You Are Warmly Invited to an Evening with Bill Carter, author of “Thriving on a Riff: Jazz and the Spiritual Life” — book on sale for 20% off

Thriving on a Riff: Jazz and the Spiritual Life William G. Carter (Broadleaf Books) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

FREE AUTHOR EVENT with BILL CARTER. FRIDAY NIGHT JUNE 28th. FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF YORK. 7:00 PM. 

There’s a lot of reasons to attend an author appearance at your local bookstore or event venue. Some writers are rather solitary and to be in the presence of a writerly artist is its own sort of gift. Some — quite often nonfiction writers — are real experts on their topics and are often great and lively teachers; there is so much to be learned, and who better to take in than a freshly published author, telling about her book? There is the energy of being in a room with like-minded book lovers, and there is the treasure of getting an autographed book. (And for some, the idea of knocking off your list a very special Christmas present — maybe with the signed book actually made to your loved one— is fabulous.) Who doesn’t like an author event and book signing?

Hearts & Minds here in South Central Pennsylvania is very excited to host an author, for all these reasons and more, if you are anywhere near-by on Friday night June 28th, you should come. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll be inspired. You’ll laugh. Maybe you’ll cry. You’ll be with others. You’ll meet Bill Carter, an outgoing Presbyterian pastor and great writer whose new book is on the relationship of jazz and the spiritual life. And you know what? He’s not only going to talk about the book and respond to questions (and, of course, sign books) but he going to play some tunes, too — maybe some classic jazz standards and surely some of his own mind-bending piano compositions. The fun starts at 7:00 at First Presbyterian Church in downtown York. All are welcome.

Hearts & Minds has partnered with various local venues to host a number of great authors over the years, from journalist and faith activist Jim Wallis to musician and writer Michael Card, memoirist Lauren Winner to lit prof Karen Swallow Prior, medical missionary and peace activist, Jeremy Courtney to contemplative teacher Ruth Haley Barton, historian John Fea to parenting guide Joanne Miller, public scholar Andy Crouch to public politico Michael Wear, from Amish novelist Beverly Lewis to world-famous Biblical scholar N.T Wright. Wright also played some music, some of you will recall, as he did a Dylan song on a borrowed guitar. (“Did Brian Walsh,” — most recently co-author of Romans Disarmed and a new edition of Beyond Homelessness — “put you up to this?” Tom laughed, knowingly. Indeed. And then went viral for a hot minute.)

So our old pal Bill Carter is standing on the shoulders of a pretty esteemed crew who have joined us here in the Dallastown area to present on their books. We’re delighted that FPC, our home church in York (on the corner of Queen & Market) is willing to co-sponsor this, since they have a great piano in the sanctuary. This isn’t Bill’s first appearance at First Pres, either: years ago his band, Presbybop, led a jazz worship experience for us to a packed house. Our event isn’t a concert, per se, but a talk on his recent book and a conversation about the role of the arts — in this case, jazz — and how it can enhance and accompany the Christian life. But there is going to be music. You might even want to bring your dancing shoes.

Thriving on a Riff: Jazz and the Spiritual Life came out a few months ago, published nicely by Broadleaf Books, an imprint of 1517 Media. I reviewed it HERE and we were grateful that a number of folks pre-ordered it even before it came out. It has gotten really good reviews in various places. Recently, the great Green Room folks, who usually focus on faith in the work-world and the sanctification of the ordinary callings of ordinary folks, wrote about it HERE. 

Others who have written about this topic, like Kirk Byron Jones (author of The Spiritual Treasure of Jazz and The Jazz of Preaching) wrote,

The stories, insightful connections to theological thought and spiritual experience, and unabashed passion of Thriving on a Riff will be memorable music to your soul. Take your time and savor; there is vibrant reflective inspiration here.

Yes, indeed. Order the book and savor it. Slow down, learn a bit about the arts and jazz, sense the importance of this exceptional American art form (often drawing on black cultural histories and advancing the cause of racial justice) and see how it might move you. I bet that you, like me, will not want to put it down and not want it to end. It’s a book worth having.

It’s a book that helps — get this! — in both the ups and downs of our Christian lives, the happy, fun times, the exquisite moments of awe and mystery, and for the lament of great sadness, personal and social. Believe me, I need these different styles to help me find ways to cope with my own different sorts of human experiences and emotions. Don’t you?

Thriving… is also a book worth experiencing live, hearing the author tell his stories and play his songs. If you’re able, please just us as our guest does just that; as he playfully teaches and educates us well, through storytelling and reading from the book and by playing the keys. He’s a gifted orator/preacher, a good storyteller, and a very talented pianist. Without being goofy or maudlin about it at all, playing is a deeply spiritual thing for him and his listeners; as Bill puts it, he was born to “pray the piano.”

Don Saliers — the famous mainline Protestant organist and church music scholar (and father to Emily of the folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, who wrote a terrific book with her dad called A Song to Sing, a Life to Live) — is a big fan of Reverend Carter. Saliers notes that Thriving on a Riff is a “feast” and “no less than a love song to the art and genius of improvisation.”

He continues, perfectly,

“…it is also a musical primer about transcendence and the risks of Biblical faith.”

Transcendence. Many of us know the experience, having had a glimpse of the ecstatic, a mystical moment, a bona fide encounter with the Divine, perhaps even ineffable. And it sometimes happens through music.

