REGISTER FOR THE FREE WEBINAR WITH ME, STEVE BOUMA-PREDIGER & BRIAN WALSH RIGHT HERE.
About this time every January I’m sweating it out trying to craft a manageable list of my favorite books— some we might call the very best —that I’ve read the previous year. I’m squirming badly now as there are just so many to name and you will be surprised by some, I bet. We are thankful to God for this vocation of bookselling. We are grateful to each and every one of you who have supported us, sent orders our way, or otherwise promoted our little shop here in Dallastown.
One thing I am sure of, though, is that one of the very best books — in terms of importance and in terms of the sheer artful quality of the writing and the breadth and brilliance of the research — is one that I am so excited about that we are hosting a (free) live webinar this coming Thursday (January 11th – at 7:00 PM, EST) to talk with the authors. I invite you — I implore you — to join us. It’s going to be fun and, I think, quite compelling.
I’m not big on declaring one big “Book of the Year” but, golly, this one is surely on the top of my favorites list for 2023. Oddly, it isn’t even a brand new book, but an updated, 15th Anniversary Edition. I loved it 15 years ago and I love it even more now. I’m talking about Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Brian J. Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger (Eerdmans; $39.99 — OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99.)
It is a vast, fast-moving, delightfully complicated book, complex in all the right ways, and yet not arcane or difficult to read. Yes, these are both serious scholars with PhDs who have taught philosophy and culture and know their way around postmodern studies.
But they are also fun, down-to-Earth guys who quite literally have their feet on the ground; Steve teaches environmental studies as a theological ecologist (at Hope College in Holland, Michigan) and writes movingly about hiking and wilderness experiences and his love for the local watershed (where he bikes a lot, I’ve learned.) Brian is a former campus minister, and now a farmer, caring, with his wife and partner, author Sylvia Keesmaat, for The Russet House Farm in Ontario. They are Biblical people, full of Godly hope, and they enjoy life, good meals, (and have a mutual admiration for any number of folk and rock musicians, not least of which is Bruce Cockburn, who Brian has a whole book about.) They are, truly, “kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight” and, it seems, having a blast doing it.
As you can tell, I like these gents and I am sure you will enjoy listening in and participating in the online conversation on January 11th. The webinar is sponsored by their publisher, Eerdmans, and you can register for free HERE. The book is amazing and there will be a lot to talk about, so don’t miss a bit. We start at 7:00 PM Eastern Time.
By the way, there will be a free giveaway of a book during the conversation, compliments of the publisher, so be sure not to miss that. I told you it’ll be fun.
There are a few big things going on in Beyond Homelessness and I’ve written quite a bit more (years ago, when the first edition was released) which you can find by searching the BookNotes archives. I’ll explain just a bit here, now, about what is so good about it and why we are eager to have you attend our little online book discussion. For what it’s worth, the late Marva Dawn said of the first edition that it is “broadly researched and splendidly written” and that “this book is essential reading for anyone who wants truly to comprehend and mend our culture!” Wow and Amen!
First, in this new anniversary edition there is a new foreword by Ruth Padilla DeBorst (writing from Central America) which is simply inspiring and beautiful. There is a new preface that is touching and good. And there is a long “post-script” which is actually a lengthy, new, full-sized chapter that makes it well worth having. One friend who devoured the first edition purchased this expanded new edition and insisted, later in an email (with a picture of a page and all his underlinings and marginalia), that I can with confidence tell others to get this new version, even if they have the first edition. It’s that good.
Secondly (and this is what lies at the theological vision behind the book) there is the best Biblical stuff I’ve ever seen on the topics of home, creation-care, placemaking, exile, alienation, homecoming, reconciliation, and other such Biblical themes related to place, land, culture, agriculture, shalom, rootedness, neighborliness, ecology, and the like. They know and love the Scriptures and I am happy to recommend that you spend some time under their refreshing tutelage, learning what might be somewhat new terms alongside more conventional doctrinal rhetoric. They are nothing if not Biblical people.
Many have heard the overarching Biblical story described as a play with several acts, most succinctly naming the flow of the drama as creation/fall/redemption. They spin this as something like home/dislocation from home/homecoming. We are made in God’s image as home-makers and even East of Eden the gospel of Christ, the second Adam, returns us to our primordial calling, along with the other creatures in God’s household, to what they call homefulness. This fecund word is amazing and their Biblical scholarship exploring it is second to none. They draw on bunches of good scholars (evangelical and more mainline, Reformed and others found in fabulous footnotes) including helpful quotes from their friends Richard Middleton and Tom Wright; they make a fabulous, nearly breathtaking case of how the Scriptures invite us to the remarkable blessedness that comes from being grounded in place. This is not a fringe ethical concern or additional aspect of an eccentric social ethic, but is a nearly revolutionary re-articulation of the whole of the Biblical narrative and our place in God’s world and the meaning of our redemption in Christ. Read Beyond Homelessness with your own Bible handy and see if you don’t agree.
