22 Brand New Books, just in, briefly described: Ken Starr, Marilyn McEntyre, Sherrie Turkle, Scot McKnight, and more. ALL 20% OFF from Hearts & Minds

Thanks for those who ordered from our last BookNotes column. We did some fairly extensive reviews of a few fascinating books, from Leland Ryken’s Recovering the Lost Art of Reading to Freeing Jesus by Diana Butler Bass to the very important Reparations by pastors and public theologians Duke Kwon & Gregory Thompson to the Sentinel imprint’s excellent study of American placelessness and agricultural towns, Uprooted by the wonderful new writer Grace Olmstead. We’re glad for those who subscribe to BookNotes and support our small town family biz here in south central Pennsylvania. We hope you are filled with renewed resurrection hope after this beautiful Easter weekend.

Although it is hard for me not to weigh in and offer comments about the books we most care about, this time I’m going to try to beat the clock and only describe briefly a batch of books that came in within the last week or so.

As you know, we’re a full-service bookstore stocking all kinds of things from all sorts of perspectives. Although I like reviewing titles here at BookNotes I thought I’d just announce these that came in recently so you can see the breadth and diversity and scope of just some of what we find notable. And this doesn’t even include children’s books, fiction, poetry, or new Bibles and Bible studies. My, my, where to begin? Well, here are a few, mostly brand spanking new.

You can order these by clicking on the “order here” link at the end of the page which takes you to the secure order form page of our Hearts & Minds website. Just follow the directions, telling us what you want, how you want it sent (USPS or UPS or back-yard, curb-side pickup here in Dallastown) and we’ll follow up, taking care of the rest. We look forward to the pleasure of serving you in this way.

 

22 NEW BOOKS THAT ARRIVED LAST WEEK     ALL 20% OFF

Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty Ken Starr (Encounter Books) $26.00

OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

Judge Starr rose to fame when he was appointed to the independent counsel that investigated alleged financial misdeeds from then Governor Bill Clinton’s Whitewater connections, which, as most of us know, shifted (against Starr’s personal wishes) into explorations of a sex scandal and the eventual impeachment about the President’s lying under oath, etc. Starr’s memoir about those years, Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation, was hard to put down. This brand new one explores the principles of American religious freedom and explores both Constitutional questions and lots of legal cases, from freedom of religious speech to the rights of organizations and churches to conscientious objection of various sorts. Some of the cases he describes are ones he himself litigated so regardless of what side a reader might be on, it offers a ringside seat, and is well worth reading. He explores the bi-partisan passing of the RFRA and notes how current leaders (including President Biden) seem to have flip-flopped against the reasonable accommodations outlined there.

Besides helpful introductions to legal principles and arguments, Mr. Starr offers other stories, too, about how free religious groups can (and he would say, should) serve the needs of the community; he is clear and inspiring, telling about friends as diverse as Joanne and Chip Gaines (friends from Waco) and Bob Goff (who he knew year before he became a best-selling motivational speaker and coach, from Bob’s own days at Pepperdine Law School) and his global justice work against child slavery, the radical Catholic Dorothy Day, and good churches that serve the homeless with gusto, even when sometimes seemingly needlessly hassled by government bureaucracies.

Ken was a friend with “the notorious RBG” as she was sometimes playfully called, as we saw in a moving Wall Street Journal tribute he penned after her death; he is always gracious in describing those whose perspectives are different than his own. Starr has served in distinguished ways from circuit judge for the District of Columbia, as law clerk to Chief Justice Warren Burger, and has argued thirty-six cases before the US Supreme Court. There are other books that study religious liberty that are more scholarly, and some that are more basic. (In a few weeks we’ll get the forthcoming one by Andrew Walker, the excellent Liberty for All: Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Age (Brazos Press; $19.99.))This one is very helpful, I think, covering the major cases in the field, noting where he thinks the courts got it right, and where he thinks the justices erred. The impeccable Princeton professor of jurisprudence, Robert P. George, calls it “marvelously lucid.”

Every Moment Holy: Volume II – Death, Grief, and Hope Douglas McKelvey, illustrations by Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $35.00                                                        OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

I suppose you recall our rave, rave reviews of the first volume of litanies and responsive readings and prayers for ordinary life events. There is a full size leather-bound hardback and a smaller, flexible compact edition of EMH Volume 1 but this new one only comes in the larger, leather-bound hardback. Believe me, it is even more beautiful and lavish than the first, a beautiful companion volume, with prayers about grief and loss, lament and hope.

We are honored to be able to sell this and hope you let folks know it is now out. It is surely one of the most unique and special resources published this year. Kudos to the very cool, artful, and faithful Rabbit Room folks and to our good friend Ned Bustard for his expert design work.

 

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (second edition) Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

If you have followed BookNotes for a while you know that dear Marilyn McEntyre is one of our favorite authors. (And you will know we raved a month ago about her brand new and very important book Dear Doctor: What Doctors Don’t Ask, What Patients Need to Say.) This new edition is updated with new examples and illustrations and has a cover to match her recent Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict. I quote Caring for Words often and cannot say enough good about it. McEntyre’s main thesis, first delivered as the legendary Stone Lectures at Princeton, is that words, like natural resources, need to be stewarded well, lest things get toxic. The book offers “stewardship strategies” for caring for words well. One reviewer said it offers a sustenance and delicacy. And deep, good wisdom. Don’t miss it.

Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity Stephen Roach, with Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $11.99                                                                       OUR SALE PRICE = $9.59

I’ve been waiting for this, having read an advanced copy of the manuscript and elated by it. I will tell you more about it another BookNotes, I hope, and I assure you it will be on future lists I may get asked to do about books on aesthetics, the arts, and Biblically-faithful views of creativity. (I even showed it as a pre-order item at our specially-curated online, e-commerce Jubilee Bookstore, in the arts category.) There is solid Biblical teaching here, good Christian thinking, drawing on good sources, from Calvin Seerveld and Dorothy Sayers and Thomas Merton and Leland Ryken and Mako Fujimura and the like. (Roach is himself quite remarkable, directing the stunning faith/arts event, The Breath and the Clay Experience.) The chapter in Naming the Animals are short, the foundation solid, the writing lively, as the invitation for all of us to take up the calling of being creative, playful, inventive, curious, makers, artful, is offered thoughtfully and winsomely – it’s all here. What a book — a lovely, compact sized, well-done guide to opening up this dimension of your life. There are Ned Bustard artworks enhancing the chapters, too, less elaborate than the work in Every Moment Holy but, still, his signature linocut style. Cheers!

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation Anna Malaika Tubbs (Flatiron Books) $28.99                                                                  OUR SALE PRICE =$23.19

Did you hear the NPR interview with this author last week? My, my, may, what a strong idea for a great book, and what remarkable women it showcases. Three great biographies in one, interlaced with insight about their famous sons and the earth shattering times in which they lives and died. Did you know that Mrs. Alberta King was much better educated than her famous husband, “Daddy” King? Have you ever heard anything about Louise Little, Malcolm’s mother? How about Berdis Baldwin? These women had similarities, as individuals and as mothers, and considerable differences. Kudos to Anna Malaika Tubbs, a Cambridge PhD candidate in sociology and a Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford in anthropology.

Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel Eric Mason, editor (Zondervan) $27.99    OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Those who follow BookNotes know we have promoted Rev. Mason’s books before (and have heard him a couple of times at the CCO’s Jubilee Conference which we help with yearly in Pittsburgh.) This sturdy textbook has 15 chapters, serious but not overly academic, rich, but not vague, this highly anticipated volume features a top-notch lineup of contributors. They say it is the first evangelical book to focus on the sects and ethnocentric ideologies prevalent today in the Black community. As it says on the back cover, “It introduces readers to each of these alternative religious groups and provides practical tools to engage them apologetically and combat false teaching.” As Kirk Franklin puts it, “This book shouts loud to our times!”

My Vertical Neighborhood: How Strangers Became a Community Lynda MacGibbon (IVP) $17.00                                                                     OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

We stock almost every new book IVP does and I couldn’t wait for this, the story of a woman moving from a small city in eastern Canada to a high-rise apartment in Toronto and how she learned to love her neighbors, neighbors of all sorts. This is a book about hospitality and ministry, yes, but more it seems to be an inspiring story about friendship, about the risks and rewards of trusting Jesus’ way of caring for others. Check out these very, very positive reviews:

Riveting, fascinating, authentic, vulnerable, funny–this book grabbed me and I could not put it down. Lynda’s neighbors are established, lonely, secular urbanites in a high-rise apartment building. When she prioritizes them over church connections, they become her best friends. What does it mean to love a neighbor? ‘Pay attention,’ she says. ‘Notice. Engage. Welcome. Open your door. Accept their invitations. Give time. Laugh. Debate. Apologize. Forgive. Cry. Celebrate.’ Caught up in the quirky lives of Brian and Rachel and Yolanda, we see how community can flower in sterile spaces, and urban hangouts can be sanctified. There is awkwardness and misunderstanding and swearing and sex talk and even invitations to strip clubs, but the joy of Jesus shines through. — Miriam Adeney, professor, Seattle Pacific University, author of Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity

I hadn’t meant to read My Vertical Neighborhood in a single sitting, but Lynda’s warmth, authenticity, and vision made me realize I was encountering a soul-friend-which is what I suspect happened to her neighbors, who we meet in this book. Anna and Ron, Yolanda and Nicolai, Brian and Rachel could not be more different, but they become Lynda’s found family — and, through this book, ours. Her beautifully told stories made me long for the kind of community she describes. Friendships filled with awkwardness and acceptance, feasts and forgiveness, trust and tenderness. Lynda doesn’t offer a how-to on hospitality. There’s an industry that already supplies that. What she offers is something far more important. She resets our imagination through tales of lost parrots and Christmas pajama parties. A tender dance in a nightclub and a fast friendship formed at a Starbucks. Unexpected prayer requests from Kiribati and unanswered spiritual longings in a Bible study. Studies tell us we live in the loneliest era in history. Lynda invites us into a better story.”  —  Greg Jao, assistant to the president, director of communications and external relations, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, author of Your Minds Mission.

R.C. Sproul: A Life Stephen J. Nichols (Crossway) $34.99                                                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $ 19.99

Sproully, as we sometimes called him – RC to nearly everyone else – lived in Western Pennsylvania when I was a college student and he was vibrant, intellectual, deeply Reformed, culturally aware, freelance teacher, trying to be somewhat like Francis Schaeffer, who influenced his early vision for the Ligonier Valley Study Center. We visited there from time to time and I had long conversations with him on several occasions. He helped create the nationally-respected CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) campus ministry (which Nichols oddly doesn’t mention) and with Wayne Alderson, pioneered the “value of the person” work-world movement for labor-management reconciliation based on the dignity of the worker, a social reform that Nichols describes alongside RC’s colorful youth, his conversion, and his rise to international fame as a conservative Calvinist and teacher and best-selling author. From his relationships with the usual suspects – J.I. Packer or Chuck Colson, say – and the not so usual (golf buddy Alice Cooper) this book celebrates, as Joni Eareckson Tada puts it, “a man worth remembering.” 400 pages, with photographs.

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir Sherry Turkle (Penguin Press) $28.00                                         OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This book actually came out a month ago, but we just got it in – and I’m glad we did. You surely know Turkle as an MIT professor and TED Speaker and Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year recipient and prolific author who has for decades been exploring the role of media in our lives, especially in the lives of children being raised in the digital generation. Her very fruitful recent books have included Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age and the very important Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. This recent one is a major volume, a memoir that makes personal some of her insight about “how we remake ourselves in the mirror of our machines.” This is said to be both vivid and poignant (and a “one-of-a-kind page-turner”), the story of a curious girl from an unusual family, now public intellectual, due to Turkle’s own courage and virtue. Blurbs on the back are from the likes of Arianna Huffington (CEO Of Thrive Global) and novelist Jen Gish and feminist philosopher Carol Gilligan. As Gilligan notes, her father and first husband seem not to show much empathy, and so this explores how Dr. Turkle developed into the empathetic listener and humane woman she is.

Saints, Sufferers & Sinners: Loving Others as God Loves Us Michael R. Emlet (New Growth Press) $17.99                                                                          OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I was eager to see this a month or so ago and due to a snafu at the publisher we never got our shipment. With their regrets, we now have it, so we’ll announce it here as if it is new. It’s new to us, and maybe to you – and it is very, very solid. We value Mike as a friend and customer and respect his good work — especially a book on how to wisely apply the bible called CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet and his small but useful book Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications. I think this new one, Saints Sufferers & Sinners deserves a much fuller review, but for now, just realize this – this is a rare book that takes the conventional Biblical theology about the human condition and in clear and helpful language explains that people are simultaneously saints and sinners. And, wisely and rightly, he adds to that famous dictum, that we are also sufferers. That is, we are sinners and we are sinned against; we have hurt others and we have been hurt. We are beloved and redeemed in Christ and damaged and yet implicated if not out and out complicit in the world’s awful mess. Which is to say that in all our relationships, and certainly whenever we are trying to assist others, we start with a posture of grace.

This book is not too complicated or lengthy so is good for anyone who wants to clarify their mess of feelings and be clearer about their identity. But since Michael is a counselor, he not only guide readers toward self-understanding in light of a gospel-centered vision, but outlines a model for understanding others. There is a section in each unit about how this plays out in counseling sessions so although it is not primarily aimed at therapists, pastors, or those in the helping professions, professionals will, indeed, learn much. I very much appreciated the large parts I read and I am glad for the chance to announce it here. Get one for yourself and anyone you know who does formal or informal counseling with others.

Dr. Michael Emlet has given us a treasure. He’s primarily focused on how we relate to others through the triple lens of saint, sufferer, and sinner. He’s particularly strong at blending those lenses together. The result? You can begin to look at and treat people as fully human. His experience as a counselor grounds his thoroughly biblical insights in real life. This immensely helpful book isn’t just for counselors—it’s for all of Jesus’ followers.  Paul Miller, Author of A Praying Life and J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life

As Christians, we know we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, but it can be hard to know what it means to offer love to our neighbors on the ground in concrete, daily ways. In this deep, rich, and practical book,  Michael Emlet draws on Scripture and years of experience as a Christian husband, parent, church member, and counselor to help us more faithfully and fully love our neighbors, our spouses, our children, and all whom God brings into our lives. Through this exploration of what it means that we are all simultaneously saints, sufferers, and sinners, which is shaped by the wisdom of the Bible on every page, those who read this book will come away better equipped to fulfill the Great Commandment in the quotidian moments of everyday life and ministry. Kristen Deede Johnson, award-winning author; dean and professor of Theology and Christian Formation, Western Theological Seminary

True Companions: A Book for Everyone About the Relationships That See Us Through Kelly Flanagan (IVP) $24.00                                             OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

When InterVarsity Press (IVP) issues a book in a handsome hardback with a dust jacket, it’s a big deal and a very special release. With blurbs from Bob Goff and Aubrey Sampson (of the book about suffering and lament, The Louder Song) and Katherine Willis Pershey (whose memoir about being a mainline pastor and wife and mother, Any Day a Beautiful Change I really loved) and with a forward by Ian Morgan Cron, I thought this writer really gets around and must have extraordinary writing chops. And something tender and vital to say. It looks spectacular.

The exquisite writer Carolyn Weber says,

What a brave, beautiful, and bountiful book that sings with quiet wisdom on the power of loneliness and the sanctity of companionship.

Hunting Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age Richard Beck (Broadleaf) $24.99                                                                          OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Richard Beck is a beloved and lively professor at the conservative evangelical Abilene Christian University, a popular, if sometimes provocative Sunday school teacher in a hospitable Church of Christ and Bible study leader at a maximum security prison and is increasingly the sort of author that one might want to read anything he writes. (His last book was called Trains, Jesus, and Murder: The Gospel According to Johnny Cash.) This new one looks beautiful, about discovering viable systems of meaning and authentic faith in the secular age and finding “the love, grace, and presence of God everywhere.” As Julia Sparks Attalla of Fuller Theological says, “What Richard Beck has done in Hunting Magic Eels has lit my soul on fire!” Wow.

Earth’s Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World Kathleen Dean Moore (Counterpoint Press) $26.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

I have not had the opportunity to write much about the beautiful, eloquent, interesting, captivating and often very moving nature essays of Kathleen Dean Moore for a while – her last was a somewhat more political and philosophical study, the important Great Tide Rising: Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change and then the very fun novel, Piano Tide, both which we’ve announced at BookNotes. This recent release is sort of a “greatest hits” collection of her earlier books I loved so much, drawing also from articles never in book form, but mostly including excerpts from beautiful collections of memoir and natural history and storytelling about her experiences in the outdoors such as Holdfast, Riverwalking, Wild Solace, and the wonderful Pine Island Paradox. The organizing theme whereby certain excerpts and essays suggested themselves is around wild sounds, the music of creation. What a great gift for those who appreciate profound and enjoyable nature writing. Earth’s Wild Music is a gem.

Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin) $28.00                                                        OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

What an amazing work, a study of the history and evolution of food, with an eye to sustainability and ecologically sound health concerns.The spork on the warm cover is a stroke of design genius, emblatic of so much, eh?

Anti-globalist justice intellectual Naomi Klein says it is “a joyful and transformational read” and Bill McKibben says it has “opened a new window to our understanding of this perilous moment.” By “expanding the concept of junk food he takes us one a fascinating tour of modernity, with some powerful suggestions for change.” It has been called landmark, pioneering, sweeping, and certainly entertaining, not unlike Bittman’s reputation as a cook, food writer, cookbook author, and delightful TV chef.

Jesus for Farmers and Fishers: Justice for All Those Marginalized by Our Food System Gary Paul Nabhan (Broadleaf) $26.99                             OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I promised not to lapse into longer reviews so I will just say that I intend to describe this more fully later as it deserves to be known among our Hearts & Minds friends. Nabhan is known as “Franciscan Brother Coyote” and is a former MacArthur Fellow and has been called “the father of the local food movement,” As an Arab American, he has interacted with farmers and farmworkers from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Oman, and the US. He keeps orchards and gardens and greenhouses at his home in Patagonia, Arizona, although is also a fisherman from the shores of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. And he’s a Bible guy. Wow.

Here is how the publisher describe this magnificently interesting and inspiring book:

Climate disasters, tariff wars, extractive technologies, and deepening debts are plummeting American food producers into what is quickly becoming the most severe farm crisis of the last half-century. Yet we are largely unaware of the plight of those whose hands and hearts toil to sustain us. Agrarian and ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan–the father of the local food movement–offers a fresh, imaginative look at the parables of Jesus to bring us into a heart of compassion for those in the food economy hit by this unprecedented crisis. Offering palpable scenes from the Sea of Galilee and the fields, orchards, and feasting tables that surrounded it, Nabhan contrasts the profound ways Jesus interacted with those who were the workers of the field and the fishers of the sea with the events currently occurring in American farm country and fishing harbors. Tapping the work of Middle Eastern naturalists, environmental historians, archaeologists, and agro-ecologists, Jesus for Fishers and Farmers is sure to catalyze deeper conversations, moral appraisals, and faith-based social actions in each of our faith-land-water communities.

“Who better to give us a fresh reading of the Jesus story than one of our leading agrarian writers and practitioners? In Jesus for Farmers and Fishers, Gary Paul Nabhan’s vast scientific and agricultural acumen melds with a deep contemplative wisdom. The result is one of the most insightful readings of the Gospels I’ve encountered, read through the eyes of the very people Jesus served: fishers, farmers, bakers, gleaners, migrant farmworkers. Here is a book for today’s food justice movement, and for anyone who hungers for restoration of our lands and our communities.” –Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament, and founder of the Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being Program at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

“I am hungry for this book. Gary Paul Nabhan calls us to discover the tastes, scents, and textures of food in the Gospels and encounter the people who grew it, caught it, and cooked it. Nabhan’s work plunges us into the way of Jesus that turns things upside down and inside out. The powerful are brought low and the lowly raised up. As Nabhan digs into the complexity and depth of injustice in Gospel times, we’re shown stories that interweave with those of field hands and food service workers who provide our food–at great cost to themselves.” –Anna Woofenden, author of This Is God’s Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls

“Gary Nabhan’s work reminds us of what I can describe only as a sort of historical wonder…” –Wendell Berry, author of The Unsettling of America

 

The Beatitudes Through the Ages Rebekah Eklund (Eerdmans) $35.00

OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

This came just yesterday and I can’t wait to dip in. It is a sturdy, nicely made hardback worthy of such a major, serious work. Dale Allison, genius of Princeton Theological Seminary says in the foreword,

This volume has humbled me, leaving me cognizant of how little I really know . . . Beyond being a boon for exegesis, this book is a treasure of sermonic possibilities. It holds much that is not on the pages of the commentaries that typically line the shelves of pastors’ offices. So if one is looking for fresh thoughts for preaching, they are here in abundance. Furthermore, interpretation and application are, for Eklund, not separate things. Here she stands in line with the misnamed pre-critical exegetes. The latter were consistently interested in how one might enter into the Beatitudes and bring them to life. Like them, Eklund is not a disinterested observer.

It is not an overstatement to describe Rebekah Eklund’s book as stunning. Clearly written. Delightful to read. Erudite while being open-hearted and open-handed. I learned something new (and old) on every page. This will become the new standard work on the Beatitudes. — Jonathan T. Pennington, author of The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

Rebekah Eklund’s heart is large, and her imagination broad; her eye for detail is sharp, and her curiosity winsome; her energy to pursue an unlikely hypothesis is generous, and her patience to unearth an esoteric source unending; her passion for truth is relentless, and her joy in Christ’s upside-down kingdom infectious. Blessed are those who read every word of this book and treasure it: for the glory and playfulness of God’s good future are theirs. — Samuel Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London

To You All Hearts Are Open: Revitalizing the Church’s Pattern of Asking God Scot McKnight (Paraclete Press) $14.99                                         OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

This little paperback by an author who is both one of our premier Biblical scholars and most appreciated popular writers is a small gem. It, too, deserves to be explored carefully. I can tell you this much, simply: it has lots of Biblical material as he learns from Scripture what we mean by petitionary prayer. What does it mean to take up the great privilege of being in God’s presence in this special way and then to ask for stuff? My, my, McKnight shows how there is Biblical teaching and, more, Biblical patterns.

The church over time has learned much about this, and in the more liturgical traditions these prayers are called “Collects.” So, To You All Hearts Are Open is about the practice, postures, and patterns of collects. Yep.

As Dr. Winfield Bevins notes, “If you are looking for a refreshing introduction to petitionary prayer that is rooted in the Great Tradition and deeply biblical, this book is for you.”

Providence John Piper (Crossway) $39.99           OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

This will be in the shop any day now, so knew I should mention it. Obviously, at over 750 pages, it is magisterial in intention and scope. As the publisher says:

Drawing on a lifetime of theological reflection, biblical study, and practical ministry, pastor and author John Piper leads us on a stunning tour of the sightings of God’s providence–from Genesis to Revelation–to discover the all-encompassing reality of God’s purposeful sovereignty over all of creation and all of history. Piper invites us to experience the profound effects of knowing the God of all-pervasive providence: the intensifying of true worship, the solidifying of wavering conviction, the strengthening of embattled faith, the toughening of joyful courage, and the advance of God’s mission in this world.

They continue:

From Genesis to Revelation, the providence of God directs the entire course of redemptive history. Providence is “God’s purposeful sovereignty.” Its extent reaches down to the flight of electrons, up to the movements of galaxies, and into the heart of man. Its nature is wise and just and good. And its goal is the Christ-exalting glorification of God through the gladness of a redeemed people in a new world.

There are some things about John Piper’s work and some of his views that I oppose. He has inspired me, often, and moved me deeply. There are other times I’ve found him abrasive, although, to be honest, even when he’s bombastic and too sure of himself, it beats authors and pastors who don’t seem to care much about much of anything or can’t work up the energy to say what they believe or why. His passion and boldness and zeal for Christ and the gospel, even if I’m not exactly where he would be on some things, is admirable. (Just see in this 6 minute promo video how he jokes about writing a 700 page book and then his passionate explanation of why he thinks the content of this book is so very important.)

His explanation of this most fundamental topic of the purposeful sovereignty of God may be one of those things where we disagree, but since I have not studied this major work, I can’t say. I know people I respect will disapprove. But, agree or not, for those that want a deep dive into Scripture in ways that draw out this high view of God’s sovereign rule, this will be a must-read resource, a landmark book that the studious pastor Piper has worked on for decades. Some have called it breathtaking, God-glorifying, written to enhance the joy of God’s people, a magnum opus.

Endorsements have poured in from all over the world. There are rave reviews from leaders in Christian seminaries or church movements in China, Russia, Quebec, South America, Germany, Africa…

This is a book about the providence of God, written by a man who has spent his life expounding the glory of God. This volume is substantial, as its subject matter demands. Piper moves from the time before creation to the second coming of Christ, showing that the providential acts of God are pervasive through time, circumstances, and people as he explains the staggering power of the self-sufficient God. — Miguel Núñez, Senior Pastor, International Baptist Church of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Piper has the gift of making complex ideas easily understandable. Under the general theme of providence, he deals with some of the most difficult themes of the Christian faith–the relation of God’s sovereignty to man’s decisions, the origin of evil, God’s use of evil people and the devil to accomplish his goals, and election. From a South American standpoint, where so many questions about God’s ways arise from a context of rampant neopentecostalism, health-and-wealth gospel, poverty, and corruption, this book is much needed. — Augustus Nicodemus Lopes, Assistant Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Recife, Brazil; Vice President, Supreme Council, Presbyterian Church of Brazil

John Piper’s magisterial book is a robust antidote to the weak view on God’s providence held by many Christians today. His exposition of the subject is thorough in scope and saturated with biblical insight. Piper is a model of the pastor-theologian as he not only describes providence but also shows how our understanding of providence can deepen our lives. — Tremper Longman III, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century John Loughery & Blythe Randolph (Simon & Schuster) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I have gone on and on about this several times here at BookNotes, explaining how important it is as a major work on Day and how it was so very interesting now only about her faith and politics and the Catholic Worker movement she inspired, but about US history, especially as told from what would have been her vantage point. It was one of my favorite books of 2020 and although we didn’t get to our annual “Best of” awards due to Covid, this would surely have been named. I heartily recommend it.

It was a great privilege that I had a short review published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about a year ago. The thick hardback sold then for $30.00 (we now have it at $20.00) but it has just now released in paperback. What a great read in this handsome paper edition that – if I may brag a bit – includes a blurb on it from yours truly. This is so cool for this small town reviewer, I must say. Right there on the cover of a major book from this prominent publishing house next to some famous names, it shows what I wrote a year ago:

Magisterial and glorious; it captures intimate details and offers new insights into Day’s colorful life even as it places her in the broader context of radical movements and the landscape of causes during the 20th century…it may be that Mr. Loughery and Ms. Randolph have given us the definitive biography. Pittsburgh Post Gazette

 

No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities edited by Eugene Cho & Samira Izadi Page (Eerdmans) $19.99              OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

What a remarkable group of contributors a few who are authors you may know (Sandra Maria van Opstal, Jenny Yang, Ann Voskamp) and others who have years of specialized experience sharing the gospel with particular immigrant communities. This offers “a new vision for evangelism that honors the most vulnerable.” This is a good book for anyone doing research into faith-based approaches to immigration (and refugee resettlement and the like) but, truly, it is also a book about missional outreach, evangelism, disciple-making, congregational ministry.

Hate, Inc: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another Matt Taibbi (OR Books) $15.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

The hardback went out of print last fall and this brand new paperback includes a new introduction (or a “post-election preface” as they call it.) Taibbi is a smart and sassy reporter – “smart and scathing” the New York Times calls him, with “freewheeling analysis.” He has written brilliant exposes in Rolling Stone and co-hosts the Useful Idiots podcast. Here is explores how both Fox News and MSNBC are mirror images, creating echo chambers of alternative facts and one-sided worldviews, with primarily money-making agendas, using a strategy that is less news and more giving the people what they want to hear, so to speak – demographic-driven. You can see Hannity and Rachel Maddow on the cover, which is bold for a lefty like Taibbi.

As the Jacobin journal puts it, Hate, Inc. “is as hilarious as it is grim: behind the buffoonery of the 24-hour news cycle is a propaganda system devoted to upholding the power of entrenched elites.” This is clever – one chapter is “how we turned the news into sports” and disturbing. The author’s own biases are evident (the publisher calls it “part tirade, part confession”) but exquisitely so in an appendix where he interviews Noam Chomsky.

Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America Alec MacGillis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) $28.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I’ll admit I’ve got this one – for obvious reasons – tucked away over at our house for me to dive into soon. I’ve heard a few interviews and I hope you have, too. I’ve read some reviews and they are nearly all raving! As Jacob Hacker (a Yale University professor and author of Let Them Eat Tweets) says, Fulfillment is “journalism at its very best: a powerful panoramic account of America’s skyrocketing inequality across people and places.” This is not like Nomadland, really, but it somehow reminds me of that – the displacement, inequities, angst and financial disruption caused by, in this case, Amazon. Like other books on WalMart, say, it shows how their tax credits cost us millions and drain local taxes, infrastructure, and more as they extract much from the local economy.  It is a story that is so much a part of our national landscape that to be informed citizens (not to mention consumers) we ought to be aware.

Just read some of these back cover blurbs so you see why it is an important book for any of us:

MacGillis has set out to do something different. The Amazon depicted in Fulfillment is both a cause and a metaphor. It’s an actual engine behind the regional inequality that has made parts of the United States ‘incomprehensible to one another,’ he writes, stymieing a sense of national solidarity… The result is galloping prosperity for some Americans and unrelenting precarity for others… MacGillis suggests that one-click satisfactions distract us from taking in the bigger picture, whose contours can only be discerned with a patient and immersive approach. –Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

Alec MacGillis takes the ubiquity of [Amazon] and blows it up into something on the scale of Homer’s Odyssey in his new book … MacGillis’s story is as emotional as it is analytical — he visits characters and industries affected by Amazon, demonstrating over and over again that the empire is irreparably changing every aspect of American life as we know it. Sometimes the things we see every day become invisible. MacGillis asks us to look closer. — Amy Pedulla, The Boston Globe

Fulfillment is a mind-bogglingly thorough book, a hybrid of urban history, reportage, profile and research on people and places that have been impacted by Amazon. MacGillis is equally adept in animating the economic picture . . . A compendium of tragedies large and small. — Elizabeth Greenwood, San Francisco Chronicle

Amazon is the campfire we have chosen to commune around, and MacGillis’ book takes a wide, expansive look at how this campfire has become a firestorm whose embers incinerate the very workers, consumers, and communities that are drawn to this warm, culture-eating glow… MacGillis asks us to truly process what Amazon’s pandemic profitability means for the nation. The takeaway is quite sobering: The fates of the company and the nation had diverged entirely. — Patrick McGinty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A ground-level tour of the United States of Amazon… The individual stories in Fulfillment are chilling . . . The book is also the story of a political system captivated by the idea that what is good for Amazon is good for America. — James Kwak, The Washington Post

Alec MacGillis practices journalism with ambition, tenacity, and empathy that will command your awe. Like one of the great nineteenth-century novels, Fulfillment studies a social ill with compelling intimacy and panoramic thoroughness. In the process, Jeff Bezos’s dominance and its costs are made real–and it becomes impossible to one-click again the same. — Franklin Foer, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of World Without Mind

And, this:

Anyone who orders from Amazon needs to read these moving and enraging stories of how one person’s life savings, one life’s work, one multigenerational tradition, one small business, one town after another, are demolished by one company’s seemingly unstoppable machine. They are all the more enraging because Alec MacGillis shows so clearly how things could have been different. — Larissa MacFarquhar, staff writer at The New Yorker and author of Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help

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SIX BRAND NEW BOOKS: “Freeing Jesus” by Diana Butler Bass, “Reparations” by Duke Kwon & Gregory Thompson, “Uprooted” by Grace Olmstead, “Recovering the Lost Art of Reading” by Leland Ryken & Glenda Mathes, “Emotionally Healthy Discipleship” by Peter Scazzaro, “Hinge Moments” by Michael Lindsay. ALL 20% OFF.

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 cowritten 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.

It is VERY helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship them. Although we can’t say exactly since each order’s weight and destination varies, you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide. It’s your call, folks. PLEASE LET US KNOW.

  • USPS has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.25.
  • USPS has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.00 for one or two books and that gets more attention than does “media mail.”
  • UPS is more reliable but about $8.00 for one book or two to most places.

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ORDER “A Burning in Our Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson” by Winn Collier ON SALE NOW – 20% OFF

Whew, that last BookNotes — the newsletter/blog/book review column from our Hearts & Minds Bookstore here in central Pennsylvania — was a delight to send out and was apparently enjoyed by many of our subscribers. Thanks for the encouraging notes.

There was that link to our admittedly limited and temporary spiffy new e-commerce website that we called the Jubilee Bookstore because it was a platform designed to supplement that big conference on the grand story of the gospel and how it effects every area of life. Designed firstly for college students, it has over 50 categories of books — art, science, education, nursing, politics, social action, spirituality, church life, engineering, business, sports, and more — easy to order with a automatic shopping cart and easy-peasy media mail shipping costs all figured out for you. More efficiently slick then our usual style here at our old-school website from our old-school bricks and mortar, small town shop.

And there were those 15 reviews of 15 brand new books. From the must-read Dear Doctor by Marilyn McEntyre to the powerful The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell to the latest Anne Lamotte (Dusk, Night, Dawn) to the new Broadleaf edition of Padraig O’Tuama’s beautiful In the Shelter to the notable companion to the PBS series, The Black Church by Henry Louis Gates, and the new release of a collection of old Eugene Peterson sermons (preached during Lent in 1984 at Christ Our King) that BookNotes offered some great, great titles for your consideration.

One little sidebar, though, added as an after-though, almost, to that list of recent titles, was really noticed. It was just this, in eye-catching blue:

We are still taking PRE-ORDERS for Winn Collier’s forthcoming, authorized biography of Eugene Peterson which releases March 23, 2021. It is called A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (Waterbrook Press) $28.00. Our SALE PRICE = $22.40.

And so, here, again, is a reminder to order this now. (Just click on the link at the bottom of the page which will take you to our secure order form page. Enter your info and we’ll take it from there, shipping them March 23rd, as soon as they become available.)