Perhaps it is through a sacred piece by Bach or the upbeat majesty of well-known works like “Brandenburg” or “Pachelbel” or the famous adagios by Barber or Albinoni. I have my reasons, but I almost always weep when hearing a good version of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.” But such an emotional sense of something sublime happens for many of us in rock music, too — from the soaring prog rock of the three Yes songs on “Close to the Edge” to the incredible, long coda of Layla to some of Paul Simon’s most literate pieces to those blazes of genius from Dylan to the scat singing of Van Morrison to nearly anything by U2 (and did I mention the Indigo Girls?) I encounter God often when listening to Bill Mallonee or Bruce Cockburn; many of our BookNotes readers have their own favs, but many would say listening to music is a spiritual practice. From rock and folk, soul and funk, for some, hip hop and for some, old-school country, from the mass choirs of black gospel to the quiet brilliance of Orthodox Arvo Part to the evocative mood of Irish ballads this is all sacred ground. It’s another post but I could list dozens of very recent pop artists who move me very, very deeply, such that I would say listening to them is a blessing of common grace.

But jazz.

Oh my, that is a style that is almost quintessentially laden with deep spiritual concerns.

Largely instrumental, the layers and rhythms, the collaboration and experimentation, the improvisation and often the very minor keys, the longing and yearning and then the final hints (or blasts) of resolution — all so very often point beyond themselves, offering nothing short of signals of transcendence. From the early works of the great Duke Ellington to John Coltrane’s famously raw prayer, A Love Supreme that released in 1964, to complex worship services composed by modernist jazzman Dave Brubeck (Bill’s friend, by the way) to the demanding weirdness of Sun Ra, there are overt spiritual themes that become obvious for those with ears to hear.

Bill Carter’s easy-to-read but often very moving introduction to faith and jazz is, by far, the best thing I’ve read on this notion that the jazz can speak to us, move us spiritually, and (for followers of Jesus) be an aid in our awareness of the Spirit and somewhat of a guide towards living faithfully in the world. This book, by way of history and stories and first-hand episodes and examples, gives us those ears to hear.

Jazz critic (and author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano) says that “jazz is born of diversity; it requires openness” He maybe learned that from Carter but he says (on the back cover of Thriving on a Riff) that jazz can “overcome bigotry and unite all who embrace it.” That’s a big dream, of course, but as Bill “rhapsodizes about the timeless euphoria of wholly embracing a transformative jazz performance” we get glimpses of how this works. One of the really great themes of Thriving is how racial justice concerns have been woven throughout the history of the genre. For those who care about racial reconciliation and for the church to be more multi-ethnic and diverse as it should be, I’m confident that Thriving on a Riff will help.

Carter is a Presbyterian preacher and pastor so he knows Reformed theology, and could easily note how the possibilities for art and music are rooted in a robust doctrine of creation. We Calvinists understand something about sin and idolatry, too, so Bill could also easily explain how jazz grew out of very hard times in US culture, from racism and economic disenfranchisement (not to mention weed and heroin and other unsavory pressures.) But, yes, the Biblical story unfolds from a good creation distorted by sin towards a cosmic redemption in Christ as the suffering and Risen Lord brings the reign of God to bear into all of life. We are — as another book that Bill wrote put it, “on a pilgrim road.” We don’t always yet see God’s healing and wholeness and shalom and goodness breaking out over all creation, but we see glimpses. We keep moving towards the new creation.

What better art form to tell this nuanced and subtle story than jazz?

In one chapter, after a “lesson in dissonance” he talks about “That Healin’ Feelin'” which he calls “The Soundtrack of Restoration.” Right on, man.

Thriving on a Riff shows us where jazz comes from, tells stories from the lives of some of the greats, illustrates his points with his own expertise and piano-craft, and moves effortlessly between the smoky clubs of late Saturday night to the dawn of Sunday morning church. Jazz has a lot to do with human spirituality, generally, and a lot to do with Christian discipleship, specifically; Thriving makes it clear, inviting, exciting.

With chapter titles like “Prayers Lifted on a Saxophone” and “Babel and Bebop” and improvisational interludes like “Swinging with Purpose” and “Late-Night Thoughts on Listening to Coltrane’s Ascension”, with chapters like “Broken and Beautiful” exploring “what it means to be human” and improvisations like his “Homily from the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Guaraldi Mass”, this is all exciting, theologically rich, and will, in his words, help you “listen for Selah.”

Look. You don’t have to be artsy or bohemian to like this book and you sure don’t have to be a jazz aficionado. If you are, then you know this book if for you, and you need to get it A-SAP. But even if you don’t read a lot in the arts or about music, particularly, my sense is this will be informative and inspirational for you. It could fill in the missing colors in your reading palette and be a bit of strong food or drink for your reading diet.

Come on out if you can to hear Bill next Friday night, June 28th, at 7:00 PM in the glorious sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in downtown York. Books and some of his CDs will be available for purchase. There will be some light refreshments.

If you can’t attend, please order the book now. As always, we have them at 20% off so if you are a BookNotes reader, please send an order our way. We’ll send ‘em out promptly.

OR, HOW ABOUT THIS:

You can order an autographed copy now. We will get them signed for you, either just with a signature, or made out to somebody special (if you clearly tell us to whom you want the inscription.) It will be a busy, fun night and we’re happy to add your request for signed books onto the stack.  We can then send them to you in early July. No extra charge for this nifty added value.