To supplement their detailed (but delightfully readable) explication, they have, between each chapter, extended creative tellings of various Biblical passages which they call “interludes.” They are retelling Biblical episodes in moving first person narratives or monologues and they are worth the price of the book. In the preface they strongly recommend that readers study these passages in Scripture, too, so the nuances and playful renderings they develop in the interludes are more fully understood. In any case, these Bible pieces are really well done and are a vital connecting thread tying their ideas together. N.T. Wright has raved about this and has called their Biblical reflections “lyrical.”
Further, their painful ruminations on our alienation from place — citing everybody from Dorothy of Kansas to Wendell Berry of Kentucky to James Howard Kunstler of New York — show further just what they mean. Sin and idolatry and bad ideologies have messed up everything and they wisely help us see just how far and deep the rot goes. Not only are we dis-placed — late capitalism and stuff like car culture and corporate agribusiness has had its way with us and a dualistic faith concerned about the so-called “spiritual” (which for many either means heaven or the internal nature of their souls) takes our eyes off the mundane and ordinary stuff of life — but our lack of interest in our places have allowed a climate emergency unlike nearly anything our (home) planet has ever faced. Being nearly disembodied and tragically displaced leads to ecological crisis. The creation groans and their profound Biblical insight about all this is simply the best stuff I have read, anywhere.
And you just have to read the final, colorful, poetic portions of the last chapter, “Redemptive Homecoming” to be captured by the vision of where all this is going… My, oh my.
Just so you know I’m not gushing just because I like these guys, it is true that many great thinkers, theologians, and activists have offered their own great reviews of this project. Listen to Shane Claiborne:
A daring exploration of one of the most primitive longings in all of us — home. Whether we are in the lonely suburbs or the lonely slums, whether we are cultural refugees or undocumented immigrants, here is good news. In these pages is a call to community, to live deeper, to discover that if we have the eyes to see and the imagination to dream it, there is another world at hand where every alien and orphan and estranged executive has a home and family, for there is a kinship that runs deeper than culture or class or biology or nation.
By the way, the new long extra chapter in this new updated edition cites the generative and important The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, one of the great theological works in recent years. I’m glad they did but, to be honest, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh’s work in Beyond Homelessness remains seminal. There is no book like it.
And there is this remarkable part of the work: Perhaps equally foundational to their thesis of needing to be shaped by a rootedness in the Biblical story of creation, of home/exile/homecoming, is this notion that we are also shaped by a society that fails to honor a sense of place (again, think how Wendell Berry’s novels have explored this, or even Barbara Kingsolver’s, both hose work they plumb nicely.) Because of this we are unable to deeply inhabit our places and we are (oddly) numb to the suffering that goes on around us. Sometimes, the well off and upwardly mobile among us are nearly nomadic. (Ironic, isn’t it, that in this gig economy we have economically poor nomads migrating due to poverty and we have the uber-rich flying around, placeless, like in the novel and movie Up in the Air.)
Their opening description of Kenny (a guy who has seen some hard times and is without a house but who has some sense of community) and Kenneth (a guy with several well-appointed houses but no real home) invites us to ponder much. What is a home, anyway? What makes a house a home? What is the broadest vocation of home-making? Has the American Dream of suburban bliss in a fancy house created emotional cul-de-sacs, neighborhoods without neighbors? How might Kenny, who serves his needy neighbors, instruct us who live lives so busy that we hardly know our nearest neighbors? Why are so many writing about community these days, but yet fewer have lives that are available to others? What is with the current epidemic of loneliness? And what might the notions of postmodernism and the experience of postmodernity have to do with any of this? Can a Biblical vision of homefulness and kinship provide an enduring hope? How so?
And yes, the book is also about literal homelessness. Those who are unhoused and economically poor are hurting everywhere in our lands and it is a crisis that must be addressed. Their insight into economics — both global and local — including the housing crisis and domestic poverty, is excellent and helpful. They make complex matters understandable.
Many who follow BookNotes, I suspect, have read Matthew Desmond (Evicted and Poverty, By America) or Edin, Shaefer, and Nelson’s serious The Injustice of Place which explores the legacy of rural poverty in America, or the Pulitzer Prize winning report Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City (by Andrea Elliott) or the upbeat memoir of near homelessness, Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education by Stephanie Land.