A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson by Winn Collier (Waterbrook Press) $28.00

OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

RELEASING 3-23-21

We reviewed this forthcoming biography of “Pastor Pete” by our friend Winn Collier initially in a BookNotes early last fall inviting folks to pre-order it, back when we thought it was to be released in November. (You can read that review here.)

We announced it again, later, noting that due to Covid, the new publication date was March 2021. (In that review we also highlighted a lovely book co-authored by Eugene and one of his sons, Eric, who himself is a Presbyterian pastor in Washington state. That book was a lovely set of letters exchanged back and forth between father and son about the nature of the pastoral vocation and stuff about serving the church well. (You can read that review here.)

And we mentioned A Burning in My Bones in passing in another list or two over these long, hard, Covid months. It has given us all something to look forward to, eh? This authorized biography of Eugene Peterson is, no doubt, one of the best and most anticipated books of 2021.

I want to keep this fairly brief for those wanting to pre-order the book now, so won’t say too much more. I trust you know that Peterson was considered one of the most important religious writers of our time, thoughtful, learned, but down to Earth; no-nonsense about church and discipleship. He didn’t like formulas or cheap faith or anything glitzy. He was awkward even about his fame. Peterson was a Presbyterian pastor for many years in Bel Air, Maryland, translated (or, as his publishers insisted saying, paraphrased) the entire Bible into what is known as The Message. He wrote numerous others books, including some of my personal, all-time favorites. He was a writer in residence for a year at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and then he taught at Regent College, an amazingly good graduate school in Vancouver, British Columbia. That got him back closer to his beloved Montana where he retired with Jan, hiking and birdwatching and writing and praying — and reading. What a reader he was! (We know this because he was a loyal Hearts & Minds customer, sending us orders via fax back before he gave in to email. Often he’d call, with his deep and gruff voice. In the collection of letters to his son that I mentioned above (Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son) he has a paragraph or two telling Eric about a book he was enjoying. We had recommended that very book to him and he got it from us and I was so glad, here, years later, to see our little bookselling efforts paying off as he spread the word about good authors, fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction.

Biographer Winn Collier was deeply influenced by Peterson. Winn did a PhD in American literature at UVA on the great Wendell Berry (who Peterson and I talked about on occasion) in part because Eugene encouraged him to do so. Winn wrote a very creative and fabulous novel, himself, called Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church, published by Eerdmans ($16.99) — written as a series of letters by a down-to-Earth, almost cranky older pastor who grows to love his small-town, small congregation. Eugene Peterson called it a tour de force and exclaimed that it captured things about the church and a pastor better than anything he had ever read!

Winn’s earliest books were paraphrases of classic writing, too, channelling for us the deep contemplative spiritually of the likes of older mystics like Francois Fenelon. No wonder Peterson liked him so.

I say this to assure you that I can hardly think of anyone better suited to putting pen to paper (and before that, the ear to the phone, and car on the road, interviewing hundreds of people from Peterson’s past, tracking down archival stuff, going over letters and papers from his earlier days, etc. etc. etc. doing the primary research with lively curiosity and reverence.) Jan (who died a year after Eugene) and the Peterson kids, all grown now, of course, have affirmed Winn as the authorized biographer and we are very glad to commend his own integrity and insight and wit and faith as the sort who would “get” Reverend Eugene Peterson, “Pastor Pete.”

When I had the great privilege of reading an early version of this I was taken with how some of the prose resembled Peterson’s own. I doubt that that was intentional. The other day I read a page or two out loud to Beth (a passage about how understanding Montana is important to understand the man) and we both felt it was so good it nearly took our breath away. The book has charm and substance, it is a good read, as we say, and really insightful. Knowing something about the life and formation, the work and ministry, the legacy and love of this man from Montana, is a delight as is reading any good biography, of course. But because the subject is himself so interesting and thoughtful and faithful in ways that are needed now, I think reading A Burning in My Bones will be a deeply influential and transformative experience for some of us. We invite you to enter into the story, learn about Peterson’s childhood and young adult life, his ministry and writing, his older life and times, and revel in the beautiful, artful prose.

I could tell you just a bit more about Petersons life (and reading habits!) and that we stock all of his books, here. But telling that tale is a privilege and duty given by God to Winn Collier. Tolle Lege, as Peterson sometimes said, quoting Saint Augustine. Pick up and read!

The book releases March 23rd. Our sale price at 20% off makes it $22.40.

If you click on the link below it will take you to our secure order form page. As we say there, it is secure so you can safely enter credit card information. Tell us how you want it sent and we’ll take it from there, doing the discount and enclosing the receipt in the package. OR you can ask for us to just send you a bill so you can pay by check later. That works for us.

We can send the book to another person if you’d like — if it’s a gift, we can gift wrap it for free and tuck in a little note saying who its from. Just let us know how we can help. It would be our pleasure, especially this time around, with A Burning in My Bones.

Please don’t forget to tell us how you’d like us to ship your order. As a basic guideline, for one book, anyway, here are some options.

  • USPS has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheap but slow and probably delayed. That’s $3.25. Ever since the former President cut the budget for the USPS they are understaffed and slower than ever.
  • USPS has “Priority Mail” which is about $7.00 and that gets more attention than does “media mail.” Both can be delayed since USPS is struggling, but it might be faster.
  • UPS is more reliable these days but about $8.00 for one book to most places.

+ + +

If you would like to be part of a very special celebration of the book — an on-line, virtual book launch party — we’d invite you to register for the event with Winn Collier, Eric Peterson, and Liz Vice (an amazing African American vocalist and artist who we have noticed on the great Porters Gate worship albums.) It is being called “An Evening with Eugene, Story and Song” and we hope you can join in at 8:00 EST on Tuesday evening, March 23rd.

REGISTER HERE.

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15 BRAND NEW BOOKS from HEARTS & MINDS BOOKSTORE — ON SALE, 20% OFF.

The last BookNotes column was important and we hope you saw it.

We described a brand new (perhaps temporary) Hearts & Minds online e-commerce website.

This new web-based, curated bookstore clearly does NOT show all of our in-store inventory (not even close) but it DOES offer a handful of good suggestions in about FIFTY categories of books! Wow.

From church life to politics, from the arts to science, from global issues to medical care, from spirituality to racial justice, from theology to popular culture, and more (a lot more — forty-plus categories more) this custom curated e-commerce site is a good indication of much of what we’re about here at the shop.

It was designed for students and adults taking in the CCOs virtual Jubilee 2021 conference, so there is a bit of particular connection there. (The books of Jubilee speakers like Tish Harrison Warren, Jon Tyson, Ashlee Eiland and Justin McRoberts, are highlighted and we show the books that I described in four jam-packed book talks that aligned with the themes of the four major Jubilee talks – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.)

All of the other titles shown are great – it is why we picked them. Some are more basic, other more complex, and our annotations, as always, try to inform book lovers about the style and strengths of each. Most are overtly religious, some less so. It was a lot of work putting it all together and we’re not sure how long we’ll keep it up as is, so you really ought to check it out.

In that last BookNotes we offered a 10% off PROMO CODE for anyone ordering in that convenient shopping cart platform.

If you’d rather order at our more standard, personal website at our usual website order form page, you can do that, too. Just mention that you saw whatever you’ve selected at our J Bookstore site and we’ll give you the discount.

Spread the word, won’t you? I think I can pretty confidently say you’ve never seen this mix of titles and this scope of topics in any bookstore, ever. As we’ve said boldly to some, we think it will blow your mind seeing theological books on everything from farming to racial justice, from science to film, from prayer to politics, from counseling to church, from worship to work.

HERE IT IS.

https://heartsandmindsbooks.square.site/

NOW. A LIST OF BRAND NEW BOOKS for MARCH 2021

Here are reviews of brand new books that we’ve mostly gotten in since we’ve last written. Man, the new titles just keep coming and we are thrilled to be able to say we’ve got stacks of these, waiting for you to order. These, shown below, are all 20% off.

In the Shelter: Finding Home in the World Padraig O Tuama (Broadleaf Books) $19.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This is surely one of the season’s most highly anticipated books, at least in some circles, since the author became an overnight sensation with the NPR poetry podcast which he hosted launched a year ago. We had an earlier version of this as an import from the UK  – Padraig O Tuama lives in Northern Ireland in a spirituality and peace-making community called Corrymeela and we’ve stocked his other books such as Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community and the poetry collection Sorry for Your Troubles. We’ve long been fans and have friends that know him. (And – get this! – we have his brand new co-authored reflections on the book of Ruth called Borders and Belonging: The Book of Ruth: A Story for our Times [Canterbury Press; $20.99.])

But this new US edition? Fantastic! It is just such a richly written book offering luminous reflections, short essays, prayers, and poems that will invite you to become more generous and open and kind. As David Dark says, “Receive his holy vision immediately and as often as possible.”

This handsome new North American edition is a compact sized paperback with deckled edges and textured paperback. It sports a fabulous endorsing quote from U2’s The Edge and, inside, includes a new chapter, a new poem, and a new foreword by Krista Tippett. This is what a beautiful, quality paperback can be like, offering both style and substance. Ar dóigh

Dear Doctor: What Doctors Don’t Ask, What Patients Need to Say  Marilyn McEntyre (Broadleaf Books) $16.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

You surely know how much we esteem the literary musings of Marilyn McEntyre, from classics like Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies and When Poets Pray to her lovely, little new Lenten hardback, Where the Eye Alights: Phrases for the Forty Days of Lent. As we’ve said in other BookNotes reviews, Marilyn teaches literature – poetry, novels, memoirs, and the like – in a med school. Yep, reading novels and poems (including about illness and loss) can make health care providers better at their jobs. She loves doctors and loves helping them be more empathetic and present to their patients.

Dear Doctor is her brand new book, which is, among other things, about being a more candid and assertive patient. It is an honest call for health care that is more humane by being more patient-centered. The first wonderful “letter” in this set of letters is addressing the awkwardness we all feel sitting half naked and cold before a doc who most likely isn’t looking at us (but staring at his device.) McEntyre is frank and bold and honest and at times funny and writes gloriously. One reviewer mentioned her great agility in exploring these many facets of the doctor-patient relationship; another says these letters are wise, yet another says it simply: the book is inspiring.

I can’t tell you how much I agree, how excited we are to see this make its way into the world, how so very appreciative we are of her speaking some important truths to these important public servants who too often are less respectful as they might be to their vulnerable clients.

Marilyn McEntyre’s Dear Doctor: What Doctors Don’t Ask, What Patients Need to Say moved me to tears for my own complicated reasons but mostly because we are so very, very glad such a eloquent, thoughtful, and good little book exists. Buy a few and share them widely, with health care providers and patients you may know.

The Gravity of Joy: A Story of Being Lost and Found Angela Williams Gorrell (Eerdmans) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

Speaking of crying through a book, this is brand new and I’m only part way through it, but it is beautiful, human, deeply faithful, really tragic, and yet beautifully hopeful.

Here’s the very short version – a quick summary that doesn’t do its eloquence and profundity justice: Ms Gorrell is a great writer and energetic, young teacher with a recent PhD who gets hired by the wonderful Miroslov Volf to be part of a Yale research team studying human joy. With a good grant, their Joy Project was connected to the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and just before she was set to start teaching a class (on what makes life worth living) a beloved young adult relative took his own life. Reeling from that tragedy, another young adult nephew died from an unexpected health matter. The night before teaching her first class ever at Yale she got the phone call that her opioid-addicted father was slipping away. She faced three horrible deaths in less than a month while starting to research what bring joys and human flourishing. Can you imagine?

This heavy memoir about depression and addiction and grief and loss and struggle and hope doesn’t seem to have a false line in it. The exuberant forward by Volf made me want to pick the book up immediately; he honors her and it is itself very touching. In The Gravity of Joy Gorrell is honest about the troubles in her family – the first several chapters includes much about her previously vibrant, lawyer father and her faith-filled upbringing. Even as she tells her story, she weaves other insights gathered from the interviews done by the Joy Project team and while it is grave, it is captivating and sad.

And then she starts telling the stories of the women she met while doing a Bible study in a prison. Oh, my. Wow.

As Parker Palmer puts in on the back, “There is not spiritual cheerleading here, no cheap grace.”

This powerful read has gotten some stunning reviews. I love these moving recommendations by important, thoughtful folks.

A searingly honest, devastatingly painful, profoundly wise — and beautiful — book. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. Angela Gorrell is a scholar with the courage of the most authentic memoirist. She generously and unflinchingly brings the theological discussion of the most sublime subject–joy–right into the middle of the mess of life and lets it unfold in surprising and wondrously disrupting ways. — Tod Bolsinger author of Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change

The Gravity of Joy is a story of hope in hard times. Angela Gorrell artfully tells her story of faith, pain, and joy. She weaves it with the stories of others–family, women she met in prison Bible study, students, travelers, she met on her journey. And she shares a truth that perhaps is discovered only by those who have faced love and loss — especially those society has used and abused, denied dignity to in life and death: that joy comes in the mourning. I encourage all who hunger for justice, peace, acceptance, and comfort to read this book. In its pages you will find beautiful prose and hope that even in the darkest of spaces, places, and times — through addiction, suicide, sudden death, prison, abuse, and despair — love reigns, truth reigns, joy reigns. — Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A Call for National Revival and author of Always With Us?

The Gravity of Joy is a unique exercise in vulnerable theology. Weaving memoir and journalism, theology and testimony, Gorrell invites us into the unthinkable to discover the possibility of a joy that surpasses understanding. Written with eyes wide open, this book is a reminder that the cracks in a broken heart can be openings for grace. — James K. A. Smith, author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine

Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Speaking of hope and joy in the midst of suffering. Did anybody see Tim Keller on “Morning Joe” the other day? One of our staff said he talked about seeing the colors of the river in new ways given his different pace of life and attentiveness with his serious cancer diagnosis. He had a brilliant piece about living with such a diagnosis in The Atlantic last week and he alludes to writing this new book, Hope in Times of Fear.

It is, as you might guess, a fairly intellectual, but yet nicely written and impeccably clear argument for the bodily resurrection of Christ. It offers an apologetic, some cultural analysis, at one point tells some of his own story, including 12 chapters offering different sorts and descriptions of hope. There is certain hope, future hope, glorious hope, subversive hope, hope for relationships, hope for justice, hope in the face of suffering, and more.

His description of “the great reversal” – our sinful condition replaced with God’s gracious goodness, darkness to light, mourning to dancing — is solid and inspiring. I have not read much of this but surely, surely will. I am sure you know someone who needs this persuasive case for the implications of orthodox belief on the things that matter most.

I jumped ahead and read the intriguing epilogue, which riffs on a favorite song of mine, Noel Paul Stookey’s “Building Block” which takes its cue from Psalm 118 about the stone that is rejected becoming the cornerstone “of a whole new world.” Keller shifts to a Psalm of lament asking if the dead can praise? Ahh, yes, because of the rejected one and the “great reversal” we indeed surely can. It is a tender and wise and realistic meditation closing a must-read, wonderfully important book for our own fearful times. Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter is highly recommended.

This Hallelujah Banquet: How the End of What We Were Reveals Who We Can Be Eugene H. Peterson (Waterbrook Press) $18.00                      OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I have read only one chapter in this recent volume, but I can tell you two quick things about the book – and that is really all I need to say. These are sermons preached in the 1980s by our late friend Eugene Peterson at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, MD. It was a Lenten series Pastor Pete did in 1984, actually, and the editors assure us they did not edit them much at all.

There is one extra long introductory sermon that was pieced together from another source – sounds like the formation of the canon, almost (ha!) This late edition rounds out the book very nicely and is so seamlessly integrated one might not know it was preached later in Peterson’s life, and not to his late 20th century suburban Maryland parish.

I’m sure you are hearing good sermons this Lent. (Well, I’m hoping you’re hearing good sermons.) Most preachers work hard and do pretty well. But even most pastors know that some are exquisitely gifted at preaching (and that some are able to work harder at it than others.) Your preachers will not be offended if you commit to reading a few more well crafted sermons this season. Rev. Peterson wasn’t a very fancy preacher nor a spectacular communicator. He read his sermons; he was a Presbyterian for God’s sake. But he had a gift and he stewarded it well. And these sermons were offered for God’s sake, as part of weekly worship, to inspire and instruct his ordinary, gathered flock. Maybe you, too, need some substance and good sermons this season — not glitz or drama or spectacle, just no-nonsense, beautifully constructed, Bible preaching. This Hallelujah Banquet could be a real lifeline for you.

And here is the second thing you should know: these sermons are on the book of Revelation. Yep. You may know that Peterson went on a few years later to write a pretty remarkable set of reflections (not exactly a commentary) on the Apocalypse of Saint John called Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. I suppose that good book had its genesis in these very sermons. We are glad that have made their way into a new Peterson book this year of our Lord 2021.

Oh, and a third thing I should note – there is a great reflection/study guide in the back (even with blank pages for journaling.) The editors explained how Peterson disapproved of anything formulaic or suggesting simplistic answers or forced spirituality, so they are careful to invite folks to pray and discern God’s voice to them in their own setting and context. It’s a nice touch for This Hallelujah Banquet.

ALSO: We are still taking PRE-ORDERS for Winn Collier’s forthcoming, authorized biography of Peterson which releases March 23, 2021. It is called A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (Waterbrook Press; $28.00. Our SALE PRICE = $22.40.)

 

The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton Sophfronia Scott (Broadleaf Books) $17.99                              OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I am very interested in the writings of Thomas Merton and have read my fair share. But I think I am even more interested in books about the New York/Kentucky monk, about those who have encountered Merton, those who have read him, those who have grappled with him. You may recall that I did an extended review a year or so ago of the fabulously interesting The Monk’s Record Player by Robert Hudson which was about Merton’s fascination with Bob Dylan circa 1966; I have given shout outs to the remarkable report of a pivotal weekend with Merton called Pursuing the Spiritual Roots of Protest: Merton, Berrigan, Yoder, and Muste at the Gethsemani Abbey Peacemakers Retreat by Gordon Oyer. I often recommend one edited by Jon Sweeney called What I Am Living for: Lessons from the Life and Writings of Thomas Merton (although Sweeney has a new introduction to Merton coming in April.)

But this new one, The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with… – by a heck of a great writer, an African American woman living in New York as Merton once did – may be the best of this kind. I was immediately captivated by what was going to be a quick skim and I spent much of last Sunday afternoon listening in as Sophfronia dialogues, through her writing, across the decades, with Fr. Thomas. What a book. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote the great foreword and she says “The beauty of this book is that [Scott and Merton’s] intimate conversations open outward to include anyone listening in, confident that what is deeply true about any of us is deeply true about all of us.”

Other back-cover endorsements include a rave review by Dr. Willie James Jennings and Patricia Raybon. Ms.Raybon is right – “If you know Thomas Merton you must now know Sophfronia Scott.”

Kudos to Broadleaf for doing so many good books lately, and designing them so very nicely. This is a lovely, well-done book and we are grateful.

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $17.00                             OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

At long last! Finally! Hooray! This great book has been a fairly expensive (and, I might add, a bit plain-looking) hardback since 2006. That’s fifteen years I’ve been waiting to tell you that this is now in an affordable paperback. And, happily, this brand new paperback is pretty nifty looking. The letters are embossed just a bit, as is the bit of greenery on the front. The font is good and the white cover is bright. It is a better looking book in paperback than the hardback was.

The material, though, is the same — stellar and, as you’d expect, wonderfully written. It is a somewhat more foundational book with the solid themes Wright has picked up again in his recent (marvelous) Broken Signpost: How Christianity Makes Sense of the World. If you liked that one – and it is brilliant! — you will very much appreciate this as its necessary prequel.

The point, as you may know, is that, not unlike Mere Christianity (that doesn’t play so well these days with younger readers) there are things in our daily experiences – our longings, our hopes – that are so real they must be there for some purpose the are signals of transcendence. We sense voices calling (for meaning, for beauty, for justice, to be loved) and that echo of a voice that we seemed wired for just might be coming from God. Something about our experience of the creation just might be a signpost pointing to a Creator. Perhaps those deep questions and longings could be answered by the Biblical story. This is Wright’s effort to help modern skeptics in our secular age see the plausibility for the truthfulness of the gospel story. Simply Christian is persuasive and speaks to the heart and the mind; it invites us to a deeply personal faith that has cultural significance. It is, as one reviewer wrote, “a rigorous and mind-expanding explanation of the essence of Christianity.”

We are so glad to finally be able to announce this as a brand new paperback, handsome and as thoughtful as ever. Highly recommended.

The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Penguin Press) $30.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

There are so many resources coming out throughout the year to help us all learn more about the experience of non-white folks in America and with Black History Month each year, there is even more. Although we think it is important to continue to feature books that chip away and help us learn and learn again about how to be anti-racist (and you know we have a lot!) this new book on the history of the black church is a treasure, a gem, a masterpiece. For another customer recently I made a list of the best books we had or knew of about the history of the African American church and I named some standards and some favorites and one or two that I think are really important. But this? This! This is the one!

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an important and rather charming public intellectual whose good books should be well known. He has made films and is known for his recent foray into genealogy as shown in his “Finding Your Roots” TV show. He is a distinguished professor at Harvard and prolific author and his last book – it came out about a year ago in paperback – was Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin; $20.00.) The brand new one, The Black Church is simply the best book on the subject and it is happily a delightful companion to the much-acclaimed PBS documentary.

Literary world advanced press on this was very favorable. Some of these are from journals that don’t always or easily give out “starred” reviews and such kudos:

Readers of American religious and African American history will not want to miss this title. — Library Journal

Through meticulous research and interviews . . . Gates paints a compelling portrait of the church as a source of ‘unfathomable resiliency’ for Black ancestors as well as the birthplace of so many distinctly African American aesthetic forms. . . .Powerful, poignant, and ultimately celebratory. Let the church say, ‘Amen!’                                   —Kirkus (starred review)

A brisk and insightful look at how the Black church has succored generations of African Americans against white supremacy. . . . Punctuated by trenchant observations from Black historians and theologians, Gates’s crisp account places religious life at the center of the African American experience.  — Publishers Weekly

And then, there are these reviews by Gates colleagues and sometimes conversation partners, two other esteemed black public intellectuals, Cornel West and Eddie Glaude.

Read these:

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has once again delved deep into the doings and sufferings of Black people in the USA! This time he gives us a rich story and riveting song of the profound forms of spirituality and musicality that sustained Black sanity and dignity. Although Gates rightly highlights the centrality of the ambiguous legacy of the Black Church, he also explores the crucial realities of Islam and other non-Christian religious practices. And the last powerful and playful chapter on his personal dance with an elusive Holy Ghost lays bare his own signifying genius grounded in a genuine love of Black people and culture! — Cornel West, author Why Race Matters

Absolutely brilliant — a book that should spark a very rich conversation within the field and echo far beyond it. Its reckoning with the Holy Ghost in the context of Gates’s own childhood is extraordinary. More than a wonderful synthesis of a deep literature about Black Christendom, it is a necessary reminder of where the Black community has found its strength to persevere, and to fight, and where it must find it still. Not least, Gates shows us that sacred music has never just been music; it is a taproot and a through-line across all of American history. A necessary and moving work.                    –Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., author of Begin Again

Texting Through Cancer: Ordinary Moments of Community, Love, and Healing Jan Woodard (Upper Room Books) $17.99                              OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

When I heard not long ago that this book was about to come out I was so glad, and was particularly happy to hear it was being done by the reflective, spiritual publishing house arm the famous The Upper Room ministry. They always do a good job with their good books, and we were grateful to God that this book would be nicely published.

You see, Jan Woodard is the mother of an old friend, a good friend from the same town where I went to college – the home of classic actor Jimmy Stewart; Indiana, Pennsylvania. I believe we met more than once at some Christian conference or another and when we heard that Jan was sick and writing a set of columns for her local paper – the Indiana Gazette – we were somehow touched. That someone would use their cancer for the sake of others, to tell her story, to artfully write about her journey, is naturally touching. That it was somebody we felt an even small connection to was meaningful. That it was somebody who was a good writer and frank about it all makes it great.

Jan signed all her columns about her cancer story with the famous “All will be well” line from Julian of Norwich. Not bad for a small-town, Pennsylvanian, United Methodist, eh? To be clear, this isn’t a superficial hope or trendy sentiment, as Jan studied contemplative spirituality during these years, her suffering became a catalyst for her deeper discipleship and her move into a cohort of fellow-travelers who studied monastic spirituality, went on pilgrimages (even to Iona!), embraced Celtic practices, and more. Her telling about learning these things isn’t mystical or deep, just very plainly and nicely explained, tinged always with the vexing unknowns of her breast cancer.

Writing shifted her focus to others, we are told. It kept her from feeling sorry for herself. It helped her move from fear to faith.

As it says on the back Texting Through Cancer “shares the beauty Woodard discovered in ordinary moments and the peace found in surrendering her cancer to God.” She lived to know that the manuscript was at the publishers and was glad to know her texts become newspaper columns would bless people worldwide as they did in Indiana. When her husband called the shop the other day I got off the phone and prayed through sadness and ended up glad that this book was on its way. It’s going to bless others and remind us all that “all shall be well.”

Dusk Night Dawn: On Revival and Courage Anne Lamott (Riverhead) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I have said it before – we adore St. Anne’s honesty, her faith born of struggle and addiction and sorrow, her joy. We love her creativity and her upbeat spirit. She’s kind and wants to be kinder and she is spiritual and wants to walk in grace more consistently. She tells these things in fun and clever ways making her one of the great wordsmiths of our time. Man, can she turn a phrase. And make me laugh. Beth, too. What a storyteller! She is a novelist as well, but her fiction is no match for her memoiristic, true stories, which make me verklempt and chortle within the same few pages.

Like her others Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, or Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, Lamott is working on these questions of how to have personal hope amidst much loss and grief and how to help repair the world itself. What’s that saying about it’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark? Well, she does a bit of both, and better than many of us. Her books are a delight and nicely religious in a bohemian kind of offbeat way. And did I say she can tell a story and turn a phrase? This looks like a great book, handsome, solid, interesting. I’m sure many of her fans will snap it up and start reading it as a Lenten read. Do it!

God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World Andrew Wilson (Zondervan) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

When this first was being described in a pre-publication catalogue that we booksellers get, I misunderstood a bit. I thought it was mostly a book about finding God in the ordinary things of life, a spirituality of the ordinary. There are a lot of books like that and we love ‘em. We even have a sub-section of our spirituality shelves about the spirituality of the quotidian and ordinary. And in a way, this book’s title and subtitle would lead you to believe it is just that.

I suppose we will put one in that section but, really, the subtitle is a bit misleading. It is less about experiencing God as we walk in God’s creation, but learning about God in ordinary earthly metaphors in the Bible. And that is done very well. As Hannah Anderson – who did write a book about finding God’s glory in nature, called The Turning of Days — writes on the back “From rainbows to donkeys to everyday tools, this is a delightful primer in learning how to truly see things for what they are.” Or, as Collin Hansen of The Gospel Coalition says, this book “weaves biblical theology with everyday illustrations.”

Hanson and Anderson both promise that we won’t see ordinary stuff in the same way again, we will see things for what they really are. I’m not so sure about that, as I believe that in God’s world, things are what they are; creatures; Psalm 199:91 says all things are servants of the Lord. (Which is why I love the title about a faith-infused worldview for farming by Joel Salatin called – get this! – The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs.) The Bible exalts the creation itself as praising God and the creation narrative reminds us that God called his stuff “good.” We don’t have to spiritualize things or have them point us to God in order to appreciate them. They just do it in their very thingness and we can enjoy them as they are. Plato was wrong that this world is some shadowy cave and we need to get to the really real. The Christian Science cult teaches that and in a way Buddhism teaches that. It was a heresy of the early church (Gnosticism) that failed to affirm the essential realness of the real. But we Christians sing “This is Our Father’s World” – right?

Okay, I’ll admit, I’m getting a little arcane here, maybe pressing a distinction without much of a difference. Which is why although I don’t think this book is quite so much about finding God in the world, it does, in a very important way, help us do that.

You see, God of All Things is mostly about what the Bible says about certain things. Every chapter is a great teaching about something in the Bible that the Bible itself tells us points us to God. So, to be honest, unlike, say, Hannah Anderson’s book or any number of other “spirituality of the ordinary” reflections, I don’t so much want to go out and see God’s good world after reading a chapter of God of All Things, I want to read another chapter and learn more about what the Bible says, its colorful images, its creational metaphors, its honey and gardens and pigs and sex and stones as pointers to God in the text. In a way, the editors got the subtitle of this book backwards – it is, by my lights, about “rediscovering the everyday world in the sacred story.”

So each chapter is about a thing described in the Bible and something it teaches us about God.

And that, my friends is a great project. After spending a few hours doing this kind of Bible learning — seeing the wonderful ways the Bible speaks of the “things of God” – the things! — we just might be able to go out into the world of things and encounter them anew. This isn’t a spirituality of natural history or even creational theology. It is Biblical theology about the character of God and God’s ways as revealed in ordinary things. And for that, we are grateful and recommend this sturdy study. As Duke Kwon says of it, it is “a tour of delight! Read God of All Things and you will be certain to grow in godward worship and childlike wonder.”

Sensing God: Experience the Divine in Nature, Food, Music, and Beauty Joel Clarkson (NavPress) $15.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

If you tracked much with my conversation above – the strengths of God of All Things and my take on the misleading subtitle – this one by theology student and lit lover Joel Clarkson is more perfectly in the genre of what I sometimes call “the spirituality of the ordinary.” While Andrew Wilson helps nudge us – heck, it’s a holy push – to see God’s declaration in Scripture that things reveal things about Himself and to learn to read the Bible with an eye to how it helps us reframe our daily perception of the stuff of life, Joel Clarkson takes us right, smack-dab, into the wonder and mess and goodness of this life, experienced with our senses. As he says, “So much of our faith is lived out in our heads. We study the Bible, sit through sermons, pray with our eyes closed. All of these are good things. A healthy Christian life, however, goes beyond these essentials.”

Yes! If as young Mr. Clarkson insists (based on the Bible’s own teaching – his theological orientation is similar to Wilsons, actually) “the glory of God is woven into the world” and we can experience it with our senses, then the very goodness of God is waiting to be tasted and seen in everything around us. We need to get our noses out of the Book a bit and into life, abundant life.

As our friend Marlena Graves (author most recently of The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself) writes of it:

“Refreshing. Restoring. Reorienting. Clarkson accentuates the good, true, and beautiful in the reality of our lives and in creation, beckoning us to stop, look, listen, taste, touch, and hear for ourselves — to experience our triune God and the Kingdom with our whole being. The book itself is a feast because it is steeped in God’s life. It is true and elicits joy. Through it, I have beheld God. It is a book for such a time as this, and I couldn’t be gladder for it. I highly recommend it and look forward to more from Clarkson!                   — Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up Is Down

Abstract painter and Christian thinker and author Makoto Fujimura wrote the foreword, which speaks volumes about its substantive aesthetic and its vision. Listen to this line for the foreword:

In a world where many acts of violence are called sense-less, this book lights the path toward a senses-full experience, now a necessary condition toward healing our fractured culture.          — Makoto Fujimura, author of Art + Faith: A Theology of Making

Ashley Hales is an author we respect and her book Finding Holy in the Suburbs asks vital and lively questions about finding lifestyles of grace and beauty in the shadow of Costco and cul-de-sacs. And she is onto something, something like natural theology or common grace or a spirituality of the ordinary in the built environment. It didn’t surprise me how she resonated with Sensing God. Ms. Hales writes:

Both creation and the Incarnation show that God cares deeply about the stuff of earth. The problem is that most of us neglect capturing wonder in favor of productivity, efficiency, and hurry. Helping his readers develop a robust vocabulary of Christian imagination, Joel Clarkson gives us a feast for our senses. Theologically rooted, artistically curious, and reflective, Sensing God can help us learn again how to taste and see that the Lord is good.     — Ashley Hales, author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs

The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship Daniel K. Williams (Eerdmans) $27.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

This is a biggee. A big book and an important book. I hardly have to explain it as who doesn’t long for a more civil, collaborative, heart of democracy that sees public service less in terms of which party wins but about whether the common good flourishes and public justice is enacted. The Bible is very clear about the demand for public life and insists that justice is one of the great attributes of God and one of the great values God wants built into the structures of human cultures. Government comes to mind, obviously, but in all of social life, God desires justice. And things now in our culture – partisanship, hostility, inane posturing, disinformation, conspiracies, conflict, deceit – are not just or good.

I have written passionately about the need for enacting the Biblical principle of developing the mind of Christ and the holy habit of “thinking Christianly” to shape our views of politics and our convictions about public life.

Too many of us vote inspired by principles and ideas inherited (wrongly or rightly) from the secular world, from an unwise diet of being exclusively informed by Fox News or CNN. We haven’t taken the time to study up on what the Bible says and what the best Biblical interpreters and teachers have said, about the nature of the state, the role of the government, the flourishing of the commonwealth, the different kinds of justice, each needed for the common good. We may even care about values other than justice when it comes to politics (like liberty, say, or having low taxes, say, or being a global leader or militarily strong or the meaning provider for the citizenry even though the Bible doesn’t not teach those things about the task of the government.) It is why we raved about Kaitlyn Schies’s The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor (IVP; $17.00) which asks what sort of attitudes and habits we’ve developed about civic life and asks how we were shaped into these ways. It is so, so good!

To encourage responsible and faithful Christian citizenship I’ve highlighted books like The Good of Politics by James Skillen and the heady Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis or the comprehensive process of how to do all this by Ronald Sider called Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement. I often tell people at least to start with the simple and clear, short and sweet The Political Disciple by Vincent Bacote. Each of these invites us to be Biblical people influenced by Christian thinking in light of the Bible, and each end up with some sort of hybrid, third-way, alternative vision that isn’t left or right or even on the charts of that unhelpful spectrum.

The Politics of the Cross by Daniel Williams (an academic American historian and an evangelical adult Sunday school teacher) is working this same ground and he does so with academic credentials and a passion to be a good citizen and good neighbor. He is a follower of Jesus before he is an American, and he is an American before he is red or blue or purple. With the Scriptural call to be agents of healing and hope and Jesus’ command to be a peacemaker, Williams sets himself not only to “think Christianly” and Biblically about the issues of contemporary politics, but he frames this effort guided by his hope to repair the breaches between Republicans and Democrats and to restore some civility and common sense about the common good. He does this consistently throughout the book making it a resource unlike any of seen.