We’d be delighted to do this leg-work for you so if you want a signed copy, don’t hesitate to make that clear. If you want the inscrption to go to somebody’s name, just write the name as you want it written in the blank space at the Hearts & Minds order form page. Or give us a call at the shop before Friday night.

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  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.33; 2 lbs would be $5.07. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
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Sadly, as of June 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

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New books on Christian growth, faithful living, spiritual formation, and more — ALL ON SALE NOW

We sure have appreciated the fun notes from friends and customers about that last big BookNotes. For those that missed it, it included a dozen great books about the nature of reading, great titles on the demands and joys and benefits of the reading life. Books like the recent Deep Reading: Practices to Subvert the Vices of Our Distracted, Hostile, and Consumeristic Age which I am astonished by. In this age of distraction, it is more important than ever to foster such dispositions and practices and renewed (or re-ordered) loves, and reading well can help us. Disciples of Jesus are, of course, called to be life-long learners in the way of Jesus and, these days, there is more than ever to learn. So, as the Spirit said to the restless ancient Saint Augustine, tolle lege.

One of the things we want to read about is other people. God’s Kingdom a-coming includes all of creation — art museums and baby-care stuff, earth and space sciences and politics, architecture and integrative medicine, and so much more — it all matters. But I suggested in that BookNotes that reading about how people understand and narrate their lives is a key resource for helping us understand we humans, sinners and saints that we are. Reading fiction and memoir is an usually enjoyable and often provocative way to come to understand our fellow creatures who are, obvious or not (or even if we like it or not) made in God’s image. I think it is a Christian discipline to read memoirs, opening ourselves to others, for love’s sake. I try to read one each week. (I just finished the plainspoken but deeply moving Devout: A Memoir of Doubt by Anna Gazmarian, which was, admittedly, about doubt and deconstruction, but mostly about her navigating her faith after being diagnosed with nearly untreatable bi-polar disorder. More on that later, I hope.)

We shared in last week’s BookNotes a link to about 75 annotated novels and I shared another link to nearly 75 memoirs. You can find all our old BookNotes archived at our website. Find that last one right here.

One person quipped that this gave them enough reading ideas to last a lifetime. Another said we hardly have to do another BookNotes for the rest of the summer. Ha.

And we omitted so much.

Beth thought for sure I would have listed Trust by Hernan Diaz, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel written as a book within-a-book, about big business, power, and oh so much more. I loved the amazing book about a mainline denominational pastor’s dysfunction in the great Jonathan Franzen novel, Crossroads. I can’t believe I neglected to list Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos, a great novel for small-town clergy (and a favorite of our old Maryland friend, Presbyterian pastor, Eugene Peterson.) I adored the memoir (which also won a Pulitzer) about coming of age in the 1980s-era college life of Berkley (mostly about rock music, friendship, ethnicity and race — what a deeply moving book) by Hua Hsu, Stay True and I might someday write pages about.

Alas, as much as we love the books we listed, they were limited to those two genres — memoir and fiction. (Well, I listed a few spectacular journalistic stories that read like novels, or in the style of memoirs as the author embeds themselves among folk to explore something we all need to know about. I love those creatively done works of nonfiction and shared a handful of them, too, must-reads in my view, like Beth Macy’s provocative Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis and Corbin Addison’s thrilling Wastelands: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial.)  But, yeah, we focused on memoirs, biographies, and these journalistic reports, memoir-like, exposes of injustice. What a list, if I do say so myself.

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So. Now we need to list a few other new books in a genre that we might describe as a basic sort of spiritual formation or about our lives as disciples. These are books to help us all grow in faith and discipleship – not theology, per se, not deep mysticism, but applied faith, “for the living of these days” as the great hymn puts it. Most are quite new and all are highly recommended. We hope you send us some orders for helpful, summer-reading.

The Gift of Thorns: : Jesus, the Flesh, and the War for Our Wants A.J. Swoboda (Zondervan) ) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I hope you know how much we appreciate the wisdom and perspective – not to mention the creative writing chops and his way with words – of this thoughtful, accessible writer. He has written some Lenten-like reflections, a tremendous book on Sabbath, another on the delights of caring for creation. He is recently known for an excellent book on doubt. He is a professor who knows young adults well, but, it seems to me, is appreciated by readers of all ages and stages. He’s an author we value and trust immensely.

This new book is not the easiest to sell. The pink cover does not indicate any gendered interest and the allusive title, while maybe a tad off-putting, should be embraced with open arms. Or at least somewhat open arms. Who wants thorns in their lives? I get it that it might seem (if you don’t know the author or the book’s profound approach) like a cheesy self help title telling you to accept whatever comes down the pike. You know, those sentimental and cheery books that Kate Bowler rails against. It isn’t that at all.

What The Gift of Thorns is, at least, is a serious study of the questions of desire. I alluded to our “disordered” or “reordered” loves in my little intro above – do we really want to be the people of empathy and substance that deep readers can become? Do we want to be wise and informed and insightful? As James K.A. Smith notes in his exceptional You Are What You Love, much of life happens “under the hood.” We can’t merely think our way to new ways of being. We need a community that offers an ethos of health and growth for those who have just had heart transplants. A good way to see spiritual growth and Kingdom formation, eh? We’re given new hearts and then, with God’s help, we must nurture our new status and our new direction in life with suitable new virtues.

