PRE-ORDER Soon-to-Be-Released BOOKS by Justin McRoberts, Sho Baraka, Margie Haack, Propagana, Shawn Smucker, and more. 20% OFF

YOU CAN PRE-ORDER ALMOST ANYTHING. As we often say, there is nothing complicated about PRE-ORDERING books from us. You hear about a forthcoming book and want it as soon as it releases? Just let us know. Particularly zealous about a certain author and want to order her next book whenever it comes out? No problem; we’ll get you on the list. Except in those odd cases of self-published authors who don’t distribute through real stores, we can get almost anything.

Just go ahead and order that soon-to-be-released book from us when your thinking of it, and it’s done. We have you covered. If it is one we will be announcing in BookNotes or reviewing later, we will give you our 20% off discount, too. Nice, huh?

We wanted to highlight a few forthcoming titles that we are excited about for you to PRE-ORDER now. Some of these are books we care about, so we’re thrilled to help launch them into the world, so to speak. We’ll deduct the 20% off discount and send them either (a) when they are first released or (b) we can hold them together (if you are ordering more than one) and send ‘em consolidated when the order is all here, compiled. I guess that is stewardly, conserving shipping resources a bit. Just let us know how you want us to serve you best.

These forthcoming titles all wanted to be announced together, or so it seems that is what I heard them whispering to me. In a way, they are all about cultivating our creative side, bringing out the inner artist, being – in the great phrase from that great book by Andy Crouch – culture makers. These are new books by folks who, in one way or another, are working hard to help us all up our game, to inspire us to be the sort of winsome and creative, faith-filled presence that could bee seen as signs of life. Yes – pre-order these books and join the effort to bear witness to abundant life, for yourself and others, for our culture and our institutions. We need some fresh thinking and enduringly faithful presence these days. These books can help..

I’m going to say more about a few of these, as you can see. To save you time and me some energy, I’m just going to mostly list the others and let others describe their value. But I will admit it — we are friends with Justin McRoberts and Margie Haack and Sean Smucker and we have personal hopes that their books will be widely known so I try to explain them and share our enthusiasm. They deserve it. PLEASE ORDER ANY AND ALL TODAY. Thanks.

It Is What You Make of It: Creating Something Great from What You’ve Been Given Justin McRoberts (Thomas Nelson) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  RELEASE DATE: JUNE 1, 2021

We often use that phrase “it is what it is” and, today, believe me, it was an okay thing for me to say. Some things are just out of our control, sideways or worse. Some of you know more than I. We get it.

However, my good friend Justin McRoberts has convinced me that it really isn’t a very faithful thing to say most of the time; in fact, it ain’t even so. Hardly anything, he reminds us, just is. We sometimes say, even in colorful language, that things happen. To us. This is almost like some sort of fatalism, as if we’re stuck, no matter what, without options or agency. In Justin’s view, though, that which happens are things we are given. And we have tools to make of them what we will.

I love that word in this context, that we are given things to do. I think I heard it put that was first from the elegant writer, deeply influenced by monastic spirituality, Robert Benson. Others might think of Mary Oliver’s poem asking what we will do with our “wild and precious life.”

Learning that in wisdom and grace is a big part of the art of living well. Things are rarely just what they are.

Almost all of the stories in McRoberts’ It Is What You Make of It are about his own work as an artist, broadly defined. He’s been a stage man (oh, wait until you read the story about the Shakespeare competition!), a folksinger, storyteller, writer, organizer, life coach, church planter, podcaster, but his stories are deeply human, real life stuff about relationships and fear and failure and hope. McRoberts talks about reconciliation and wholeness, about making changes and facing the complexities of the ongoing struggle for solid integrity. The stories he tells are captivating, sometimes funny, irresistible. A few are pretty raw as he shares episodes that were clearly not his best moments.

The cover is pretty stupid, if you ask me, and yet I had tears in my eyes as he told the story about that dumb plastic cactus. It’s simple but so good. The cover is fabulous, now that I see what it is about. (See it is what you make of it.) Our foibles and failures, too, are, after all, what we make of them. And sometimes – literally (you’ll have to read it yourself) – all you have is an inexplicable, dumb, blow-up cactus.