Williams is eager to find common ground on bipartisan strategies and build a persuasive consensus on moving forward where we can. This book is detailed and brilliant and it has left me with much to consider. I will be revisiting The Politics of the Cross after my quick skim and studying it more carefully, pondering, praying, talking with others, maybe even changing my mind about some long-standing convictions. Who knows, maybe it is what you need, too?

If you are pretty partisan – I hope you know who you are — you need this book. If you are adamantly non-partisan and want to see ways to make civility and bridge-building more of a reality, you need this book. If you think common ground means mostly compromise and settling for less than what we most deeply believe, you really need to read this hopeful, principled, and realistic work. If you think that Christians can’t be simultaneously somewhat affirming and also seriously critical of both historical ideologies (left and right) and both current major parties, you’ve got to read his even-handed, sober, theological concerns about each party. Wow.

Please read these recommendations carefully. I think you might realize, especially given the crisis of our times, that this is book you should buy and study and share.

Daniel Williams is one of our finest historians of evangelicals and politics. In The Politics of the Cross, he draws on his previous works, but takes us even deeper into these issues through timely theological reflections on how evangelical Christians should engage in public life. His chapter on abortion alone is worth the price of the book.          — John Fea author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

We live in a time when far too often partisan politics and catchy slogans replace thoughtful Christian engagement. Fiery rhetoric is often detached from fair-minded assessment of the past and present. It occurs on both sides of the aisle. Thankfully we have people like Daniel K. Williams, who offers both the nuance of a historian and the concerns of one committed to the fullness of ancient Christian concerns. This book will at times surprise, but also hopefully inform and encourage, those seeking to more faithfully navigate the debates of our age.                                                                      — Kelly M. Kapic Covenant College, theologian

Partisanship in the United States has reached unsustainable levels. With characteristic care and earnestness, Daniel K. Williams proposes a practical and satisfying way forward for our national discourse that is deeply informed by history, Scripture, and Christian tradition. Operating from the assumption that church and state interests need not be at odds, and Democrats and Republicans need not be mortal enemies, Williams offers a needed voice of wisdom, compassion, and maturity to a nation that seems on the brink of moral, political, and spiritual collapse. If ever such a voice was needed in American civil discourse, it is now. And if ever there was an example of a Christian thinker for such a time as this, it is Daniel K. Williams.                                                   — John D. Wilsey The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea

The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently Amy-Jill Levine & Mark Zvi Brettler (HarperOne) $34.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99

Okay, I’ll admit that this one is not brand, brand new. It came out in the early winter, 2020, to be honest. But it has been sitting here stacked up in our Bible section and I’ve been itching to tell you about it. (We are glad a number of folks have inquired and called about it.) Alas, with Covid and the holidays and Jubilee and the hectic pace of the work here, I’ve just not gotten to read it. I have wanted to study up and weigh in, telling you my thoughts. But as Dana Carvey’s SNL caricature of George Bush went, “Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.”

But I will remind you that we have all of Amy-Jill’s books (including her other recent 2020 release, a well informed, six-chapter paperback, Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven, nicely published by Abingdon Press.) You most likely know her name and story.

Dr. Levine is a Jewish professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt, a Christian divinity school. She does not see herself as a Christian although she is respectfully knowledgeable, even passionate – some would say feisty — about, church history, Christian theology, and, especially, the gospels. She edited on Oxford University Press The Jewish Annotated New Testament.

Importantly, she knows that Jesus and his earliest followers understood His own Messianic claims. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, it is his title. Nobody who studies the gospels denies that Jesus said this about himself and that his earliest followers worshipped him as God and thanked him as Savior and obeyed him as King. They joined his movement to advanced His Kingdom, doing so by marshalling the Old Testament story of Israel, appropriating it, as we say.

And there is the rub. There is a difference between a Christian reading and interpretation of the Bible and a Jewish one. Professor Levine and her co-author, Duke Religion Professor Marc Zvi Brettler, are a great team to tackle this huge project.

The range of those raving about this on the back cover is itself remarkable. There are Jewish scholars, evangelical leaders, a Roman Catholic Jesuit scholar, and writers as diverse as Peter Enns and Richard Elliott Friedman.

I like Enns’ quote, in fact: who says it is a “call to action.” Jews and Christians embracing their own and one another’s interpretive heritage,” he says, “will foster greater understanding and respect.” Let us hope so.

Talking Back to Purity Culture: Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality Rachel Joy Welcher (IVP) $17.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

I do not want to say too much about this as I may revisit it when I do a longer essay I’ve been working on describing other books on sexuality, including some recent memoirs about sexual attraction and identity and better treatment of our LGBTQ siblings in Christ. There are a lot of diverse books coming out and some are very well written. More later.

For now, though, I want to highlight this very well-done book by Rachel Joy Welcher, a woman with a Master’s in lit (from the impressive St. Andrews), who is an editor at Fathom magazine and a published poet. She is doing something rather rare in this thoughtful book and it can be easily described. Like several other (often painful and important) books with stories of young people (usually women) left discouraged and wounded by the fundamentalist and evangelical fetish about sexual purity, she “pushes back” against what has come to be known as the previous evangelical world’s “purity culture.”

In the bookstore here and in the raising of our three kids we never felt comfortable with this overblown and often fear-based and shameful insistence on religious purity, since, well, since Jesus overturned most of the purity codes and touched sinful lepers who filled the faithful with disgust, women during menstruation, those who were, as we’ve learned to put it politely, sexually active. As much as we affirmed the standard Biblical teaching that intimate sexual expression is designed for marriage, the language of purity just drove me crazy. We never did the purity rings, the daughter-daddy dances, the constant haranguing about modesty, making an idol of virginity.

Not all evangelicals were so fascinated with this, but if books like Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay  Klein and the stories they tell are true, there are lots of lots of younger adults who have looked back and felt deeply uneasy, in some cases traumatized, by this sometimes public shaming with youth groups, church camps, Sunday school classes and those taking their cues from the increasingly right wing politics of Focus on the Family. Some, now, happily or unhappily married, resent the dumb promises their youth leaders guaranteed, that sexual abstinence in teen and college years would yield a great marriage and fantastic sex life later.

And here’s the thing: in many of these accounts, those who have moved on to a less strident approach to God’s good but fallen gift of human sexuality have left traditional Christian approaches almost all together. Or they have left Christianity all together. (That is the story of many in Klein’s Pure reporting and it is heartbreaking for those of us who think connection to the story of God in Jesus through the church is essential for normative human flourishing.) Many of those pushing-back in several books and a plethora of blogs and podcasts have not only called for refining how we think about sexuality but have often so deconstructed the faith that in some cases it is no longer tethered to the Biblical testimony at all, or not even Christian at all. As I’ve said, some have just walked away from this legalistic and shaming part of their upbringing, this judgmental ethos, leaving faith behind altogether.

(That the formerly heavy-handed Joshua Harris of Soverign Grace church, famous for the strict and in our view pretty stupid I Kissed Dating Goodbye has renounced his book, and has left his wife and Christianity, is just one very public example of the intensity and complications of this discussion.)

And this is what makes Rachel Joy Welcher’s new IVP book very, very useful for many. Agree or not with her fairly conventional sexual ethics, she is robust and firm in her reconsideration of purity culture, offering a gracious and culturally wise, compassionate and faithful approach instead of its weird strictures. It is fairly simple to say (as it does on the back cover) that Welcher’s Talking Back “rejects legalism and license alike” but what that looks like, what kind of path she charts, how she “steers us to the good news of Jesus” is complex, nuanced, and often beautiful. The book is really interesting and very well written. It is a book that is so valuable for those who want to critique and even renounce some of the former evangelical attitudes and habits without leaving the evangelical fold or a  Biblical orientation.

Most books on “purity” and modesty and the like that I’ve seen are in fact, either legalistic (if not even toxic) or pointing to what might be unhealthy license. Talking Back to Purity Culture: Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality is a balanced, gospel-centered, gracious and yet firmly orthodox view. She has listened well and studied the current literature. Talking Back to Purity Culture is well researched, it is solidly Biblical, and yet offers at least somewhat of a new approach. It will be “too much” for some, I fear, and “not enough” for others. Yet, there is nothing like it and we recommend it for your consideration.

Blurbs on the back offer rave reviews from Karen Swallow Prior, from Barnabas Piper, from Jessica Van Der Wyngaard (director of “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye” documentary.) These are voices that are not quite like, say, Linda Klein or Nadia Bolz-Weber’s passioante and moving Shameless: A Case for Not Feeling Bad about Feeling Good (about Sex.) These are main-stream, moderately conservative, culturally-savvy and gracious evangelicals who affirm this book for pushing them a bit and standing up to problems in the conservative sub-culture of the evangelical church.

Listen to these two remarkable affirmations of the book:

Impeccably researched, gently written, and a timely word for those who grew up kissing dating goodbye, wearing purity rings, attending abstinence rallies, and waiting (perhaps waiting still) for their ‘one.’ Welcher is deft in her exploration of what went right and what went wrong for the lives of millions of Christians-before marriage and after it-and she is careful in her admonition to future leaders and lovers. A needed and healing work.  — Lore Ferguson Wilbert, author of Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry

Talking Back to Purity Culture is saturated with gospel truth and clarity that confronts the overwhelmingly legalistic, shaming, and hopeless rubric of purity culture―especially the ways in which it blames young women for the sins of their brothers and fathers. Parents, and especially you moms, it’s time to speak the truth to your children about sexuality and to assure your daughters of their worth as created in God’s image. I’m thrilled to recommend this wonderful book.  — Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women

Remember, it is helpful if you tell us your shipping preferences when you order. Media Mail is cheapest but slow. (Just for instance, it’s $3.50 for one book.) UPS is more reliable, but costs more.  (Just guessing, but to most places for one or two books it’s about $8.00.) It depends,  course, on how many you are purchasing and to where we are shipping. If you want advanced details just ask and we’ll gladly figure it out for you ahead of time..

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A really short BookNotes with some big Hearts & Minds news. An exciting new temporary website, curated for Jubilee — and a PROMO CODE just for you

Yep, you read that right. Welcome to the 21st century Hearts & Minds.

Our old school, (but secure) order form page where you have to type in your own order and converse with us about shipping options is a bit clunky and inefficient — Neil Postman’s “loving resistance fighters against technopoly” that we are — does have, some say, some odd charm. We try to keep the personal touch and not give over our bookseller chat to automation. Just the other day somebody said Jeff Bezos never wrote to him to confirm an order. I wouldn’t know since I don’t know exactly how they work, but we have created a bit of a brand, as they say, out of being homespun, earnest, and low tech.

Alas, kids today. And Covid.

We always sell books at the annual collegiate Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh run by the CCO campus ministry, a big fact about which I’ve dropped hints often. But of course, this year the conference is all virtual. So, we’ve come up with a way to sell books to students, to help equip them with the relevant Jubilee vision view of whole-life discipleship, by setting up a on-line, e-commerce, Jubilee bookstore, curated just for them and their event.

Beth and I are associated with CCO and, in fact, had a hand in planning some of the early Jubilee events (in the late 1970s, believe it or not.) It’s gotten bigger and more energetic, but the worldviewish, relevant, “all of life redeemed” sort of missional Christian faith, relating the good news of Christ’s Kingdom to their studies, their personal and public lives, calling them to thinking well about their academics and their future careers, all remains the heart and soul of the conference. This year they have the theme borrowed from Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, that Christ is claiming “every square inch” of his good but fallen creation. There isn’t any aspect of our lives that isn’t touched by the goodness of God and the redemptive grace of Christ. Through His creating, sustaining, and empowering Spirit, we get to participate in the healing, hopeful, work of renewal and reformation that is going on all around us. This includes our worship and church involvement and includes our work lives as well. God’s people hear this many places, but we believe it is never heard with so much gusto as at Jubilee. When we gathered last year, right before Covid, our huge book display was right outside the ballroom where there were about 4000 folks and we and our team of volunteers talked about books relating faith and life around the clock.

We know students who have come to faith at this gathering, touched by God with the message of forgiveness and challenged to sign up for a life-long long obedience in the same direction. We know people who have bought books from us there that, in their own words, truly changed their lives. It is the hardest and the biggest and the most rewarding thing we do, year after year after year. We believe these sorts of resources about all areas of culture and the Lordship of Christ over every square inch can be truly transformational.

This year — going live all day on Saturday, February 27th — Jubilee will be virtual. On line. Please pray for the students that this year will be watching, some of them, alone in their dorm rooms, or in socially distanced watch parties. In fact, maybe you can join them.

Yes, you can sign up now. The registration fee gets you access for a month which means you can attend all the plenary events with speakers like Jon Tyson, Tish Harrison Warren, Ashlee Eiland, and more — and over 20 workshops. And you’ll get to hear all four of my 7- minute book announcements, citing books that related to their main stage talks of creation/fall/redemption/restoration.

But here’s the lede I almost buried: CCO and their Jubilee team invited us and helped us create a temporary, e-commerce, automated, shopping-cart, all digital, pop-up online Hearts & Minds Jubilee Bookstore. Yep, I have curated about a dozen books in about 50 categories.

This is what it is like in our store, but folks don’t always notice. We have, and can talk to you about, books on engineering and nursing, art and psychology, education and business. There are Christian scholars who have written wisely about historiography and there are faithful practitioners working in regenerative agriculture. We love telling about thoughtful Christian books that guide us beyond our political divides and Christians in the sciences who are showing that faith and scientific work are not at odds. To tell young university students as they prepare to enter their professions that God cares, that God is with them, and that God expects them to be agents of change for normative institutional reformation, well, it’s a big deal. And using books as tools for that full-orbed, “every square inch” being redeemed, that deep relationship between Sunday and Monday, it’s why we started Hearts & Minds in the first place.

Want in on this? You ought to consider singing up for the conference– that allows you top quality access for a month! — but you don’t have to sign up for the conference to get into our Hearts & Minds e-commerce bookstore. Just go to the CCO Jubilee conference website and scroll down past the speakers and workshops and other good stuff til you get to their description of our role in their amazing event. We are honored and wanted you to see it.

Check this out, here:  https://www.jubileeconference.com/

Or, cut to the chase an enter the store here: https://heartsandmindsbooks.square.site/

 

Again, this is our temporary, new, second Hearts & Minds website, a supplement to, an addition to, our store and our ordinary secure Hearts & Minds order form page. You can still get (almost) anything you want by visiting us per usual. No worries. But we really wanted you to see this modern, automated, click-and-put-stuff-in-the-shopping-cart e-commerce website. It’s the 2021 Jubilee Bookstore and you, our friends and followers, are invited in to place your orders that way. It’s going to be a blast. Check it out!

To make it easier and even more appealing, you can enter this PROMO CODE at the time of checkout. Just enter in the promo code box the letters BOOKNOTES10 and it will automatically deduct 10% off anything you order at that site. Oh yes, you’re very welcome.

This BOOKNOTES10 discount promo code can be used as often as you’d like for one month, until March 27 2021, which is the duration of the Jubilee 2021 website. Who knows what we’ll do with all this later, since some of it is quite specific to the speakers and topics of the CCO event. But these are good, good resources, friends, and we’re delighted to invite you to shop a bit extra this month, browse around our selections, and use that discounted code. Send us an order. You’ll get an automatic reply showing the calculated shipping cost. Not as personal as you expect from us, but it’s pretty darn 21st century, eh?

Just to say it one more time: this new on-line store does not replace our ordinary website, which is also secure, and you can still browse all our old BookNotes at the standard/old Hearts & Minds site. The Dallastown shop is still closed due to Covid but we’re doing lots of mail outs and curb side customer service in our back parking area. As always, serving the gathered folks at Jubilee is a huge project, and we anticipate a lot of orders this next week or so. We continue to value you as our ordinary customers but hope you can be excited with us as we serve this rising generation of young Christian leaders, hoping they will learn to become better readers, thinking well, and serving God with all they’ve got. Won’t you pray with us, that this unique Hearts & Minds/Jubilee Bookstore is effective and bears worthy fruit for God’s Kingdom. Thank you, thank you.

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More thoughtful books good for Lenten reading during these hard days. 20% OFF from Hearts & Minds

Remember when you order to please tell us your preference about shipping. As we’ve noted often, USPS is slower than usual these days and while “Media Mail” is the cheapest ($3.25 for one or two books) it may take longer than usual. UPS cost about $7.00 or $8.00 for one or two books but is more reliable. Please tell us any needs you have in the secure order form page when you enter your information so we can serve you well.

 

The link to the Hearts & Minds Bookstore order form page is at the end of this BookNotes newsletter.

ALL BOOKS MENTIONED ARE 20% OFF.

I hope you saw the last BookNotes newsletter which announced a few new Lenten devotionals and other suggested titles for this liturgical season. We also offered some links to older BookNotes that offered Lenten resources. A number of folks said they found it helpful and we thank those who send us orders or came by our back year for curbside pickup.

In between our pandemic-inspired backyard customer service [we are still closed for in-store shopping] and creating lists for folks who have made online inquiries, I wandered around the store and wondered: what else would fit the mood of this cultural moment and the upcoming liturgical season? What books might we tell you about for this Lenten time, even if they aren’t about Lent as such. We named a good handful last time and that inspired me to share more – here are some that might work for you and your needs right now. A few are brand new and others are ones I’ve told you about before.

Here then, another list of good books for complicated times in the very hard Year of Our Lord, Lent 2021.

Every Thing is Sacred: 40 Practices and Reflection on the Universal Christ              Richard Rohr (Convergent) $22.00                                OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Many found the 2019 book by Father Rohr, the famous Franciscan (known for a good intertwining of mystical spirituality and social justice, peace, and ecological activism) called The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, to be mostly wise and quite stimulating, if at times a bit theologically off-center. Anyone who has read Colossians 1 knows that Christ makes universal claims about the creation-wide scope of His Lordship over all things. As a gentle and servant King, he is utterly loving but his divine nature makes him supreme over all things, universally so. That Rohr book, The Universal Christ, is an important, poetic, rumination about Christ and his unfathomably gracious work in and through “all things” and it just came out in paperback (selling for $17.00 – but at our 20% off, $13.60.) And a brand new companion volume was just released.

This new hardback, Every Thing Is Sacred: 40 Practices… just came a day or so ago and it is a spiritual handbook to help you apply some of the insights explored in The Universal Christ. As Rohr says in the introduction, “This is incarnational Christianity!” And he means that – we don’t know Jesus only in our heads but in our bodies. As he writes about this book of practices, “our hope is that this knowledge will not be stored away in disconnected theory but be connected to the here and now, and thus everywhere.” As I’ve glanced through it quickly, I’d say this, too: I think Every Thing is Sacred: 40 Practices and Reflection on the Universal Christ could easily be used even if you haven’t read Rohr’s companion book.

After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It  A.J. Swoboda (Brazos) $18.99              OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Brazos Press keeps releasing amazing books that are vital contributions to the broader world of religious publishing. A year or two ago A. J. was on our “best of” list (and, admittedly, on other Best of lists as well) for his extraordinary, thorough, beautiful, challenging, Subversive Sabbath. Here, in this brand new one, he offers his honest appraisal of doubt and deconstruction. This is no simplistic rebuttal, not a cheery reminder of the truth of all things Christian. It takes the concerns of those with doubts seriously; it takes the doubts seriously. It is, perhaps, the best thing we’ve seen on the topic, although I admit to only spending a bit of time skimming it. It is brand new – technically releasing in March. We are happy to tell you about it a bit early and suggest it as a very appropriate Lenten study.

By the way, this isn’t utterly new ground for Swoboda. We really liked his 2016 book The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith which hints at this conversation, using the biblical narrative of wandering to show readers that being a bit lost is not only an essential aspect of Christian spirituality, it is a discipline to be practiced.

You may recall that we recently announced that we were glad to be a sure source for Brian McLaren’s new Faith Beyond Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It (St. Martin’s Press; $26.99, with our 20% off sale price = $21.59.) It is a very important book, a bit different then my other favorites on the topic (for instance, Os Guinness’s God in the Dark or Beyond Doubt by Cornelius Plantinga, both writers I greatly admire.) It is the only McLaren book I’ve not finished – this Covid stuff has made keeping up with reading a real struggle for me. But I am liking it very much and glad for his thoughtful guidance through topics such as the stages of faith development, how to draw on ecumenical sources outside of one’s one faith tradition, how to place our own doubts within the context of our broader cultural evolution. McLaren’s Faith After Doubt has endorsements on the back from Richard Rohr and Bishop Yvette Flunder and Glennon Doyle, if that helps place some of his those who ordered it from us.

I would really love to compare and contrast Brian’s book with A. J. Swoboda’s. Brian is a former evangelical; A.J. an edgy and scholarly Pentecostal. Brian is passionate and kind as a guide helping those who are drifting from faith, assuring them that they can reconstruct new sorts of emerging faith after rejecting more conventional assertions. Swoboda is about the same project, but a bit more detailed on the philosophy of deconstruction (both its wise and useful practice and the more critical and unhelpful sort) and a bit more tethered to historic, orthodox faith dogma. Someone, soon, I hope, will compare and contrast these two very important new books on our skeptical age and the complexities of deconstructing faith.

I do love Swoboda’s humor at times; he’s a good thinker but upbeat and knows how to poke a bit at his own evangelical foibles (“I learned dating was a sin after I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I Acquired the Fire.”) I like that he cites a wide array of writers and thinkers, from standard guys like C.S. Lewis to postmodern masters John Caputo and Mark Taylor. It’s not every Protestant spirituality writer that knows Pittsburgh’s Adrian Van Kaam. Not every book on doubt draws on Newbigin and Pannenberg and Volf. I swear it’s the first time I’ve seen R.C. Sproul and Parker Palmer, Thomas Merton and Sinclair Ferguson (and Abraham Kuyper and Flannery O’Connor) cited in the same dazzling chapters.

Listen to these great endorsements:

“In this remarkable book, A. J. guides us into a path of stronger faith through the surprising valley of doubt. I resonated with this book at a profound level and think you will too.”– Jon Tyson, Church of the City New York; author of Beautiful Resistance

“Whether you’re in the midst of the isolation and disruption that doubting your faith often leads to or if you’re leading those who are, A. J. Swoboda’s voice is one of a well-differentiated leader, accurately articulating the struggle many Christians are experiencing and casting a hopeful vision for a way forward together.”– Emily P. Freeman, author of The Next Right Thing

“Swoboda invites us to reimagine what’s happening when we doubt the coherence of the Christian faith. What if the disorientation is actually a strange gift, pushing us toward growth and transformation? In this book you’ll find wisdom and guidance as you take your questions deeper.”– Tim Mackie, cofounder of the BibleProject

“As a college professor who daily watches the challenges of life and the ideologies of the age batter my students’ confidence in their Christian faith, I am eager to put this book into their hands. It offers an informed, insightful, and deeply empathetic conversation about the road home.”– Sandra Richter, Westmont College

By the way, Mr. Swoboda has a way of showing up regularly in our annual Lenten suggestions. I have raved more than once about his splendidly written book A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience (Baker; $15.00.) It is about the “Triduum” — Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. There is really nothing like it and I highly suggest that anyone who preaches or offers spiritual direction during this season should have it. For a more scholarly work, by the way, don’t miss the very impressive, heavy, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday by Alan Lewis (Eerdmans; $39.50) and the more recent ‘He Descended to the Dead’: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday by Matthew Emerson (IVP Academic; $30.00.)

Awakened By Death: Living Giving Lessons from the Mystics Christiana N. Peterson (Broadleaf Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Kudos to Broadleaf for publishing this great writer in a sturdy hardback, even if it is a topic and title that might be off putting to some. But why should it? We’re all going to die, right? And many of us have great appreciation for genealogies, the past, history – okay, cemeteries; that’s where this is going. Christiana says on the first page that she loves graveyards. And, man, there’s a lot to be learned from the inscriptions of headstones and much to ponder about life lived in light of the realities of death. Ashes to ashes, Memento mori.

Awakened by Death sounds like a very good one for Lent.

I’m very eager to read this — in part because there is nothing quite like it that we know of (“immersed in a holy awareness of our mortality”) but also because we know that Ms. Peterson is a great writer. We adored her well-written memoir Mystics and Misfits that both told of her involvement (with her husband and children) in a rural, intentional Christian living community alongside her own discovery of medieval saints, especially the one named Francis. If this book is even half as engaging and insightful and honest and moving as Misfits… it is going to be unforgettable.

I am glad this book is said to be about “how God can be found even in dying, loss, and grief.” In these days when so many of us have been touched by Covid-related deaths, when it feels like the plague or black death all around our nation and world, it could be useful to learn from those who found God in the middle of those legendary cultural tragedies.

I adore the books about funerals and undertaking by the master writer Thomas Lynch. I’m still dipping in to last year’s anthology of his writing called The Depositions: New and Selected Essays on Being and Ceasing to Be. If Christiana Peterson’s Awakened by Death brings us clarity about anything close to the topic the way Lynch does, it will be a great read and good addition to libraries about death and dying. I find it promising that the publisher says this about it:

Fear of death is nearly as inevitable as death itself, so we have used modern medicine and the funeral industry to create an ever-increasing distance between us and our mortality. But these interventions have stripped death of its mystery and mysticism. Taking readers on a journey through history, guided by the mystics, Awakened by Death shows us how our psychological and spiritual relationship to death has changed over time, and helps us to reclaim a healthy engagement with our own mortality. Ultimately, readers will gain a deeper understanding of how facing the fear of death, and embracing rather than eschewing its mysteries, can help us live richer, fuller lives.

I like the good words about it written by Christine Valter Paintner, who says:

This is an important book. In a culture that desperately tries to deny mortality, Christiana N. Peterson offers us a gift and an invitation. She presents an ambitious journey through history to follow the path of an impressive array of ancient and modern mystics who knew that death could be a sister or a friend. These stories, paired with her own personal ones, bring the reader on a pilgrimage of the heart and, ultimately, toward a deeper cherishing of life.

I admire the writing of Kelly Nikondeha, who recently wrote Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us About Freedom. What a book that was! She says this book could bring us not only less fear, but “resurrection goodness.” Listen to this by Nikondeha:

You will be better prepared to walk through the valleys and vistas of life after reading Awakened by Death. Christiana N. Peterson is a gracious guide through graveyards and dark places, ultimately moving us toward the light where we can live with less fear and more resurrection goodness on this side of eternity.

And this good endorsement by Andrew Peterson, the singer-songwriter, author of the kids’ fantasy series The Wingfeather Saga, and founder of Rabbit Room, is really worth reading. I like that he says this:

“For as long as I can remember, I have felt more unsettled by our modern culture’s discomfort with death than by death itself. That’s why I’m grateful for this book, which is less of a cold, hard look at the specter that haunts us all, and more of a gently guided walk through a lovely old cemetery. Peterson’s done her homework and has a lot to teach us about the way Christians through the ages have reckoned with the ticking clock of our own lives. Yes, Christ conquered death-all the more reason to look it fearlessly in the eye and ask what it has to teach us about life.”

Wait With Me: Meeting God in Loneliness     Jason Gaboury (IVP) $16.00                                      OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

When this came out right before the Covid pandemic last spring, I kept wanting to tell people about it; many folks became deeply lonely as we quarantined and sheltered in place. Many of us – if we are being as careful as we should be – most likely are struggling with this yet today. I know we are.

A month ago we highlighted and recommended a very good new book on loneliness and we had a number of folks order it from us. More than I expected, actually, and I know at least one group that I respect a lot is using it for a study. It is called The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other by Charlotte Donlon (Broadleaf Books; $16.99) and it deserves being mentioned again. In that previous BookNotes shout out I noted how very interesting and helpful it is, and how many good writers endorsed it heartily – Karen Swallow Prior, Lauren Winner, Marlena Graves, David Zahl. She is a spiritual director and offers good ideas for “transforming loneliness into true belonging.”

For some reason, it feels to me that Jason Gaboury’s fine book Wait With Me, is, alongside of Donlon’s, a very good Lenten read. It seems almost to have a tone of lament, a deeper spiritual discernment of the culture’s brokenness and our deeply human condition of alienation; it names the isolation we feel (even though it was written before Covid.) As my friend Jonathan Walton (Twelve Lies that Hold American Captive) wisely said about it, “This book is not a roadmap how to escape something that is core to being human, but a testament to how rigorous engagement with loneliness can free us to live more fully as people made in the image of God.”

It is not a roadmap how to escape. It certainly does not do an end-run around or a pious cover up of our loneliness. It does invite us to a deeper awareness of God’s presence in our affliction and to know Christ in his own solitude and sorrow. The title, you will recall, is a line from Jesus Himself in his own time of sadness. Man, this is Lenten stuff, right there, isn’t it?

Listen to what Jamie Smith says about it:

“This, thankfully, is not a book that promises to solve loneliness. It’s not a how-to guide for ‘getting out there’ or a formula for ensuring God will erase your sense of isolation. This book is something very different: a poignant, wise, at times searing invitation to attend to our loneliness as a call from God. This is spiritual writing that is at once urgent and patient, honest and inviting.”–James K. A. Smith, Professor of Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview at Calvin University, author of On the Road with Saint Augustine

…And Yet, Undaunted: Embraced by the Goodness of God in the Chaos of Life           Paula Rinehart & Connally Gilliam (NavPress)  $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

We awarded this one of our Best Books of 2019 Award last year (you can read my longer review here.) So it’s a really good one!  I loved it then and mention it now in part because of the wisdom and down to Earth sisterly sort of advice these women offer.

Both authors have written well about basic sorts of evangelical discipleship, especially for women. This recent one is written in short devotional-like chapters and would be ideal for working through in this complicated season. It gives us words to use that are generative and what we need right now.

You may know that there has been a bit of a shift in the frame of understanding of faith and discipleship in recent years, a shift we have promoted for decades. It has been shown that the Bible is an unfolding drama with a coherent (if circuitous) plot. There is an over-arching narrative, a trajectory; it is, as they say, a narrative.

It is also observed that we live our lives in light of a story that captures us – we make our decisions and find meaning in light of some overarching plot we think we are in. Naturally, then, our own story ought to be shaped by the Biblical story what Lesslie Newbigin called “the true story of the whole world.”

Calling the Bible (and our life formed by it) a story is heard in recent titles like The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story or God’s Story, Our Story, or The Story of God, The Story of Us. It’s a good trend to see the Bible as something other than a repository of doctrine or a bunch of disconnected episodes, let alone a rulebook. There is a redemptive storyline to the Bible and the only way to read God’s Word well is to see that Big Picture. And the only way to follow Jesus as agents of His Kingdom is to see our lives unfolding as part of His ongoing mission to complete the redemptive plot. It is one of the chief tasks of our churches, I’d say, is to invite people into the life of a community that sees itself as a part of this Biblical story. In Christ, we become actors in God’s redemptive adventure, and what an epic story it is.

Enter Rinehart and Gilliam and And Yet, Undaunted who help us frame our own lives in light of the four major themes of the plot of Scripture, the “acts” of the drama, so to speak. From Al Wolters to Marva Dawn to N.T. Wright and to so many others, we have seen the key high-points of salvation history to be (a) the act of God forming a good creation with humans bearing the image of God, (b) the radical fall into sin and rebellion and dysfunction, (c) the decisive promise and accomplishment of redemption in Christ, (d) and the future hope of “all things restored.” Get it? Creation-fall-redemption-restoration: those are the major “acts” of the Biblical drama.

Creation/fall/redemption/restoration is, in fact, the organizing structure of our Jubilee Conference held out in Pittsburgh (virtual this year, so you can easily attend) that each February invites college students to “live a better story” by entering into that on-going drama.

Rinehart and Gilliam tell that story in a lovely, fresh way in the four units of their book. They allow the big picture of God’s Biblical plot to inform how we understand our daily lives, our personal hurts and fears, and how to learn to trust not only that God is good, but that God is up to something good: the fulfillment of His promises to renew and restore the cosmos. Our daily lives find health and hope by placing ourselves between the creation and the new creation, in the plot that moves from the garden to the city. Christ’s “new creation” work in Jerusalem, on the cross, through the resurrection, is at the very heart of this big story so this season of the church calendar isn’t merely one for beating our selves up or being extra punctilious about spiritual tings. It is about living into the heart of the gospel story in all its vast hope.

It is explained in And Yet… that we as people are good, part of God’s very good creation, but we are hurting, not as we were meant to be because of our complicity as rebels in this fallen and distorted world. Christ has brought us back to life and redeemed His beloved creation, but yet the hopeful end is not yet seen. We walk by faith into the newness of life, realizing that the Kingdom is already but not yet.

And Yet, Undaunted easily gets at the creation-fall-redemption-restoration worldview story and helps us frame all of our lives — all of our sorrows and all of our successes and joys — within the context of this big, true, Story of God.

And here is how they do it — this is amazing and unlike any book on the market. Read on, please!

These authors transpose the words “creation”-“fall”-“redemption” and “restoration” into phrases that were coined by the super smart worldviewish consultant (of the Clapham Institute in Annapolis, MD) Mike Metzger. Namely, their four units are:

  • What Ought to Be (Creation)
  • What Is (Fall)
  • What Can Be (Redemption)
  • What Will Be (Restoration)

The chapters are almost devotional in nature, with lots of Bible-based encouragement to live into this “ought-is-can-will be” framework. This slant, this take, this narrative, this Story is how to get the Biblical worldview into your bones and into your imagination. Bruce Hindmarsh of Regent College in British Columbia explains the value of this, how the language of this very book can help us name and make sense of our life and times, in this “beautiful but broken” world:

This book exposes our longings for a better world and then points us forward to the way things can and will be redeemed by Jesus Christ. Because of that, we can live realistically and joyfully – even undaunted – in this beautiful but broken world. Sharing openly about their own lives, Paula and Connally invite us to do the same and live not our best life not, but our real life now.

Cherie Harder of The Trinity Forum writes about it so well:

This wise, beautiful book will undoubtedly serve as a guide and friend through the dark valleys of life, a balm and a spur to those weighed down with regret, disappointment, and unmet longing. And Yet, Undaunted shows the possibilities of finding courage and joy in your life story, by pointing at the Larger Story – what ought to be, what is, what can be, and what will be – and the ways in which Love himself unites the plot and pervades each scene.

