It was the first time I was at a bone fide big event in almost three years. (About 100 participants still seems like a “big” gig for me.) Before Covid, setting up book displays at conferences and gatherings was nearly a third of our business, and we have been immeasurably blessed by friendships solidified at these annual events. From UCC clergy retreats to Lutheran and Episcopalian Bishop’s convocations, from Christian Legal Society conferences to the Redeemer Center for Faith & Work events to the Wee Kirk (Scottish for “small church”) retreats, some of our best customers and favorite friends developed from our travelling roadshow. Shifting away from that these past years was painful — financially and relationally. And we remain wary, sad that it seems few care to wear masks indoors these days, all over.
So it was with a lot of hesitation that I got on a plane at BWI and headed to Western Michigan, to the lovely town of Holland, to take part in the inaugural Doxology gathering sponsored by our friends at The Eugene Peterson Center for the Christian Imagination. Inspired by Peterson’s gritty spirituality, Biblical theology, pastoral care, and appreciation for the arts, music, novels, and poetry, the Peterson Center is a haven and a blessedly fitting tribute to his gentle ongoing legacy.
Eugene was a loyal customer at Hearts & Minds and we had numerous conversations over the years, firstly in our First Presbyterian Church of York parking lot (and later via fax or phone, and at locations as diverse as St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute at the famous Baltimore seminary and at Wee Kirk at the Western Pennsylvania Laurelville Mennonite Retreat Center. He and Jan were always gracious when I popped in to their Pittsburgh Theological Seminary apartment to hand deliver an order and even in their fruitful retirement years in Montana as we sent them books and greetings from back East.
There was no hagiography at the Doxology event — they knew Peterson’s aversion to such hoopla and were intentional about not invoking his name too often. (He didn’t even like conferences, we were told, so, well, there was that. Ha.)
I had the immense pleasure of meeting and hanging out a bit with one of Eugene and Jan’s grown children, Eric Peterson, who I had spoken with on the phone but never encountered face to face. I really appreciate him a lot, for a bunch of reasons. You may recall that I reviewed two books he released just a few years ago — Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son (which was the publication of a set of letters between Eric and his dad) and Letters to a Young Congregation: Nurturing the Growth of a Faithful Church (remarkably wise Peterson-esque wisdom for any sort of congregation.) He’sa PC(USA) pastor, a very good writer and powerful storyteller. You can see my reviews of those two here. Both sell for $19.99 each and are still at our BookNotes 20% off, making either one $15.99.
One of the leaders of this Peterson Center is Winn Collier, a dear friend and fine customer of ours. I really hope you know his marvelous biography of Eugene, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (Waterbrook). We may be one of the only places that still have a few of the spanking new hardbacks in stock ($28.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40) as well as the recent paperbacks ($20.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00.) Beth and I both found it tender and bold, funny and inspiring, a page-turned we didn’t want to end. It’s a great story of a very good church leader, a colorful character in his own right, and in the telling of the life, we learn a whole lot about a whole lot of vital, human stuff. We highly recommend it.
Enjoy these two great endorsements, richly written as they would need to be to blurb this masterpiece:
How do you reduce into words the vital reality of this man, scholar, searcher, teacher, and faithful friend? Eugene was a man who brought Scripture to fresh life for me and millions of others–who else would invite the phrase Holy Luck into a retelling of the Beatitudes? Winn Collier’s skilled storytelling weaves the threads of Eugene’s life into something fitting, like the prayer shawl he wore in his study every day. — Luci Shaw, Regent College writer-in-residence and author of The Generosity poems
I knew Eugene Peterson for thirty years, or at least I thought I did. He didn’t talk much, especially about himself. I knew nothing about his mouse tattoo, his Pentecostal mother’s radio program, the abysmal failure of his first church plant attempt, his friendship with a young Pat Robertson, or his square dancing prowess. Somehow Winn Collier ferreted out the little known facts about Eugene that, taken together, complete the picture of a humble, gentle giant who brought the Bible to new life for millions and became an inspirational model for beleaguered pastors everywhere. — Philip Yancey, author of Where the Light Fell
I hope you also know Winn for his tremendous novel (in fictional letters) called Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church (Eerdmans; $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39.) This small story has garnered amazing raves from the likes of Robert Benson, Corban Addison, Mandy Smith, Karen Wright Marsh.