A few of us who recall Mr. McRoberts’ first record label –5 Minute Walk – and some of his edgy/cool 1990s label mates will love when he talks about his early days recording, performing, and touring. (And doing a few gigs filling in for the lead singer of the great third wave ska band Five Iron Frenzy! Who knew?) But the takeaways are clear for any of us, mostly about producing work, a body of work, that allows us to connect with others. He quotes Seth Godin about the role of love in art and it isn’t sentimental or sappy. This is a weighty view of our imagination and human culture-making. Justin has his feet on the ground even if he dreams big. He’s as visionary as Bob Goff, it seems, but, man, he keeps it real. Really real.

This brand new book is great for anyone who has a creative streak, or who wants to cultivate more of that righteous zip in his or her lives. As he says in the first pages, since we are made in the image of a creative God, such a desire really should include us all. We are designed for this stuff; we are made to be makers.

It Is What You Make of It: Creating Something Great from What You’ve Been Given is a book that – if I’m being honest (which, after reading Justin’s revealing and candid stories here, I have to be) – I might not have picked up if I didn’t admire and like the author so much. I trust him a lot and would read whatever he offers. You see, there are a lot of books these days about kicking up the energy, never giving up, not letting circumstances defeat you, being a social entrepreneur, joining God in the healing of the world, doing your thing. Most are okay, but some tend to wear me out, not energize me. Some make me roll my eyes – I don’t have much patience for those with that super posed, slightly edgy image, coifed with just a tad of rebellion, but who are well resourced and privileged and just talk about their own personal fulfillment all the time. Getting ahead, finding your sweet spot, being a “creative” — always as a noun.

Justin, I dare say, is different. He’s funny and humble but yet has, as he himself puts it, a big, “every square inch” of creation being restored redemptive worldview. He’s gritty and graceful, kind – or wants to be – and invites us not just to get off on our own ambition, but to make something of the opportunities and resources we have, something that might leave the world in a bit better place. He understands a lot about power and wealth and poverty and racism and doesn’t shy away from being honest about those realities.

As an old Young Life guy will do, he riffs on gospel stories, and he does it well. He weaves insights from aesthetics and design principles to hard-learned life lessons to Bible stories and back again to help readers process this call to make something of whatever life hands us. To be real and to be better, with others.

From his comments about the blind guy in the gospels who was at first only sort of healed, to the story about being a KISS fan at age 6, to some tender stuff about his wife and children, to the debacle that was the making of the otherwise great CMYK book, It Is What You Make of It is a quick, fun, read, inspiring for anyone who needs some guidance to get on with things. I recommend it, especially for younger adults (even teens) who will appreciate the breezy, direct, writing. Or any who feel stuck, annoyed with their circumstances, wishing for encouragement to dream some serious dreams.

The discussion questions to ponder at the end are well designed, thought-through, a helpful. Your going to need a journal, so get one of those, too. Although he does say that if it has to be in a notebook in which you write recipes, that’s okay, too, as long as it isn’t near any beet recipes. He hates beets. But he does want you to journal along because he really, really wants this to help you in your own creative journey. That’s part of what his mission is these days, coaching, consulting, helping – life as performance art. Buy this book and join him!

No Place: A Memoir Margie Haack (Square Halo Books) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99  RELEASE DATE: MID-JUNE 2021

This great memoir deserves a longer review, but one doesn’t want to spoil too much – that’s part of the adventure of reading a memoir, after all. For now, you should know that it is the second memoir in a trilogy that is being issued (or in the case of book 1 and book 3, re-issued, eventually) by the good folks at Square Halo Books. Book 1 in the “Place” trilogy is The Exact Place in which Margie Haack writes about her girlhood, poor as can be, in rural Minnesota. I raved about that a decade ago and have pressed it into the hands of a number of folks who like good storytelling, honest writing, literary memoir about coming of age and, in her case, finding a deep relationship with God by becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Exact Place ends as she is grappling with her place in life, but confident that she was where she was meant to be all along. The cover art is being changed and will it will be reissued in the Fall of 2021.

The second book, coming out very soon, has a different tone – it is at times less confident about being at the “exact place” because in many ways, in her early young adult years, her early marriage, and her early, eccentric faith and ministry (more on that below) she really was out of sorts, often sensing an alienation that is the opposite of being at home. She was, in a way, in no man’s land, and the title hints at some of the ominous nature of this part of her life’s journey.