Swaboda has just given us a master-class in discerning the state of our new hearts and inviting us, in the spirit of Smith, I’d say, to take up a time of self-reflection and rehabilitation. We have to know what we love and why we love it; we have to dig deep to ponder our own motives and longings. We need to learn what to do with our wants. The Gift of Thorns: Jesus, the Flesh, and the War for Our Wants is an excellent book of naming and reforming (through the power of the Spirit) our very desires. If you liked Jamie Smith’s work, you’ll value this. If you were among the many blown away by John Mark Comer’s Live No Lies, you might find this a helpful follow up. Highly recommended.

Fully Alive Tending to the Soul in Turbulent Times Elizabeth Oldfield (Baker) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is a very new book that I believe is going to be talked about in months to come. Oldfield is a popular podcaster and here (surprise!) she uses the seven deadly sins as a framework to explore the classic questions of every disciple, of every seeker, nearly of every human. Okay, maybe not everybody asks “how do I move from sloth to attention?” but it is a profound question, classically discussed under the rubric of acedia. Again, not everyone wants to move from gluttony to awe, but her framing of this question (about numbing) is remarkably profound and will attract many who are in recovery (or maybe ought to be.) She shows how we have this human propensity to mess things up and a judgy, negative approach just digs us further into the vices that plague us.

There are a lot of good books on the seven deadly sins and several we like on holiness and virtue. This may soon be on the top of many people’s lists of favorite books along these lines.

Here is the table of contents; I’m sure you’ll agree this looks absolutely fascinating.  When authors as diverse as Francis Spufford and Krista Tippett and David Zahl all rave, you know  you have a winner on your hands. The popular historian Tom Holland calls it “luminous.”

  1. The Human Propensity to F— Things Up
  2.  Wrath . . . From Polarisation to Peace-making
  3.  Avarice . . . From Stuffocation to Gratitude and Generosity
  4.  Acedia . . . F rom Distraction to Attention
  5.  Envy . . . From Status Anxiety to Belovedness
  6.  Gluttony . . . From Numbing to Ecstasy
  7.  Lust . . . From Objectification to Sexual Humanism
  8.  Pride . . . From Individualism to Community
  9.  The G Bomb

The Understory: An Invitation to Rootedness and Resilience from the Forest Floor Lore Ferguson Wilbert (Brazos Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Oh my, this is the very best book I’ve read in months! I couldn’t put it down and finished it in two days. It isn’t that long and the writing is spectacular. The story is clear, although she covers a lot of territory. Literal territory, which becomes the backdrop and stage for the inner dilemmas and spiritual struggles she faces in her interior life. Sure, it is, as many good Christian books are, a resource for your growth, a wise guide pointing the way, a nice bit of spiritual rumination to help in your own (ailing?) formation. But, believe me, it includes more than standard fare cliches or simple Biblical truths. She invites us to walk in the woods with her, and what stories she has to tell. New Testament scholar Nijay Gupta calls it “a breathtaking combination of personal vulnerability, biblical wisdom, and pastoral hope.”

The Understory is written as memoir, and it is laden with fabulous first-hand nature writing. That is, she explains what she sees, poetically and creatively, and it is mostly down-to-Earth. She gazes at the stars in a pitch-black, midnight, kayak expedition (until some beavers are aroused and become a bit territorial.) But most of the creation-care she attests to, the beauty of the Earth she reports on, is, in fact, not skyward, but the very soil. She adores plants and trees and “the understory” is somewhat of a play on the popular theme these days of the “overstory.” (Perhaps you read the great novel by Richard Powers which Beth and I regret leaving off our big list of novels in the last BookNotes. Wilbert cites it, too — hooray!) From the canopy of the highest forest to the very floor and roots of old-growth majesties, she helps us appreciate these creatures of God.

If you loved Braiding Sweetgrass – that beautiful blend of wonderful command of the language and natural history and indigenous insight by Robin Wall Kimmerer – you will appreciate Wilbert. If you liked (or even heard about) those batch of books about the language of trees and how they communicate (like The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben or The Language of Trees by Katie Holten) you’ll love her take on all of that.

However, even though this memoir is about Wilbert and her husband’s caring for some land in upstate New York (with the occasional digression to climb or canoe) and her focus is on flora and fauna, especially trees, the story under the understory is her growing up in faith, leaving a toxic sort of fundamentalism behind, coming to see her loyalty and allegiance (and therefore identity) as less to a denomination or church tradition but to the person of Jesus. Years of strict dogma and complex theology are sifted – I hate to use the word deconstructed, as that isn’t exactly it – as she resettles in this place, with her small-town neighbors.

I highly, highly recommend this for anyone who likes beautiful writing about God’s world – think of Annie Dillard, say, or the moral vision of nature writers like Terry Tempest Williams or Kathleen Dean Moore. Geesh, she wisely quotes Thoreau and Muir. This is a rare and delightful bit of Christian writing.

I also recommend it for anyone who has felt the strain of tested relationships if you came out in favor of masking during the pandemic or wanted to stand with Black Lives Matter or couldn’t imagine Christians happily supporting the MAGA agenda. She seems like such a lovely person – she wrote an award-winning book on Broadman-Holman on the need and ministry of human touch, and another which we promoted( on Brazos Press) called A Curious Faith. She is thoughtful, reasonable, and yet deeply hurt by how some folks ghosted her or doubted her faith when she didn’t follow their extremist ideologies. Man, I feel for her and I know many will want to see her reflections on how she handled this season of our American life.