A.J Swoboda said of Love Big Be Well,
Shatters all of our idolatrous addictions to big and growing and oversized franchised Christianities. Faithfulness absolutely must become the church’s new big. What Collier pens here is nothing short of miraculous. These letters demand to be read.
Pastor Peterson himself said about this story of the fictional pastor Jonas McAnn and his little church:
This book is a tour de force — an angle on understanding the life of both congregation and pastor that exceeds anything I have ever read. No directions, no programs, just an immersion into what really takes place in the life of a congregation and a pastor. Winn Collier’s writing is alive.
Under the guidance of Winn and his colleague Sam Gutierrez, the Doxology conference was a time for laughter and praise, song and poetry, anguished storytelling and quiet hope. I was honored to meet Samuel Wells (rector of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields in London and author of over 40 books!) and the young, black, New York poet/pastor Drew Jackson, author of God Speaks Through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming and the January 2023 release Touch the Earth: Poems on the Way.
I was really moved by the major presentations offered by Sam Wells. What a good guy. I admit to searching out his Hauerwasian influences, having just read most of In Conversation: Samuel Wells and Stanley Hauerwas (Church Publishing; $17.95 – OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36.) I am going to have another go of the second edition of Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Baker Academic; $27.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60.)
I think if I were to recommend one recent Wells’ book it would be one that I tried to promote when it came out earlier this year, Humbler Faith, Bigger God: Finding a Story to Live By (Eerdmans; $22.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39.) It is a good read, serious but clear, and in many ways offers a re-working and compilation of much of his major writing. It serves as an excellent introduction to his body of work and a great summary of some of his greatest ideas and inspiring directives. I highly recommended it last Spring but now that I’ve met him and heard him (and pummeled him with questions during a ride back to the airport) I’m an even bigger fan.
We stock a good many of his titles, so give us a ring if you want us to find anything, even some published in the UK.
I also really, really liked meeting Drew Jackson. It is hard to describe his fabulous poems, drawing their inspiration from the gospel stories in Luke, and his contemporary blending of good words at the “intersection of justice, peace, and contemplation, with a passion to contribute toward a more just and whole world.” From hip hop stylings to quieter lines, his words dance off the page with allusive and aesthetically-pleasing energy and insight.
Drew Jackson’s first book was raved about by all sorts of folks from Richard Rohr to Jon Batiste to Nikole Lim and is entitled God Speaks through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming. It offers poems (written during the pandemic in lower Manhattan) based on the first eight chapters of Luke. (IVP; $16.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80) and it was very popular last year.
The forthcoming one (officially releasing in early January 2023) has an introduction by Pádraig Ó Tuama! It similarly draws on Luke and will be called Touch the Earth: Poems on the Way (IVP; $18.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40. DUE January 10, 2022.) Described as part protest poetry and part Bible commentary, it is striking, inspiring stuff, some even better than the first great volume.
As stimulating as it is (and it is!) Drew is also a pastor and preacher, so he knows something about caring for his people, connecting, serving. I liked him a lot and appreciated the poems he performed from this forthcoming work. You should pre-order it now. It come outs January 10th but we will no doubt have it early. Yay.
I’m so glad to see our friend Cole Arthur Riley chiming in with this great endorsement:
This collection is a companion for mystics and storytellers alike. Poem after poem, Drew Jackson approaches questions of community and trust and meets them not with the bore of certainty but a reverence for the unspoken, for mystery and suspense. Jackson’s words will leave you waiting in the silence . . . but never alone. — Cole Arthur Riley, creator of Black Liturgies and author of This Here Flesh
Consider this insightful explanation from the great Barbara Holmes, author of Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church:
In Touch the Earth, Drew Jackson’s poetry offers a word-weary world a new language of engagement, disruption, and insight. As with all great poetry, the words are spare, but the literary images loom large, creating indelible impressions on the reader. Like echoes that reverberate long after the first sound, the poems stay with you, they dance with your spirit. After reading the poem ‘Shake the Dust,’ I am still considering a much broader definition of power, one no longer confined to the monarchs, governments, and oppressors but with a conscience as sticky as cling wrap that refuses to allow its memories to be shaken loose. This collection is a meditative treasure.