No Place is one of the very favorite books I’ve read this past year and we cannot wait to share it, selling it here on line and telling others about it. I have to wonder, as I sometimes do, if I would have liked this book had I not known anything about Margie and her husband, Denis, who figures prominently in No Place. It chronicles, after all, much of their meeting and dating and early-married life, so my friendship with and deep admiration of the two of them colors why I wanted to read this delightful part of their backstory and why I cared so much about it. But here is my hope: even if you never read The Exact Place or do not know anything about their ongoing ministry as the curators of Critique journal and her Notes From Toad Hall now called “Coffee…”) newsletters, and their drop in center of a home that was the closest thing the US had to a L’Abri that wasn’t an official L’Abri, even then, you will not be able to put this story down.

Where to begin to tell you about this marvelous, fascinating, honest, and utterly captivating memoir?

Two or three things for now. First, she is very honest about their lovely (if at times painful) early years of marriage that was sweet in the telling even if it was difficult. I’m not sure if most couples have this kind of drama but many do, and without sounding clichéd, she shares their quotidian misunderstandings and slights. As a few early reviewers noted, readers will be glad for this candor, helping us all realize we are not alone in our marital stress and our less than glorious relationships. Coming of age in the late 1960s in the context of (get this!) both the hippy counterculture and the fundamentalist Christian subculture put their worldviews in considerable tension. And it made their marriage complicated, especially as Denis and she came from considerably different backgrounds. This hard love story is beautiful to behold and it was a nice part of the story.

More pages of No Place are given, though, to the broader context of their adapting to their own sense of calling in the world, their place, their mission. This is forged in the midst of this clash of cultures as they moved into a hippy commune that was a part of the Jesus movement, wanting to bear witness to Christ’s love to the counterculture. And this is exceedingly complicated. In this way, it is much of the cultural story of the late 60s and early 70s told through the eyes of this one woman and her spouse.

(I have to insert here – and Margie would approve – that a part of their story includes discovering, eventually, the writings of Francis & Edith Schaeffer, who combined a cultural awareness of the times and heart for the disillusioned youth of the counter culture. Two of the books that were very important to them in those years were recently re-issued by IVP in their “Signature Classics Collection” series, namely, Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There (with a new foreword by the Haack’s very good friend, Steve Garber) and, with a long blurb on the inside by yours truly, Os Guinness’s The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever.)

You can imagine the bone-deep questions that captured them, which they obsessed over: is the world groovy, or is it sinful and demon-filled? Is human culture—art, literature, cinema, rock and roll, even new cuisine from kitchens foreign to their safe, white-bread upper Midwest background – a good part of God’s good world or the devil’s playground, dangerous, worldly, to be avoided? Is the world fundamentally a playground or a battleground or both? Is the American way of life consistent with a Christian vision? What about war and ecology and gender roles and alternative medicine and the individualism built into suburbia? What, really, is the church? All sorts of nearly subconscious assumptions came to the fore – especially, it seems, in Denis whose family was exceptionally rigid and whose faith was exceptionally legalistic. (As this book shows, Margie learned to be curious about all sorts of things, for instance as she was mentored in new ways of cooking with a whole-grain and natural sort of diet, which had huge political implications about our food system and American farming habits.)

As they moved out of the straight-laced fundamentalism of their youth (and the black and white answers that came as obligatory to that fundamentalism) and moved into a ministry among hippies and cult gurus, druggies and hitch-hikers, people into everything from witchcraft to Marxism to LSD, the scenes that played out (and how it so deeply touched their hearts and attitudes) became the grist for one heck of a book. No Place is a personal and spiritual memoir set in some of the most interesting times of the last 100 years. It is Margie’s story, yes, but the backdrop looms.

Dear readers, not only does this combustible clash of worldviews and lifestyles create the context for a great story, it would make a great movie! It is very well done. We dare not – Margie does not let us – caricature all this: it cannot be reduced to a clever summary banner: fundamentalist kids join the counterculture to tell them about Jesus! Corrupt and narrow-minded Christians leave behind their legalism to be as free as the hippies! No, it is not that simple and certainly not that easy. But it is true, on their way to a deeper more faithful, Biblical vision of goodness and beauty and grace, they had to leave behind some of the disdain for this world promoted by their fundamentalist sect. And to share God’s love and a gospel-centered worldview with the kids of the counterculture – at least as they experienced it in the commune in New Mexico — they did have to learn to appreciate some values that were not congenial to many conservative churches. Like Francis and Edith Schaeffer teaching the drop- outs on the road to Marrakesh in Europe, Denis and Margie found that one of their greatest strengths was not only their cultural awareness but their desire to live out of incarnational love. They had to learn to really love. They had to make a place out of no place, embodying real love in the high desert. This moving book helps us see how it happened.