It becomes clear in the course of the story – the joys of it and the scars she describes – that appreciation of and caring about creation has been healing for her. Her sense of rootedness, like the trees in her beloved Adirondacks, have enabled her to bend but not break.

“Part Wendell Berry, Eugene Peterson, and Madeleine L’Engle. The result is sheer magic.” – A.J. Swoboda, After Doubt

Practicing the Way: Be with Jesus, Become like him, Do as he did John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

This one is not brand new — it came out mid January and we sent out pre-orders way back then. Thanks for those who ordered it back when we first announced it in a previous BookNotes column a half a year ago. However, it is just so good, so germane, and still fairly recent that I wanted you to indulge me as I list it again.

Our own church is using the free video curriculum based on the book and it is so incredibly impressive, well done, professional and engaging. The “Practicing the Way” website has a downloadable workbook (that is very good) and the whole video presentation is excellent. The discussion questions are pointed and helpful. If you’ve got a small group Practicing the Way is a great read and the online classes would be great to watch together.

Comer insists that we are all being formed, all the time. A complex ecology of habits and stories and relationships and our environment play upon us, of time. Only intentionally practicing new “counter habits” can re-form us, pushing back against the malformation we’ve had from the forces of the culture. It’s not easy swimming upstream but new habits and practices can allow us, in the power of the Spirit, to go with the flow of the stream, as we become one with our Rabbi, becoming more like Him, for the sake of His Kingdom coming. It is no surprise that the likes of James Houston and, of course, Dallas Willard are cited. Ken Shigematsu (God In My Everything) and Tish Warren (Liturgy of the Ordinary) are in the videos, too. Some of the best teaching on spiritual formation I’ve seen, informed by all the standard best writers, from Ron Rolheiser to Ruth Haley Barton to Janet Hamburg to Kallistos Ware to David Banner and a great array of poets, thinkers, mystics, and theologians. Solid stuff.

Brown Faces, White Spaces: Confronting Systemic Racism to Bring Healing and Restoration Latasha Morrison (Waterbrook) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Latasha Morrison is an extraordinary, evangelical leader, a vivid spokesperson, caring educator, Godly mentor. Her first book, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation was a break-out best-seller in that too-quick season when books about race and racism and black culture were all over the best-sellers list throughout the land. We pushed it alongside the other popular titles – some Christian, some not – and she became a rock star. We rejoice in the influence she has had and are glad that it remains a steady seller (insofar as any books on race sell well these days, which they don’t.) We appreciated her Be the Bridge because it used the language of church folk, it was thoroughly rooted in a fairly conventional take on Biblical teachings and spiritual formation. She helped countless evangelicals wake up and was a popular author for many others as well.

This, ladies and gentleman, is her long-awaited sequel. Wowza! Three big cheers! You should order this book — and her previous one, if you don’t have it.

Brown Faces, White Spaces shows her own deepening of her analysis of race and racism and offers fresh insights about what we should do next, where we go from here. Many churches bravely tackled race and racism (and too many pastors were criticized for doing so) and many were quite intentional about exposing the evils of white supremacy (no matter how subtle) with a solid Biblical orientation. I suppose some opted only for secular authors and trendy book clubs but most rooted their analysis and their hopes in the good news of the gospel and offered a Biblical basis for our anti-racism work. Latasha Morrison showed “God’s heart for racial reconciliation” and now shows where that will lead.

And, yes, it will lead to bolder, even more faithful activism and Godly empowerment to confront systemic problems, all with the goal of bringing God’s shalom – healing and restoration. Brown Faces White Spaces is an ideal primer on these things, deeply rooted in the best of our faith traditions, clear-headed and inspirational, and a necessary gift for most of us.

She calls on us to pattern our preparation and study towards dedication and liberation. She explores nine aspects of American life where systemic racism still sadly flourishes. (She explores racial injustice in health care, the justice system, education, and more (including, yes, the church.) Through its call – like, for instance, say, Jamar Tisby – she insists that we know a bit about history and “the color of compromise.” She is honest and she is hope-filled. You will appreciate that, I’m sure.

The small group discussion questions will help you facilitate an adult book club or Sunday school class or summer ministry program.

The forward to this solid book is by Eugene Cho, the current executive director of Bread for the World, the renowned anti-hunger citizens lobbying group and the thrilling, upbeat afterword is by Dr. Anita Philips, a black church leader and important trauma therapist.

The Age of Grievance Frank Bruni (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

Although not an overtly, or even subtly, Christian book, this mainstream journalist has offered one of the most meaningful, thoughtful, interesting, and I believe, helpful studies I’ve read in a while. Although a serious bit of cultural and political analysis, it is, also, a call to a sort of prudent decency that sounds to me like a fruit of the Spirit, like a call to virtue that comes from attention to our own spiritual formation. So I’m putting this book here on this list about discipleship and formation rather than on a later list on political stuff. It’s that good. You should read it prayerfully, to see how it might (a) help you understand our world and, perhaps (b) uncover some of your own habits of heart that have shaped your own instincts about current affairs or the lives of our neighbors.

Bruni is a long-standing, well-respected New York Times op-ed guy and a heck of an energetic writer. What fine phrases he can turn, with balance, nuance, and even humor. It’s a book I very highly recommend for anyone wanting to — as the famed “sons of Iscahaar” in Chronicles were known for — “understand the times.” He is a serious critic of the corrupt and maddening ways of Donald Trump and even more alarmed by the increasingly violent machinations of power not only on the far, alt-right, but from many bullying Republican leaders. His insistence (through lots of documentation) that the cultural dangers now are much, much, worse from the conservative side of the culture wars are compelling and in my estimation exactly right.