Another lovely poet shared some of her work at Doxology and I was delighted to have met Amy Nemecek (a true bookstore lover, having worked in a very good one for years.) You should consider supporting her first release, The Language of the Birds and other Poems just out from Paraclete Press in their “Iron Pen” imprint. ($20.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00.) Poet Luci Shaw calls it “brilliant” and novelist Sharon Garlough Brown says reading her work was an “opportunity for worship.” Dwight Baker (CEO of Baker Publishing Group) refers to her “poetic grace.” It’s really good.
Amy’s poem’s shepherd by soul into a wondrous journey. I was inspired, transported, and seen. I highly recommend these poems for you. Enjoy how they will expand your own heart. — Gem Fadling, author of Hold That Thought: Sorting Through the Voices in Our Heads
I did a workshop a couple of times at Doxology, doing my thing about why the reading life matters, how engaging the printed page works, sharing stories of those who have found solace and insight in books. I really appreciated the chance to do this and thank those who were so complimentary and encouraging. Believe me, it was refreshing and real blessing for me.
I might try to do some of that stuff at some online thing sometime, but for now, you might want to know a few of the books I cited and quoted from. A few were real favorites.
(There are just so many artful titles to cite — my, my, I quickly quoted Anne Lamott and C. S. Lewis and Wendell Berry and Karen Swallow Prior and missed so many who were in my mind, from In the Shelter by poet/activist Padraig O Trauma to Catching the Light – Why I Write by Muscogee poet Joy Harjo to The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty by German luthier Martin Schleske to The Soul of Wine and The Spirituality of Wine by theologian and winemaker and vineyardist Gisela Kreglinger (with a Peterson forward) to Steeped in Stories by Matali Perkins to the brand new Let There Be Art by Rachel Marie Kang and the recent The Beauty Chasers by Timothy Willard to the many volumes of Mako Fujimura or Calvin Seerveld who I’m sure I name-dropped.)
BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS, READING ABOUT READING
(Order any of these bulleted listings and get a free book sent along with your order. We’ll send Reading for the Common Good out at no cost as our gift to you, while supplies last.)
This list of titles of books about books (mostly) that I actually used in my presentation at Doxology evolves and changes whenever I’m called upon to share this kind of reminder to read widely, but this time, I read moving excerpts from (or at least held up and celebrated) the following:
- Subversive Spirituality Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $27.50
- Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists. Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans) $14.99
- The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry Austin Carty (Eerdmans) $19.99
- Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson (Grove Press) $16.00
- The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99
- Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons Frederick Buechner (HarperOne) $16.99
- Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99
- When Poets Pray Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $20.99
- The Preaching Life Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley) $17.95
- Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy Mary McCampbell (Fortress Press) $28.00
- The Word: Black Writers Talk about the Transformative Power of Reading and Writing Marita Golden (Crown Publishing) $14.99
- Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just Claude Atcho (Brazos Press) $19.99
- The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Other’s Eyes C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $19.99
- My Theology: The Word within the Words Malcolm Guite (Fortress Press) $12.75
- Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind Alan Jacobs (Penguin) $16.00
- Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity Stephen Roach (Square Halo Books) $11.99
- Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $16.00
FREE BOOK OFFER:
Okay, so I didn’t get to them all, but, each is a treasure to behold. I’ll tell you what. Order any from that list from the bullet points and we’ll send you a free copy (while supplies last) of Chris Smith’s essential little book, Reading for the Common Good.
BRAND NEW AND/OR FORTHCOMING
It is often said that poetry slows us down, not unlike the best spiritual practices, helping us to pay attention, maybe even cultivating a sense of awe and wonder. Here are three very important new books, two about poetry, one by a poet, that are out now, or soon.
A Century of Poetry: 100 Poems for Searching the Heart Rowan Williams (SPCK) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
We ordered this as an import from England because we realized just how important it could be. What a thrill that it just arrived! A beautiful, hefty hardback (with a helpful type font that isn’t too tiny) is extraordinary on several levels.