It continues, too – spoiler alert – as they move on after the Jesus Movement commune. Denis takes some menials jobs. Margie writes beautifully and honestly about their first birth and raising a baby while trying to eke out a living. Denis worked in youth ministry for a while at a well intended church. The story develops and even if the high drama of the commune has subsided a bit in their lives, the memoir invites us into the next leg of their journey. It is nothing short of a gift to read such interesting ruminations on trusting God as they made their way to a clearer sense of vocation and hope.

Andi Ashworth, co-founder with her recording artist husband Charlie Peacock, of the Art House movement, wrote a very good foreword to No Place in which she tells not only about their friendship and cherished correspondence but how much self-awareness and courage she took from reading the memoir:

Andi writes, in a letter to Margie:

After Chuck and I were married in 1975, we spent the next years trying on an array of beliefs and lifestyles. We had no mentors or safe, hospitable places to help us figure things out. I can only imagine the difference it would have made if we had a Denis and Margie in our lives. Having said that, what makes your book so beautiful and believable is that you tell it all true. The struggles of self and of marriage, the realities of hospitality, the shaping effect of family, and the slow formation of faith and vocation in all its mess and pain and joy.

She continues:

Margie and Denis have traveled many roads to find out if Christianity is worth living and dying for. She writes about this with a striking, emotional honesty. There’s no skipping over the hard parts or the funny parts, which makes this book such a compelling and fascinating read. The story rings true.

Another younger wife, mother, and artist who has been influenced by Denis and Margie, is the singer songwriter Katie Bowser, herself an astute lover of books and culture. She had an advanced copy of No Place and writes:

When I read Margie’s first book, The Exact Place, I reveled in her Annie Dillard-caliber storytelling. I was moved by the unbelievable empathy, wit and clear-sightedness with which she regarded her younger self. It felt like greed to hope that she would plumb those depths again someday and share stories and insight for the station of life I am now in — marriage and parenting. Margie’s courage, hilarity and honesty in No Place are a strong and gentle hand to hold for the rest of us who are stumbling along as we learn to walk by faith.

As I was trying hard to capture my appreciation for this book in a few pithy sentences, I came up with these two endorsing paragraphs. If I’m lucky, at least part of one might be on the back cover. It would be an honor.

There are memoirs that are so interesting and well written that one just enjoys spending time within the story they tell. There are others where the author has learned much, perhaps the hard way, and we are wise to listen in, absorbing her hard-won truths. And there are those that are sheer testimony, giving glory to God who seems the real actor in the story’s drama. It is rare when a memoir is all three, and Margie Haack’s No Place is thankfully one of these rare treats that is fun to read, offers profound wisdom, and through which we learn much about the God who is there.

To say that Margie Haack has been through a lot isn’t the half of it. Many enjoyed her exquisite, colorful Exact Place but now, in No Place, we get the next decades of her life, set in the often wild days of the Jesus Movement. Just as she invited us into her impoverished early days in the first memoir, now we learn about her young adult years, her marriage to Denis, their struggles with toxic fundamentalism (and each other) and then — wow! — the vivid experiences of their life in a late ’60s, counter-cultural, Christian community reaching hippies, druggies, and, yes, those seemingly akin to zombies. What sort of place was that? How did it shape this generous, thoughtful, and widely respected couple? Did no place become some place, some place like home? No Place is a candid and splendid read, one you will not be able to put down, and through which, perhaps, you will find your own good place.


He Saw That It Was Good: Reimagining Your Creative Life to Repair a Broken World Sho Baraka (Waterbrook Press) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60 RELEASE DATE: May 18, 2021

I hope you know the good hip-hop art and social activism of Sho Baraka; this book is simply stunning and I wish I had time to tell you more about it in the detail it deserves. If Justin McRoberts’ book is filled with his earnest stories and inviting us to “make something of what comes our way” Sho – who Justin has shared stages with, by the way – takes this vision to the next level. He is serious as an artist, he is serious as a cultural critic, he is serious about the implications of the affirmation of God’s declaration about creation; he is honest as a black man in a predominantly white culture who wants to be prophetic and outspoken, but to do so Christianly. The subtitle is exactly right for this must-read book: “Reimagining Your Creative life to Repair a Broken World.”