However, here he is also notably nuanced and exceptionally balanced, knowing that our “age of grievance” is pre-partisan and effects the air we breathe, at home, at work, at church, and in the public square. For many, seeing life (and blaming others) through the lens of grievance is core to their identity and a part of the architecture of their very worldview. He shows how acting out of grievance and insisting that everyone tow the line on every jot and tittle of a new regime of political correctness, for instance, is (especially on the left and in higher education and media) increasingly dangerous. And dumb — like some college standards that say we dare not use the word brave as a compliment, or “hip, hip, hooray” because it has roots in Nazi ideology.

I have noted scores of great paragraphs making the point about how those harboring legitimate concerns about real injustices have those concerns washed out by those demanding reparations for every little slight, blending truly historic wrongs that endure and smaller and less obviously hurtful matters. He argues this case very, very carefully — if colorfully — and makes what I think to be a thoughtful, civic-minded appeal not only for common ground and nuanced choices, but a return to former standards of decency and respect and giving each other the benefit of the doubt. The work of re-formation of our language and policy is slow, but serious.

Bruni has great insight into the overly picayune enforcement of speech codes in higher education (and he now teaches at Duke and knows something about the postmodern moods on campuses.) Anybody in higher ed should get this book. He also studies the fraught field of anti-racism training; hint: he’s not a fan of Beverly Diangelo and her White Fragility bestseller, but, again, anybody interested in helpful anti-racist efforts should consider his views. He is fair and persuasive in his assessment of the possible overreach of the #MeToo movement, as creepy lunch dates are lamented as loudly as and may be seen as similar to rape. Yet unlike some conservative work I’ve read blasting away at political correctness by exposing the oddest examples for ridicule, Bruni seems sympathetic, even if a given tendency has gone off the rails a bit.

He is rightfully aware of the need to listen well, and while he may not be quite as winsome as is John Inazu in his tremendous Learning to Disagree, he seems to be pointing towards the sort of principled pluralism to enhance civility that Inazu has written about previously. Bruni may be a political liberal, helpfully warning us of the ugly grievance ideologues of the right these days, but he quotes conservative writers like Yuval Levin and draws on the creative work of the likes of John McWhorter which is a nice surprise, again offering nuance and balance. It is an interesting author who can mock Molly Hemingway and the odd-ball Trumpians at The Federalist and the gross, nutty stuff from the likes of Tucker Carlson who minimized the blood on the floor of the Capitol as election deniers rampaged on January 6th, who yet affirms much of the thoughtful insight of some of our best conservative thinkers. I like Bruni a lot for that, making this a really energizing, even surprising book. That he cites a piece from Comment magazine or mentions David French is a remarkable sign these days.

As a gay man, he knows something about repression and marginalization, actually, but, again, he worries about how presenting some causes with such vigor and working to right some historic wrongs with such zeal may end up creating a counter-force of push-back, grievances against named grievances. That is pretty much the driving force of Fox News and the MAGA movement, now, he thinks, and shows (with vicious quote after quote, from Trump and his minions) how vile language and dangerous rhetoric is now common in pushing back against the liberals and their grievances. When conservative leaders like Mitt Romney fear for their lives from their formerly staid Republican backers in a place like Utah, you know there is danger in these times.

Is there hope? Indeed. He points the way.  The last two chapters are thrilling suggestions (okay, not overly sexy or dramatic, but wise insights about gerrymandering and election reform and ways to defuse continual battles and grudges.) Are there courageously moderate heros? Indeed; he highlights a few — celebrating a few key governors who are either Democrats in largely red states or Republicans who won and are supported in largely blue states.

His closing riffon humility is wonderful and even moving (and he cites a text in Philippians.) This book will help you be a wiser follower of Jesus in the public square. Perhaps in league with Shirley Mullen’s Claiming the Courageous Middle (a Baker Academic release we reviewed a month ago) we can learn to be nuanced advocates for a way that rises above the weary right vs left grievance wars.  We can become better neighbors, resisting our “descent into a society of metastasizing grievance” which turns everything into a battleground — in part because we don’t really know our political opponents as people. He knows “it’s complicated” but he invites us to a whole batch of do-able moves near the end. Hip, hip, hooray.

Get The Age of Grievance on your reading list asap, please. I might hold a grudge against you if you don’t.

From Weary to Wholehearted: A Restorative Resource for Overcoming Clergy Burnout Callie E. Swanlund (Church Publishing) $19.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

Okay, this is certainly for our readers who are clergy or church leaders, or to be purchased by those who care about their ministers, pastors, or other professional church staff. Franky, as a non-ordained lay person, I found this extraordinary, but it is written to and for our congregational staff. There are others about this that I’ve written about before and this one, now, is a major contribution and a must-read for anyone tasked with caring for clergy (such as judicatories, say, or even Boards or Councils or Sessions.) It’s really, really, good. If you care about pastors, you should know this as a good resource.

Callie is herself an Episcopal priest and beloved in her own Diocese (here in Pennsylvania, I might add.) She’s a youthful voice and energetic leader within mainline denominations  and knows the ins and outs of standard church ministry. She is esteemed among her colleagues and knows a lot about the bigger picture of the contemporary state of clergy health and well-being. She will tell you – upbeat and delightful as she is – that it is not a pretty picture.

