay, great diagrams, if you like that sort of thing. It’s a guidebook, not beautiful or meditative literature, although he does tell some powerful stories of lessons learned, often the hard way.
Secondly, there is some lament about the gaps and inconsistencies and problems in our churches who seem to tolerate casual faith and shallow discipleship. There are some self-assessment tools, and a couple of diagrams to help us diagnosis our problems. Did I mention the sidebars and diagrams and charts? There are cheesy charts.
The heart of the book is an extended exploration of seven marks of healthy discipleship. This is rich, good stuff, packaged plainly and usefully, ideal for study among church leaders.
Thirdly, I didn’t realize this as it was presented to us to consider stocking (some publishers are really helpful and clear about their titles, others less so) but now that our copies have arrived and I’m looking through it, I realize that this is, in fact, a significantly re-written and seriously expanded version of The Emotionally Healthy Church. If you knew that good book you may recall the subtitle of it: “A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes Lives.” In a sense that early version was grappling with not just discipleship, but disciple-making. How can the local church be that healthy place that encourages healthy disciples?
Scazzero says here in this new one that he has learned so much and our culture has changed so much in the last decades that there is only about 20% or so of the old book remaining, so it really is an almost completely new book. Still, this vision and plan for creating emotionally healthy disciples has as its locale and strategy a healthy local congregation. If you loved that one, you may want this, which, although rooted in that earlier version, is more than just revised, it is considerably expanded into nearly a new book.
Fourthly, notice the gracious things Scazzero says about Rich Villodas, lead pastor at the church Scazzero and his wife founded in Queens, NY (New Life Fellowship Church.) As we have promoted Rich Villodas’s The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus, we have said that Scazzero had really influenced, Rich, and that may be so. It seems evident, though, that Scazzero has been significantly influenced by Rich, especially his role as a Latino leader and passionate instigator of multi-ethnic ministry. It is no accident that black leader and justice advocate John Perkins has a nice endorsing blub on the back of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship. Many of the stories that illustrate the principles in this book come from their own New Life Fellowship Church and are notably multi-ethnic. Praise the Lord for that sign of Kingdom health and rejoice with us that this sort of book series continues to break new ground In helpful, transforming ways, rooted in ancient, true faith. (Ancient? This evangelically minded, urban church leader has as an appendix in the back of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, on the Nicene Creed! Thanks be to God for that, too,)
Hinge Moments: Making the Most of Life’s Transitions D. Michael Lindsay (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
Hinge Moments comes at a time that many people, it seems, are sensing a need for change. There is restlessness everywhere. Whether it is of necessity – jobs demolished or changed beyond recognition due to the pandemic, long-held professions no longer viable (think of the lay-offs in higher education) or due to one’s recent illnesses and new limitations – or whether this season of quarantine and mourning has just caused time for reflection and recalibration (and maybe learning to listen better to the voice of God) folks really are shifting their sense of life’s purpose, their goals, their options. If this is you, you are not alone; trust me.
And so, Michael Lindsay, President of Gordon College and former sociology prof at Rice University, has given us a great gift in offering mature and thoughtful guidance about “making the most of life’s transitions.” Hinge Moments is thoughtful and interesting, a book that maybe could be description using the leadership buzz words “adaptive change” but written for leaders in their personal lives, and, actually, for all of us.
Dr. Lindsay, you may know, produced a major book almost a decade ago that had been published by a prestigious, serious press called View from the Top: How People in Power See and Shape the World in which he interviewed major elite leaders in a variety of spheres, getting them to talk about their views of success, leadership, values, desires, hopes, dreams. They talked about habits and strategies and their efforts to influence their institutions, but they talked about less obvious things, too.
Before this new book arrived, I wondered if the seeds of Hinge Moments might have been sown when Lindsay listened well to some of the world’s top executives and leaders talking about what mattered most to them. Looking at it now, here in the shop, I realize that, indeed, theses stories of success and failure in navigating key moments of decision and transition emerged from that ten-year study of 550 “Platinum leaders.”