As a rap singer and hip hop activist, he has studied how stories work; as a lay theologian, he knows that theologian truth often is told best through the allusive arts. He was raised on the literature of the Harlem Renaissance (and, who knows, may someday himself write a novel.) In the book he cites Flannery O’Connor and Toni Morrison and (get this) a George MacDonald novel, for instance, and explores the nature of a good story. He’s got lots of solid Bible, invitations to think hard about culture-making, and how to be gracious even in the midst of working in multi-cultural settings. He’s a good thinker and a generative leader. (Some of our readers may recall that he was one of the founders of the AND Campaign. His given name, by the way, is Amisho Baraka Lewis. He attended Tuskegee University and the University of North Texas.

Sho is one of the most strikingly original Christian thinkers of his generation. Ours is a time for courageous Christ-centered creativity. Sho rarely tells us what we want or expect to hear but speaks with artful poetry, fierce insight, and gracious justice about the issues of our era. I hang on his every word.” –Timothy Dalrymple, PhD, president and CEO of Christianity Today

“Sho has not written a book for only creatives. He has written a book that will help all of us think intentionally about how the work we do (whatever it is) can be leveraged to fulfill God’s purposes. He Saw That It Was Good is the wonderful mix of history, theology, art, and cultural analysis that we need in this moment. I highly recommend it.” –Esau McCaulley, PhD, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College

The great forward to this book is by legendary sportscaster and Christian spokesperson Chris Broussard, who very wonderfully links Sho Baraka’s work with classic black literature and the arts, giving appropriate shout outs to Zora Neale Hurston and Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and Absalom Jones. This should assure us that this is a solid, mature book – if witty and upbeat – which offers historic principles from social movements that will help us cultivate our own creative callings, no matter what we do. This book, as the back cover puts it, will help you “return to your biggest and truest story.” Your life (and your world) need never be the same.

Our friends at the respected Trinity Forum hosted an event just a few days ago (May 14, 2021) with Sho Baraka which you can view here. There’s some very thoughtful questions from participants (per usual) and it’s worth listening to the whole thing. The conversation with their director Cheri Harder was called “Reimagination & Repair: Creativity for the Life of the World.” 


Finding Your Yes: Living a Life That’s Open to God’s Invitations Christine Wagoner (IVP) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80 RELEASE DATE: May 18, 2021

Well, in my comments about McRoberts’ book, above, I noted that I often tire of books that are too positive, upbeat, and overpromise about the ease and joy of finding your sweet spot and being in the bliss and flow of a truly creative life. It’s just harder than that, and I mistrust books that make human flourishing sound to easy, or too self indulgent (in our hard and harrowing world.) So I was not sure if I’d want to promote a book about “finding your yes” as if just saying yes is the key to “your best life ever.”

Rest assured, discerning readers, your BookNotes columnist has not grown soft. I trust IVP and I’ve heard good things about this feisty, creative author. For her purposes in this book, the “finding your yes” slogan is, in fact, about taking the risk to listen well to God’s promptings and to be eager to engage with opportunities God offers us to step out in faith. In other words, this is less a book about the bold and artful life and more a book about spiritual formation, which, come to think of it, is more of an art than a science. If anybody of the experience and candor of Christine Wagoner invites us to be attentive to the movements of the Spirit and gives us practical tools for “living a life of openness to the invitations of God in our lives” we should rejoice. We should buy a bunch and pass ‘em out. This is a key component, I think, of a Spirit-filled life, learning to hear and follow the promptings of God.

As Andy Le Peau (an editor at IVP and author of the excellent Write Better) notes, Wagoner’s book is “hopeful yet realistic.” That is, the opportunities God puts in our path “may be big or small. They may lead to success or disappointment. We may have doubts or courage. But through stories, Scripture, and hard-won wisdom, Wagoner shows how God can use it all.”