The compilation itself is unique and a great survey of a century’s worth of poems that would fit well on anyone’s shelf. Known as an astute reader (and a published poet himself) Williams picked from a massive array, narrowing it down to a few well known ones (W. H. Auden, T. S. Elliot, Denise Levertov, Thomas Merton, Dylan Thomas, Christian Wiman) and many that most will not know. Good for him that he picked some global entries, from the Jewish scholar Yehuda Amichai to authors with names like Tadeusz Rozewicz and Vikram Seth and Avrom Sutzkever. For thoughtful reasons that he explains in the introduction, the poets are arranged alphabetically.
This book, however, is not just a collection of artfully reflective pieces, but each entry is followed by the great Archbishop’s Christian reflections on the searching nature of these poets and their work. I am sure I am going to love these ruminations and I am sure they will help those of us who are not all that fond of poetry (who sometimes don’t “get it”) and who need some guidance to see what is there to be seen. This is going to make a great gift this holiday season, too. Hooray!
Each poem in this collection is a door ajar, which Rowan Williams nudges open, inviting us in, where he carefully shows us around. He leaves us in a room of many windows, the light streaming in, our souls enriched, this book in our hand. — Frances Ward, poetry editor, Theology
This is a compendium of poems you could spend a lifetime absorbing. Rowan Williams has gathered a diverse array of poets that grapple with mystery, ultimacy, and the terrifying beauty of being human. These are deep wells,, and Williams is a gentle guide into the depths of riches. — James K.A. Smith editor-in-chief, Image, recent author of How to Embody Time
Inciting Joy: Essays Ross Gay (Algonquin Books) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60
Perhaps you know poet Ross Gay’s 2019 collection of essays, The Book of Delights that became a much-appreciated work during the time of quarantine. (It is now out in paperback for $17.99.) We are glad for his brand new second collection of nearly genre-defying lyrical essays, again about (as was said of Book of Delights), “the small joys we overlook in our busy lives.” True to its title, it is sure to inspire and delight —subversively working its magic in these often dreary days, guilty of inciting joy. Here is how the publisher describes it:
Inciting Joy: Essays is a collection of long-form essays on joy, in which the author turns his curious and poetic mind to everything from skateboarding and cover songs, basketball and race, dancing and academia, death and laughter, and, always, the garden and the natural world”
Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World Pádraig Ó Tuama (W. W. Norton & Company) $27.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.36 DUE DECEMBER 6, 2022
I wrote about this in the last BookNotes but it is going to be so widely discussed, I wanted to announce it again. Here is some of what I wrote:
We hope you know the world-famous Irish poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama. His extraordinary, lovely book published by Broadleaf takes the name of his website, In the Shelter. He is interested there in questions of violence and exclusion, hospitality and home, shelter and redemption. In recent years he has become known for more than his peacemaking work in Northern Ireland (see his Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community or the moving Between the Bells: Stories of Reconciliation from Corrymeela) and is increasingly recognized as a poet of considerable skill and wide appeal. You may have heard him on NPR as he hosted the On Being poetry podcast called “Poetry Unbound.” It is from that project that he gets the title of this eagerly anticipated new volume.
This forthcoming book is a collection of fifty poems (mostly by contemporary poets, such as, say, Ada Lemon or Ilya Kaminsky or Margaret Atwood) and he then offers pages and pages of wonderfully touching and observant reflection. He is not only a splendid curator of poems, he is a teacher, a guide, and a spiritual director. It is extraordinary.