We’ve got excellent Christian guides to understanding the needy and being involved in homeless ministry, such as last year’s Grace Can Lead Us Home: A Christian Call to End Homelessness by Kevin Nye and one called Welcome Homeless: One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home which is by the amazing Alan Graham. Graham, we find out, has been influenced by Beyond Homelessness and touts it often.
Brian and Steve have both visited Alan’s one-of-a-kind project called Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, that emerged from his effective Mobile Loaves and Fishes mission. They tell of the transformation of his own faith and life through his work among the poor in the postscript to Beyond Homelessness and it is thrilling. (Alan was, in fact, the first person to honor Brian and Steve and the new anniversary release of Beyond Homelessness when he interviewed Brian at his podcast last month, which you could listen to here.) So, yes, although the book covers much, much, more, it explores the hardships of those without shelter.
From the stimulating and generative Biblical study about the call to homefulness to the wildly interesting cultural studies on how the sociology of place-less-ness has corrupted North American society, and what this “geography of nowhere” has done to us as people, on through to the burning (and related) contemporary crises of pollution and poverty, Beyond Homelessness circles around again and again to how a Biblical worldview (and the experience of exile as described in the Scriptures) can shape our very consciousness / imaginations and help us want to inhabit our places more intentionally. These two authors have seen sorrow and know that the Scriptures invite us to “weep with those who weep.” They want to live in what one of their mentors calls “the wild spaces of love.” Consequently, in faith, they are actually quite hopeful, and they take much delight in small, ordinary things.
This book will help you get on track. From knowing the species of trees in your neighborhood to knowing the names of your neighbors; from caring about gracious hospitality as a key to forming loving community to resisting the destabilizing forces of modernity that erode our care and kindness, Brian and Steve bring so much to the table — including Biblical explorations about the nature of tables — that one small review like this can’t do the book justice. So please join us for the on-line webinar this Thursday, January 11th at 7:00 EST.
So: please join us in celebration of this major work, prescient and important when it was released 15 years ago, and all the more urgent now. We will chat about our friendships, I’ll ask some questions about the book, we’ll invite them to tell us about their own lives in their own places that gave rise to this fruitful, collaborative work, and we’ll take questions from participants during the online webinar. It’s going to be informative, but more importantly, formative. I bet you’ve not often heard this kind of stuff, and it will make a difference, for you, for us, for God’s work in the world. Join us, please. Register here.
Register here now: https://streamyard.com/watch/K6Jj4sDCxFdC
Buy the book now if you can, at our 20% off sale price.
We will send it right out, with pleasure. But don’t miss the webinar next week. Register today.
Beyond Homelessness explores the meaning of ‘home’ and emphasizes God’s covenantal and homemaking love for humanity. The authors nod to Barbara Kingsolver’s theory that home is simply a place of belonging–and a place where we share that belonging with others. If we have been gifted a place of belonging, love and affirmation, isn’t it our responsibility to share that with others? — National Catholic Review
“This fifteenth anniversary edition could not be timelier. Here are the stories of prophetic vision and hope that we need. Beyond Homelessness has the power to change the way we view who we are to one another. — Mark R. Gornik, author of To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City
Not to confuse matters, but this would be a perfect place to remind you that a year or so ago I wrote passionately about a book done as a surprise for Brian Walsh at his retirement from serving the CRC as campus chaplain at the University of Toronto where he helped lead the Wine Before Breakfast community. A festschrift full of fascinating pieces and lovely stories to honor him, it was called A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh edited by Marcias Boniferro, Amanda Jagt, and Andrew Stephens-Rennie (Pickwick Publications) $34.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $27.30. Four people I’ve mentioned above, Alan Graham, Richard Middleton, N.T. Wright, and Beyond Homelessness co-author Steve Bouma-Prediger, all have excellent pieces in this amazing collection. And there’s plenty more. One reviewer, an urban church planter, said it will “leave you with a case of holy homesickness.” And I said, “This book will open your ears to the hope and homecoming embedded in Scripture’s story.”
Steve Bouma-Prediger, himself, by the way, had his own new book out this past fall, that we highlighted at BookNotes not long ago: Creation Care Discipleship: Why Earthkeeping Is an Essential Christian Practice (Baker Academic; $25.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79.) It now stands next to several others that are vital for our ecological studies section here in the shop.
More on that next week when we celebrate it in our “best of” lists for 2023. It’s fantastic!
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Sadly, as of January 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over and is truly on the rise. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is now getting worse. It is still important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.
We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.
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