Tender, authentic, and touching with so many diverse stories of saying yes in the face of hope and heartache, Christine Wagoner leads us with hospitality and warmth toward God’s invitation for us all, using Scripture, stories, and prayer. Every person considering saying yes to God should read this book to find strength, comfort, and hope in discerning steps of faithful risk taking. –Sarah Shin, author of Beyond Colorblind

‘Perhaps freedom to simply be open to either yes or no with no expectations would be a stretching invitation for you,’ writes author Christine Wagoner. Until a number of years ago, I was a consummate ‘yes girl.’ It was akin to my addiction to people pleasing and approval seeking. My yes was to all the requests of others. Yes can be quite a tricky notion: Too little yes can cause life to be flat and unimaginative, dare I say boring? Yet too much yes can find us depleted, listless from the wear and tear of over-commitment. Wagoner helps us to walk around in and try on the way of yes, and then turn on our own internal compass for finding a (good) yes. –Juanita Campbell Rasmus, author of Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out

Why Do I Feel Like This? Understand Your Difficult Emotions and Find Grace to Move Through Amandi Peace (IVP) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40 RELEASE DATE: MAY 25, 2021

Almost all of the books on creativity and books on personal growth talk about getting over the hard stuff, the blocks, the dip, the hurdles. Hard feelings and difficult emotions are obviously part of that. Again, there are too many books that are either too dismissive of serious pain (even trauma) and I suppose there are some that are too tediously detailed in examining every psychological nodule of one’s interior life. As we sometimes warn, too, some are almost too religious, using faith as some kind of blessed token to protect us and free us from the hurts of our fallen world. Amandi Peace seems to avoid the pitfalls and here gives us an interesting, positive, but realistic study (okay, what one reviewer called “bracing”) of how to move through complicated feelings. It’s something I know I need, especially these days. Ya know? Why Do I Feel Like This? is written as a book for women, addressing women’s particular anxieties and stresses.

Here is how the publisher describes some of her project:

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all sorts of conflicting, difficult emotions. But psychology professor and personal development coach Dr. Peace Amadi can help you navigate the complexity of your emotions and live through them in healthy ways. With insights from both psychology and Scripture, this book offers you a clear plan to get your peace back and find your joy again.

Better, here are some high raves from reliable women:

Few bridges have been built to connect scientific psychological research and practice with spiritual faith communities. Dr. Peace Amadi’s book builds this necessary bridge. It offers tangible tools, helping those struggling with mental health difficulties to better understand how to improve their mental health. This is a gift to the Christian community.”–Jenny Wang, clinical psychologist and founder of the @asiansformentalhealth community

It comes naturally to avoid what we don’t want to feel–especially if we believe we can’t heal, that we can’t survive the journey into our own pain. Yet I’ve learned that difficult emotions don’t go away–they just go underground. And there they undermine our foundations until finally we must turn our attention their way. In this book you’ll find tools for acknowledging complex emotions, bringing them into the light, and welcoming God’s healing work. — Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious

For far too many of us, important conversations around the emotional realities of anxiety, shame, and depression have been glossed over in the name of trusting God. We’ve all had experiences of receiving well-meaning but ultimately deeply unhelpful advice that equates having faith in God with being free of any emotional struggle. However, in this timely book, Dr. Peace Amadi shows us a path to a different way. With stunning clarity, wisdom, and compassion, she helps us learn how to reframe the important inner work of engaging with God through our emotions, even when it’s difficult and confusing. Her profound expertise in psychology, vibrant faith, and warmth come together to create a unique resource that feels like we’re somehow sitting in her classroom and at the same time having a heart-to-heart over coffee with a trusted spiritual mentor and friend.  — Tracey Gee, leadership development coach and consultant

Terraform: Building a Better World Propaganda (HarperOne) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99 RELEASE DATE: June 8, 2021

Thanks to HarperOne I’ve had an early version of this for a while and I keep dipping in to it, checking it out, reading portions out loud… it’s one of those books that most will read straight through but that allows, I think, for a more creative and haphazard approach. It is a colorful and creative work of art itself. Some of the prose is brilliant, energetic, vital. There’s lots of poetry and some very good pen and ink drawings that I found quite moving. Prop is an amazing man, thoughtful, energetic, and friends with Sho Baraka (so it is cool they both have books and new music out this month.) His non-stage name is Jason Petty and he is the son of a Black Panther who grew up in the hood of South Central.

And, for what it is worth, the amazing Jeremy Courtney of Preemptive Love penned a great foreword, sent in from his own very hard place near a Syrian war zone, standing in solidarity with people being massacred by ISIS and, sometimes, bombed by the US. That the exceptionally creative justice seeker and peace-maker JC draws on Prop’s good words and counts him as dear friend speaks volumes!

The title bespeaks of his creative vision; the word means to create a livable world out of an inhospitable one, making it a perfect image or metaphor for the transformational power of the gospel itself.