Listen to Vaneetha Rendall Risner (The Scars That Have Shaped Me) who says:

Connally and Paula’s writing makes my heart ache – ache for the way things ought to be and ache for the way things will, one day, be – all while dignifying the longing, disappointment, and suffering wrapped up in the now. I am so grateful for these two women: for their wisdom, honesty, and call to hopeful courage. This book will faithfully point you to Jesus as you are drawn in to engage with the deep longings and questions rumbling inside your heart.

Prayer: Forty Days of Practice Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson (Waterbrook) $16.99                                          OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer (Waterbrook)  $16.95                                                      OUR SALE PRICE  $13.59

I was talking on the phone the other day to my good friend Justin McRoberts and recalled how I suggested these in previous Lent lists. It just seemed really useful and people were so surprised to realize how artful and creative they were.

These two books are perfect for a Lenten practice for those who don’t want too much study or too many words. Some of us, especially we who love books, maybe have read enough books about how to pray and just need some help to get to it, honestly. For newer BookNotes fans, they may not know these remarkable books of edgy contemporary art and brief reflections designed to stir you to pray. This really is about connecting with God for the sake of the world and is done with images and words that combine to form a remarkable window into deeper intimacy with God.

There is nothing like these, believe me, and many of found them fabulous, evocative resources. We’re glad both singer-songwriter/speaker Justin and visual artist/writer and speaker, Scott will both be presenting at the (virtual) Jubilee conference again this year. Both books are highly recommended.

 

 

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $23.99                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19

Yes, again and again, I tell about this. Here was one of my first reviews of it in which I described it and recommended it. As Comer puts in his fabulous podcast, it captures something of our “cultural moment.”

It is zippy to read, written by a hip young pastor, a cool writer, a leader who was on the crispy cusp of burnout who was seeking advice, we learn, from Dallas Willard about spiritual formation. This is his telling of what he learned from Willard’s famous answer. It has been one of the most popular books of last year and we are glad to suggest it again, now, in this season to consider our pace of life and our desires to take on the easy yoke of Christ. Not dense, to very useful in this time when we are called to recommit to being intentional about our habits.

How about giving up hurry for Lent? This can help.

The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life Ann Voskamp (Zondervan) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Many people loved the best-selling first book of the lovely, passionate writer Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Life Fully Right Where You Are. It is a beautiful book looking at the goodness of the world and how to find God’s presence in the many gifts around us. This one, a flip-side sequel, so to speak, to put in simply, looks at other sorts of gifts, the hard ones, the broken and painful things, God’s call to get real about what seems to be unpleasant stuff. What do we do with our “unspoken broken”? How can we be honest about these gritty things in ways that might be transformative? Voskamp is a passionate writer and many adore her honest storytelling and realistic (but, in a way, visionary) sense of how to live in this “broken way.”

Important, eloquent, trustworthy authors like Philip Yancey and Eugene Peterson and Christine Caine have complimented Voskamp’s writing and wisdom. Max Lucado mentions her “skill with words” and “her tenderness with hearts.”

This handsome hardback would be a good book to curl up with and read slow only in these days of winter as we move towards spring. The fourteen chapter titles themselves are allusive and inviting, evoking in many the desire to do this work, go on this journey, allow love to break us and heal us. There is, by the way, a very nice DVD curriculum, too.

The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus.           Rich Villodas (Waterbrook) $24.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

This book has really caught on within a number of our circles and it is a delight to see this New York Latino, a pastor from Queens, get so much attention for his first book. It is missional, visionary, an energetic invitation to make a difference in the complex and challenging world of crisis in which we live, all by being, firstly, shaped by the person of Jesus. Which shapes us into being the kind of people who can walk in his ways. Talk about a book appropriate for a Lenten journey!

Villodas is clear and upbeat, energetic and a good writer. This is the best of what evangelical piety can look like – Christ-centered and oriented to action in the world. And he does what action. The book is about being “deeply formed” so we can be on that rugged way of service.

I want to mention, briefly, that I do not know many books that are about spiritual disciplines, our interior lives, inviting spiritual transformation that have as one of the key spiritual priorities to grapple with racial justice. Although it should be obvious, racism is (as Dr. King often said) not only an ideology that hurts people of color but damages the soul of the racist. Rev. Villodas offers us a guide to wholistic transformation, including – alongside more expected practices like contemplative rhythms, interior examination and such – an honest appraisal of our commitment to be anti-racist.

We are, he realizes, exhausted and superficial, divided and distracted. We have a confused sexual attitude that splits bodies from souls; wow can we reject unhealthy compartmentalization? The Deeply Formed Life is a great book to read with others, but if you can’t, pick it up and start through it on your own. It’s okay if you don’t agree with all of it or if his convictions and missional approach aren’t all your own. It’s a fabulous guide to get us going in the right direction with lots of stories and lots of healthy insights.

Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone James Martin (HarperOne) $27.99                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

What a classic topic to explore during Lent – your prayer life. We have to list this brand new one even though I haven’t looked at it much at all. I stayed up to watch Father Martin, a really funny and super smart Jesuit (aren’t they all? Smart, I mean) on Colbert and it could have been a slightly edgy 700 Club episode. Neither Colbert nor Martin apologized to their public audience or were squirrely about talking overtly as Christians. They just went ahead and talked honestly about a Christian spirituality of prayer, why it matters, how to start, what to say, how to listen to God, whether we should use prayer aids like the rosary, etc. etc. It was really refreshing and reminded me of the older days when Colbert would Martin on as his spiritual director. The two have been friends for a long time.

This book carries weighty and gushing endorsements by Catholic writers like Mary Karr and clerics like Bishop Robert Barron and mystics like Joyce Rupp and Ronald Rohlheiser, as well as activists like Helen Prejean. Even Rowan Williams has a rave commendation. And I Iove that they brought Kathleen Norris into it, as she says “this delightful book is truly for everyone.” This is a hefty book, a major release of the season. 20% off, too of course.

Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out Juanita Campbell Rasmus         (IVP) $22.00                                                          OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60       

This is a very moving volume of contemporary spiritual wisdom written beautifully, nearly as a memoir. Juanita Rasmus is a lively African American woman involved in ministry with her husband, Rudy (also a vibrant author), in United Methodist church in downtown Houston. She has been a spiritual director and travelled with Richard Foster’s Renovare ministry. (She has, in fact, spoken to a Renovare gathering here in central PA and those who heard her were just in awe.)

Learning to Be talks about what Juanita calls “The Crash.” You can imagine – part nervous breakdown, part “major depressive episode” part dark night of the soul. And yet, when her life came crashing to a halt, she found she “had to learn to be – with herself and with her God – all over again.”

Maybe like her you may be a perfectionist, a “good” Southern woman, a ministry leader, a driven workaholic, coping with shame and too, too busy. But, like her, perhaps you have felt overstressed and empty and need to learn to just be.

Richard Foster writes that he has known Juanita Rasmus for many years and admires her greatly. He says:

This is a book of genuine substance dealing with the most heart-wrenching needs of the human soul. I recommend it highly.

Just Tell the Truth: A Call to Faith, Hope, and Courage Richard Lischer (Eerdmans) $24.99        OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Eerdmans is such an important, storied publishing house and they are known for exceptionally scholarly volumes of Biblical studies and theology and other serious tomes of social and cultural criticism. They also have books that are more oriented towards the popular reader, a reader that might be the nearly ideal caricature of a Hearts & Minds customer and BookNotes fan — thoughtful, a bit literary, ecumenical, open-minded but deeply serious about faith, educated but mostly not working in academia, committed to the life of the local church. Most of us want books a cut above the average – intellectually stimulating but not dry, Biblically and theologically astute but not strident, creative and lovely without being too weird. And, once again, Eerdmans comes through with a book that should be very widely read and truly enjoyed. Just Tell the Truth is a collection of sermons that many of our customers will surely appreciate. It will delight your reading palette with solid, interesting, enjoyable meat with just a bit of spice.

Richard Lischer is a very good writer. We have often promoted his memoir about being a small town Lutheran pastor (Open Secrets) and his story about his family’s grief upon the death of his son (Stations of the Heart.) He has a major book about Martin Luther King’s preaching and I adored (and still recommend) his book about preaching called The End of Words. His study of the parables in the New Interpreters Commentary series is very highly regarded. We have ‘em all.

I have not looked at this brand new one yet – it just came! We had ordered a bunch in anticipation. I trust it will be excerpted in places like The Christian Century, at least so some of our customers will hear more about it soon. With rave reviews on the back from Barbara Brown Taylor and Will Willimon – who calls it “evocative, creative, demanding beguiling, and faithful” – it should be widely read. Let’s hope so.

At the heart of the book seems to be this question: “what does it mean to live the Christian life with conviction.” Pastor Lischer is showing us his love for preaching, insisting that these verbal works of art can help us understand why they gospel matters. Stanley Hauerwas says he does so “with searing honesty.” He continues, “God knows we need examples of sermons that avoid the sentimentalities of our culture, and this book does just that.”

Here are the section titles, each offering a good handful of sermons

1. Season of Suffering
2. Waiting in Hope
3. Triumph
4. The Life of Faith
5. People: For All the Saints
6. Public Callings

William Barber says:

Richard Lischer plumbs both deep traditions and urgent contexts to remind us that it is when the ancestors speak strongest through the preacher that she or he unfurls the most original and creative visions.

Donyelle McCray of Yale Divinity School writes,

This luminous volume erases any doubt about the sermon’s capacity to cheer the heart. With striking immediacy, God’s word emerges as salve, compass, catalyst, and joy.

The Cross Examen: Spirituality for Activists Roger J. Gench (Cascade Books) $20.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I only have only just discovered this book that was released late in 2020 – we hope to have more in soon. I’m excited about it. It is slim but potent, beautifully rendered with powerful stories. Gench served as Senior Pastor of the famed New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC and now is “Theologian in Residence” at Second Presbyterian in Richmond and an adjunct faculty member of Union in Richmond. Several years back he wrote a well-received book about urban ministry called Theology from the Trenches.

This recently released one, as the title suggests, explores “the essential relationship between spirituality and activism” but it does so – get this! – with a robust political theology of the cross. That is, both contemplative practice and social activism should bear “the same cruciform footprint” and are thereby integrally connected. There are shades of Michael Gorman’s work here and yet he goes farther in ruminating about the connection between Christ’s cross and the “other crosses” that illustrate the pains and brokenness of our world, both personal and public.

I cannot think of a book I have seen that is quite like this. He looks at the cruciform life and explores it even in specific Biblical books (a whole chapter on Galatians!) and he does this with an eye to discipleship that is both interior and public. The whole second half offers practices for spiritual formation all the while it explores the fruits of the spirit at applied to the political turmoil of our era. The fruits of the Spirit for public life? Wow.

Read this blurb on the back cover:

There is no better time for religious leaders to learn how to pray than in the challenging and unpredictable times in which we are living. There is also no better spiritual guide and teacher than seasoned activist and pastor Roger Gench. If you are looking for a resource that will provide you or your study group with life-sustaining contemplative practices that you need to turn away from the violence and polarization so endemic in our times and toward neighbor, nature, and God, you have found it in The Cross Examen.”  –Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, author of The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to a Culture of Affluence

By the way, the striking art piece on the cover is called “Death” by Dutch painter Anneke Kaai.

The J-Curve: Dying & Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life Paul E. Miller (Crossway) $22.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

In my list last week I highlighted two books that offered very clear-headed and theologically solid descriptions of our union with Christ and with the work of the cross of Christ. Both were by a very thoughtful mainstream evangelical writer, Rankin Wilbourne, and received my warmest recommendation. Thanks to those who ordered them.

This book which we have described before at BookNotes might be in a similar sort of style and approach, a book which has practical application – some might say it is pastoral – by appropriating major and heavy theological themes to ordinary living. This is not in the genre of mystical spirituality nor is it abstract, heady theology. This is detailed Biblical teaching applied to the foibles of our character. In this one – somewhat akin to the messages of Wilbourne – we are invited to think about how the very pattern of Jesus (dying and rising) is a pattern of our own lives. We go down, down, down in recognition of sin. We struggle and – according to the Scriptures – die with Christ. But in dying, like Christ, we arise anew. Hence, the J-curve of the title and the illustration on the cover. Can you imagine your life patterned like a J?

Paul Miller is known for a beautiful book about loving others well; he has a book about Ruth, and is most known for The Praying Life. (And there is a new book about his father, Cheer Up! The Life and Ministry of Jack Miller by Michael Graham to which Paul wrote a lovely foreword about learning about the doctrines of grace from his famous father.)

The J-Curve: Dying & Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life, though, is a tad deeper and more complex than anything he has done before. But for those who work through it, The J-Curve and its solid framework (“a map of the Christian life” he calls it) for thinking about our Christian growth. I hate to use the fancy pants word, but it is, I’d say, a book that moves from justification to sanctification. It does not conflate the two, but it does show the similar processes. It names our sins and daily hurts, our failings and pains, and it offers the hopes and joys of what the old Lutheran liturgy calls “the newness of life.” It is, finally, a book about transforming grace.

This book takes the creedal teaching and liturgical habit of confession and renewal into the realm of daily living and real Christian growth. It tethers our transformation to Christ and his cross and resurrection. It tethers our daily hurts and sadness to Christ’s own. Can you think of a better theological book to study during Lent?

Here is what Joni Eareckson Tada (a family friend of the Millers) says of it:

‘Take up your cross and follow me.’ What was Jesus asking us to do — or be? How does it play out in everyday life? These questions are intensely practical from the moment I wake up in the morning. And that’s why I love Paul Miller’s new book, J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life. Never have I read a more practical work on how a Christian can flourish through deep affliction. This book will revolutionize the way you look at your sufferings and your relationship to Christ. If you’re craving a life with your Savior that utterly transforms, this book is your best hands-on guide.”

Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder, Joni and Friends

And, fun fact spoiler alert for local customers: the story about the owner of an ice cream place who learned to trust Christ more in her own life and work? Visit the DQ out on Route 30 in West York! Even if you don’t buy The J-Curve, you should go there!

Christ and Calamity: Grace & Gratitude in the Darkest Valley Harold Senkbeil (Lexham Press) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

I’ve long liked the alliteration of “grace & gratitude” and I appreciated the very handsome, award-winning book on deeply theological and spiritual pastor care written by Rev. Senkbeil (The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart) just a few years ago. So when this pocket sized, but very handsome and well designed little paperback came out, by this same author, we bought a bunch sight unseen. Later, it won a Christianity Today book of the year award and that re-confirmed in my mind that this was well worth having.

This little essay is pastoral balm based on what some call “the great exchange” – our rags replaced by Christ’s righteousness; our guilt, His grace; our hurt, His hope. The frightened disciples in the boat cry out, “Lord, do you not care if we perish?” In the midst of suffering and uncertainty, Senkbeil says, we’re all prone to think that God has forgotten us.

This little volume does not explore all the hard nuances of theodicy. It isn’t comprehensive and isn’t going to assuage the horror of some who are in deep distress. But for most people, it seems, this good sermon that Christ is mighty to save, that He wills our good, that in all things God is with us, will be a great blessing.

As Lexham sometimes does, there are black pages with enlarged white print, pull quotes with that reverse printing look. It is visually striking and an expense and artfulness they put into the design that gives the book the gravity it deserves. The author is a theologically conservative Lutheran and offers time-honored, classic truth for those who need a word of prayerful comfort during time of affliction.

There are a few short prayers and litanies in the back, too, and a couple of lyrics to old hymns. Mature, good stuff.

Might from the Margins: The Gospels Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice Dennis R. Edwards (Herald Press) $16.99                                           OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is another book we have promoted and if we were out doing off-site book events we’d be showing it off and hand-selling it. It is a remarkable, easy to read book – Jim Wallis calls it “a powerful” and “inspiring” and it surely is. We’ve followed Dr. Edwards’s work for years (and I have used his Story of God: 1 Peter commentary.) He is a professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary and author of What is the Bible and How Do We Understand It in the little “The Jesus Way” series published by Herald Press.

As I considered what books I might highlight here that seemed useful for this time in our year – culturally, socially, and liturgically – it seems that Might from the Margins would be ideal. Like other Lenten themes, this calls us to downward mobility, so to speak, to servanthood and giving up privilege. It includes a call to the margins, to listen well to those who have been ignored or marginalized. Indeed, Edwards shows that this is at the heart of much of the Biblical narrative. The power of the gospel is the key to the story – that is, not human power. The Bible shows God working in history, unfolding God’s own purposes. Might form the Margins is designed to show how God uses the power present within marginalized communities but it does so by documenting this in the Bible itself. As it says on the back, “God has empowered marginalized Christians to transform the church.”

Here is the quite wonderful titles of each of the chapters in the table of contents:

The Power of God, The Power of Diaspora People, The Power to Discern Injustice, The Power of Prophecy, The Power of Anger, The Power of Solidarity, The Power of Worship, The Power of Hope, The Power of Spirit, The Power of Love.

Drew Hart of Messiah University and author of the must-read Who Will Be a Witness: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance, writes that it is, “A compelling vision forward, grounded in Scripture and God’s delivering presence for those with their ‘backs against the wall.’” Right on!

Finding Jesus at the Border: Opening Our Hearts to the Stories of Our Immigrant Neighbors Julia Lambert Fogg (Brazos Press) $17.99                      OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I suppose it isn’t my best strategy to try to sell books to our friends and good customers by making readers feel guilty. But, alas, it is nearly Ash Wednesday and we nearing Lent so it is time for us to all get honest about our sin which includes complicity in this awful world of sin and violence. I suspect that most of us were heartbroken to learn, if we did not know, that the Obama Administration had a fairly brutal policy when it came to immigrant children at the Southern border. And it was excruciating to know that President Trump’s administration, with lots of loud so-called “Christian” backing, put children in what resembled cages, tore mothers and children apart, had sloppy and cruel policies that devastated families, tore them apart and lost track of some of the separated children. That groups like Tony Perkins’ so-called pro-family organization supported these policies that hurt children is beyond flabbergasting. That most of us cared sincerely but didn’t know what to do is, if we are honest, also vexing. We are all implicated.

And so, for Lenten penance, I suggest we read something like this. We have more than a dozen others on this topic and we commend everything from the best-selling novel (that I could not put down, harrowing as it was) American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins to the real life story of the terrible train ride by Sonia Nazario, Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother to IVP’s riveting Separated by the Border: A Birth Mother, a Foster Mothers, and a Migrant Child’s 3,000 Miles Journey by Gena Thomas to any number of New York Times best sellers or the many theological studies we stock on this topic. Pick something that will get you in touch with our hard hearts and our frustrating sense of incapacity. Finding Jesus at the Border, is a good start.

Getting to hear the stories, meeting the people, and helping us see the Biblical correlation, is the goal of Finding Jesus at the Border, a book called “beautifully written, well-researched, and painfully moving.”

Interweaving biblical narratives of border crossing and stories of immigrants journeying to the United States today, this recent work invites us during this season of repentance to reconsider the plight of our neighbors. It calls us to ask WWJD which is a pretty solid Lenten practice, eh? Julia Lambert Fogg, by the way, has a PhD from Emory, is an ordained Presbyterian minister, and teaches religion at a Lutheran University while she works often with congregations near the Southern US border. Her Meeting Jesus… vividly helps us with that classic desire to read the world in light of the Word and to read the Word in light of the world. Highly recommended.

Weep With Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation Mark Vroegop (Crossway) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

In a “First Friday” Zoom lecture I did not long ago for friends at Chestnut Grove Presbyterian Church (visit our Hearts & Minds Facebook group page to watch it if you’d like) I was asked a question about trends in the publishing world and things we may have learned in this past hard year. I noted two things that seem to stand out in these past months and that includes a deepening awareness of the role of lament and an honest reckoning with the disappointments and injustices in our world and, of course, the deeper awareness many American’s have, now, about the racism – instructional and otherwise – that still plagues our society (and, in many cases, our law enforcement organizations.) There have been several new books in recent years about lament and many, many about racism. Weep With Me is a solid contribution to both fields, inviting us to lament (Biblically) about racism.

Weep With Me is a book I’ve mentioned before and I think it is very useful. It is written by a white pastor, who is a straight-arrow conservative theologically. It is not edgy or progressive or written by what some dismiss as a social justice warrior. Vroegop is a pastor of an evangelical church who wants to do what the Bible says and what God’s grace demands. An earlier book, last year’s Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament won a number of awards and seemed to be helpful to many as he invited the use of the Biblical songs and Psalms of lament in personal devotion and public worship. This newer one, Weep with Me, applies that teaching specifically to the topic or racism.

“Gospel unity,” he writes, “creates racial harmony.” Yes. But to truly experience such unison in the gospel we work out our life together as those whoe one in Christ, which at least means learning to “weep with those who weep.”

Those of us from majority cultures simply must listen to the heartfelt agonies of our black brothers and sisters and other people of color. In this good study, pastor Vroegop – who starts the book with an painfully honest admission of his privileged past that kept him from seeing some pretty plain facts in his ministry setting – unfolds how to develop empathy, how we need heart change and a very deep level. He says about the practice of lament, it is “the biblical language of empathy and exile, perseverance and protest.”

At the end of each of the strong 9 chapters there is a sample prayer, written by black, white, Latino, and Asian pastors or leader (mostly men.) Further, there are a few appendices offering samples of prayers of lament.

Here is the table of contents so you can see if this might be useful for your or your congregation or group:

Part 1 Lament in the Bible and History

  1. Pray: The Language of Lament

2.Listen: Lessons from African American Spirituals

3.Walk: The Bridge of Lament

Part 2 Lament and Majority Christians

  1. Weep: The Healing Grace of Empathy
  2. Speak: Ending the Painful Silence
  3. Repent: Remembering with Remorse

Part 3 Lament and Minority Christians

7.Protest: The Voice of Exiles

8.Triumph: Redeeming the Pain

9.Believe: Dare to Hope Again

Conclusion: Lament: An Open Door for Racial Reconciliation                                       Appendix 1: Psalms of Laments                                                                               Appendix 2: Learning-to-Lament Worksheet                                                             Appendix 3: Sample Civil Rights Vision Trip Itinerary

Motherhood: A Confession Natalie Carnes (Stanford University Press) $24.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Again, for those who want something substantive and reflective, deep and meaningful to read during Lent but who don’t want a little daily devotional, or anything exactly about Lent, this thoughtful book might be a real companion for your journey this next month or so. That is, if you’re pregnant. (Or, if you’re not. Work with me here, people! It is a book Tish Warren says “combines profound theological depth with astonishing beauty and Jamie Smith calls “a masterpiece.”) Pregnant or not, a mother or not, a woman or not, this is a pretty amazing work.

We were struck by this book the moment we heard about it; I am not sure what we read but it was most likely a short review in Publishers Weekly or an advert in an industry journal. We knew the author had written a book of feminist analysis of Christian art (nursing Madonna’s actually) and teaches at Baylor. Could this book be as interesting as we hoped?

When we got it in the store, we realized it really is exactly a companion to and conversation partner with St. Augustine and his famous Confessions. Jessica Mesman calls it “beautiful” on the front cover, and we were hooked.

Can stuff about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and mothering feel Lenten? Yes. And linking it to a spiritual classic about repentance surely makes it apropos. What if Augustine’s Confessions had been written not by a man, but by a mother? How might her tales of desire, temptation, and transformation differ from his? Natalie Carnes “describes giving birth to a daughter and beginning a story of conversion strikingly unlike Augustine’s — even as his journey becomes a surprising companion to her own.”

Turn the book over, and we find rave endorsing blurbs by two good friends, Tish Harrison Warren and James K.A. Smith, who calls it “a masterpiece.” And a great endorsement by the always-interesting Tony Jones.

Here is what they wrote:

Natalie Carnes’ remarkable meditation on motherhood, in conversation with Augustine’s Confessions, is destined to become a classic itself. Her prose is vivid; her insight is penetrating; her honesty is disarming. This is a book that has been waiting 1,600 years to be birthed. Carnes has brought forth a masterpiece.                             — James K.A. Smith, author of On the Road with Saint Augustine

Parenting can feel terrifyingly lonely, in part because it conjures emotions wholly unique to the endeavor. Natalie Carnes reflects on her own motherhood in this moving memoir alongside the progenitor of the genre, Augustine’s Confession — a risky undertaking, but accomplished brilliantly. Motherhood is a book to be savored.                                — Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution

This book pulls you in and leaves you better for having read it. Natalie Carnes’s meditations on her experience are vulnerable and relatable, yet she gives us so much more than merely another Christian ‘mom book.’ Rich with insights from iconography, scriptural exegesis, and the Church fathers, her work as a mother, a stunningly gifted writer, and a thoughtful theologian combine to give us a gem of a book that often left me in tears. The beating heart of Motherhood: A Confession is the power of a mother’s love, and Carnes’s luminous examination of that love’s complexities, contradictions, and grace drew me into wonder and worship. This is a rare book, one that combines profound theological depth with astonishing beauty. As Augustine’s own Confessions would say, Tolle lege. Take up, read, and savor this book.                  — Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life and Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Watch or Work or Weep

Dinner Party with the Saints Woodeene Koenig-Bricker (Paraclete Press) $17.99                              OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Speaking of Saint Augustine (and his own mother, and mistress) they all make an appearance in this utterly charming, fanciful, clever, and very informative and entertaining book. I wasn’t sure if it should be added to a list of heavy books for our complicated times here during Lent because it is written with whimsy and includes some remarkable recipes, crafted by a classically trained culinary artist, Celia Murphy. The last chapter made me weep with its simple reminder of the call to servanthood and kindness, so I knew I had to mentioned it quickly here, now.

This new book offers a handful of components in each chapter. First, the main part of the chapter is fictional as the saint to whom we are being introduced shows up at this celestial dinner party “up there” in heaven. Yep, it’s goofy and romantic with harps and golden streets and these saints realizing that can let go of some of their earthly compulsions – St. John Henry Newman arguing rational theology, Francis Borgia flagellating himself, the other St. Francis over-doing the fasting, as they readily admit in a conversation at the dinner party. (Okay, Newman doesn’t concede, actually.) Yes, each chapter unfolds a part of the story as the guests bring their favorite item to a potluck dinner and observe who all they see there. (They do this potluck thing in America, St. Augustine tells Newman, who finds it exceptionally odd. Ha.) They meet and mingle with clever banter and some self-revelation about their own time and place, fears and foibles, passions and interests. What a hoot!

Next there is a several page non-fiction survey of the Saint in question. This is a remarkable resource for novices to this world.(Koenig-Bricker is the author of 365 Saints, a very popular book in Roman Catholic circles so she knows her stuff.) These 16 sections fill in the facts about the person we met in the fictionalized heavenly banter. Some, naturally, are early saints of the church as mentioned in the Bible, from Martha (who is busy helping organize everything, of course) to St. Peter to St. Lydia of Thyatira to St. John the Baptist (who brings locust to the party, naturally) to St. Martine de Porres to St. Teresa of Avila (with her dancing shoes, which should choke you up if you know about her discalced order) to St. Bridget of Ireland. So many fascinating folks are interacting at this fun dinner party. The factual portions are very interesting as we learn about them all – St. Kateri Tekakwitha (the increasingly well known Native American saint), St. Gertrude of Ivelles, the Korean St. Andrew Kim Taegon (who in the story has his kimchi) and more.

After the fictional conversations and the earnest biographical section, there is another section about the miracles, legends and lore of each saint. There are interesting sidebars and facts and some historical insights. It’s all very interesting.

And then there are the recipes, authentic from the era and location of the famous heavenly conversation partners. There is attention to those who need gluten free diets and there are some that are vegetarian. They look sumptuous and some are not that complex, although a few are perhaps for more adventuresome cooks. This is pretty darn cool, lots of fun, and curiously edifying.

Charming, inspirational, educational, and tasty, this is a lovely book that reminds us that the saints were real people, who worked, slept, prayed, read and ate. Being holy means being yourself, and part of our shared humanity is enjoying a well-cooked meal. I learned a lot about the saints from this book, and also am eager to try some of these recipes!” — James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints and Learning to Pray

“Here’s an offering that is both factually delightful and delightfully true to the facts. This author has done her homework, bringing into real life stories of a whole panoply of saints, revealing their idiosyncrasies and describing the cultures in which these holy men and women practiced their vocations with holy partying and praying.” — Luci Shaw, poet, author of The Generosity; Writer in Residence, Regent College

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels N.T. Wright (HarperOne) $14.99      OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

I think it was two or three seasons ago that I did a BookNotes list of a few books about the cross. From John Stott’s remarkable The Cross of Christ to Fleming Rutledge’s magisterial The Crucifixion to many old and newer studies, the topic is endlessly generative and serious Christians should regularly read books about this key topic.

One of the books I highly recommended – and still do! – is The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion by N.T. Wright (Harper; $19.99.) The premise of that stellar book is that the “end” or goal of the death and resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus is to vindicate God’s promises of offering not only personal salvation for those who believe but to bring about a whole renewal project of the fallen creation. Death and dysfunction – the disordering of the cosmos — is defeated. That is, if the “end game” is a healed or “new” creation, then how should we understand the many references by Paul in the New Testament about the cross? Wright studies each major passage by Paul about the death of Christ and/or the power of the cross in light of the hoped for renewal of all things. It’s a splendid project, and illuminating book.

However, as much as I recommend The Day the Revolution Began, in a way this one, How God Became King, is a prequel to it. It allows us to read Paul in light of Jesus, making clear the gospel-based message and the primary teaching topic of Jesus: that the Kingdom of God is at hand. When we had Tom Wright in the back yard of our store a few years ago he preached on this exact business, joking (as he does in How God Became King) that he could imagine the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, protesting our Apostles Creed for skipping right over the biographies they gave us of Jesus’ teaching, stories, work, and life. Yes, “born of a virgin and suffered under Pontius Pilate.” But wait, the apostles insist – we went out of our way to tell about a whole lot of others stuff, his miracles, his parables, his sermons, his confrontations with the religious leaders, his prayers, his promises. What about all that?

One simply cannot understand Jesus, I think, without realizing that the heart of his message is that He is the Messiah of Israel and would bring about, inaugurate, the long-awaited Kingdom of God. On Earth as it is in Heaven. If Paul teaches about the cross as the entryway to the fully consummated new creation, the language Jesus Himself gives us for this is the Kingdom of God.

How God Became King is, for many of us, still, “the forgotten story of the gospels.” We need, during Lent surely, as we move towards the tragic week we call holy and we focus on the horrific trial and cross, to know what it is all about. What is this “revolution” that begins there? N.T. Wright is clear as can be and this book is a great read for any time of year, but especially now.

Don’t miss the three middle chapters under the unit “The Kingdom and the Cross.” He writes about “Where We Get Stuck — Enlightenment, Power, and Empire”, “Kingdom and Cross in Four Dimensions” and “Kingdom and Cross — The Remaking of Meanings.” As always, he moves us towards application, too, as he suggests by the end “how to celebrate God’s story.” Thanks be to God, the suffering King. Please consider ordering some of these for your church, fellowship, Bible study or book club. You won’t regret it!

The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship & Work Steven Garber (IVP) $20.00                      OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I sincerely lauded this compact hardback before it even came out and, a year or ago, named it one of my very favorite books of that year. I say an even more audacious thing on the back cover where I was honored to insist that it is one of my all time favorite books of this kind. It is true.

Garber’s previous 2014 Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, also published by IVP, ($18.00; our sale price = $14.40) is another exceptionally important book to me that I find myself talking about often. I think it is ideal for Lent, by the way – he takes our being implicated in the fallen systems and injustices of this world very seriously and he knows (and writes with astonishing beauty) that loving the world as God does is hard, very hard, especially for those who feel the sorrows of things, the pathos. Those of us who carry some of the weight of the world on our sad shoulders need the companions described in Visions of... His tone is morally serious and yet honest about the foibles (and joys!) of such a life given for the sake of the world.

Steve’s collection of shorter posts (complete with lovely, full color pictures) found in The Seamless Life strike me as an introduction to his good writing style – not light and cheery, but certainly not dry or drab – and to his overall vision that our life of discipleship necessarily includes a integrated sense of God’s care for every area of our lives and our sense of His call to serve in every sphere of culture. These luminous, interesting essays are brief but captivating and offer a truly robust vision of the consequences of the gospel being lived out in humane way in all sorts of venues – while watching movies and reading books, in the business world, in farming and in travel, in family life and in politics. Getting to experience his writing style (which is lovely if a bit unique) and his vision, which is deep in his own bones as these reflections indicate, is a joy, if a bit of a challenge. The short pieces really help us become more deeply acquainted with the author and his vision of life.

A Seamless Life is a small but smart book which is ideal for Lent, for a slow careful read. It will make you happy (is that allowed in this liturgical season?) and may make you deeply glad that there are these connections being made – between love and learning, say, or between worship and work, between liturgy and labor – all over the world. He has fanned those flamed, guided and mentored people, reported on that which he sees (sometimes from a bit of a distance, sometimes from quite close up.) His stories about his own life, about those he has taught or inspired, about those he works with, show us what it looks like that the Kingdom is coming. It shows us how to live lives that make sense, coherent and whole.

Many of us lament that our deepest convictions don’t play out in daily life as much as we wish. Few of us are crass dualists – insisting there really is a huge gulf between spiritual things and worldly things – and most of us aspire to a life where what we do on Sunday spills over into Monday. We want to be consistent, living within a fabric of faithfulness. But yet. But yet, we don’t have that many models and stories and examples of those who live so seamlessly they naturally worship at work, love when they learn, see God in everything. Garber’s short essays teach this gently, slowly, not nearly as didactically as I tend to when I preach about such things. He’s got a lovely storyteller’s gift and a good writing style making this book an ideal little volume to read slowly, enjoy, and ponder. Highly recommended!

Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes Jonathan Dodson (IVP) $16.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

I have commented on this before and complimented the good insight and quality writing by this young pastor (founder of City Life Church in Austin, Texas.) I loved a thoughtful but inspiring book he did called Here in Spirit explaining the doctrine and experience of the Holy Spirit; he wrote another called The Unbelievable Gospel He had one about forming missional communities and one called Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Relatively young, Dodson is perceptive, thoughtful and fully aware that we are living in a culture of crisis. He wrote this book before the Covid pandemic and before the civic chaos of the last months; as I write these comments the President’s awful rhetoric and ugly speeches about his political enemies has been played on national TV as the hearings about the riot at the capitol has lead to even deepening divides in our morally confused age. As the back cover puts it, “We’re confronted with calamity every time we read the headlines.” Yup.