Poetry Unbound is fifty poems and 300 pages of commentary revealing and confessing why a line of verse might make you weep. But more than that, it is a collection of moments and meditations and a turning toward the ways that some memories, of sorrow and joy, might make us hold on a little while longer, long enough in fact. – Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Felon
Mesmerizing, magical, deeply moving… If you are looking for a read that will warm your heart, inspire your creative mind, and renew your faith in the resilience of the human race, look no further. — Elif Shafak, author of The Island of Missing Trees
How It Went: Thirteen More Stories of the Port William Membership Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $26.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80 DUE NOVEMBER 8, 2022
In a BookNotes post about Eugene Peterson and the Christian imagination it is perfect timing to tell you about a soon to be released collection of previously unpublished short stories by the master of the craft, Wendell Berry. Peterson really appreciated Berry’s fiction — he famously loved Jayber Crow as well as the Kentucky farmer’s serious nonfiction. I honestly don’t know if they ever met; I never heard, actually. Peterson also appreciated Wallace Stegner under whom Mr. Berry studied early on. I know Eugene appreciated Berry’s book about writing called Standing By Words and his marvelous study of the localized poetry of Juan Carlos Williams (“of Rutherford New Jersey”, as Berry always described him in the book The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford.) He loved his sabbath poems…
And so, we have here a forthcoming volume of thirteen new stories. This is huge — almost as eager awaited (and in some circles, more so) of his major new nonfiction release this fall called The Need to Be Whole, which very deeply explores patriotism and race. I do not know of anyone who has seen How It Went, yet, but the publisher has said this much:
For those readers of his poetry and inspired by his increasingly vital work as advocate for rational land use and the right-size life, these stories of Wendell Berry’s offer entry into the fictional place of value and beauty that is Port William, Kentucky. Berry has said it’s taken a lifetime for him to learn to write like an old man, and that’s what we have here, stories told with grace and ease and majesty. Wendell Berry is one of our greatest living American authors, writing with the wisdom of maturity and the incandescence that comes of love.
These thirteen new works explore the memory and imagination of Andy Catlett, one of the well-loved central characters of the Port William saga. From 1932 to 2021, these stories span the length of Andy’s life, from before the outbreak of the Second World War to the threatened end of rural life in America.
Pre-order this now and we’ll send it as soon as it arrives, hopefully by November 8th 2022.
Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99 DUE MARCH 28, 2023
I have not yet seen an advanced reader copy of this but I am positive it will be great. I know it is a long way out, yet — it is due out in March of 2020, but you can pre-order it now, of course. I wanted to mention it as it could be one of the very best books in this whole genre of reading well, reading widely, and doing so as a spiritual discipline. I know she will have a chapter on Augustine, one called “reading like Julian of Norwich” and another on “reading like Dorothy Sayers.” It will examine the multi-dimensional sensation of reading and ask, “what kind of a reader are you?” I really eager!
In a way, this is a follow-up to the one we have raved about (and listed above), this year’s The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints.
The forthcoming masterpiece is already getting some early buzz. Listen to this:
In her deft and beautiful way, Jessica Hooten Wilson crafts a theology of reading for Christians who have forgotten why it matters. She challenges us to take up and read –not only because it teaches about the faith of our past but because it makes our faith stronger for the present too. Get this book to learn, to grow, and to be inspired. — Beth Allison Barr Professor of History, Baylor University; The Making of Biblical Womanhood
In Reading for the Love of God, Jessica Hooten Wilson makes the case for reading as a means of transformation into Christlikeness. Her own meditations on the theology, spirituality, and ethics of reading are punctuated with studies of great Christian readers, male and female, down through the ages, which adds a rich layer of historical insight to her own brilliant reflections. We live in an age of shallowness, and reading is perhaps its greatest casualty. But Hooten Wilson issues a clarion call to rediscover depth. This book is profound and practical at once. As St. Augustine would say, tolle lege (take and read)! —Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest; Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night
To read Jessica Hooten Wilson’s Reading for the Love of God is to enter into a sacred apprenticeship with the faithful believers and minds of the church that have gone before us, learning at their feet with Hooten Wilson as our wise and faithful guide. To read this book is to truly learn how to read spiritually — and readers who approach this book humbly will not walk away unchanged. Reading for the Love of God is a tremendous gift, one that will shape, reform, and revitalize the way the church reads. By helping us read for the love of God, Hooten Wilson helps us live for the love of God. I’ll be recommending this book widely in my parish and beyond for years to come. —Claude Atcho, pastor of Church of the Resurrection, Charlottesville, Virginia; Reading Black Books
Again, please note that this releases in March 2023. Those who pre-order it will be our our solid waiting list but we won’t run your credit card info until we send it. Easy.
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No, Covid is not over — it is now spreading again. Since nobody is reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the water tables. And it’s bad. The virus is out there, seriously. It is complicated for us, so we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, staff, and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the newest variant is now spreading again; rates are rising. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise.
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