I suspect the seeds of this have been in her heart for a while as she obviously cares about the integrity of her vocation and her associates with the same sort of calling. But I also suspect that the uptick in church struggles – think Covid; think Trump; think BLM, think sexual abuse coverups; think about the stress on clergy about finances and innovation and more – has driven her to write what she knows. Clergy burnout is, as everyone knows, nearly epidemic. Clergy (and lay ministry professionals who serve the church) are often exhausted. At best.

You know the painful statistics. From stress over declining congregations (and declining financial support) to collegial loneliness, and even the high rates of illness and early deaths among clergy, church leaders are reporting, consistently, these days, less health and more stress.

As the publisher puts it, “From Weary to Wholehearted isn’t a quick fix, but a much-needed companion to remind faith leaders that they are not alone, support them through sustainable tools for finding joy and rest, and re-ground them in spiritual nourishment.”

As these books (like Glen Packiam’s The Resilient Pastor: Leading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World or Carol Howard’s Wounded Pastors: Navigating Burnout, Finding Healing, and Discerning the Future of Your Ministry) tend to do, there is plenty of data and she is informed by recent surveys, good sociology, and incorporates important research findings. But it is more (much more) than a lament, even more than a cri de couer. It really is a guide to help clergy figure out some things, take some steps towards fresh starts and helpful practices. She asks them to “show up with their whole heart, vulnerably and courageously” and then walks them through the sorts of topics and guidance that is sure to be appreciated.

Callie is a retreat leader and spiritual guide. She is certified as a ministry coach. Most deeply, it seems, she wants to be a pastor to pastors; that is, to remind them of their own belovedness, offering encouragement and empowerment. As one reader (himself not a clergy-person) put it, From Weary to Wholehearted “helped me center and calm the chaos around me.” (She is, also, a Certified Daring Way Facilitator, if there are any Brene Brown fans who would appreciate that about her.)

The Emmanuel Promise: Discovering the Security of a Life Held By God Summer Joy Gross (Baker Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This may seem like a standard-fare book on knowing God, trusting God and coming to realize God is for you. That “life held by God” line is nice. But what this extraordinary book does – while accomplishing a great reminder of those vital and classic truths – is to do so by way of the author’s expertise in attachment theory. Yup.

Knowing that the book is about that, you can see the layers of meaning in the title: the promise of  Emmanuel, God-with-Us. God is the One who holds us best, even when (maybe especially when) our frail human parents failed to hold us, in large or small ways. Do you have a human parent full of foibles (or outright sins)? This book is for you.

Attachment theory is a complex, developmental, neurological approach, to oversimplify it, what happens when we are not held well as infants and children. When we fail to develop the normative bond between trusted parents and children. For a complex array of reasons – some obvious, others less so – some kids cannot attach with a loving parent figure. In these saddest of cases, kids grow up not knowing how to trust others, can’t bond, find it difficult to have reliable relationships. Attachment theory provides some needed diagnosis – what went wrong – and some guides to what we might do to heal our alienation, As many note, the Bible describes our primordial condition of being alienated from the Earth, from others, from our own very selves. All, of course, because of a fractured relationship with God.

Summer Joy Gross seems to be a really fabulous counselor, a very sharp practitioner, and a vulnerable storyteller of those with painful insecurities and those who have found healing and hope. The Emmanuel Promise helps us all learn to rely on God, to realize God can hold us well.  She draws on the likes of Curt Thompson, whose work is excellent and eloquent. She is an Anglican priest who works with Healing Care Ministry, a very well-respected counseling and spirituality center in Ohio, led by Terry Wardle (whose books you should know.) The brand new The Emmanuel Promise looks really, really impressive, a must for anyone interested in the interplay of deep psychology and spirituality. I think it is one we could all benefit from, and we highly recommend it.

Now and Not Yet: Pressing In When You’re Not Waiting, Wanting, and Restless for More Ruth Chou Simons (Thomas Nelson) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

You may know, if you’ve followed Hearts & Minds for a while, that we love this phrase — the now and the not yet, or, similarly, the already and not yet — and have used it often. At its most basic, of course, it is a statement about the true state of things: God’s Kingdom is here, but not fully here. We live in the “now” of a world being redeemed by a loving creator who, in the person of Jesus Christ, inaugurated His reign and promises to “make all things (re)new(ed)” but we now long for what is yet to be. In Advent, especially, the church focuses our collective attention to this deep paradox of the Christian life. I love this as a way to explain the reign of God and the Kingdom that is already even if obviously not fully yet.

Ruth Chou Simons is not a person I think of when I think about this historically-redemptive vision of cosmic hope — that is, creation-regained and all-of-life-redeemed. She writes beautifully (and often illustrated her work with remarkable water-color art) and her graphics and cards and gift books are truly lovely. Her writing is warm, personal, spiritual, deep in the way good evangelical piety can be.

Any new book of hers is a big deal in the religious publishing world, I’d say, and this will be a balm for many. It is (perhaps in a way unlike her previous books such as Beholding and Becoming and When Strivings Cease or her popular Gracelaced) for those with mental health frustrations or deep disillusionments; those just hanging on. She hints in the title that it is for those who are restless. It seems to me it is even for those who are experiencing difficult aspects or seasons of their lives and who are “feeling trapped.” In this sense, some of her analysis and insights are deeply psychological. Yet, if you know her work, she is decidedly gospel-centered and committed to foundations of informed Christian living.