The back cover copy continues: “But behind each of these lurks another kind of crisis, one we find harder to define: a moral crisis – a crisis of goodness. To properly address the crises that plague our world, we must be formed as people of moral goodness.”

This is one of the things I very much appreciated about Dodson’s book. It doesn’t just assert this abstract arguing point that without God we have no ability to measure ethics (an argument that is important to make, I think) and that without a consensus about absolutes we will be forever in a quandary about what is right and good and just. Fair enough, but it’s deeper than just a disagreement about God and truth and right and wrong.

In a way, this deeper moral crisis was the very “line of despair” Schaeffer wrote about as we devolve towards not only incivility and confusion but ultimately nihilism. It seems to me – Dodson does not go here – that the alt-right and Proud Boys and the far anarchist left like Antifada are grasping for meaning in what we call “a secular age.” With extremists acting out, with weirdo conspiracy theories gaining traction, with ideologues breaking into the Capitol and then not knowing what to do other then scream USA! USA!, we are in the throes of a deeper experience of the bankruptcy of our times. Jonathan is so right – we are in a crisis of goodness. Not just that people are not good, but that we don’t have an idea as to what goodness is.

Enter his astute study of the Beatitudes. Could these hard but beautiful words of the Master be a clue, a lifeline, a vision for a life well lived? Can they be, as Dodson puts it, a guide to “flourishing in an age of crisis”?

Look: these are some of Jesus’ most direct teachings and we should read them over and over and then study authors who explicate them, regularly. They are so countercultural and so perplexing we need all the help we can get. We’ve got oodles of different books on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes on the shelf here. Start with this one.

As missiologiest Allen Yeh puts it,

Pastor Jonathan Dodson poignantly unpacks the perennial truths of the greatest sermon of all time, revealing its ancient wisdom for our morally confused times. Replete with real-world examples, both historical and contemporary, this book offers a compelling countercultural solution to our moral crisis grounded in Jesus’ upside-down kingdom.

The Opposite of Certainty: A Memoir: Fear, Faith, and Life in Between Janine Urbaniak Reid (Thomas Nelson) $18.99                                       OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Back before the virus started spreading we ordered a big batch of these; I love memoirs and when I saw Anne Lamott had a foreword I thought that would be fabulous. (She, by the way, has a book coming out on March 2nd for which we are taking pre-orders. It is called Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage; Riverhead $20.00.) Anne is such a witty writer and I respect her work a lot so if she enjoyed this, we thought we’d review it and take it to some of our off site gigs.

Anne Lamott knows the author Janine Urbaniak Reid from their church (St. Andrews Presbyterian in Marin City) and about The Opposite of Certainty she writes,

A brilliant, rich, breathtakingly honest and sometimes very funny account of defying the gravity of circumstances.

Here is another back cover blurb that pulled me in:

Full of spiritual grace and shining with a kind of rare hope, yes, it brings you to your knees but miraculously shows you that this might actually be the best vantage point to see the stars. Extraordinary. –Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World

The book does have its funny moments and it covers a wide range of human emotion as this feisty mom experiences them. As one reviewer said, “one day it is doughnuts and hot coffee and the next day it’s gurneys and scans.”

You see, the book is mostly about the author’s coping with her young son having a brain tumor. Oh, and she has breast cancer. There are obviously no easy answers to this kind of stuff and she “searches for a source of strength bigger than her circumstances” and then her circumstances got even worse. Early she penned a piece for the Washington Post that went viral. She became a voice for healthcare justice. Indeed. We thought it might be a good season to read a book about fear and faith. Might The Opposite of Certainty be a memoir for your next book club? 20% off, of course.

Lent of Liberation: Confronting the Legacy of American Slavery Cheri L. Mills (WJK) $14.00     OUR SALE PRICE = $11.20

We just got this in and we’re very eager to explore how this study of slavery and its brutal impact on black people can be used as a Lenten resource for those wanting to deepen their understanding and repentance of this aspect of our American culture. It has forty readings, each linking a true story of narratives by enslaved individuals (drawn from a famous book about the Underground Railroad by William Stillman, written in the 1800s) and an aspect of the legacy of racism.

With each historic reading there is also a Bible text and serious conversation questions for reflection. There is a digital resource available for facilitating personal study or small group discussions. Pastors may want to consider this even for sermon preparation – wwwwjkbooks.com/LentofLiberation.

A Book of Days for Lent: Daily Reflections for the Season of Lent edited by Steven G.W. Moore & Fr. Richard Ganz, S.J. (M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust) $17.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36

This is a book we are honored to tell you about as it is a book that isn’t widely available in many bookstores; it was a labor of love put together by two entrepreneurial thinkers who compiled these reflections in a handsome hardback (with some full color art.) What a joy to have some of these and to get to sell them this season.

Moore is the CEO and Executive Director of the Mudock Charitable Trust which dispenses a large amount of grants to mostly faith-based organizations and ministries doing good, responsible work in the world. We have heard of their philanthropy for years and know a bit about some of the excellent organizations, colleges, camps, advocacy groups, social service agencies, and ministries they’ve supported. The contributors to their Book of Days for Lent are leaders of the missions and nonprofits they support. Many (but not all) are in the Pacific Northwest and each entry is very nicely done.

A few of the contributors are themselves fairly well known – the late, great writer Brian Doyle (of Portland College) is here and, for instance, the aforementioned A. J. Swoboda (at the time pastoring in Portland and working on an environmental ministry called “Blessed Earth.” Our friend Kate Harris has an entry, too. Other authors of the Lenten pieces are camp directors, college presidents, street workers among the poor, folks with jobs as different as running high financial institutions to food banks; from those working with Habitat for Humanity to prison ministries to cultural discernment think tanks. The writers are good folks who do good work, the insights profound, the layout quite nice. That these leaders of culture shaping organizations want to help us “honor Lent” and pulled together this marvelously handsome resource says a lot. We are thrilled to share it with our customers, while supplies last.

Approaching Easter Jane Williams.         (Lion Press) $16.95                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56 

We were so glad to get this in again this year from the UK as it is a lovely, affordable, medium-sized hardback book with great reflections on historic paintings that are excellently reproduced on heavy, bright white paper. This small hardback is a small treasure to hold at 5.5 x 6 inches. You may know that Dr. Williams is a renowned theologian and art historian (she did a book that has been a beloved Hearts & Minds bestseller, The Art of Advent.) Here she blends personal stories, spiritual reflections, and quotations from Scripture) and some other classy sources) to illuminate the art the book shows off. Very nicely done.

The Art of Holy Week and Easter: Meditations on the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Sister Wendy Beckett (SPCK) $13.00                          OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40

In a few weeks I hope to have the time and energy to list a few books to use during Holy Week. This little volume just came in today and I don’t want to run the risk of not telling you about it, so will gladly celebrate it briefly, here, now. Hooray!

I know you know the aforementioned hand sized The Art of Advent compiled by the aforementioned Jane Williams. The companion volume for that has been The Art of Lent compiled with reflections by the late Sister Wendy. Now, here, we have another in that series of small, fiull color, very, very classy little art books with devotionals for the season.

The Art of Holy Week has 30 art pieces (some instantly known, many famous, some somewhat rare) and her discussions on them and the Biblical matters and spiritual truths the art conveys. It is arranged with 7 or so paintings and reflections in four major sections. The first set are arranged under the rubric “This Is My Body” and includes art of Jesus entering Jerusalem, cleansing the temple, and several of the last Supper and in the Garden.

Part two is entitled “Behold the Man” and of courses includes the betrayal, the trial before Caiaphas, Peter’s denial, the trial before Pilate, and Jesus being stripped of his garments and mocked.

Part three includes powerful paintings and descriptions under the heading “Father Forgive Them” and as you can imagine they are mostly crucifixion works and scenes of Jesus being mourned by his disciples, by Mary, the angels (one I’ve never seen by Guercino (1617-18)  and the entombment.

The fourth set of nine paintings include Christ’s descent into hell, the women visiting the tomb, several on resurrection, and several post-resurrection scenes (including Caravaggio’s famous Supper at Emmaus (1601) and an 16th century icon of “Doubting Thomas.”

The art here is almost all ancient or medieval. There is one striking one from 1987. There may be one or two you don’t care for. (There is one I rather disapprove of, but yet Sister Wendy’s description is edifying.) What a great little book this is. Along with The Art of Lent this is a real joy to own or to give.

Remember when you order to please tell us your preference about shipping. As we’ve noted often, USPS is slower than usual these days and while “Media Mail” is the cheapest ($3.25 for one or two books) it may take longer than usual. UPS cost about $7.00 or $8.00 for one or two books but is more reliable. Please tell us any needs you have in the secure order form page when you enter your information so we can serve you well.

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LENT 2021 – Good books for complicated times. 20% off from Hearts & Minds Bookstore. ORDER NOW.

Please be aware that depending on where you want us to send the books, the United States Postal Service (USPS) may be considerably delayed. “Media Mail” is about $3.25 for one book but can take a while (weeks?) UPS is more costly (about $8.00, depending on weight and destination) but much more reliable. It is really helpful if you tell us what your shipping preferences would be so we can serve you well. Please call us if you have any questions.

It is really helpful if you tell us your shipping preferences so we can serve you well.          Please call us if you have any questions.

In the last few years we have delighted in sharing with you a complication of some of our favorite resources to read during Lent. Most obviously, these included daily devotionals and books designed for this 40 days of reflection, penitence, sober reflection, spiritual formation in the ways of the suffering servant. Some of these are still quite useful and some of the books are highly recommended. The Art of Lent: A Painting a Day by Sister Wendy Beckett (SPCK; $17.00) is the companion paperback to the fabulous Art of Advent and has been a big seller for us. There are standard books of readings like Bread and Wine (Plough; $24.00) the Plough Publishing volume that is a companion to their popular Advent anthology, Watch for the Light. Each year we tell about Paraclete’s God is For Us edited by Gregory Wolfe & Greg Pennoyer (Paraclete; $21.99.) Naturally, we sell all the Adam Hamilton resources, books, study guides, DVDs. And every year I love saying that Fleming Rutledge’s 2002 release The Undoing of Death (Eerdmans; $24.00) remains a book that means very much to me and that I read from every year. Last year her handsome, compact hardback Three Hours: Sermons for Good Friday (Eerdmans; $18.00) was especially popular near the end of Lent as we approached Holy Week.

All are still 20% off the listed prices.

You can see some of those previous Lenten BookNotes columns HERE, HERE, or HERE.

For a more wide ranging list — 40 books that aren’t Lenten devotionals but seemed somehow righteous at the time — check out this somewhat Lenten list from 2017.

This year, perhaps due to the great sadness of the public health crisis and the laments emerging from the brokenness of our body politic, I seem still stuck in exile. I still dip into Fleming Rutledge’s Advent (with its profound sermons on yearning for Christ’s coming in judgement and hope, seems nearly Lenten to me.) Quite practically, I’ve been so busy with our new workflow from our pivot to mostly mail-order and online correspondance, that we haven’t been able to write much about new Lent resources for this complicated Year of our Lord 2021.

Sorry if this is a bit later than you may wish. Still, we’re glad to send it out, hoping it helps somebody along the way. There are some good book ideas, for sure.

We’ve got two lists, here, now. You can, of course, order them by clicking on the link at the bottom that says “order.” That takes you to our secure order form at the Hearts & Minds bookstore webpage. We’ll be sure to write back and acknowledge the order personally.

If you don’t want to enter credit card info there at the “order” tab, please feel free to call us here at the shop from 10 am – 6 pm Monday through Saturday. You can reach us at 717-246-3333.

So, two lists:

First, a few new Lenten titles for those who want a brand new devotional designed for this seasonal use. Don’t forget to review the previous posts (see above) listing other specifically Lenten resources.

(In a couple of weeks, by the way, I’ll do a list of books about Easter, including some splendid children’s picture books, board books, resources for teaching about Good Friday and Easter. We know some of customers like to include books in the Easter baskets, so we’ll be on that.)

Secondly, after listing a few recommended brand new Lenten titles, I’m going to offer a random list of other stuff that I feel drawn to tell you about. I’ve been pondering this, prayerfully considering what to suggest, and these, for whatever reason, seem useful to share.

NEW LENTEN DEVOTIONAL BOOKS FOR 2021

Where the Eye Alights: Phrases for the Forty Days of Lent Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Few authors have routinely with each new release captured our attention as has Marilyn McEntyre. Anyone who has heard me speak about books and reading has heard me rave about her splendid Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. This fall her sequel to that, Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict explores a handful of great writers whose prose and poetry is commendable. Some really liked her Make a List and her devotional Word by Word is great. A book that perhaps isn’t as well known but which we have often highlighted in books talks and displays (back when we did off site stuff) was a small paperback called What’s in a Phrase? She wrote wise and interesting reflections on phrases in the Bible that just happened to catch her attention.

Where the Eye Alights is a Lenten version of that. Has your eye, like hers, alighted on a phrase. Might you ponder it, meditate upon it, pay attention?  That’s the trick, she seems to say. Listen to this:

Lent is a time of permission. Many of us find it hard to give ourselves permission to pause, to sit still, to reflect or meditation or pray in the midst of daily occupations — most of them very likely worthy in themselves –that fill our waking minds and propel us out of bed and on to the next thing. We need the explicit invitation the liturgical year provides to change pace, to curtail our busyness a bit, to make our times with self and God a bit more spacious, a little more leisurely, and see what comes. The reflections I offer here come from a very simple practice of daily meditation on whatever comes to mind in the quiet of the early morning.

Rooted in Love: Lent Reflections on the Life of Christ edited and introduced by Sarah Mullally (SPCK) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

What a great and clear idea this book is — Lenten devotionals written by the area bishops of the Diocese of London. Revered Mullally is a remarkable woman; before her call to ordained ministry she was the Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health and a midwife, which makes me think of the great women of “Call the Midwife.”  In this paperback you’ll find an introduction to the life and work of Jesus in 40 short reflections, each with a suggested action and a closing prayer.

An Ocean of Grace: A journey to Easter with Great Voices from the Past Tim Chester (The Good Book Co.) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Another book from the UK, Tim Chester is well known here in the states (with some of his books published by Crossway.) He is a pastor at Grace Church and this offers his good words inspired by words of believers of the past, from Cyril of Alexandria and Augustine to Catherine Parr and Charles Spurgeon, from John Calvin to Thomas Watson. He favors the Puritans of old England, hymn-writers and preachers who proclaim the mysteries of deep, deep grace.

 

Were You There? Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals Luke A. Powery (WJK) $13.00                 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40

This is not brand new this year but it seems it is being discovered this year for understandable reasons. Powery, you may know, is the Dean of Duke University Chapel (he was formerly a great homiletics prof at Princeton and his brother, I might add, is a theologian who teaches near us at Messiah University.) This book does just what you’d think, reflecting on the spirituals written by those who were enslaved during the years of that American horror. They have often be held up as exemplary, of course, lament and hope mixed in code language, good for the soul and the body politic. The black church and the black church musical traditions have much to offer. Black theologians and leaders like Peter Paris and Bishop Michael Curry have rave reviews on the back. As does Parker Palmer.

And this, about it, by Lauren Winner,

Luke Powery has written powerful contemporary psalms of lament, psalms of hope. This volume offers sorrow, silence, and song as spaces in which our truest selves can dwell with God. A Lenten treasure.

The Villains, Heroes, Cowards, and Crooks Who Witnesses History’s Biggest Miracle Daniel Darling (Moody Press) $13.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19

It was a bit more than a year ago when I finally met Dan Darling at the annual Christian Legal Society event in Chicago. We had reviewed and promoted his book on human dignity which offered an argument for and handbook about a consistently pro-life, just treatment of all people and it was a blast to meet him. He has written a lot, actually, and last year we sold a handful of his very intersting The Characters of Christmas. This one is just like that, each chapter a sermon on and exploration of  a character of the Easter story plot-line.

There are 10 chapters (each nicely set off with a bit of colored ink, too) with each complicated character being named with a certain attribute — titles such as “The Failure – Peter”, “The Beloved –John”, “The Rogue – Barabbas”, “The Powerless – Pilate”, and so forth. He looks at the religious leaders, the women at the tomb, those behind the scene, the Romans. His introduction “Why We Need Easter” is quite good

At the end of each easy to read chapter there are study questions and suggested hymns  and contemporary Christian songs. Very nicely done.

Essential Lenten Prayers (Paraclete Press) $10.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $8.79

What a nice collection. This is a small-sized, compact paperback that stands alongside others in their series (Essential Celtic Prayers, Essential Mystic Prayers, Essential Christmas Prayers and Essential Easter Prayers.)

It includes some prayers for Ash Wednesday, prayers for morning & evening, prayers for penance & fasting, seven Psalms of confession, some prayers, of course, for Friday and others, including some final ones by famous Christians from the broader ecumenical tradition down through the ages.

David’s Crown: A Poetic Companion to the Psalms Malcolm Guite (Canterbury Press) $20.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $16.79

Okay, I suppose this isn’t exactly designed for Lenten use although it just came out and it is a devotional companion to the Psalms, so I’m going to call it a Lent resource. Of course, the famous British poet is well known in church circles and has several thoughtful collections of poems for liturgical or devotional use.

His collection that is designed specifically for Lent is one we’ve promoted before, called The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter Canterbury Press; $21.00.) You should also consider Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for Christian Year (Canterbury Press; $16.99) which also has some material for Lent and Easter and Eastertide. It’s really good.

David’s Crown is described by Canterbury in the UK like this:

A corona is a crown, the pearly glow around the sun in certain astronomical conditions, and a poetic form where interlinking lines connect a sequence. It is the perfect name therefore for this new collection of 150 poems by the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite, each one written in response to the Bible’s 150 psalms.

GENERAL BOOKS RECOMMENDED FOR LENTEN READING

Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God Ruth Haley Barton (IVP) $22.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

We stock all of the excellent “formatio” line of IVP and Ruth Haley Barton’s several books remain essential reads, in my view. We so respect writing and her work at the Transforming Center. This book came out a year or more ago and I wanted very much to highlight it when the stay-at-home quarantine orders went into place last Spring. Things conspired to prevent me from writing much during that time but as the seasons wore on, and we still have to be careful about staying home, I think that adapting this book into our current context would be a fabulous exercise for some of us.

For what it is worth, when I heard that this was a book Ruth was working on, I wondered if it would be that, well, interesting (for starters) and (more importantly) actually edifying. How to put together a little time apart? What to do on a retreat? Sounded to me like a blog post or brochure to pick up at the counter of the retreat center. I’m happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I should have known… she really has a heart for helping folks and digging well into a topic. This book deserves a careful bit of attention and you will enjoy it, I’m sure.

Ruth Haley Barton understands the process of spiritual transformation and writes in a way that is appealing to those just beginning their journey into a more contemplative spirituality. Yet, her books are read and re-read by those with a deeper bent and who have longer experience in the monastic sorts of practices. So, no matter where you find yourself on the spiritual journey, her work is wise and good, solid and redemptive.  This resource cries out to be pondered, inviting us to some self-examination about what makes us so tired, why we need to be intentional about planning for returning to our first love for God and discovering the life-giving rhythms of rest.

Ruth has long been a prayer partner and consultant for some very hectic, important, social justice missions, just as the International Justice Mission and Compassion International So she honed some of this realizing the need for those who are very busy doing demanding work, work that is hard to take a break from. In Invitation to Retreat she gives us what IJM human rights worker Jim Martin calls an “incredibly inviting description of ‘strategic withdrawal.'” Santiago Mellado of Compassion International says, “I was unprepared for such practical, honest, and open insights into the spiritual discipline of retreat.” Me, too.

As Jarrett Stevens (co-pastor of Soul City Church) says,

“You need this book more than you know. Trust me. You do.”

Living His Story: Revealing the Extraordinary Love of God in Ordinary Ways Hannah Steele (SPCK) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

I can’t wait to read some of this myself in the upcoming weeks. I like that this book is The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2021 and that we can read with other Anglicans all over is sort of cool. (And I’m not even Anglian or Epsiopalian!) Consider: if the Archbishop of Canterbury (Rev. Justin Welby) selected this new book of all the options out there to have his flock read it together this season, it is almost surely an excellent book. This certainly is relevant to the latest insights about apologetics and evangelism and faith formation, that we live in a world shaped by stories and the gospel ought to be understood as a story, a story we enter. Can we learn to listen well, “to understand other people’s hopes, dreams and interests” and thereby build bridges and convey the gospel more naturally. In this post-Christian culture, folks simply don’t know what story they are a part of, let alone the coherent plot of the Christian story.

Living His Story is a book about communication, about construing meaning, about gospel narratives, about sharing goodness the way Jesus and His disciples did.

Is this a book about evangelism, then? It seems so.  As the author reminds us, “Stories tell us who we are, where we belong, and how we related to the world around us.” But, as the publisher says:

This liberating book, ideally suited for Lent reading, suggests many ways of engaging in invitational evangelism. Through exploring accounts of Jesus and his first followers, we discover simple and practical ways of telling the gospel story afresh.

Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Broadleaf Books) $16.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I read this book when it first came out as the topic is appealing but, more, the author is a man I admire greatly, a Hearts & Minds customer and friend. We’ve told you about him and his important books before; most recently we’ve commended Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century (2018) and, with Patrick Keifert, How Change Comes to Your Church: A Guidebook for Church Innovations (2019.) Wes has told some of his own story as a small-town evangelical boy who arose to global leadership in the World Council of Churches (with a season of working in DC with Senator Mark Hatfield and editing Sojourners magazine) in his auto-biographical memoir Unexpected Destinations.He has written books on eco-theology, on leadership, on his extensive involvement with the global church.

All of this has come together, tributaries flowing like in what Richard Foster calls “living streams”, into a great river. Lot’s going into it and still on the move. This gentle story offers the latest step in the journey for brother Wes. As I’ve said, he has written often about the relationship between inner spirituality and social justice work, between care of self and care of creation, and other sorts of theologies of integrated, missional holism, so you might know that we’re fond of his articulations. His ecumenical commitment to the global church is so beautiful and commendable and his good ideas rooted in a coherent worldview — he has served much of his life in the largely Dutch Reformed Church of America — resonates with me and my appreciation for public theology for the common good.

And yet, like many, Wes longs to deepen his discipleship in ways that often come for many of us; namely, in ways that transcends mere ideas and theology and even activism. Of course, he doesn’t renounce ideas or theology or public action, but he continues to voice concern about this oddly Western/modern notion that we primarily know God in our heads, by formulating doctrines about God. Or that faith is primarily about belief (rather than trust in covenantal relationship.) In Without Oars he “casts off” as the great Celtic mystics missionaries would, into strange waters in coracles (literally, boats without oars) to see where God’s winds would blow them. This is a book about spiritual pilgrimage and it is largely written as a memoir about his own experiences of actual pilgrimages.

Without Oars starts with and is anchored by Wes’s good writing about his journey on the El Camino. I hope you’ve read at least something in this genre (and have watched the splendid Martin Sheen film about hiking the El Camino trail called “The Way.”) This book captures much of this trail and the hard and funny and poignant stories that come out of that rigorous pilgrim’s journey. It’s so interesting and how he weaves inspiring messages through this lovely story in a way that isn’t too preachy makes it a book that’s hard to put down.

I must say, though, that the writing seems to shift a bit as Granberg-Michaelson moves from the El Camino stories to his experience, sometimes alone, sometimes with his wife, to other sacred sites of holy pilgrimages. (Some of these you may know about, like Lourdes, and others, like a place of miraculous dirt at a small Catholic church in New Mexico, or a vivid gathering in Nigeria, you may not have heard of.) With each leg of this journey, with each report from the road, he offers new insights about truth, goodness, the gospel, the way of Christ, the failures of the church, his own hopes and dreams, and new ways to live into the reign of God in these complicated times. This ancient future stuff is not really new for Wes, but this book brings it together in an almost stunningly beautiful story cum manifesto. I happen to know he is very glad that God has lead him to write this particular kind of book. Me too.

Rev. Michael Curry says “I found myself caught up ‘in the Spirit’ in the story, in the insights, in the wisdom in the pilgrimage. Wow!”  Shane Claiborne says “This book will help you declutter your soul.” Of course Wes’s good friend Richard Rohr endorses it, saying it describes the “promise and the joy” “that makes us want to start walking,”

I could say more about this entertaining, well-written story of the faith journey and this particular part of it, describing our discipleship as “our embodied practice of heading into the unknown and unknowable — with all the excitement, risk, and rewards that come with letting go.” There are so many good lines in the little book and so much to ponder. Even the cover has to be pondered carefully as you see the “letting go” of the oars themselves, sinking into the deep in the lower left corner…

Diana Butler Bass’s forward is only a few pages but is fabulous. She describes how the book is “sort of” like a map. She says, too, “If this book were only a map, it would be like a wedding invitation. But it is more.”

She summarizes much of what Wes offers, such as:

…what you can expect as you walk, like markers you see on some roadsides. How pilgrimages start with restlessness, how we are not really who we think we are, that patience is a gift, what we think makes us secure actually imprisons, faith is far more than we think the Spirit is reckless, grace is always surprising, turning our backs on injustice is necessary on this road, and the end of all is love.

Here is what the publisher says of it:

The way of the pilgrim begins with what we leave behind–not so much a journey to a holy place, but a holy practice of leaving the comforts of the familiar for a radical vulnerability, letting the very breath of God direct us on the unknown, stripped-down path of trust. In Without Oars, Wes Granberg-Michaelson blends history, storytelling, biblical insights, personal reflections, and spiritual formation in an inviting call to discover pilgrimage as a way of life. This book offers a unique perspective on the faith journey as an embodied practice of heading into the unknown and unknowable–with all the excitement, risk, and rewards that come with letting go.

I could write more. I loved this book (even if I most likely won’t ever go to the places he takes us and I may have wished for a different line or two here or there.) I highly recommend it. And, better, I recommend it as a Lenten read. I hope you consider sending us an order now.

Here is a free Reflection Guide for your own use or for those who want to pull together a Zoom group to study it together. Thanks for this, Wes.

https://ms.broadleafbooks.com/downloads/Without%20Oars_ReflectionGuide_WEB.pdf

The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself By Forgetting Yourself Marlena Graves (IVP) $22.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

I’ve told you before about this great 2020 book and her previous one (A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokennes.) Marlena is a very good writer, a church worker who has also done justice activism. (As one who used to be involved in the grape and lettuce boycotts of Cesar Chavez and the UFW, I was thrilled to learn that Marlena has worked with FLOC, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Ohio. Prayer and justice? Yes!)

So, this award winning book is ideal for Lent as it does invite us to a downward journey, following Christ on the journey towards humility and servanthood. Although it is a paradox (at best) this is good news she is exploring. She starts with that Kierkegaard line where he says, “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” Or, in the harder words from Jesus from Mark 8 “…whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Yep, this book is on solid ground but offers profound and well written insight about emptying oneself so God can move us toward Himself. In this she is offering ancient insight from the Russian and Orthodox tradition — it’s fun having this rural gal of Puerto Rican descent citing Russian mystics alongside old black spirituals and contemporary authors like her friends in Ronovare like Richard Foster and the late Dallas Willard.

Here are a few of the rave recommendations for The Way Up Is Down.

“I know of no one who cares less for the superficial ‘worries of this life’ (Mt 13:22) than Marlena Graves. She is a voice calling out in our generation, beckoning us to a vision of Christ that has nearly been drowned out by the rise of self-help pseudo-Christianity. And this book? This book is her heart on paper. If you want to sit under a spiritual giant, and if you want to remember just what kind of freedom we are called to in Christ, do not miss this message.”–Sharon Hodde Miller, author of Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More

“When conversations about discipleship or living into the kingdom of God seem heady and out of reach, I turn to writers like Marlena whose feet are firmly on the ground. She gives us a path to walk and practices to embody our big hopes and dreams about the upside-down ways of Jesus. If you’ve ever wondered how the last will be first (and what that even means for someone with privilege), Marlena is a faithful companion and guide to you. She is bold and pastoral–a rare combination–and best of all, she is the real deal. She has never lost sight of the people for whom this gospel is such good news, and in her words there is an invitation for all of us.” –Sarah Bessey, author of Miracles and Other Reasonable Things and A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal

“Marlena writes with passionate urgency, nuance, and spiritual substance. She offers a much-needed word for a culture that prizes identity in what we achieve and make of ourselves. I found myself truly enriched by her powerful vision of relinquishment for the truly significant and flourishing life offered by Christ.”–Rich Villodas, lead pastor, New Life Fellowship, New York City, author of The Deeply Formed Life
“Breathtaking. A stunning achievement. This book aches for us, daring to offer its own raw beauty, courage, and unflinching light. What’s most gorgeous about Marlena Graves’s humbling book, however, is its call for moral imagination, even among we who are wounded. If we fall broken at Jesus’ feet, she teaches, we will all heal by his grace–mended and scarred but lifted together. What a brave, rare book for these unlikely times. An honor to read, it’s one of the most exciting theological reflections in recent memory.”–Patricia Raybon, author of My First White Friend and Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace

 

A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal edited by Sarah Bessey (Convergent) $20.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This book releases February 8th so if you order it now from us (at our discounted price) you will be among the very first folks to get it. We have a waiting list already from those who pre-ordered it from us and we are simply thrilled to send them out Monday.

Sarah Bessey is a great writer and we’ve featured here at BookNotes each of her previous books, including Jesus Feminist and the excellent memoir-ish Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God. She is an important voice, in the mold of her dear friend Rachel Held Evans, and here draws in a number of thoughtful women to create a collection of prayers and reflections. Some who she invited into this literary/spiritual conspiracy would call themselves evangelicals, some who used to but no longer do, some who are firmly within the conventional mainline church traditions. It’s the sort of generous ecumenism we love and although I have not seen it yet (as I write) I am confident that it will be rich, thoughtful, lovely, useful, good. There are a few women writers here I know and many that Beth and I respect — from Barbara Brown Taylor to Amena Brown to Lisa Sharon Harper to Nadia Bolz-Weber;  I hope you know the authors Kelley Nikondaha, Enuma Okoro, Kaitlin Curtice, and the aforementioned, wonderful Marlena Graves, to just name a few. I can’t wait to read their prayers and to see how Sarah ruminates on their good words.

One thing I discovered is that there are three main sections of prayers and readings, drawn from Walter Brueggemann’s commentaries on the Psalms: we have in A Rhythm of Prayer entries in categories of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Oh my, that works, doesn’t it?

The Library Journal gave the publishing world a what’s up:

“An inspiring compendium of original prayers and essays written by progressive faith leaders. Each entry is a meditative gift offering a gateway for one to sit with the challenges of living in the world today. . . . The words here allow spiritual devotions to be approached with a diverse lens while remaining God-centered. . . . A book that allows people to speak in their own words while reminding those in positions of privilege that their faith in action is a catalyst for change. This is a welcome addition for those who enjoy contemplative prayer collections that intersect with important topics such as social justice.”

Not having seen it yet (if any editors out there at Convergent are reading this — hey! Hand waving, here!) I can’t say much and can do no better than show this PR bit from the press:

For the weary, the angry, the anxious, and the hopeful, this collection of moving, tender prayers offers rest, joyful resistance, and a call to act, written by Barbara Brown Taylor, Amena Brown, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and other artists and thinkers, curated by the author Glennon Doyle calls “my favorite faith writer.”

(And I thought I thought I created run on sentences!)

It’s no secret that we are overworked, overpressured, and edging burnout. Unsurprisingly, this fact is as old as time — and that’s why we see so many prayer circles within a multitude of church traditions. These gatherings are a trusted space where people seek help, hope, and peace, energized by God and one another.This book, curated by acclaimed author Sarah Bessey, celebrates and honors that prayerful tradition in a literary form. A companion for all who feel the immense joys and challenges of the journey of faith, this collection of prayers says it all aloud, giving readers permission to recognize the weight of all they carry. These writings also offer a broadened imagination of hope — of what can be restored and made new. Each prayer is an original piece of writing, with new essays by Sarah Bessey throughout.Encompassing the full breadth of the emotional landscape, these deeply tender yet subversive prayers give readers an intimate look at the diverse language and shapes of prayer.

Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
This, you may recall, is a book I raved about before it came out and invited you to pre-order at our 20% off discount. We adored and continue to regularly recommend her wonderful Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life and this book continues in that mode of memoir, reflection, teaching, and thoughtful application of nuanced theology to daily discipleship. Prayer in the Night is our biggest selling book so far in 2021 and it will surely be in the running for our favorite book of the year. It is that good and we very highly recommend it.
You can scroll back through out archived BookNotes and find our review last November (2020) to see a more thorough review but the short version of this remarkable read is this: Tish is an Anglican priest, then writing from Pittsburgh, where she suffered any number of sorrows — the death of a parent, a painful miscarriage, a medically dangerous pregnancy, and some standard fare sadness about missing home and being in a new city. She and her husband are good thinkers, dear folks, great writers. She does now whine or mope, but this book — about using the Book of Common Prayer‘s evening prayer of Compline — is gripping as it offers this fairly simple prayer practice in the face of the horrors of theodicy.
The first pages have her bleeding seriously during the tragic miscarriage under the bright lights of an emergency room; I know that hospital and know something of that feeling of great loss in an impersonal institution of that sort. I wept reading the first pages as she cries out for Jonathan to read Compline prayers with her in that complicated setting.
And so, Rev. Warren offers prayers for the night, practices of praying in the night. She writes well about the night — literal and metaphorical — in ways that brought to mind Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor (a book, by the way, she had not read as she was doing her own writing on the topic; I get that.) Her stories range from episodes of sadness and darkness to the glories of life in the dark. She writes about work (in very good ways —  thanks, Tish) and reminds us to pray in solidarity with those who watch and those who weep.
This new Prayer in the Night is an easy to read but substantive new classic, and reading it slowly during Lent would be a wonderful experience for you, even if you aren’t used to Compline Prayer.  We are glad she is speaking again at our (virtual) Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh on February 27th. 

Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World Kathy Escobar (WJK) $18.00                        OUR SALE PRICE  =$14.40

Back in our Advent BookNotes post we commended to you Kathy Escobar’s moving and very important A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas. I know a number of folks thanked us for sharing a resource that honored their greif during that cheery time of year. Of course, in one way or another, this included most of us who knew loved ones who were sick or lonely or worse.

Rev. Escobar is a progressive community organizer, trained spiritual director, and pastor of an inclusive faith community in Denver called The Refuge. Drawing on the often story-based teaching and formational work she does in her own church, she writes the book to flesh out her opening assertion — “You have more power to change the world than you realize.” Oh my, just when I was feeling comfortable with less hope, proximate justice, accepting the brokenness with lament and grief, she suggests that we deepen our spiritual renewal for the sake of the world with hope to make a difference.This isn’t glib or cheesy, but something true, offering hope of “substantial healing” as one once put it. Our personal practices really can spill over into the bigger world. In fact, they must.

I was reminded of the more overtly Reformed book on spiritual formation by Kyle Bennent, Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World and the good forward by Jamie Smith insisting that the classic spiritual disciplines ought to form us in ways that change how we live in the world. That is, spirituality is not just for nurturing our own intimate relationship with God but should enable and cultivate a robust piety that is “for the life of the world.” Or, in the subtitle of Escobar’s great book, we seek God’s transformation so that we can “change the world.” Indeed.

Practicing is really good for a number of reasons. One is to just catch the mood and vocabulary — I guess in her bohemian faith community we can say the “vibe.” We can catch this shift in vocabulary from spiritual disciplines to practices. This language of “practices” is very common now, but for many it is just a word switch. For the best thinkers and spiritual directors, “practices” carries a different feel and denotes am embodied, habitual, and generally outward focus. (Granted in the ur-text of the recent renaissance in spirituality, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says that some of the classic disciplines are clear directed outward.)  Anyway, Escobar’s Practicing is about this matter of embracing practices to see personal change to set us on a trajectory of public discipleship and culture-making.
Pastor Kathy here inspires readers to take up practices that have the capacity to transform us, training us, shaping us, particularly in the ways of being better public citizens, living intentionally in the ways of Jesus for thee sake of others. Brandon Robertson (who has ministered tirelessly to create a more inclusive evangelical movement) says Practicing is “a healing balm.” He continues:

…offering a practical guide for people of faith to reconnect with our faith not just on a pious or intellectual level but in a way that impacts every aspect of our lives. If you are ready for spiritual renewal, read this book!

Each chapter (each starting with “The Practice of…”) focuses on a specific practice which she invites us to consider and guides us towards embracing. Here are the verbs — the habits of heart and lifestyle skills she invites us to as actual practices: healing, listening, loving, including, equalizing, advocating, mourning, failing, resting and celebrating. This is not a rehash of the standard sort of contemplative disciplines and is full of lively stories and application insights.

I loved the Sarah Bessy description on the back complimenting Kathy’s work as many seek a spirituality and sort of faith that is “healthy, life-giving, and truly an embodiment of good news.” Sarah says Kathy is “a faithful companion to those who wander, stumble, and, against all odds, continue to hope.” Sounds like a good Lent read,

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God Rankin Wilbourne (Cook) $16.99.                   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Many who have entered the movement of spiritual formation and have guided people as soul friends in recent years have increasingly been drawn to the language of mystics and poets (emphasizing the journey inward) or of practices (the journey outward.) I get the allure and value of both and appreciate the great resources helping us in this allusive and often mysterious journey of encountering the Divine and learning to serve the world well.

Another important contribution to Christian spiritual growth, though, is too often missed. I think that books and pastors that offer fairly traditional, historic (Protestant) theological categories about union with Christ and being shaped into Christlikeness are very important. This book, some suggest, is one of the very best titles to explore this class notion of “union with Christ.” I read it and reviewed it at BookNotes; having taken up our recommendation, a few of our customers have ordered and then re-ordered it. It seemed right to offer it again, now.  Tim Keller says it is the best book on the subject , in one a Gold Medallion award, and it’s a great price.

I have not yet read much of Rankin Wilbourne’s sequel to Union with Christ, but it sure seems like it would be fitting to work through these next weeks. It is co-written with a young philosophy prof so it meaty, but accesible. It is called The Cross Before Me: Reimagining the Way to the Good Life Rankin Wilbourne (Cook) $22.99.  People who are clear thinkers and good writers themselves have commended this. For instance, Scott Sauls, an author whose books we promote, says:

Rankin and Brian have an uncanny ability to explain deep, complicated truths in a way that almost anyone can understand. The rare combination of intellect and accessibility that they possess shines in this wonderful book. They expand our vision for how the cross not only secures our pardon, but also establishes for us a pattern of life that will lead to freedom and flourishing.

Our friend Michael Gorman, noted New Testament scholar at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute who has done some demanding work on this subject (in books like the masterpiece Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross) says this:

“In this extraordinarily perceptive and powerful book, pastor and philosopher show us how the way of the cross is, surprisingly, the way of life, happiness, and communion with God. I firmly believe that the faithfulness of everyday Christians, the renewal of the church, and the flourishing of humanity depend on taking the sorts of insights and examples found in this book with the utmost seriousness–by embracing them as a way of life.”

Here are three more of the many rave reviews:

“The Cross Before Me heralds the upside-down wisdom of the cross–a paradox meant for settling into the marrow of our lives and forming us into the image of Jesus. But it’s not enough to think of the cross, the authors remind. Rather, if we’re to be led into God’s enduring joy, the glorious shadow of the cross must fall over every square inch of our longings and ambitions, hopes and dreams. Rarely do books cover as much important, theological ground as this one, which makes it a delight for me to recommend.   –Jen Pollock Michel, author of Surprised by Paradox and A Habit Called Faith

The desire for happiness is universal. We all want happiness. And yet we just can’t seem to possess it. Maybe it’s time to take another route, a cross shaped route. Rankin Wilbourne and Brian Gregor winsomely point us to the only true way to happiness, a way that necessitates death in order to truly be fully alive, to be truly happy.”  –Bryan Loritts, pastor; author of Insider Outsider

“I love this book! The Cross Before Me brings the reader on an extraordinary journey. Accessible yet deep, it invites readers into the wondrous caverns of Scripture and the Christian tradition in articulating a much-needed word to today’s church: if you want to flourish, pursue the way of the cross in Jesus Christ. The message is counterintuitive but true. Beautifully written, Wilbourne and Gregor make this case by drawing together a colorful tapestry of voices from literature, philosophy, theology, and popular culture. I give thanks to God for this book, and I plan to recommend it frequently.                        –J. Todd Billings, author of The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live

The Glorious Pursuit: Becoming Who God Created Us To Be Gary Thomas (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Here is another book that seems to me to be heading us in the right direction — not merely semi-mystical encounters with some vague Divine, but a oneness with Christ who can remake us into His own image if we let Him. I adore the good spiritual writing about holiness and a life that matters and joy and spiritual renewal in the many other books by Mr. Thomas. He’s best known for books on marriage and parenting (and even dating) but this is one of his best.

(Thanks to his other publisher Zondervan, by the way, for re-issuing an expanded version of his groundbreaking Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Encounter God and a new accompanying DVD curriculum.)

And to NavPress for the great “pottery wheel” on the cover on this one. Very nice.

The Glorious Pursuit, is perfect for this transformative time of the liturgical year. Curiously, they changed the subtitle in this brand new revised edition and it seems to me a bit annoying, capitulating to the trend to describe faith formation as finding your true self. It isn’t a huge deal and I understand the impulse but most often the Bible suggests our true self is a traitor to the Kingdom of God and as rebels, we ought not want to be true to our own selves. Rather, we get a new self.  We become new creatures.Well, this is a book that helps us do just that, receive the gift of our new, transformed selves. How, you ask? We take up the “glorious pursuit” of practicing the virtues of Christ. Yep, that was the older subtitle. I guess “becoming who God created us to be” is less daunting and more appealing than “putting on the virtues of Christ.” Maybe folks don’t even know what  virtues are, let alone the virtues of Christ. In any case, I hope the marketers are right and this wonderful book that calls us to Christ-likeness and helps us discover the long-term change that comes from following Jesus, is widely read. If so, we might “reveal His glory in how you live your everyday, transformed life.”

By the way, the chapters examine the lifestyle of Jesus, characterized by virtues such as humility, detachment, generosity, love, gentleness, fortitude, and many more. This is a great book.

Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times Bishop Michael Curry (Avery) $27.00           OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Well, you know what the Good Book says, over and over: the greatest of these is love. The above mentioned books certainly help us towards that. Christlike virtues and spiritual practices deepened during this intentional space of discerning God’s Lenten work in our lives all should lead us to love. Yes. Obviously so, eh?

But can we suggest as a Lenten read a book with such a happy guy on the cover?

Happily, this recent book by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has been very popular among some of our customers who have ordered and re-ordered it these last months. We’ve hand delivered a number of these out back at our parking lot “curb side” delivery, too. It is upbeat and fun and, with chapter titles like “What Desmond Tutu and Dolly Parton Have In Common” you know it isn’t too gloomy. Again, could this be a Lenten read?

Well, yes, yes it can be. It is challenging, after all, to be people who love well. Maybe we could give up being unkind for Lent. And learning to find hope through embodying the virtues of love sure is a challenging way; some might say a “way of the cross.” There are chapters here that are blunt (“It’s Not Easy”) and challenging (“Leave No One Behind.”) Rev. Curry moves from “The Great Relationship Revival” to “The Real E Pluribus Unum.” Can we find “Hope, Help, and Healing” by living into the still more excellent way? Curry helps us believe it could be true. Yes, this mostly up beat book is perfect for this hard time of Lent. Listen to these profound endorsements:

“Bishop Curry proclaims and lives the way of love that has the power to transform broken systems and imperfect people. This book is a gift for our time, as is my dear brother. Listen to him.” — Bishop William J. Barber, II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign; author of We Are Called to Be a Movement“This is a profound and essential book. At once personal and universal, intimate and sweeping, it frames the great question of our time–which is, really, the great question of all time on this side of Paradise–with passion and eloquence. Michael Curry, priest and bishop, plays the prophet in these pages, drawing on his own remarkable life to show us the way we might make our own lives, and the lives of nations, warmer, better, and nobler.”– Jon Meacham, author of Destiny and Power, American Lion, and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Michael Curry believes in love. Not the kind of love that sidesteps and softens our response to the most brutal realities of our deepest, racist, economic, and human oppression. But rather, like Dr. King and, more importantly, Jesus said; the kind of radical love that may be the only thing that can finally overcome such radical sin. On a personal note, Michael is and does what he says about being a follower of Jesus and the way of God’s overwhelming and overcoming love. Love is the Way is moving, heartfelt, and extraordinarily important. In this fearful time, more than perhaps ever before, the world needs this book because, as Michael says, ‘Love dreams visions.’     — Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers Dane Ortlund (Crossway) $19.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I might want to note that it could be a tad ironic to mention this as a Lenten read because this exquisite, profound book draws much upon a Puritan writers who, I’m suppose, would find the language of Lent somehow a unhelpful (Roman) practice the suggest we have to do something to please God or perform some ritual the add to the free grace offered by our Sovereign, merciful Lord. But, be that as it may, or not, Ortlund has written a beautiful book that is elegant and serious, not to be read lightly or quickly. I reviewed it a bit when it first came out and the conservative evangelical and usually Reformed publisher ran out of them in the late fall. We are glad to finally have more in stock.

It is handsome book with a textured cover and deep green flyleaf pages which illustrates that it is a thing of beauty to be read with care. The blurbs are notable (from some of the usual suspects within this faith tradition — Ted Tripp, Paul Miller, Rosaria Butterfield, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Michael Horton. Michael Reeves is a theologian and author who has written a lovely book on delighting in the Trinity and another on rejoicing in Christ. He says of Gentle and Lowly:

My life has been transformed by the beautiful, staggering truths in this book. Dane Ortlund lifts our eyes to see Christ’s compassion-filled heart for sinners and sufferers, proving that Jesus is no reluctant savior but one who delights in showing his mercy. For any feeling bruised, weary, or empty, this is the balm for you.

Sam Allberry, a PCA pastor and author, writes:

Only a few pages in I started to realize how unusual and essential this book is–it is an exposition of the very heart of Christ. The result is a book that astonishes us with the sheer abundance and capacity of his love for us. Breathtaking and healing in equal measure, it is already one of the best books I’ve read.”

Something Worth Living For: God, the World, Yourself, and the Shorter Catechism Randall Greenwald (Christian Focus) $12.99                       OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

If you don’t know what the “Shorter Catechism” is, I don’t blame you for being annoyed by the publisher speaking only to their own. I guess they can’t imagine — and, hey, I don’t really blame them — anyone but conservative Calvinists who are not Dutch and traditionalist Presbyterians caring about the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is a document that was created in the mid-1600s by the smartest Protestant cats in the British world in those days — “Divines” they oddly call them yet today — who gathered at (get this) Westminster Abbey. Yes, that Westminster Abbey. And they created a handful of documents that some Reformed people throughout the world still see as exceptionally important formulations of level-headed, Bible-based, Christian thinking. It is one of several officially recognized creedal documents in the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Confessions but it is mostly used by those in the more conservative Presbyterian Church of America (PCA.)

Francis Schaeffer’s son-in-law, the beloved Jerram Barrs of Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis wrote the foreword to Greenwald’s book and he is amazed by it. He says it is beautifully done, good even for skeptics or seekers, and that in it, we learn not only much about God and His truths but about what it means to be human. I liked that. He notes that the author writes with humility and vulnerability. Again, it’s true and good and a bit rare for this kind of teaching of dogmatics.

Barrs’s foreword is right — Greenwald has written a book like none other on this relatively obscure (for most people) theological teaching document. There are a number of dry manuals to both the Larger and the Shorter Catechisms (not to mention the Westminster Confession that was created also at that time back by the Divines at their several years long session at the Abbey.) Something Worth Living For is not like those. It is lively, witty, careful to explain its in-house lingo, pastoral and, at times, quite compelling. And short. That is, it is a short introduction to key theological themes that are explained in ways that are interesting and relevant.

It is, as the title puts it, a book about life, about something “worth living for.” (Again, why on Earth the Scottish publisher has a set of book spines in a book about living well is beyond me. I make an idol out of my love for books and this bored even me!) But trust me, the colorful but meaningless cover should not turn you off — you should check this out even if you aren’t familiar with this old Presby manifesto. Greenwald is a solid, caring pastor, a sharp, interesting guy, a bit funny, and a great writer. Some who follow his blog and know his years of honing his craft know him as a very good preacher, too. And did I mention he can be funny?

(And, I might note, Rev. Greenwald delightfully enhances his own good insights by drawing on writerly quotes from a wider range of sources than you might expect in a book about the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Authors like Kathleen Norris, Frederick Buechner, and Marilynne Robinson, lines from TV shows like The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a bit from The Princess Bride, and a reference to Luna Lovegood, all are alongside more expected quotes from the likes of Tim Keller and J.I. Packer. Fun!)

I would think that this Lenten season is a good time to commit oneself to discerning what one believes and why. A study of conventional, classic Reformed theology of an Anglo sort, could serve you well. Under Greenwald’s tutelage (offered, by the way, in a succinct Q & A style consistent with the WSC itself) you’re sure to come to a better vision of the meaning of our lives under the sun. It’s a big claim for a small book. Check it out and see for yourself.

And check out these endorsements — more glowing than one typically sees on books about the theological questions of those Westy Divines.

Finally a book of theology and the Reformed faith that won’t bore the reader to death. This is a book that will be such an incredible tool for small study groups, leadership training and laypeople who are often looking for an understandable and useful guide to the Christian faith. — Steve Brown of KeyLife Radio and author of many books such as One Free Sin

Randy has a great gift for finding illustrations, real parallels between the deep things of redemption and our present experience. This is the kind of teaching that will move modern people to study the Catechism, and the Scriptures, for themselves.  — John Frame, theologian and author of many books, including Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers

As a professional writer and editor, I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of Randy’s writing; I’m also struck by his deep theological knowledge, and how it’s paired with genuine pastoral concern for those around him. This is a project that requires writing chops, theological acumen and a pastor’s heart. Randy’s got them all.— Nathaniel Espino, editor

… brings the deep, rich, biblical and reformed theology of the 17th century Westminster Shorter Catechism to life in the 21st century in a way that is warm, inviting, accessible, conversational and centered in Christ and the gospel of saving and transforming grace. — Mark L. Dalbey author and President of Covenant Theological Seminary

The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything Will Willimon (Paraclete Press) $16.99. OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I suppose you may know that The Revered Doctor William Willimon is one of the most prolific Christian writers of our time. As the former Dean of the Chapel of Duke University and a former United Methodist Bishop, Willimon has spoken plainly about being Biblical people in a secularizing age. He calls the church to be the church and, in many of his books, he equips pastors to lead well, fearlessly and faithfully to the simple but challenging truths of Jesus. (His other new one, by the way — yet another on preaching — is called Preachers Dare: Speaking for God [Abingdon; $19.99.] Believe me, the dumb cover of the cutout figure on a tightrope doesn’t do it justice!

Well, Will was known for being sly and funny in an understated gentlemanly sort of way for much of his long career, a moving old-school storyteller. Yet he was forthright and candid about the church being faithful to the teachings of the faith. Once he started writing with the even more bluntly provocative Stanley Hauerwas, he became even more known for his call to live like “resident aliens” and live out the Bible against the worldview and ideologies of the American dream.

I suppose you know at least a bit of that, and maybe have read him in The Christian Century or heard your pastor quote one of his memorable lines (or maybe even remember when we had him at the Jubilee Conference back in Pittsburgh.)

I am simply thrilled to announce that his long out-of-print first book –his very first one — has just been reissued. The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything is more or less a collection of sermons preached at his first church, somewhat inspired by Bonhoeffer’s call to “devastate the congregants in order to deliver them.” I read it decades ago when we were new to this work.

What do you say to a members of a congregation that seem blase about their faith, who don’t feel a “need” to rely on the gospel all that much? How to you preach not to the hurting and knowingly alienated and needy but those who are privileged and content? This was his first unforgettable attempt at preaching to the upwardly mobile person who thinks she has everything.

There is a great new preface to this old book and it’s great to read Will ruminating on these old messages. Even better, there is a great new foreword by UCC leader Lillian Daniel (author of, among others,When ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ is Not Enough.) Her few lines about leaving her punk band to become a pastor of a New England church and hearing Willimon sermons on cassette are nearly worth the price of the book. I think I might have had some of those cassettes.

These mid-70s sermons are honest, real, challenging — without being haranguing.

I’ve always appreciated Willimon’s strong condemnation of cheap faith, of racism, of materialism, of the philosophies of scientism and Enlightenment notions of rights and social contracts. He takes the Bible seriously without being a fundamentalist. He’s not afraid to be outspoken. I’ve also enjoyed his own self-effacing admissions, at times.  For instance, he writes,

When I was serving my first student pastorate in George, I remember complaining to a seminary professor about how disappointed I had been over the poor quality of my church members. They had shocked me with their marital problems, their lack of commitment, and their general backwardness. Frankly, I thought that I deserved better. After listening to my long complaint, the professor replied, “But the really shocking thing is that Jesus said that people like them would be entering the Kingdom first. What do you do with that?”

This study, The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything is as needed now as it was then — maybe more so. It isn’t condemning or shocking but it does point us to a more real faith and a more robust discipleship. Not bad for Lent, eh?

(Hey, believe it or not, we have a copy or two left of the original paperback published by Judson. If you want it, it’s yours with a purchase of this new one. Just ask; for the first two only of course.)

Praying With Our Feet: Pursuing Justice & Healing on the Streets Lindsey Krinks (Brazos Press) $17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Years ago we would have been stunned that a publishing house owned by an evangelical outfit in Grand Rapids is willing to do such a innovative, honest, and — let’s face it — controversial book about serving God in ways that include demonstrations and protests and a lot of time hanging with folks on the margins with colorful names that ring true to those who have spent time on the streets. That the irresistible The Irresistible Revolution with Shane Claiborne citing Dorothy Day and William Stringfellow was published by Zondervan back in the 1990s was ground-breaking and, I think, a bellwether of more interesting days for the evangelically-Christian publishing industry. Did these guys who published books by Ollie North even know who the Berrigan brothers that Shane sited were and realize his involvement in similar dramatic acts of civil disobedience? Our bookselling work really got more interesting when fresh voices like Brazos Press appeared. They (along with others, from IVP to Cook to NavPress to Waterbrook) are illustrative of evangelical publishing houses that have become more open-minded around social issues, publishing a newer generation of artful writers who draw on ecumenical sources and offer resources for those who want their love of God and commitment to Christ to lead to righteous acts of healing and hope and social change, culturally relevant, as we sometimes say. That the best books about racism and immigration and ecology and other burning social issues can be found on evangelical publishing houses is one of the great under-reported religious news stories of the last several decades.

But I didn’t foresee a book which includes a bit about the spiritual practice of protesting. This new book is a heartfelt and dramatic story of classic social activism, of hitting the streets as an act of worship and discipleship and love and hope. There is plenty of Scripture and Bible-belt church life in Praying With Our Feet, but the author also cites rowdy folks from Mother Jones to Paulo Friere to her beloved Dorothy Day.

Author and activist Linsdey Krinks is cofounder of Open Table Nashville (a homeless outreach nonprofit) who came to an analysis of the poverty of Nashville as a young activist with the Homeless Power Project and other street-level organizations there. She speaks throughout the country about the integration of action and contemplation and of a faith-based approach to social agitation and community development. For another look at community organizing which is more instructional in nature, see Transforming Communities: How People Like You Are Healing Their Neighborhoods by Rani Sandhya Jha (Chalice Press; $15.99) or Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World by Rev. Alexia Salvatierra (IVP; $18.00.) For a more scholarly examination see the new God and Community Organizing: A Covenantal Approach by Hak Joon Lee of Fuller Theological Seminary (Baylor University Press; $49.95.) There are other books like this, to be sure, but Praying with our Feet is a must for anyone interested in public discipleship among the poor.

Praying with our Feet is written as a narrative, offering a captivating read and the hard-learned lessons of this organizer who grew up in a family plagued with mental illness, addiction, and who hoped to go to college with the simple dream of marrying and moving into a more conventional American middle class lifestyle. Who could blame her? At Lipscomb College, though, she met Christian leaders and professors like Lee Camp (his most recent book is Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians) who encouraged her study of Christian social action and the prophetic tradition from the likes of MLK. She met up with other students who were learning to relate their faith to the issues of the day and were eager to do some dramatic (if benign) attention-getting stunts. She quotes the famous line from Flannery O’Connor about needing to speak in sign language to the spiritually deaf. Once such “sign act” they did was cut out 29,000 little paper dolls which they hung up in the student center to dramatize the number of child that die of hunger each day. All they were doing was trying to break through the student apathy and get people to sign up for a World Vision “Planned Famine.” The college was not amused.

From Dorothy Day to Oscar Romero to the “New Monastic” movement of Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and eventually to Vanderbilt’s Emilie Townes (where Krinks studied after her undergraduate years) she took in and lived out a radical faith that was part anarchist, part liberation theology, and part old-time gospel revivalism. She protested and retreated to the famous Merton-related Gethsemani. She not only cared for the poor, but got to know folks on the streets. She organized and protested, planned civil disobedience, joined with and suffered with tent cities and social refugees. She joined campaigns to take on the powers that be. It wasn’t for years into this work that she heard a speaker citing Frederick Douglas about praying with ones feet in resistance and action and the lights came on.

I believe it is true, these protest actions and community organizing and campaigns on behalf of the socially hurting are prayers. But it isn’t easy and the anguish comes through these pages. It isn’t exactly Tattoos on the Heart or Barking to the Choir or Sara Miles and her exquisite Ash Wednesday/urban ministry memoir City of God: Faith in the Streets, but it’s similar territory.

Liz Theoharis ( who wrote the powerful, serious, Always With Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor) notes that the book is “thoughtfully crafted and powerfully told.” But listen to this:

Praying with Our Feet is a story of a movement growing from those who are homeless but not helpless coming together to demand dignity, life, and change. I thank Krinks for treating the lives and wounds of so many of God’s people as serious and sacred, and for recognizing these people as moral and political agents of change.

I don’t know many books that capture the grit and hope and set-backs and trauma of those who work in this way organizing the marginalized. (But then, I don’t know many authors who called themselves “street chaplains.”) She tells of her journey into activism — the book begins telling about a meeting with her college administrators who were insisting that she and her friends call off a protest against the Nashville Mayor’s bad policies about homelessness — and readers can feel the tension of the episode where older religious leaders are trying to dissuade young idealists from their faithful efforts. (Hands up if you’ve been there!) Later, there is a very dramatic scene where a large evangelical church is outwardly hostile to a homeless shelter her team was creating — NIMBY and all that, with a religious gloss. It was painful but important to read.

In the epilogue we learn that the author and her husband lost their home (as did many neighbors) in an awful hurricane that ravaged through parts of Nashville. It isn’t much, but buying this book helps her and her work. We sincerely invite you to give Praying with our Feet a try. There is a discussion guide that can help you or a group process this remarkable story.

Always a Guest: Speaking of Faith Far From Home Barbara Brown Taylor (WJK) $25.00            OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Unless you are giving up the tactile pleasure of holding a well-made book in your hand, this hardback is a beauty and very nice to hold. The cover is slightly textured, the paper book, it just feels fairly solid, but not bulky. The wordsmith and thoughtful, expansive preacher deserves to be published in such a book. Always a Guest is a collection of sermons and it might make a fabulous book to have on hand as you ponder things this Lenten season.

The sermons are on Biblical texts and are sermons — although, like all good sermons, there some lovely language, some good stories, a couple of jokes. She’s a fine and classy writer but never obtuse or dense. Many have savored her handful of paperback sermon collections (Seeds of Heaven, Home by Another Way, Gopsel Medicine, Mixed Blessings and others) and this one is not much different than those.

There is a bit of a theme, though. Her other published books of collected homilies were, in fact, preached in her home parish where she served as an Episcopal priest and pastor. (Her poignant memoir telling the tale of her coming to leave the parish ministry is told in Leaving Church,) Now, when she speaks or preaches, she is at some other church, a retreat or conference or place like Chautauqua or the chapel at a seminary, say. That is, she doesn’t know the crowd, isn’t their pastor. She is an outside — “always a guest.” There is usually a bit of concern about this (any of us who do public speaking of any sort know this) and she is as always gracious and good as she delivers these messages in a variety of settings and context.

Cruciform Scripture: Cross, Participation and Mission edited by Christopher W. Skinner, Nijay K. Gupta, Andy Johnson & Drew Strait (Eerdmans) $35.00                                                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

Oh my, how can I explain this complex and valuable text? To whom will it appeal as a resource for Lent? Well, it isn’t that complicated. Cruciform Scripture is a book in conversation with, in response to, and in some ways, in honor of and for, our friend Michael J. Gorman. In this remarkable (if at times dense and demanding) collection of academic chapters, the work of Gorman is studied and explained, honored and refined. As Richard Bauckham of the University of Cambridge says, “This is a collection of first rate essays that celebrate Michael Gorman’s work by pursuing his own central concerns in fresh directions.”

As Bauckham points out, and which I concur fully, Gorman’s work always is both attentive to Biblical exegesis but “overflows into theology and the life of the contemporary church.” Indeed, these are the sorts of things our best Christian leaders do, weaving together good Bible study, generative theology, and good insight for living it out within the church and world. Gorman does that and this book in his honor does that.

The contributors to this party of a book are many and they include some of the most important Biblical scholars of the day. N. T. Wright, Rebekah Ecklund, Stephen Fowl, Richard Hays, Nijay Gupta, Sylvia Keesmaat, and Dennis Edmund are here, and more are included. Several who offer stellar pieces I’m not familiar with. A quick skim makes me eager to spend time studying this.  There are chapters on each of the four gospels and many of the Epistles. Some are general, others more specific — the meaning of certain words, phrases in certain key texts. We’ve got Sylvia Keesmaat on anti-empire themes in Ephesians (new ground there!) and a great piece by Tom Wright on Psalms 87 in Galatians.

Brent Laytham is the Dean at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute where Michael teaches. He and his colleague Pat Fosarelli have a really lovely forward to this collection writing a bit more personally about Gorman’s teaching and ministry there at the Institute. (In an afterword his three grown children way in and, to be honest, I read that first!)

Here are two weighty endorsements that might illustrate how important this amazing collection of good chapters really is:

It is a sign of truly important scholarship that it not only receives recognition but also inspires other scholars to continue to press its insights. Michael Gorman has been one of the key providers of truly important scholarship in our generation as he has tirelessly promoted the significance of participation to any deep understanding of what the New Testament is trying to say. The debt we owe Gorman is attested not just by the fine assembly of scholars in this volume who honor his life and work but also by the way their scholarly contributions here engage directly with his interpretations and continue his work, deepening and widening its insights still further.– Douglas A. Campbell, Duke Divinity School

Michael Gorman’s participationist model has made peace with the other approaches to Pauline scholarship. Where some have said ‘I am of Luther, I am of Calvin, I am of Wesley, or I am of Sanders or Dunn or Wright or Campbell, ‘ Gorman took their best insights to find a more expansive place for exploring Paul. Each of these friends and students of Gorman expresses that peacemaking approach of Gorman, as his participationist model of redemption is explored in other facets of the New Testament. This will be a blessing for all of us.  — Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary

Thanks for reading our BookNotes newsletter. Of course, we have many more books than this in the shop and we’re happy to serve you by sending — ordering in if we have to — nearly anything you may need. We’re glad for your support and appreciate those who keep indie bookstores afloat.  Read on, read on!

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THREE FORTHCOMING BOOKS TO PRE-ORDER — 20% OFF — “Turning of Days” and “Every Moment Holy Volume II” and “Discovering God Through the Arts”

Amazingly, I am actually learning to write the date 2021 as the proper year – it takes me a while, in early January, you see. Better, we already have some great new books just now out in the first week of this new decade.

We’ve been selling the brand new Jemar Tisby book, How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice (Zondervan; $24.99) and we just got Where the Eye Alights: Phrases for the Forty Days of Lent by Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans; $19.99.) We are exceedingly impressed with Public Intellectuals and the Common Good: Christian Thinking for Human Flourishing edited by Todd Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher Devers (IVP; $25.00) that arrived last week and I’m thrilled that we just got, a bit early, the eagerly-awaited third volume in the much-discussed series by Andrew Root drawing on Charles Taylor for local ministry, The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life (Baker Academic; $26.99.)

Local and real online bookstores need your support as these are hard times for small businesses, but we are confident that we are going to see lots of tremendous books in 2021.

Here are three amazing books coming out in February that we invite you to PRE-ORDER from us now. There are other new titles from authors old and new coming (and, of course, we can take any pre-orders for almost anything that is forthcoming) but these are three we are agog about and think that our unique community of Hearts & Minds readers will find these well worth owning.

All books mentioned are 20% off. Just use the secure Hearts & Minds order form page by clicking on the link at the end of this column.

HERE IS ONE THING WE ASK:

IF YOU PRE-ORDER MORE THAN ONE OF THESE, PLEASE LET US KNOW IF YOU WANT US TO SEND THEM OUT PROMPTLY ON THEIR RELEASE DATE OR IF WE SHOULD CONSOLIDATE THEM AND SEND TOGETHER.

WE ARE EAGER TO SERVE YOUR NEEDS JUST THE WAY YOU PREFER. 

 

Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit Hannah Anderson, illustrations by Nathan Anderson (Moody Press) regularly $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79         release date February 2, 2021

PRE-ORDER THIS FROM US AND GET A SPECIAL BONUS GIFT OF ADDITIONAL SIGNED ARTWORK FROM THE BOOK BY NATHAN ANDERSON.

I don’t know about you, but I love books that inspire me to do what I really, deeply want to do. From praying more to actually working for social justice, from being a better husband to reading more fiction, some books that are about these topics are not only about the topic, but are invitations into the topic. That is, they are deeply engaging, experiential, and motivational. The act of reading them is less about gaining information but is itself about deepening our formation. They invite us in, they send us out. This is one of those books. In fact, the first chapter of Turning of Days is called “Venturing Out.”

This is exactly what Turning of Days has been for me as I’ve worked with an advanced manuscript – it is itself a joy to behold (not merely read) and it is a profound reminder of something I know, but about which I need to be reminded. God is alive and well, showing up in the most mundane of circumstances. Yes, yes! We really can practice the presence of God and nurture in our bones a worldview that allows us to see what we sometimes call the spirituality of the ordinary.

When I teach about this – making a case for reading widely and being life-long learners who are attentive about Christ’s Lordship over all areas of life, including things like learning science or going to work or reading mainstream fiction – I sometimes go to texts in the Bible that tell us (get this!) that God reveals Himself to us, and His ways, outside of the Scripture. For some, this is obvious, but for others it feels risky or disturbing to admit. Yet, this is clear in the Bible itself and while this is not the place to tussle with the Reformation slogan of Sola Scriptura or the “sufficiency of Christ” we can say boldly that while Jesus’ work alone is sufficient for our salvation and that we can know this from the Bible alone, the Bible is not enough for a flourishing, Godly life and Jesus is not sufficient for all we need in this world of His. We need – as gifts from a caring God — productive, healthful farmers and effective dentists and useful computer techs and just politicians and wise teachers and creative artists and faithful preachers and caring friends and good workplaces, do we not? Fair elections and effective public health policies and a well-stewarded infrastructure don’t hurt, either, do they? No, in God’s good and fallen world, we need more than the Bible, more than the gospel; more than Jesus. The Bible itself teaches not only that we need things in this world, but that God in fact speaks to us through these things He gives us.