Listen to this description of the book:

In this deep, challenging, and thoughtful book, Propaganda looks at the ways in which our world is broken. Using the metaphor of terraforming–creating a livable world out of an inhospitable one–he shows how we can begin to reshape our homes, friendships, communities, and politics.

Here is how the publisher describes it:

In this transformative time — when we are redefining what a truly just and equitable world looks like, and reflecting on the work that needs to be done both in our spiritual and secular lives–Propaganda rallies readers to create that just world. He sheds light on how nefarious origin stories have skewed our views of ourselves and others and allowed gross injustices, and demonstrates how great storytelling and excellent art can create and shape new perspectives of the world and make all of us better.

I hope to revisit this wild ride of a book later, but for now, the best way to assure you it is one you should pre-order now is to share just a few of the many rave reviews. Please read them carefully as they capture much of the importance of this forthcoming volume.

What is this book? Is it poetry? Prose? Wild ramblings? Social commentary? Inspiration? Provocation? Yes to all of it. Yes to Prop’s beautiful, faithful imagination and to his sharp-eyed, open-hearted observation of the world around us. Yes to his gorgeous call to dream, to cherish, to remember, to breathe, to love.” — Jeff Chu, co-curator of Evolving Faith, and author of Does Jesus Really Love Me?

“Propaganda brings the gifts of his brilliant thoughts and powerful words into a book that not only inspires us to believe that we can recreate a world in which beauty and justice flourish but gives us the tools to do so.” — Jenny YangVice President for Advocacy and Policy, World Relief

“Brilliant, searing, and completely new, Prop doesn’t just teach us about terraforming, he literally terraformed something new and generous – and funny! – with this book. It will give you a whole language and lens for co-creation of a more beautiful and true world.” — Sarah Bessey, New York Times bestselling author of A Rhythm of Prayer

“Propaganda’s brilliant prose crystallizes into this refreshing, comprehensive guide for anyone who has yearned to transform themselves and their communities.” — Ian Morgan Cron, author of The Story of You and co-author of The Road Back to You

“The culture is at an inflection point and we need voices that can rightly interpret the times, voices that can inspire humanity to move forward. In walks Propaganda with the fire of a Black prophet and a tongue sharp like a sword ready to do the painstaking work of terraforming our souls. Terraform is gritty, masterful, and wholly transcendent.”– William Matthews, Artist x Advocate, Singer-Songwriter, co-host of The Liturgist Podcast

A Journey of Sea and Stone: How Holy Places Guide and Renew Us Tracy Balzer with a forward by Scott Erickson (Broadleaf Books) $16.99       OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59  RELEASE DATE: JUNE 8, 2021

It strikes me over and over these days that those who want a creative, purposeful, imaginative life ought to pay attention to creation (not transcend it) and the materiality and particular shape of our localities. A favorite, serious book I reviewed a few years ago remains a key title for artists: Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life by Jennifer Allen Craft (IVP; $32.00) which calls artists to be attentive to place.

Well, A Journey of Sea and Stone will be a beautiful way to remind us of that, paying attention to what she calls “holy places” and the spiritual practice of pilgrimages to (as the poet famously said) to bring us back to our starting places, perhaps seeing things as if for the first time. Who knows, maybe seeing all things not only as sheer gift but as holy. This forthcoming book is about the author’s significant journey to Scotland’s Isle of Iona. She shows how these hallowed spaces of the island “sculpted, bended, and sustained her spiritually.”

There are also some rich illustrations reflecting Iona’s stunning terrain and Celtic heritage, “providing spiritual seekers and armchair travelers a fresh entre into the world of the sacred, wherever they may be.” Nice, huh?  And the forward, I should mention, is by painter and arts educator/instigator Scott Erickson, who co-wrote two books with the above-mentioned Justin McRoberts (Prayer: Forty Days of Practice and May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’ Prayer and gave us last year the amazing Honest Advent. He actually has a new book coming in January 2020; stay tuned.)

By the way, one of the great blurbs on this forthcoming Journey of Sea and Stone (beside the lovely support of poet Luci Shaw) is from novelist Leif Enger. I hope you know his amazing Peace Like a River and Virgil Wander. He writes such beautiful praise:

Which books keep you sane when the world locks you down? For me it’s those with marrow-deep ties to the geography they describe–Wendell Berry’s Port William stories, Timothy Egan’s pilgrimage to Rome, Henry Beston’s year on the beach at Cape Cod. New to this heartening shelf is Tracy Balzer’s A Journey of Sea and Stone, the tale of her longstanding love for the cloistered island of Iona, off the Scottish coast. We all have places we seem to have known forever. In lucid, rhythmic prose, Balzer develops a spiritual travelogue of solace and gratitude, of openness to wonder and reason, and of a longing for what Beston called ‘the dear earth itself underfoot.’ This is a welcome book.