Of course, he is an evangelical Christian, a sturdy, thoughtful, moderate theological voice amidst many extremes, these days, balanced and wise. He has charted seven phases of transition, actually, so this is fairly series – not cheap self help bravado or super pious spirituality. As in View From the Top and his previous Oxford University Press book, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, he has learned to draw insight from interviews and move into great storytelling, inspiring examples, good advice, noticing patterns and gleaning insight. One reviewer (Karen Swallow Prior) notes that the new Hinge Moments is a “delightful treasury of stories, science, and wisdom.”
I mentioned that due to Covid or economic hardships or just the perennial mid-life crises that some of us experience (in a whole bunch of decades of our lives, it seems) many folks are itching for a change. We may be seeking or facing change. But lets face it – life is about transitions for all of us. It is our story – we are on the road, on a journey, in the wilderness, more than not. We all experience opportunities and transitions, as commonplace as new jobs, new neighborhoods, new churches, or new life experiences. Beloved parents die; old anguishes are resolved opening up new spaces, we have an empty nest or a new, long-term household member. Oddly, we end up with financial loss, or maybe a windfall. Some changes are momentous, others less so, but we all, often, face transitions and we have to learn to navigate these pivotal times with more wisdom and care. We need to be ready.
I like that Lindsay calls them “hinges.” Hinges are on doors, you know, so the question in times of transition is often “should I walk through that door”? As it says on the back cover,
Getting key moments of opportunity right can change our lives for the better and getting them wrong can pose problems for years to come. The way in which we meet these hinge moments can have a lasting effect on our personal happiness, our contributions to our career and society, and on our family life.
Lindsay tells a tender story in the opening pages about his own unexpected opportunity to leave his college teaching gig as he was recruited to be the 8th President of Gordon College. He turned them down, but soon afterwards, a beloved relative was killed in an awful car accident. It became a hinge moment for his family, shocking them into realizations about time and opportunity. The tragedy inspired them to take new steps and re-open professional negotiations.
Popular pastor and Christian writer Mark Batterson notes that,
We live in a world where the only constant seems to be change. Michael Lindsay identifies key factors that will help you navigate transition points in your life, personally and professionally. It will help you not only survive but thrive the sea of uncertainty.
This very helpful description by Philip Ryken (himself an evangelical college President) explains what many will appreciate in this book and whom it might be most useful for. Maybe you or somebody you know? Read this:
If there is a time for everything, as the Bible says, then there is a time for gifted leaders to move from one season of life or place of service to the next. This beautifully written book is a handbook for life’s transitions–from the restlessness that often precedes a change of calling all the way through to a new season of meaningful, productive leadership. Michael Lindsay is the perfect guide. Through his extensive research and influential work in higher education, Dr. Lindsay knows more about leadership than just about anyone. In this inspiring book he uses stories from his extensive network of fellow leaders — as well as history and the Bible — to help his readers get and stay prepared for whatever comes next.
Here is the table of contents of Hinge Moments: Making the Most of Life’s Transitions by D. Michael Lindsay:
1. Approaching the Doors in Our Lives: Considering a Change
2. Standing Outside: Why Change Hurts Your Head
3. Straddling the Threshold: The Space Between Spaces
4. The Welcome Mat: Landing in Your New Space
5. The Deadbolt: Earning the Key Through Trust
6. The Hinge: The Virtue of Affixed Flexibility
7. Passages: Growing Through Major Life Changes 8. Discussion Guide.
Well, I’ve written enough about these six books to hopefully inspire you to order some, if not all. These are rich and thoughtful works, important, we think, among the best of the month, surely.
Naturally, there are dozens of other brand new books we have in the shop, and since we are still not open for in-store browsing due to Covid, they are piling up. If you are in the area, we can do curbside show-and-tell, backyard customer service; if the day is nice, come on over!
If you are one of our beloved mail-order friends, we are grateful for your support. You are literally keeping this ship afloat. Thanks for those who have tried to rustle up more business through us, spreading our info to your church or library or book club or college fellowship.
For one and all – stay safe, be well, read on.
All books mentioned are 20% off. Just use the order form link below and tell us what you want.
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