One of the great texts that teaches us this is Psalm 19: 1-4. It directly says that God speaks to us in the created order. One doesn’t need the hefty, scholarly work The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic; $50.00) to know this (although the truth of it has been so obscured it wouldn’t hurt to take a year and work through this major text.) Really, though, all we have to do is take the Bible’s word for it. “Listen to the animals, listen to the fish” Job 17 says; they will teach you. (Have you ever heard a sermon on that?)  Isaiah 28 says God teaches farmers how to know what seeds to plant in what sort of dirt — I suppose God could whisper agronomy wisdom into their ears but it is more likely the text is, again, reminding us of the revelatory nature of creation itself; old-time scientists used to talk about God’s “book of nature” that teaches us. St. Paul makes the case firmly in Romans 1, as well. And, of courses, our Master Himself instructs us to “consider the lilies.” Yes, the Bible teaches us that we can know reality and something of God, even hear God’s voice, if only we listen to His good creation. This is a commonly assumed insight, actually, implied by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity and explicated wonderfully in the most recent N.T. Wright book Broken Signposts but yet we often fail to live into it. The reasons are numerous – maybe we need foundational help as is explored in a book I highlighted early this fall, The Sacred Overlap: Learning to Live Faithfully in the Space Between by J.R. Briggs (Zondervan; $19.99) that reminds us we are literally in a space where heaven and earth overlap and “hold hands.” There really is “more things in heaven and earth” going on than you dreamt of, Horatio…

Rats. You see, I’ve just done it – led us a tad astray by making the case for this notion, this idea, that God speaks to us outside the Bible as if it is just a concept we must master, that we should agree with. Because I believe in the authority of the Bible to shape our deepest views of the truest truths of things, we do have to agree to this non-negotiable teaching. I named those books above because I am confident they would be helpful in shaping how you lean into life, how you think about God and life and work and play. But yet, this isn’t an abstract fact to check off in some theological checklist. This is one doctrine we have to experience in our bodies, using our senses. A wise person shaped by this aspect of a Biblical worldview has to get outside and sniff around. It is almost as simple as that.

Which brings us, finally, to my invitation to pre-order this marvelous, artful, and moving book of mediations about exactly this. Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit is a lush and lovely square-sized paperback book that is part devotional, part field guide. It is deeply spiritual and yet offers stimulating natural history. It prose is nature writing which is a bit less obscure than Annie Dillard and a bit less political as, say, two of my favorites in this genre, Kathleen Dean Moore or Terry Tempest Williams. Hannah Anderson is a fine creative writer and with her husband’s handy pen and ink drawings (a few in color, most in black and white) to illustrate the work, her writing comes alive, beckoning us in to its pages and then right back out again, to take up her example of encountering the great (and in some cases, a bit creepy) outdoors for yourself. Not in the rugged terrain of far-away wilderness or expensive adventure sports, but by observing the more ordinary nature of backyards and meadows, neighborhoods and local woods. As I said, it is a beautiful book that helps us see God in creation and that motivates us to want to see more, to experience more, to get outside for a bit and discover stuff that we too often fail to notice.

Ms Anderson has shown herself in her previous books to be a very good writer. We know of some young adults (women, mostly) who have exclaimed to Beth and I how much her writing has inspired them. Her most recent one is very nicely written, wise, too, on discernment. It is called All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment (Moody Publishers; $13.99.)

Her 2016 Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul (Moody; $13.99) is a gem of basic Christian living insight about humility and there are hints of her love for real roots and real ground in it. (Just look at that cover.)

Many loved her first one, Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody; $13.99.) That she understands well that the profound Biblical insight of being made in God’s image gives us not only dignity and worth, but purpose and vision is wonderful. That she writes with a clear and breezy style is helpful for many. She’s a thoughtful, fun writer we respect a lot.

Here is what our literary friend Karen Swallow Prior wrote a few years ago about Made for More:

Here at last is a book about Christian womanhood that I can read and recommend, a book that builds a biblical view of womanhood not with proof texts but with foundational doctrines, a book that draws not upon trendy bestsellers but upon the greatest thinkers and writers in history. Made for More transcends narrow, contemporary gender debates with a clear and compelling call for all of us to flourish as human beings made in the image of God.

Or listen to Kathy Keller, writing from New York City when that book came out:

Hannah Anderson’s book Made for More is refreshing. It locates the real discussion of what a “woman’s role” is or isn’t in both men and women being made in the image of God and tasked with the care of creation. This challenges the self-absorbed literature regarding women that has become the norm, as well as self-satisfied women who are content to do little for the kingdom.

So, Hannah’s got a solid, evangelical perspective that is both morally serious and winsomely written. We enjoy and trust her work.

But this forthcoming one, due in February? It’s a step in a fresh direction, a book of a different kind. It is not just that it is illustrated nicely and enhanced in such a lovely way, but that it really does evoke something extraordinary and seriously needed. It honors God by helping us attend to God’s creation.

Here is how the publisher has described this soon to be released volume:

From the beginning, Scripture tells of a God who created the heavens and earth. But what might the heavens and earth tell were we to listen to them? Of order, beauty, and unabashed grace? Turning of Days beckons to a world of tree frogs and peach blossoms, mountain springs and dark winter nights–all in search of nature’s God, all in harmony with Scripture. Join Hannah Anderson as she journeys through the four seasons in this collection of devotional essays and illustrations. Take a look, and see His glory everywhere.

Perhaps you noticed from this description that it not only looks at creation but that it does so in what we might call a seasonal approach. The very title Turning of Days captures this – what we all know but sometimes don’t pay much attention to – by living into the way in which the creation changes, how it swings back and forth with changes in weather and what grows and emerges, in rhythmic seasons. In our part of North America and in hers we call the seasons winter, spring, summer and fall, but all of us sense that our days change. The Bible teaches this, too, and so being attentive to God’s faithfulness to the creation’s weather and the long haul of time is itself part of God’s own plan and glory.

I enjoy the beauty of winter a bit, although less so as I grow older and am eager to stop worrying about slipping on the ice and the need to shovel snow. I think this lovely book is reminding me to cultivate a more spiritual instinct rather than being so practical, as if the most important thing about the ending of March is a relief from the cold and my frustration with not knowing where to pile the snow in our back parking lot. What might it be like if we see the turning of days and seasons as part of God’s own gift, something deeply structured into the created order of things; something deeply beautiful?

This beautiful little book – a lovely square paperback – will help you, here, too. It helps us hear God’s voice in God’s own creation and it helps us see the passage of time – days and nights, weeks and months, seasons into seasons – as the meaningful ordering of our sense of time itself.

Allow me to share just two portions of Turning of Days so you can see how very interesting and, I think, helpful it is.

The first excerpt I’ll show is from an opening note from the author, just setting the stage. For those who are understandably leery when folks start talking about experiencing God in nature – pantheism is an idolatrous ideology, of course – it offers the Biblical framework I opened my comments with, above:

This book is a bit of a paradox because it attempts to use words where nature doesn’t. Writing it was no less paradoxical, and I imagine reading it will be as well. The primary paradox, of course, is that God chooses to reveal Himself through both the natural world and the Holy Scriptures. He chooses to make Himself known through both the universal and the specific. He is the God of both common and particular grace.

Those accustomed to knowing God in certain ways may find it challenging to encounter Him in different ones. Perhaps, you’ll ask, “What can nature teach me about God that Scripture cannot?” or “If I can meet God on a mountain top, why should I worry about a book?” But let me suggest different questions: “What will you miss if you don’t encounter God in all the ways He chooses to reveal Himself? What will you miss if you don’t embrace the paradox of revelation?”

Hannah Anderson has a keen eye for seeing these paradoxes. Sometimes tells of unpleasant aspects of life on a fallen planet. But she can describe a scene so lovely (and, frankly, unfamiliar to many of us) that it just whets the appetite for me to be more attentive to my own backyard, such as it is (without berries, sadly.)

Enjoy this:

The sun is just rising above the trees, and the air is still cool when I step out my kitchen door. I’m barefoot and the grass is wet and cold. Drops of water hang from the clothesline across the yard like so many miniature garments left out to dry, and mist shrouds the mountain in front of the house. Later today, a summer sun will sit high in the sky, blazing hot, and the moisture will burn away; but for now, warmth comes only from the odd sunbeam and the long sleeves of my work shirt.

I’ve come this morning for the raspberries in the corner patch. It’s heavy with them—pink, red, amethyst, and wine—all at various stages of ripening. The canes bend and arc, and morning dew pools on the leaves, cisterns for bird and beetle alike. As I cross the yard, a mourning dove calls for a mate. There’s a newness to these mornings, as new as if I were walking in Eden itself, fresh and full of hope. I’ve come to collect raspberries for breakfast but more likely I’ve come to collect myself.

Nice, huh? In a sense some of this reminds me of one of our favorite writers of recent years, Christie Purifoy who wrote Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace and Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. I know many of our customers have enjoyed her writing and I am sure they will also love Turning of Days.

Again, you will learn something about God; you may even experience something of God in this book. Like any good devotional material, there are Bible texts and quotes from reliable theologians. It will shape you spiritually as you find yourself, as the old hymn puts it, perhaps “lost in wonder, love and praise.” But you will learn things (or be reminded to care about things) on Earth, about biodiversity, about cicada, about something called circinate vernation, about soil and Sabbath and seeds.

(And, just for the record — Anderson does cite Annie Dillard once, and a beloved poem, Aurora Leigh.)

Without overwhelming you, this gentle, brief collection of devotional essays will invite you to know God’s world so you can care more about daily life, practicing the presence of a God who chooses to speak to us in the things of seasons changing and nature’s sturdiness. We invite you to order it now and receive with it (when it releases in February) a free gift of signed artwork — the full color picture of the turtle from the cover, I think — from Nathan Anderson.

Here are a few fine writers, artists, and thinkers who themselves have been blessed and stimulated by Turning of Days.

Turning of Days delights, mesmerizes, and intoxicates . . . a rare book, full of truth and beauty.”  Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

“It is often hard to read nature’s testimony . . . Turning of Days is a delightful primer for us all.”  Ned Bustard, illustrator and designer of Every Moment Holy

“This book left us breathless. It powerfully knits the threads of natural revelation and grace, and . . . elevated what we get to call our daily work in a way that will never leave us.” -Sarah & Steve Pabody, CEOs, Triple Wren Farms

Turning of Days captures my heart at the core . . . a celebration of beauty that comes at just the right time.”  Sandra McCracken, singer and songwriter

“Intimate, moody, soothing; at times searing, like nature and life itself.”  Julie Zickefoose, author and illustrator of The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds

“If, as the poets say, attention is a form of devotion, Hannah Anderson has given her readers a great gift in these pages. In Turning of Days, she has modeled the worship that begins by venturing out, bending down, and considering: the frost and the floods, the deer and the daisies, the seeds and cicadas. To attend to our glorious, groaning creation is to see the steady Hand that sustains life in all of its teeming and wild variety. “An entire cosmos designed to teach you faith,” Anderson reminds. This lovely, meditative book deserves to be read slowly under the banner of the skies.”              Jen Pollock Michel  author of A Habit Called Faith and Surprised by Paradox

DON’T FORGET:

While supplies last we have a signed art print from the book drawn by Nathan Anderson which we will send along for free to the first 20 people who order.

Every Moment Holy Volume II:  Death, Grief and Hope  Douglas McElvey, illustrated by Ned Bustard  (Rabbit Room) regularly, $35.00                   OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00         release date mid- late February 2021

I hope you know the extraordinary volume of prayers for all sorts of daily occasions called Every Moment Holy. If our essay above reminds us of one way to find God’s presence in the ordinary — pay attention to the creation — certainly another way is to develop what James K.A. Smith and others might call liturgical/habitual ritual practices. This prayer book is designed to help you offer brief words of prayer throughout the day, sanctifying daily moments with this sacred practice. Every Moment Holy came out a few years ago, first in a sturdy 8 x 12 leather-covered hardback, and then a smaller, compact, flexible, soft-leathery edition. The type font is wonderful and includes some red ink like more formal prayerbooks; the edges are gilded and there is a silk ribbon marker. It is a handbook for pausing to give voice to our prayers on special occasions (even if the occasions are normal and mundane.) EMH offers what they call “liturgies” (by which they mean what most would call “litanies” — prayers to be said out loud in two or more voices) for occasions as obvious as before meals and before bedtime to more curious prayers to use at moments such as before consuming media, before morning coffee, before setting up a Christmas tree, before a competitive sporting event.  I don’t know who has time to pray before changing diapers, but there are two of them here. The “Liturgy for the Morning Before a Medical Procedure” has comforted many and I must say I love the several that are to be offered while watching weather. I know someone who uses the prayer “before paying bills” each month.

Every Moment Holy has prayers for husband and wife, for the unmarried, for those dating, for the overly busy and for the lonely; anyone facing ordinary sorts of experiences that they want to offer up before the Lord who is with us in all things, anyway. There are liturgies for shopping, liturgies for those who cannot sleep, liturgies for home repairs, liturgies for various aspects of parenting, a prayer for welcoming a new pet, a liturgy for the eve of a wedding, one for “flooded with too much information.”

Most popular, I suspect, among those who have used Every Moment Holy have been the prayers for loss, those that take the shape of lament, liturgies offering for times of loss. Which is why a year or more ago Rabbit Room and Mr. Bustard announced a second volume that would offer resources specifically for such hard times; in anticipation, I’ve been calling it the Every Moment Holy lament edition.

Time and space do not permit me to explain more of this or study the nuances of the (mostly) beautifully written and simple prayers / litanies, or the remarkably apt linocut artwork, done by my good friend Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books and World’s End Images.  Ned’s style is ideal for this liturgical prayer book for ordinary use as his contemporary linocuts bring to mind older woodcuts, but with a light touch in the first edition, at least. (Yes, that is Tolkien in the liturgy to be used before reading a book; yes there is something funny about the art accompanying the prayer over morning coffee.) His linocut of grief inspired by a Van Gogh drawing is worth the price of the book and I adore his simple cut accompanying the prayer “for the enjoyment of a bonfire in the night.” I have prayed it even without the pleasure of a bonfire.

The new one, due out in mid February, is a full sized hardback (like the first, hardback edition of volume 1), covered in a brown/tan leather. It offers, as the subtitle suggests, prayers and litanies for seasons of dying and grieving — liturgies such as “A Liturgy for the Scattering of Ashes” or “A Liturgy for the Loss of a Spouse” or “A Liturgy for the Wake of a National Tragedy.” As the good folks at Rabbit Room put it, “these are ways of reminding us that our lives are shot through with sacred purpose and eternal hopes even when, especially when, suffering and pain threaten to overwhelm us.”

You can watch an artful video at Rabbit Room of one of these liturgies, “A Prayer of Intercession Against the Kingdom of Death.” Not all in Every Moment Holy Volume 2 are that long or poetic, but it is well worth watching. Amazing.
In Mr. McElvey’s Every Moment Holy Volume II:  Death, Grief, and Hope you will get over 100 “liturgies” in this same, beautiful leather-bound hardcover style with all new illustrations by Ned Bustard. I anticipate we will be selling a lot of these as it is so very, very special. I wouldn’t be surprised if the publisher runs out.  Pre-order yours from us today at 20% off.
Here is a rare look at just two of the art pieces which will appear to illuminate the liturgies in Every Moment Holy II.
Discovering God Through the Arts: How Every Christians Can Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty & Creativity Terry Glaspey (Moody Press) regularly $16.99
OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
release date February 2, 2021

 

PRE-ORDER ANY OR ALL OF THESE NOW. IF YOU ARE ORDERING MORE THAN ONE, PLEASE TELL US IF YOU WANT US TO SHIP THEM AS THEY ARRIVE OR CONSOLIDATE AND SEND THEM TOGETHER IN ONE SHIPMENT. HAPPY TO HELP, EAGER TO SERVE. THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND FOR CARING ABOUT GOOD BOOKS.

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A Reflection on our 38 Years as Booksellers — A Heartfelt Thanks from Us to You. (And some books about books, 20% OFF)

I posted a version of this on Facebook and thought I ought to send it out to our BookNotes subscribers, you who are among our best supporters and most regular customers. We’re so grateful you read our words and send orders for us to ship to you. Here’s a little essay ruminating just a bit on our past 38 years. As we say at the end, we couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for being a part of this story.

Yesterday was the 38th anniversary of the opening of our bookstore, Hearts & Minds, here in Dallastown, PA.

As I’ve often said, the very first book we sold that very first day we opened was a paperback of Les Miserable by Victor Hugo. (This was in 1982, by the way, before the powerful musical made “Les Mis” and Victor Hugo a household name.) A deeply Christian classic novel, so different then most of the so-called “Christian fiction” of the 1980s, we were delighted for that to be our first sale and took it somehow as a sign from above: God smiled upon our youthful hopes to create a bookstore that was a bit different than the typical religious shops of the day.

We have written before about our desire to be a bit more thoughtful and ecumenical as a bookstore than some evangelical stores, offering more meaty books than are often found, without being an academic bookstore. We carry gifts and crafts, cards and music, and a fair share of inspirational bric-a-back, but wanted to stand out as a bookstore. When we opened, most religious shops still called themselves bookstores and in our lifetimes many switched to calling themselves “Christian stores” which meant teeshirts and Jesus junk; they’ve even got “Christian toothbrushes.” You know our story of trying to carry books from a Christian perspective across the whole range of life and career areas, titles about engineering and politics and psychology and art and business. You’ve heard me tell stories of folks who have entered our store and, seeing books on ecological studies, have asked, confused, where the Christian bookstore in Dallastown is. Because we carry books on science and film, they can’t imagine that we are that Christian bookstore. And so, it’s been a wild ride these years…

We wouldn’t have been able to open 234 East Main if it weren’t for tons of friends who pitched in (many from Pittsburgh) and our very generous and helpful families, who volunteered, cooked, did accounting paperwork, worked in the shop, cared for our children, and delivered packages (and, let’s admit it, threw good money after bad) for years and years. Of course, we are thankful for many who volunteered and covered for us, for early employees and staff, and for our current team of the last decade, all who love books and care for our customers in ways that humble and honor us.

If you’ve ever worked here — even for a while — I trust you’ll forgive us for not living up to our ideals of doing things a bit differently, with good cheer and a sense of community that promotes theological care for an open-minded, ecumenical book selection, always putting people above profits. We’ve dropped the ball more times than we can say, but we cling to the goodness of God who seems to have guided and sustained us as we’ve tried to be a space for many different kinds of folks to learn about many different kinds of books. What a blast that has been; we hope our corner of the world is a bit better because of the ideas launched through these books we’ve researched, studied, curated, ordered, stocked, shown, and sometimes sold. We thank those who showed up and worked hard for us, seeing this more as ministry than lucrative wage earning.

We’ve been encouraged and blessed by many in our industry — authors whose names you may know, publishing leaders whose names you most likely don’t, and bunches of faithful sales reps, order takers, supply chain workers, (USPS carriers, UPS and FedEx drivers), publishers and editors, book cover designers, publicity and PR teams, and others who make this whole industry work as well as it does. We are thankful to play a small part in a bigger industry that has changed much over the decades and is facing very hard times now. On this weekend of commemoration, I won’t rant about the industry, the dangers of Amazon, and the vexation of moving forward during Covid. But it worries us a lot. We trust God and forge ahead, I guess, recalling what Francis Schaeffer wrote in True Spirituality so many decades ago: the world is abnormal. Or, as Cornelius Plantinga put it in a beautiful book on sin, swiping a line from the movie “Grand Canyon”, things are “not the way it’s supposed to be.” Got it.

But, of course, it is to our customers (many who have become friends) to whom we owe the biggest debt of gratitude. Truly. This weekend of thanksgiving we are deeply grateful for those who have trusted us with their hard questions, who have asked for book advice, who have put us to work finding titles they need, who have browsed our shelves and found surprising treasures (and who had the candor to tell us when they found stinkers and titles that caused trouble.) We thank those who have shelled out their hard- earned money. We thank you for that.

Beth and I are tired from the long hours of these long years, willing to admit that it’s been harder than we expected, but we are cheered when we think of many fine conversations with many fine folks about books and ideas, authors and writing, words and wisdom. Nearly every day we are reminded about the impact we make by getting books to readers. “Read for the Kingdom!” I used to shout, sometimes, at evangelical gatherings; “Books can help transform your vision and move us to work for change,” I might say to others. Or, perhaps a blessing of sorts, to some: “May these titles touch your heart and shape your soul in healthy, good ways.” In any case, our customers know that books matter, that reading is a spiritual discipline that can change us from the inside out, and that the very willingness to learn from others — through fiction, nonfiction, poetry or prose — is an essential virtue that makes us better people and this world a better place. Today, especially, we thank our customers who have kept us going, in more ways than one.

We thank, also, those institutions that have partnered with us; schools and libraries and social change organizations and, of course, many local churches; we thank you. We’ve loved selling books with and for ministries such as our beloved CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach.) I’m sure some tire of us talking about their Jubilee conference, but it has been more than an annual big gig for us, but the center of our liturgical calendar and a touchstone for why we do what we do. We’ll be somehow selling books on line there this year at Jubilee 2021.

On this Hearts & Minds anniversary we think back to the old days setting up book displays for the York Council of Churches (does anybody remember the local Faith Is Alive Christian Ed conferences?), the epic Pennsylvania State Council of Churches events in Harrisburg — where for the first time I heard Walt Brueggemann and Jürgen Moltmann, the same day) and conferences by groups like the C.S.Lewis Institute, Ivy Jungle, Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work in NYC, Q, CIVA, OneLife, Northeast APCE, Wee Kirk, CLS, Fresh Expressions, CLAC, ESA, CPJ, BFW, The Jonathan Edwards Institute, and the Mercersburg Society, not to mention several regular denominational gatherings, from UCC to Episcopalian, from Presbyterian to Lutheran.

We’ve set up at Catholic retreat centers and Christian rock festivals (Purple Door!), at camps and revivals and protest marches and once at the National Press Club. I’ve lectured on books in countless venues; we’ve set up in rec rooms of college student dorms at the beach and in fancy halls at Ivy League colleges and fine (and not so fine) hotels. We’ve sold books and spoken at events in New York and New Orleans, in Dallas and Denver. We’ve set up books in urban justice centers and at rural nonprofits. And of course we delivered book displays to more church basements than we can remember. We love the church basements.

We’ve worked with authors as distinguished as Os Guinness and Barbara Brown Taylor and William Willimon and Tim Keller (loading out, once, from a very fancy, marbled museum in Pittsburgh) and with edgy activists like Shane Claiborne,Lisa Sharon Harper, Nadia Bolz-Weber. I’ve spoken (like a bookish warm-up act) before Brennan Manning and Fleming Rutledge and John Piper and Rich Mullins and Eugene Peterson; Phyllis Tickle once quipped that Hearts & Minds is the very center of the universe. I’ve had the remarkable fortune to interview authors I love such as Michael Card, Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch, Ruth Haley Barton, Jamie Smith. I think the first event we ever did in the store was with Jim Wallis; or maybe Brian Walsh; both were before we expanded the store in the mid 1990s. The most recent, on Zoom, was with Gina Delfonzo and Karen Swallow Prior as we talked about Charles Dickens. Our two largest Dallastown events were with N.T. Wright and another with Amish novelist Beverly Lewis.

These days, with Covid on the rise and the store still closed, we have quick conversations through people’s car windows or standing in the breeze out back. If it weren’t a sign of our grim times, it would be sort of fun, this backyard customer service and curbside delivery.

Most of our customers these days, and I suspect most reading this, are mail-order friends — on-line shoppers and those who read BookNotes and send us orders and, often, encouraging notes. (Or cancel their subscription and send us hate mail, but I digress.) We opened before there was a thing called “Small Business Saturday” or “Cyber-Monday” and we continue on, eyes on the prize, glad for those who support independent and family-owned businesses and who appreciate our odd effort to be a bookstore unlike most, with an unusual blend of passions and the books to prove it. We’re so thankful for those who subscribe to BookNotes, who read (and share) our book reviews, who send us orders, who spread the word. We appreciate you all more than words can say.

I’ve shared this lively video before, but if you want to hear me ramble on about the power of books, the need to read widely, the pleasure and importance of the printed page, this talk I gave at an evening gathering last year at Grove City College is an example of the sorts of notions that often run through our heads as we talk about our work and the Christian perspective that we think shapes us. I was so glad to be with friends out in Western Pennsylvania again and appreciated their trust in allowing me to talk about reading and books to their students and friends.  Even though it was presented for collegiates, I think many will enjoy hearing me enthusiastically preaching about books and what they can do for us. Enjoy!

 https://livestream.com/accounts/13431056/events/8792551/videos/197856283

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS
Of course, it wouldn’t be a real BookNotes if I didn’t highlight some books, so here are three. Happy reading.  ALL BOOKS ARE 20% OFF.  Think of it as an anniversary sale.
The Word: Black Writers Talk about the Transformative Power of Reading and Writing edited by Marita Golden (Broadway Books) $14.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

If you have heard me speak at any length about what books can do for us and the value of reading, you may have heard me read out loud from the first few pages of this marvelous anthology of black writers. In the opening, Marita Golden offers vignettes of her own reading life — as a youth (reading Oliver Twist and Vanity Fair), as a teen coming into her own as a young, black woman, as a person coping with the hard stuff of life (she’s tells about reading Tony Morrison’s Beloved) and as a wife contemplating her bad marriage, reading Madam Bovary. I read it early in my talk at Grove City College that I linked to above, if you saw that. Often, after offering presentations when I use this resource, folks want to know what book it was that I read from. Highly recommended.

Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $16.00 ||        OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

You can read my longer review here, but know that this is one book I esteem almost more than any other, because it names so much of what and why we do what we do. I adore this book.

I wish more would know this content, talk about this stuff, share this book, explore it in groups. It is important and good and we so admire the work Chris has done with his team at Englewood Review of Books.

As missional scholar Alan Roxburgh notes in one review, “Reading isn’t a technique. It’s about cultivating the practice of discernment through dialogue with others.” It is, especially in our polarized culture, as Tim Soerens notes, in his rave review, “subversive.” Slowing down and listening? That’s a habit we get from reading, and especially from reading together. This is much of what Chris is exploring here (and which was developed further in his recent book about conversation, How the Body of Christ Talks.)

Here is how the publisher has described Reading for the Common Good:

We have been created to live and work in community. But all too often we see ourselves primarily as individuals and run the risk of working at cross-purposes with the organizations we serve. Living faithfully in a neighborhood involves two interwoven threads: learning and action. In this book C. Christopher Smith, coauthor of Slow Church, looks at the local church as an organization in which both learning and action lie at the heart of its identity. He explores the practice of reading and, in his words, “how we can read together in ways that drive us deeper into action.” Smith continues, “Church can no longer simply be an experience to be passively consumed; rather, we are called into the participatory life of a community. Reading is a vital practice for helping our churches navigate this shift.” Discover how books can help your churches and neighborhoods bring flourishing to the world.

Listen to memoirist and essayist Scott Russell Saunders:

In this hectic age, with its flood of electronic scraps aimed at five-second attention spans, how refreshing it is to meet a champion of slow, sustained and meditative reading of books. And not just any books, but ones that nurture compassion and community. Chris Smith illustrates in his own work and in his account of the work of his church what it means to love one’s neighbor. It means more than kindly feelings. It means kindly actions. It means caring for others, beginning with those who share the place where we live, and above all those who are most in need. The wealth Smith celebrates is not to be found in stock markets or bank accounts, but between the covers of books, between person and person, and in the loving heart.

A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why (A Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore) edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99  ||              OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
When our store turned 30 our friends at Square Halo showed up with cases of this book on hand, a book they had put together in our honor, a great gift we are to this day stunned. They got authors as rare as Calvin Seerveld and as famous as N.T. Wright and as eloquent Steve Garber as teacherly as Karen Swallow Prior, guiding us to the best books they recommend in their respective fields. In sort of an homage to BookNotes, 20 or so experts weigh in with great chapters about books — from Andi Ashworth on books about cooking to Gregory Wolfe on books of creative nonfiction, from Mike Schutt on books about law to Denis Haack on film, it’s a great, great collection. There is an opening chapter which is a transcribed talk form a cassette tape recording of some off the cuff remarks I made at a gathering once, which is pretty good (despite one glaring error regarding Abraham Kuyper and C.S. Lewis. You know how I get when I get fired up preaching about every square inch of Narnia.)

The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Other’s Eyes C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $19.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Maybe you will recall us describing this when it came out a year ago. What a great idea, pulling together various writings of the Oxford don from his letters, essays, and books, about the value of reading, the joys of reading, his own love of books and his advice for readers and writers. You can read in one volume his review of J.R.R. Tolkien, some of his reflections on science fiction, and several pieces on children’s books.  And, of course, the often cited chapters on the importance of reading old books.

 

Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind Alan Jacobs (Penguin Press) $25.00  || OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I could just as easily commend the wonderful Oxford University Press book by Professor Jacobs called The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction — yes, he reminds us, highbrow thinker that he may be, that in all our concerns about the lack of reading, “amusing ourselves to death” in “the shallows” and other rants against the demise of reading in our tech-driven, digital age, that we are to enjoy reading. Life’s too short to waste much time or books we don’t like, I say, so, yep, The Pleasures of Reading is a gem.

Still, Breaking Bread with the Dead is named here, though, because, well, it’s a reminder many of us need. We are not too snooty here at the bookstore and we don’t sell many of the great classics to elite readers, no matter what Mr. Lewis recommended. (I’ve been known to push back on this thesis about chronologically snobbery, by the way, noting that his privileging older books is its own sort of chronological snobbery!) Having said that, we do need to attend to what Jacobs so richly and eloquently reflect on here. What a book it is, one of the best, deepest, reading experiences this year.

I may or may not have understood all he was writing about and I may or may not have ever heard of some of the authors he mentioned. Okay, I didn’t. No matter. Breaking Bread with the Dead is a moving, detailed, and compelling argument for taking seriously old books, especially in our season of restlessness and melancholy.

We reviewed this at BookNotes briefly here and we still have it at that 20% off discounted price. Highly recommended.

Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher Jeffrey Munro (IVP) $18.00  ||                OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Few authors capture the range and quality of what we want to be about here as much as this Presbyterian pastor who helped create the modern interest in religious memoir, was nominated for a Putlizer Prize for exceptional novels, and whose witty theology is both meaty and winsome. That some evangelicals and even Catholics liked this mainline Protestant pastor, that secular literary types and heady theologians took him seriously, is just wonderful.

This fabulous book by Jeffrey Munro, executive vice president at Western Theological Seminary (where he also teaches writing) is for those who love Buechner (obviously) and a great prelude and orientation for those who don’t know much about him. This really is, as the publisher promised on the back, “an authoritative new introduction to one of best spiritual writers.”

As I wrote in a brief review at BookNotes a year ago, “There is a lovely, powerful forward by visual artist and writer Makoto Fujimura and blurbs on the back of this book are from the well-known Marilyn McEntyre, Michael Card, John Wilson, and Calvin University English prof and co-director of the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing Jennifer Holberg who commends it to both newcomers and longtime readers of Mr. Buechner.”

Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness Donald Optiz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $17.00  ||                            OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

This is one of those books that I mention often at BookNotes. It is about how college students can see their ordinary academic work as a way to worship God, an easy-to-read introduction to one of the most significant tropes that shaped my life and the founding of our bookstore — that we can somehow relate faith and scholarship, that a Christian lens affords us with a unique perspective to understand learning and its relationship to living well. With blurbs from world class scholars like George Marsden (and the advice from James K.A. Smith on the back saying to “buy a box of these and give them to every high school senior you know”) Learning for the Love of God is not only highly regarded, but is important.

I remind you of it here, now, for three reasons.

First, this really is the most whimsical and upbeat guide to this whole movement of worldview and culture-making and vocation and the call to distinctively Christian scholarship that early on shaped the vision and texture of our store. Granted, aspiring serious scholars should read, at least, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James Sire and Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior by Steve Garber and George Marsden’s little Oxford University Press book, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship which is vital, and inspired Opitz & Melleby, working your way to the magisterial The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories by philosopher Roy Clouser.  Richard Mouw’s wonderful, recent, All That God Cares about: Common Grace and Divine Delight has a couple of pages about us, quoting from a long BookNotes column where I explained why this stuff matters to us so much, suggesting it is my evangelical sort of take on the “all of life redeemed” vision of Abraham Kuyper and the implications for thinking, learning, and scholarship in service of societal reformation. What an honor to have an author like Dr. Mouw cite us as illustrative of something interesting. Whew.

Optiz and Melleby — perhaps goaded by me, I don’t know about that — knew deep in their bones that this vital tradition of reformational scholarship was life changing and yet often missing the mark of young students who were church kids but had no tools to “think Christianly” about their college classes and task as young scholars. They worked well to create a solid but accesible introduction to this transformative stuff and it says so much about how Beth and I see our role as booksellers that it seems right to highlight it here, now.

Secondly, beside it being a window into much of what we think is important about young adults in college and taking faith into the classroom, I think — I hope you believe me — that this could be helpful to anyone who wants a breezy and quick read that invites them into life-long learning, a discerning wisdom about being “in but not of” the worlds of culture and knowledge. I know of Christians with a wild and wide imagination and they feel guilty, as if studying God’s world is somehow not spiritual enough; this book will help. I know others that don’t feel guilty, but maybe they should, because they study any old thing under the sun without any intentional or coherent way of relating their faith to their daily learning.n Again, this book will help. With so much fake news out there and so much confusing about thinking well, this call to joyful, intentional Christian learning is worth every page.

Thirdly (okay, sorry if this is what rhetoricians call “special pleading”) the book is dedicated to me. I get choked up sometimes thinking about it, or seeing it there when I’m showing somebody the book. Gulp. Come on, folks. It’s our store’s anniversary!  Buy this book that somehow has some connections to the decades of work of Beth and me here at Hearts & Minds.

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DISCOUNT

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ANY BOOK MENTIONED

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order here

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PRE-ORDER NOW: Prayer in the Night (Tish Harrison Warren), Faith After Doubt (Brian McLaren), Companions in the Darkness (Diana Gruver), The Great Belonging (Charlotte Donlon) 20% OFF

PRE-ORDER NOW at 20% off, four great new titles dealing with hard, personal stuff.