The Weight of Memory: A Novel Shawn Smucker (Revell) $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79 RELEASE DATE: JULY 6, 2021

Okay, Hearts & Minds friends, BookNotes readers, fans and friends. This is a book I’m asking you to consider. I’m hoping many of our supporters will get behind it, recommending it for their book clubs, choosing it as a novel to read, perhaps gifting it to the curious and open minded.

As we’ve said before, Shawn Smucker is a dear friend and good customer. He has written a pair of spectacular YA speculative fiction fantasies, The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There (Beth is still waiting for a third) and a handful of moving, well written, and particularly thought provoking adult novels, like Light From Distant Stars. Each has a bit of weirdness to them. Okay, maybe a lot of weirdness in the case of his Dante homage, These Nameless Things.

Shawn has also done a book in the memoir genre, telling of his friendship with a refugee from Syria who had settled in Lancaster, PA, and what Shawn learned from this new, somewhat needy neighbor. (Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me About Loving My Neighbor is also great for book groups or adult classes.) It’s very good.

The forthcoming Weight of Memory is his best yet. Some of the lines are just stunning as he turns a phrase or offers a metaphor. We hope to feature him here at the store this summer – maybe a backyard book launch, Lord willing– I would love to hear him read some of this out loud. He and his wife, Maile Silva, (who do a fabulous podcast together about the creative life, being parents and spouses and writers, cleverly called “The Stories Between Us”) are tremendously fun and kind people and having them here would be our great honor. More than a year ago we had hoped for a book launching event for These Nameless Things but Covid but the brakes on that.

In any event, we are now taking pre-orders for The Weight of Memory which, of you order it now, will come with an autograph and a simple art piece that is themed from the novel itself. For those who have a classy library or want solid hardbacks to take to wherever you read fine novels, we can get a hardback edition, too (for $29.99; our discounted price for that would be $23.99.)

This well-done novel is a story about, well, a lot of things, including death (which will come as no surprise to Smucker’s many fans.) It’s not a big spoiler to say the opening chapter is the main character with his young doctor, getting the terminal diagnosis. It is cleverly writer, captivating. I was hooked from the first page. Throughout there are these good lines that just make me smile, including the line in that first chapter where the patient sits on the examination table awaiting the news in the doctor’s office and “the paper underneath me crackles like electricity.”  Later, on a hot day as kids come out of school, their feet shuffle “like sandpaper.” Later, he mentions a Pentecostal preachers shoes which “shone like the deepest reaches of space.” I’ve seen that guy and his shoes, I thought.

I’ll tell you about the plot as the publisher describes it – my evaluations will have to wait until later. The plot revolves around Paul Elias who, upon receiving a terminal diagnosis, must find someone to watch over his granddaughter, Pearl, who has been in his charge. Paul decides to take her back to Nysa — both the place where he grew up and the place where he lost his beloved wife under strange circumstances forty years earlier.

But when he picks up Pearl from school, the little girl already seems to know of his plans, claiming a woman told her.

When they get to Nysa, Paul reconnects with an old friend, is nearly undone by the onslaught of memory, but that’s not even the half of it. Pearl starts vanishing at night and returning with increasingly bizarre tales and reality itself seems up for grabs. The Weight of Memory is both suspenseful and a bit introspective so will be appealing to many different sorts of fiction readers.

I like the way the publisher puts it: In The Weight of Memory “the past and the present mingle like opposing breezes, teasing out the truth about life, death, and sacrifice.” Pre-order it today and stay tuned for more info about possible gatherings and readings with this wonderfully creative writer.

It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders. Although we can’t say here exactly what your order would cost since the weight and destination varies, you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options, or, we use UPS. If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. We’re at your service.

  • USPS has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.75.
  • USPS has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $8.00 for one or two books and that gets more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS is more reliable but about $9.00 for one book or two to most places.



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We are still not allowing in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health and the common good (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) We are doing outdoor, backyard service, curb-side delivery, and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the ongoing pandemic. Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere.

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 Monday – Saturday; closed on Sunday. Thanks for your support.