Of course, we can take pre-orders for anything and we now have waiting lists for all sorts of great forthcoming titles, from Jemar Tisby’s important How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice (Zondervan; $24.99) to Mako Fujimura’s long awaited Art + Faith: A Theology of Making (Yale University Press; $26.00) both due in early January 2021. I certainly hope we’ll get some pre-orders for the much-needed study Public Intellectuals and the Common Good: Christian Thinking for Human Flourishing edited by Todd Ream and others (IVP Academic; $25.00) that is also due in January. You know we’ve been taking pre-orders for the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier, pushed back to be released in March 2021, called A Burning in My Bones (Waterbrook; $28.00.) And I can’t wait for Praying with Our Feet: Pursuing Justice and Healing on the Streets by Lindsey Krinks (coming from Brazos Press for $17.99 in early February 2021.) We are taking pre-orders, offering 20% off, and invite you to add your name to the waiting lists. Or, pre-order whatever else you’ve heard about that tickles your fancy, from the next novel by your favorite fiction writer to a forthcoming kid’s book you heard of to a cool new cookbook to the many important books of Biblical studies and theology that are coming out. Let us know how we can help. Thanks.

For now, we are inviting you to order right away any of these four beautiful, well-written, and helpful forthcoming books. (In the case of the last two, they have just released so we will be sending those without delay.) These four seem to hang to gather, each addressing the sadnesses of our times, our broken hearts, finding faith in times of difficulty or doubt, reflecting on loss and loneliness. A bit of sadness, yes, but I assure you I enjoyed each one of these books; they are written with verve and distinction.

These authors all write very well, although each in her or his own way. They are not  necessarily theologically similar, but they share a vibrant trust in telling the truth, being honest about the complexity of the human condition, and guiding us to life-giving and faith-filled responses. I have read most of (but not finished) all four and am proud to commend them to you now.

All are 20% off. As we say at the order form page, you can safely enter credit card digits or you can just ask us to send you a bill so you can pay by check later. 

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Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60                               release date – January 26, 202 

I have had the great privilege of having an advanced copy of this and it is nothing short of the most moving books I’ve read all year. From the breathtaking prologue where she narrates her praying the Compline prayers while in the hospital hemorrhaging with a tragic miscarriage, we know this is a very well-written book; a book with raw and painful observations about our broken lives in this fallen world, observations that are colored by her astute theology and a worldview baptized by her immersion in the Book of Common Prayer. That this forthcoming book is about praying the night-time prayer service, called Compline, should not be off-putting to those who are not familiar with fixed hour prayer or the habit of praying words given to us by a prayerbook. (She does offer some explanation of that tradition, how more formal liturgical prayers were the way of the early church, and an apology for their benefit. Even though she does not diminish more spontaneous and conversational prayers as an Anglican priest, she naturally is steeped in the importance of the prayer book and praying “the hours.”) No matter what your prayer habits or customs are, I am sure this extraordinary book will help.

I will want to do a more extended review of this when time permits, but a few quick notes, here, now. As I’ve noted, Prayer in the Night is a fabulous book which is honest about our hurts and fears and it will be useful for anyone asking the “where is God when it hurts” kind of questions. Technically called the study of “theodicy”, her one solid chapter on this is one of the best I have ever read. She insists that there is no tidy answer, not only because the mystery of the tension between God’s goodness and our suffering is such a tough nut to crack, intellectually, but because it is not, after all, primarily an intellectual question. We live this stuff; we cry out from our hearts when we feel abandoned or harbor fears or when injustices outrage us. Our cry is a protest (as it should be) and no abstract formula will do. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

That she works with the metaphor of darkness and talks quite specifically about the overnight hours is appealing, not only for the common-ness of it, but for the poetic and captivating way she writes about it. It’s really quite good. I think some of this will resonate with those who enjoyed Barbara Brown Taylor’s exquisite Learning to Walk in the Dark, a book I adore. (On the back cover, book lover extraordinaire Wesley Hill links the two, calling them “poet-theologian memoirists.”) Tish Warren’s honest but rugged orthodoxy and prayer-book theology and situated context in the life of a congregation takes her in a somewhat different direction than Taylor in that book and it makes Prayer in the Night, finally, a more transformative and I think enduring resource. In any event, it is lovely to read, enchanting at times, despite the overcast themes.

Listen to what author James Bryan Smith says of it:

Tish has done it again! Good writers, Frederick Buechner once told me, ‘pay attention to their lives.’ By this standard, Tish Harrison Warren is a very good writer indeed. She tells stories from her own life–sometimes commonplace, sometimes heartbreaking–with great detail, and even greater insight. Using the brilliant, time-tested words found in Compline, a service of evening prayers used before sleep, as her outline, this well-written and deeply honest book will inspire you to begin using these prayers in your own life. It did for me. Reading this book was like having a meaningful conversation with a friend over a crackling fire and having a clear sense that you are the better for having engaged in it. Tish is far too young to be this wise. I am grateful for her life, for her searching faith, and I am very grateful for this special book.                                                                                                              –James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful God
The second part of this amazing book includes three chapters under the rubric of “The Way of the Vulnerable” and includes chapters on lament (“Those Who Weep”) and attention (“Those Who Watch”) and restoration (“Those Who Work.”) These three words — weep, watch, and work — are from the BCP’s Compline prayer and will be familiar to those who have used this prayer. For those who have not, it is still a remarkably rich way to organize a set of prayers, especially for use before bedtime. Anglican, Epsiopalian, renegade BCP fan, or allergic to written prayers, this is fabulous, inspiring, stuff.
(By the way, as you may have guessed, this isn’t an instruction manual on how to pray; it is not even a book about how to pray Compline. It is, rather, her own story and pastoral theology that emerged from it (as a “priest who couldn’t pray.”) It bears witness to God’s mysterious and paradoxical presence in the midst of her own sorrow, and her families, and her churches, and the worlds. Like her wonderful Liturgy of the Ordinary, which wasn’t exactly a book about how to worship or how to craft liturgy, but told the story of the impact liturgical worship had on her daily experience. Similarly, this tells the story of her praying and reflecting on life in light of Compline, not exactly a guide to doing it yourself. After all, it isn’t that hard. Open the book, quiet your heart, pray the prayers.)
Part Three of Prayer in the Night is what she suggests is a “taxonomy of vulnerability.” Again, this offers her profound reflections (based mostly on her own life, sharing honestly much of her own foibles and sorrows) on phrases from the Compline prayer (and a bit about her and her husband and children’s use of it.)  She helps remind us that Christ Himself, God the Son, became vulnerable, and as the vulnerable God, meets us in our own creatureliness. Here are the chapter titles:
  • Give Your Angels Charge Over Those Who Sleep – Cosmos and Commonplace
  • Tend the Sick, Lord Christ – Embodiment
  • Give Rest to the Weary- Weakness and Silence
  • Bless the Dying – Ashes
  • Soothe the Suffering – Comfort
  • Pity the Afflicted – Relentlessness and Revelation
  • Shield the Joyous – Gratitude and Indifference
Yes, there is some heavy content in here. (But don’t you just want to read a chapter on angels with the subtitle “Cosmos and Commonplace”?) For those who have experienced chronic illness (or, heck, any kind of illness) the chapter on embodiment is brilliant.  I wept along with her and her husband — both are priests — as they share how wrenchingly hard it is to put ashes on the foreheads of children on Ash Wednesday (I never thought of that.) I grieved along with her as she described the sudden death of her father. I was bowled over by some of the stories of hardship she tells, including some from her parish in Pittsburgh. I appreciated her reflection about our culture’s tendency to discourage grieving well, the story of her husband’s own experience of not crying. These are hard gifts for the people of God.
But yet, as with her fabulous, fabulous Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life there are upbeat moments as well. I laughed right out loud when she told how her young daughter, just learning to read, wanted to read the Compline prayer and mispronounced the word “sooth” as “smooth”, an adaptation their family (mis) prays to this day. She lists more than once the stuff she loves about the beauty of this world, a point that those who know her knows gladly recognize. Like any of us, she knows life’s sorrows, but she knows glory and goodness, too. (And she quotes some lines from some super-cool musicians, too, from the band Over the Rhine to the alt-county queen, Julie Miller, to the edgy Arcade Fire.) Praying in the dark is part of the territory, but so is a life of big and small pleasures, meaningful work, deep (if difficult) relationships. This book is not a “downer.” Despite the lament and injustice described, it retains a hopefulness, a joy, at times, even. I am in awe and how she weaves together this stuff, this life in God in and for the world, glorious and damaged as it is.
I won’t tell you how this splendidly construed volume ends, but there is a final good chapter set apart in Part Four called “Culmination.” There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil that ending.
I happen to know that this book was hard for her to write. She went through a lot, about which she is candid, here. You know that old adage about what makes a good writer, about “opening a vein.” She has done so, and it is a great gift, a gift that wasn’t offered casually (how could it) and should not be received by readers casually.  Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work, Watch, or Weep is a hallowed book, I think, consecrated through prayer and given as gift.

I know of few writers today who write as pastorally, prophetically, and poetically as Tish Harrison Warren. I know of few writers of any time who write of the deep, dark stuff of life with as much hope, grace, and beauty as you will find in these pages. Prayer in the Night will bring to the darkness in your life a light that will carry you through the days.     –Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well

You can easily order by using the “order” link at the end of this column. 20% off, too.

 

Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It Brian D. McLaren (St. Martin’s Press/Essentials)  $26.99                          OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

release date – January 5, 2021

See below for a special offer to get autographed book plates by Brian McLaren with pre-orders from Hearts & Minds.

We have quite a large selection of books on doubt on our store, from the rigorous God in the Dark by Os Guinness to Gregory Boyd’s The Benefit of the Doubt to Know Doubt by John Ortberg to bunches more, old and new. I am very pleased that McLaren — who has been a skeptic and seeker, a pastor and postmodern theologian, writer and citizen scientist — has offered his seasoned wisdom for those for whom, as the subtitle pointedly puts it, “beliefs stopped working.” We need this sort of book, I think, and it isn’t surprising that McLaren is there to fill this particular gap. Like others, he starts the book with some brief words on “permission to doubt.” He describes well the “moments of terror” that some feel when they find themselves not embracing the faith they once did. He gets it, and this is a warm and reassuring start for any doubter or jaded believer.

I realize that some strict evangelicals, including some I respect, do not think that McLaren is a reliable Christian author, that his progressive and generous view of God and the re-orientation of his understanding of the gospel, the cross, and the work of the church, are less than Biblically faithful. Agree or not, I think it is fair to say that Brian’s 2010 book A New Kind of Christianity that was criticized by many conservative thinkers, was, in fact, not that new; it was a great, fresh, and invigoration articulation of what many mainline Protestants offer and a not unusual formulation of open, generous faith formation. Brian was sharing with candor and I think much hope, that this non-fundamentalist theology and energetic missional vision of God’s redemptive work in the world in healing (not destroying) ways, would help create new and sturdy faith for those who were already then streaming from the constraints of legalism and overly narrow theology. This wasn’t theologically faddishness but a matter of spiritual life and death, of whether folks would continue in good conscience to remain in the church. Brian retained the evangelistic optimism of the evangelical pastor he once was, and earnestly invited folks into a bigger, better vision of what the faith could be about. That pastoral care and kindness — speaking with dignity to the reader, perhaps as an older brother or humble guide — is evident in this forthcoming one on doubt. And now, in this era of an ever more ludicrous religious right (still) supporting a Trumpian sort of GOP, we need something to help those who are saying they are done with the Christian faith.

I may have quibbled a bit here or there with some of his many previous books, but found his “generous orthodoxy” a great and needed ecumenical/eclectic project. We lost some customers and some bookselling gigs because I generally affirmed his work and that makes me sad.

I was honored to have an endorsement blurb on the back of his lovely book on various ways to pray (Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words) and was glad to have been acknowledged in one of his other books, I think. We got to do some book tables at activist conferences he put together around the launch of his marvelous Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. His daily devotional inviting people to seek spiritual aliveness that is rooted in the Bible but has a big, missional vision, is splendid and very useful; we are often recommending We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. And, of course, for book clubs and those eager to explore the shift manifest in McLaren’s evangelical to emergent to mainline trajectory, we are delighted his three novels have been reissued by Fortress Press. Those are A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, followed by The Story We Find Ourselves in: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, and, the third The Last Word and the Word After That: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity. He used to be a college lit teacher and knows how to tell a good story (even if the first one is a bit thin on the plot, and heavy on philosophical dialogue between the two main characters, a frustrated nondenominational church pastor and his new friend, a theologically open, liberal Epsiopalian priest.)

One does not have to know his full body of work (and there is a lot more then the few I just mentioned and much to discuss in them) but it helps to know he is a prodigious writer, he reads widely, is interested in interfaith conversations, loves creation and likes science (his most recent book was one we reviewed here at BookNotes, a travelogue, actually, the first in a new series called “On Location” with the title The Galapagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey.) He can as easily be found citing Canadian folk rocker Bruce Cockburn as postmodern theologian Nancy Murphy or Catholic mystic Richard Rohr and anti-racist activists like Ibram X. Kendi. That he has shared stages with open-minded and big hearted mainline Christian leaders like Diana Butler Bass or Desmond Tutu and younger evangelical activists like Lisa Sharon Harper and Shane Claiborne might give you another feel for where he is coming from.

Here are a few key things to know about Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working..

First, although most of his books have been largely read by religious readers, I know that nonbelievers and ex-believers have long appreciated his work; his writing is inviting and honest and not off-putting to those with honest questions and open minds. He often mentions the letters he gets, the many who find in his writing some lifeline that they simply couldn’t find elsewhere. I know people who say they are Christians today because McLaren gave them hope for alternative ways to understand their faith and remain in the church.

Brian even wrote (years ago) two very useful books that were inviting people to “find faith.” One was called Finding Faith: A Search for What is Real and the next was Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense. The tone in these is helpful, not pushy or manipulative, as well as candid and always gracious. Seekers have to find a faith “makes sense” to them.  A religious claim or story or movement that doesn’t seem coherent, doesn’t seem plausible, that isn’t actually sensible to seekers just doesn’t work, anyway, so he has long labored to build bridges, inviting people into searching conversation, offering hints of what might be real and what might really work. I admire his ways to speak to many kinds of people but especially to those who are skeptical of religion, who have been burned by others, who seem cynical. He knows these kinds of folks and their hard questions. Yet, there he is, being used by God to offer a kind of faith that isn’t connected to abstract doctrinal gymnastics and systems nor that is coopted by the political right.

Faith After Doubt is not his first rodeo in speaking with and walking alongside the religiously hurt or confused or skeptical or bitter. He’s got a light touch and a kind voice.  And he’s wicked smart, but doesn’t wear that on his sleeve.

If I haven’t been clear, I’ll try to say it again: this is a book about doubt that does not try to re-convince doubters of the older truths of a rationalistic, right wing, weaponized sort of evangelicalism. He isn’t an apologist for the seriously Reformed faith of his earlier years or even the somewhat culturally engaged evangelicalism of his postmodern, emergent conversations.

As you can see in his more recent book (or video curriculum) The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian he believes that the Spirit is alive and well, moving the Christian community away from religious abstraction or doctrinalism, spiritual arrogance, colonialism, violence, shame. As he puts it there, he is seeing (and promoting) a shift from faith as a system of beliefs (that function more like intellectual ideas) to an embodied way of life. (And, he is mostly right to do so. See the feisty Sin of Certainty by Pete Enns, too, for another way to explain that shift and its Biblical warrant.) McLaren offers a play on words, inviting us to move from “organized religion” to “organizing religion,” knowing that true faith must bear fruit of service to Christ’s beloved community of peace and justice. This becomes, as he puts it, “a beautiful romance.” I think he is on to something.

And so, his soon to be released book about doubt.

What is it, he wonders, that people are doubting? Although he is never glib about it (realizing how disorienting and even painful it can be to move away from earlier convictions and faith communities) he asks if maybe we should doubt some of the inherited notions and practices from a former theological tradition or religious subculture. He doesn’t say “good riddance” but he might have. Perhaps one step in coping with our doubts is realizing that doubting is often quite healthy and that some things, indeed, should be not only questioned but renounced. He helps post-evangelicals and religious nones to discover what can be rejected and what, on the other hand, might just be true and good and beautiful. To enter into that kind of journey away from toxic of dysfunctional faith and towards something healthy and generative, one has to doubt. As he puts it, doubt can save the world!

As the publisher puts it, in Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working… “comes a bold proposal: only doubt can save the world and faith. The author proposes a four-stage model of faith development in which questions and doubt are not the enemy of faith, but rather a portal to a more mature and fruitful kind of faith.”

Not bad, eh?

In Part One of the book he describes — in a way I’ve never read before (and I’ve read a lot on this topic) — what he calls “Your Descent into Doubt.” He has a chapter naming doubt as loss; another called “Doubt as Loneliness.” He explores how it can be a real crisis, but then shifts to a chapter called “Doubt as Doorway.” The fifth chapter in this first part is showing how doubt can be a time of genuine growth. Nice!

Although I need to re-read it more carefully when I get a hard copy (I’ve been skimming on my advanced electronic version) but I think I loved the next few chapters. This is, again, a vision of doubt that I am sure will be a surprise to some but might just put words to those who have these feelings but didn’t have words to describe it. At least not these words. This is good stuff. He calls this next unit “All In Doubt.” There are five chapters but the first three here are notable:

Doubt as Descent
Doubt as Dissent
Doubt as Love

(Indeed, in a following section he writes about “revolutionary love.” He’s “all in” on this, and believes that as people are honest about their deepest beliefs, their more real longings, their truest truths, the will come to a better understanding of this human predicament — sussing the difference between faith and beliefs. This has long vexed Christianity, and most — liberals, conservatives, Catholics, maybe the Orthodox — although they disagree about doctrines and convictions and beliefs, wrongly conflate belief and trust. As if faith means to know the facts in one’s head, rather than the more richly heart-felt, relational  yada yada yada knowing of the Scriptures.

(Almost anyone who has been around the church for a while has heard a sermon on this — that in the Bible faith is less about propositions and more about a Person, it is less about rationalism and more about relationships — but, still, we conflate convictions with trust, demanding that people say what ideas they have about religion and often don’t get around to helping them enter into a bone fide relationship with the Divine. James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love is one way to get to that insight; the third chapter of J.I. Packer’s Knowing God might be another, that describes the difference between knowing and knowing about.) McLaren understands this and while he surely isn’t opposed to formulating ideas and proposing truth claims (he writes books and books and more books, after all) he shows the difference between a mere intellectual assent and a living relationship. And he has the touch of a poet, which doesn’t hurt.

And then, after all this framing of the matter in fresh, if a bit progressive ways, he gets to the part that many readers are eager for. What do we do with “life after doubt.” Or, rather, as McLaren puts it, “with doubt.” And here is where it gets interesting. I will let you savor these provocative chapters — use the prompts for reflection after each chapter and the study guide at the back to read this with others — but his theme by the end is (get this): harmony. We need communities of harmony and theologies of harmony and he offers some guidelines for spiritualities of harmony. He pays attention to the shifts in religious studies and experiences and the realities in the broader religious landscape. He has some words for the rising generations. He assures us all who are feeling disoriented with our times and with our own hearts “you are not crazy and you are not alone.”

There is even more content, making this book a real resource for those who doubt and for those who lead faith communities who may want to offer programing around talking safely about our doubts. (Being communities of harmony who offer theologies of harmony, recall, will helps us create these sorts of safe spaces, out of which can emerge true, generative, spiritualities, communal practices of encountering God in our midst.) There are several appendices and guides and resources.

“In a culture in which the self-appointed gatekeepers of Christianity insist that faith equals certainty; belief is adherence to an exacting checklist of principles and politics; and belonging is an insular, exclusive membership, Brian McLaren is a heroic gate-crasher. In Faith After Doubt, he invites us into an honest, vital conversation about the pain and shame created by inherited certainty, and the powerful usefulness of thought and doubt. For all those who have understood that doubt and free thinking are failings of your faith, Brian’s book will help you live fuller and breathe easier. He illuminates the reality that belief and doubt are not opposites, they are the twin sisters with whom any honest person of faith walks continuously.” — Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior and Untamed

Brian McLaren gently moves us away from the notion of God as vengeful and petty, ready to punish those who question and challenge beliefs that no longer harmonize with their evolving experience and honest understanding. Brian encourages the reader embrace a deeper, wider, and more authentic faith that doesn’t fear doubt, but welcomes it as an ally in their spiritual growth. This book will save lives.                         — UCC Bishop Yvette Flunder, author of Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion
HERE’S A SPECIAL GIFT OFFER FOR THOSE WHO PRE-ORDER THIS FROM US HERE AT HEARTS & MINDS. WE WILL PROVIDE A HANDSOME BOOK PLATE AUTOGRAPHED BY BRIAN MCLAREN FOR THOSE WHO ORDER BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR. 
You can easily order by using the “order” link at the end of this column. 20% off, too.

 

Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt Diana Gruver (IVP) $17.00  || OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

release date – November 24, 2020

This is another book about faith in hard times, about doubt, and, more specifically, about depression. If we were in a season that was not plagued with the pandemic, we’d have this lovely author, Diana Gruver, in the store for a bone fide book launch event. She lives in central Pennsylvania and we have bunches of mutual friends. We are delighted to get reconnected with her in recent years and it is always a very special delight when a customer of ours publishes a book. And what a book it is. We are honored to get to tell you about it here and announce that we hope to do a Facebook Live interview with her sometime within the next few weeks. Stay tuned!  We want to support this new author and her excellent books and we’re honored that she wants to send some orders our way. Thanks, Diana.

Here’s what you should know about this remarkable book. I don’t say this often, but when I do, I’m glad — there is nothing quite like this in print, as far as we know.  In fact, I said this in an endorsing blurb on the inside over (which gives us yet another sense of connection to the book.)

Here’s what I said:

It is rare to say that there is no other book like this, but with Diana Gruver’s Companions in the Darkness she has done something that no other book has done: given us true companions for dark times by exploring the depression of older Christian leaders. She weaves in her own story of depression, offers contemporary psychological insight about mental health disorders, and invites us to take heart; we are not alone. Through her keen eye―an eye sensitive to suffering―she helps us understand Martin Luther’s melancholy and physical pain, William Cowper’s despair, Martin Luther King Jr.’s exhaustion, and Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul. These biographies are interesting and informative, but more they are manna, light, and hope. Many will be grateful for this very fine and truly helpful exploration.

Perhaps you could appreciate the value of this brand new book by noting what others have said:

With wise insight and palpable compassion, Diana Gruver recounts the oh-so-human stories of Christians revered across the centuries as leaders, as achievers, as exemplars. For all of their fame as ‘great’ Christians, these saints tasted their own radical vulnerability and knew the anguish of mental illness. To all who seek God yet suffer, there is comfort to be found in this sacred company among the brothers and sisters who lived faithfully amid struggle, the companions and guides who assure us that depression will not have the last word. Practical and deeply personal, Companions in the Darkness is a gift to us all.” — Karen Wright Marsh, author of Vintage Saints and Sinners and executive director of Theological Horizons centered at the Bonhoeffer House, Charlottesville VA

Diana Gruver has written a compelling book. In it she tells the stories of seven historical figures, some but not all household names, who suffered severe depression. Gruver does it just right, avoiding the many pitfalls that could have made the book excessively sentimental or judgmental. She lets the individuals describe their own experiences, refusing to subject them to modern clinical diagnosis. She chooses quotes from their writings that are so profound, human, and powerful that I kept tearing up, drawn into the nightmare of their condition. Her writing is clear and cogent and luminous. She tells their stories with sensitivity and compassion. She gives her subjects voices, as if letting them speak across the years to us. Her commentary and reflections along the way are full of hope. This is the kind of historical writing that is both responsible and moving. I will recommend this book to my friends.  –Gerald L. Sittser, professor of theology at Whitworth University and author of A Grace Disguised

These two blurbs are significant — Karen Marsh herself has written one of the very best anthologies a collection of short biographies of a good handful of “sinners and saints.” She knows how hard it is to get it right, informative, interesting, inspiring, historically honest and culturally relevant. If she thinks this story of “seven saints” is well done, you can trust that.

Similarly, Gerry Sittser is one of our finest popular theologians. I’d commend any of his books. A Grace Disguised, though, remains a book we routinely recommend as it is one of the most honest, moving, and faithful books about bereavement and grief of which we know. That he endorses Ms. Gruver’s book is notable, to say the least.

Further, on the back and inside are raves by some who have themselves written candidly about faith and their struggle with depression — Zack Eswine (who has a little book about Charles Spurgeon’s bouts with depression) and Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious, and novelist Sharon Garlough Brown who wrote a novel about the spirituality of depression called Shade of Light. These are all good signs, that those acquainted with this particular sort of greif offer their support. Professionals in mental health care have weighed in as well, such as Dr. Richard Winter, professor emeritus of counseling and applied theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, author of When Life Goes Dark who writes, “This book is a wonderful and sensitive encouragement for any for whom life has become unbearably dark and for those who seek to help them.”

As you’ve gathered, I’m sure, Diana here is vulnerable about her own mental health challenges, telling of her own depression and struggles. More, though, than a memoir of those episodes, Companions in the Darkness show various faces of depression and doubt, exploring various manifestations in seven key Christians from the past. That is part of the point, that we are not alone in this struggle and that while we may have different sorts of names and nuances of description in our modern psychological setting, the notion of melechony is not new. And it is not uncommon. And there are a variety of ways to cope and live through it.

The “seven saints who struggled with depression and doubt” explored by Gruver include (in the order she presents them) Martin Luther, Hannah Allen, David Brainerd, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of these Christian people wrote detailed diaries and journals and letters about their afflictions and, in many cases, their contemporaries wrote about them. Gruver’s well researched accounts are often riveting, painful, even — Hannah Allen’s attempts at suicide in the mid-1600s and her delusional spiritual experiences were grueling. They are candid (even thouse of us who know about MLK’s doubts and Mother Teresa’s “dark night” might be taken aback) but, yet, hopeful. In each case, she tells what caring friends did, what the sufferers themselves recommended (Luther, of course, commended eating and drinking, jest and laughter, even; William Cowper the Puritan hymn writer and friend of John Newton, recommended pursuing art and friendship.) The practical insights for any of us who may be companions to the hurting are clear and evident. A book like this should be on every pastor’s shelf and in every church library. The foreword, by the way, is by a writer we admire greatly, Chuck DeGroat.  He knows the abyss himself, he explains, and now, as a professional counselor, he sees the devasting results of those who are too ashamed to get help or who feel like they are alone.

One would like to say that we no longer believe in the church that depression is the cause of sin or that helpful medications are somehow for those who don’t have strong enough faith. That is hurtful rubbish, but yet, I’m afraid some of that stigma is still around… and so, we commend this not just to those who are hurting or to those who want to be wiser caregivers to accompany others through their dark nights of panic attacks or depression or thoughts of self-injury. It is a book for all of us who want a better glimpse into the human condition, who want a good look at discipleship and spiritual formation as it was understood, even centuries ago, by way of these historical vignettes.

WE DO HOPE TO DO A FACEBOOK LIVE EVENT WITH DIANA GRUVER IN THE NEAR FUTURE. WATCH THE HEARTS & MINDS FACEBOOK PAGE FOR UPDATES.

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The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other Charlotte Donlon (Broadleaf Books) $16.99  ||  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

release date – available now

Perhaps you will recall that I’ve reviewed a few books in recent weeks that are mostly about civic life, about our increasingly harsh polarizations, about those who feel alienated even from their own places. Loneliness, we have said, has reached epidemic proportions and has sad consequences for individuals but also contributes to the fraying fabric of our societal life. It is bad, and it is getting worse.

And yet, despite the newer ways in which loneliness may afflict us — social media being one obvious culprit, not to mention the recent quarantining — what if this is not so new, maybe not so unusual. This riveting, beautifully written and compelling work argues that loneliness may be a necessary part of the human condition. Charlotte Donlon, here, is giving us an altogether novel look at this much-discussed topic. (And, surprisingly, what is novel about her approach is, among other things, that she draws on ancient spirituality, and surprising other sources (as we shall see) if not in the same way as Gruver does, in the book above. Yet, she offers a profound look, reflecting on how others understand their loneliness and how we might move in creative ways to enter “the great belonging.”

Curiously, as I read my way through some of this I began to wonder (as we often do here at the shop) where it belongs — that is, on what shelf? Our other books on loneliness are in a section with other issues and concerns about our emotional lives — depression, anxiety, anger, forgiveness and the like. That is next to a section on relationships, family systems, sort of the self-help into psychology section. But The Great Belonging (whose author is a spiritual director) seems to have the eloquent feel of a book about spirituality. It almost seems to go with other books on our interior lives and cultivating a sense of God’s presence in our authentic selves. (But then there are those great chapters on family life, mother-daughter stuff, parenting…)

Ms. Donlon is a very  good writer, as I expected. I heard from a very creative and colorful friend that she was working on this manuscript — she had taken creative writing courses through the famous and beloved Glen Workshops, affiliated with  Image Journal. So I knew it was going to be well done, thoughtful, yes, but beautiful, as well.  Perhaps you saw an early piece of it at the classy Mockingbird website’s blog.

And then I heard that Lauren Winner had agreed to write a foreword. Man, when Lauren writes a foreword, readers get their money’s worth, and the author and publishing house are in gratitude. In the several opening pages (that I have read more than once) Winner tells what is so very good about this book and why she is so pleased to promote it.

Winner starts her forward telling you just what the book is about and why she’s interested:

The book you are holding does not aim to cure your loneliness. Instead, The Great Belonging addresses loneliness as a companion.  As  you  would  with  any  companion, The Great Belonging inquires into loneliness — into loneliness’s history, and habits, and fears. And in the company of The Great Belonging’s fearless and  smart author, Charlotte Donlon, we, the readers, are  allowed to indulge our interest in loneliness. I, for one, am interested in both senses of the term. I am curious about loneliness, and I am involved in loneliness, affected by loneliness, implicated in loneliness. I am companioned by it; I want to get to know it better.

And here is the big, big thing: as Lauren suggests in that first sentence of the foreword, Donlon doesn’t try to cure you loneliness. She doesn’t even quite want to give you tools to cope with it. The question is, how can we enter into it more honestly, fruitfully, growing from it without merely bemoaning it.

Of course, she is not glib nor simplistic — her mature faith and sophisticated sense of our interior lives wouldn’t permit anything cheap or piously cheery. No — not unlike Tish Warren’s nigh-time prayers, or McLaren’s doubts, or Gruver’s pained companions in depression — Donlon realizes we dare not cover this stuff up. It can be soil for growth, for deep and human and lasting spiritual transformation, but it will not be easy. The Great Belonging really is a lovely, little book, but it ain’t easy.

Those who read in the field of spiritual formation will see the layers of meaning in the phrase “the great belonging.” It sounds like Merton, doesn’t it? Shades or Richard Rohr, maybe, or at the least Phyllis Tickle?  But, it seems (and I am not done with this book yet, and I am sure it is not yet done with me) she is drawn also to authors like the great Covenant College prof Kelly Kapic, whose book, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering she cites. She references the Book of Common Prayer and talks about doubt and depression. (You can see why I had to include this brand new release with these other soon-to-be-released titles.) She quotes Kevin Twit of the Indelible Grace hymns project (yes, on songs of lament in the old hymns.) She sees loneliness is big terms and sees the sort of “belonging” it can point us to in a broader scope than you might expect. She has a section about cultivating connection with our places and there is a chapter called “Suffering, Resilience, and Our Hope for Shalom” on which she riffs on Nicholas Wolterstorff and his extraordinary neo-Calvinist book Until Justice and Peace Embrace. 

Did I mention that the chapters are short? The are mostly brief but always nicely written, some very anecdotal, some more like reflections. They are substantial and thoughtful, but not lengthy or tedious.

I won’t spoil the fun and fascinating of reading this book by writing about it all, covering as much ground as it does, and complicated as the anguish may sometimes be as it invites us to dwell in our aloneness and loneliness. Just believe me — there is a lot going on here, and a lot of really interesting insights along the way.

She is happily married, by the way (and has two brief chapters about sex — one about not having sex, and one about having sex — which are frank and important for married couples, I’d say.) She has children, and writes about them, and, also, about her mother. It hardly needs saying, but I will: The Great Belonging is not only for single people or those who seem to not have friends or family or community. Many of us who are embedded in caring families and who are active in vital faith church bodies still, at times, yearn for deeper connection, for belonging.

No, this is for all of us, truly. (I think of the popularity of another recent and very good book entitled Belonging: Finding the Way Back to One Another by Sharon Hersch and, naturally, one we reviewed here a month or so ago, the excellent Wait with Me: Meeting God in Loneliness by Jason Gaboury, another book that does not intend to “solve” your problem with loneliness.)

Here is something, again, to say that is extraordinary about The Great Belonging. Not only is Charlotte Donlon a great writer and a versatile thinker and a good storyteller, she really does believe this stuff about our loneliness pushing us to connect with the world beyond us. Not just with others, with self, with God, but with the world, it’s glories, its needs. She has a good bit about coming to meet yourself more, but also about being aware, more attentively and spiritually, of creation around us. There is a whole section about connecting and belonging by taking in great art. She has a handful of chapters and mediations on that theme alone — a chapter describing “portraits of loneliness” and another on the notion of Visio Divina.

In the fabulous large appendix that offers all sorts of Bible texts and prayers and quotes and hymns and ideas for spending time alone facing up to our aloneness, she has a excerpt by Daniel Siedell, a piece where Dan talks about view art in a museum as prayer and a wonderful quote by Mako Fujimura. And then this prayer that intrigues me, for going to a museum:

Lord, open my eyes to notice the colors, lines, shapes, textures, skill. Open my soul to your wonder, beauty, vastness, glory, and mystery. May I see the works of art with clarity, and may they see me.

The book was just released by Broadleaf Books which is a recent imprint of Fortress Press / 1517 Media. We stock most of their books. Here is how they describe The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other:

What if it is a current that leads us deeper into belonging — to ourselves, to each other, and to God? In The Great Belonging, writer and spiritual director Charlotte Donlon reframes loneliness and offers us a language for the disquiet within. Instead of turning away from the waters of loneliness for fear they will engulf us, she invites us to wade in and see what we find there. In vulnerable, thoughtful prose, Donlon helps us understand our own occasional or frequent loneliness and offers touchpoints for understanding alienation. We can live into the persistent questions of loneliness. We can notice God’s presence even when we feel alone in our doubts. Ultimately, Donlon claims, we can find connection that emerges from honesty, and she offers tools, resources, and practices for transforming loneliness into true belonging.

You can easily order by using the “order” link at the end of this column — 20% off, too. Thanks for your support.

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