Personal and tender as she is, Simons knows that we need fresh habits and that this includes time and space with God, learning to trust and move towards His ways. Further – get this – she knows these capacities to “flip the script” can be enhanced by guided liturgies. In Now and Not Yet she poetically and almost liturgically holds up our anxieties to God, helping us come to realize that our “right now matters.” We can live faithfully in the tension between what is and what is not yet.

Prayers for the Pilgrimage: A Book of Collects for All of Life W. David O. Taylor with paintings by Phaedra Taylor (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I will not say much about this other than to say it is a surprise release, added into the great IVP late Spring / early Summer list and it happily just arrived. It is a handsome, thoughtful, well-written collection of prayers, cased in a fine hardback. It looks like a winner, a great little gift item or for your own prayer life. Even casually slip it to your favorite worship leader or pastor as it surely will be a useful resource for those planning worship, prayer events, or for the opening of church meetings of all sorts.

And here’s the thing: Taylor is known for heady theology and sharp thinking about forging creative and faithfully thick worship in the contemporary age. His last book, A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of Our Physical Bodies in Worship was a Hearts & Minds favorite for 2023 which explored various aspects of how and why our human bodies come to play in faithful Christian worship. We are embodied people, so our very bodies (including our sense of aesthetics, our emotions, our physical maladies and more) are both the way we experience and engage in weekly worship and, naturally, are influenced by our experience of said worship. Right?

As one-hundred percent true as this is always, everywhere, (even if we are participating in worship on-line, which is still embodied if not “in person”) it is notable how very little writing there is on this. His footnotes are amazing, but A Body of Praise is the first major release of a book on this topic.

Anyway, perhaps it was during the time of writing that book that this Prayers for the Pilgrimage came out. It is lovely, rich, thoughtful. The tone is an interesting blend of informal and formal, not quite as high-church in liturgical / rhetorical style as the Episcopalian/Anglican Book of Common Prayer or ad classy like Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie but not quite as informal and creative as, say, Ted Loder (Guerrillas of Grace)r or Malcolm Boyd (Are You Running With Me Jesus?) or the many lively ones by the eloquent Walter Brueggemann. It tilts a bit formal, but the topics are (like so many others these days) very much about daily, ordinary life. There is a collect for changing a diaper, prayers for school, for when one is caught in a grumpy mood, for “the little things.” There are momentous prayers and quiet prayers, one for “the proper numbering of our days” and some for healing and wholeness. There are prayers for virtues and vices as well. What a rich and lovely volume this is.

Prayers for the Pilgrimage: A Book of Collects for All of Life is a great prayer book and the gentle watercolors, earth tones and blues showing some connections between the heavens and the earth, done by his very talented wife, are alluring and a lovely, earthy adornment.

A Short Guide to Spiritual Formation: Finding Life in Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Community Alex Sosler (Baker Academic) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

I hope you know Alex Sosler’s name – he is a friend and a fan of our work, and we obviously care deeply about his scholarship and ministry. Besides being an author, he’s a professor at Montreat College and an assistant Priest in Redeemer Anglican Church in Asheville NC. He’s also a bit of a pop culture aficionado, having done scholarly work on The Avett Brothers. We love this dude.

About a year ago I raved about a book he wrote for incoming first year students at Christian colleges (although methinks it would be useful for any student if they can translate it to their own setting) called Learning to Love: Christian Higher Education as Pilgrimage which draws on everybody from Wendell Berry to Esther Whitecap Meek to Steve Garber. He’s a thoughtful theological voice but his heart’s desire is to serve the church. In A Short Guide… he does the good work of retrieval, searching for classic ways to help ordinary Christians create habits and practices that shape our longings and desires. He knows the old literature, but writes very accessibly, for contemporary readers. How can we “inwardly digest” these disciplines that allow for us to know God more deeply and grow into holiness and wholeness? (And what does it look like to do that in the context of the local church? Is there a relationship between liturgy and life?)

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to have a spiritual director or wondered how to take next steps towards the deeper spiritual life, this potent guide may be just what you’re looking for. We highly recommend it.

As Russell Moore puts it in the foreword:

You will not leave this short book burdened down with a sense of all the things you can’t ever seem to do. You’ll instead start to see the possibility of how you, in your own life, can seek holiness and formation.

Singing Church History: Introducing the Christian Story Through Hymn Texts Paul Rorem (Fortress Press) $34.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

I hope that all of our Hearts & Minds readers – even those who don’t necessarily see themselves as members of churches or followers of Jesus – know something about church history. History is so important and we regularly recommend, for starters, our friend John Fea’s book, newly updated and expanded, Why Study History, and, then, something like Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past by Robert Rea. These vital and enjoyable reads will give the argument for and an overview of why people of faith should know something about these things of our communal past.

One way into this fascinating field of church history – and we have our favorites which I suppose should be a whole other BookNotes post – is to pick up this brand new, fairly academic, serious study of the details of church history by way of a close reading of the history of hymns. What a great idea, a fresh, new angle!

We all know that hymns have assisted the church in good times and bad and have both sustained and shaped the faith of believers — for both good and for ill. Did “Onward Christian Soldiers” enhance our propensity to what another hymn-writer called “our warring madness”? Did Reformation emphasis on the glory and majesty of God get wired into the Protestant worldview? How did the medieval monks come to write enduring lyrics that are still sung today?

This book invites us to consider what we might learn about shifts in theology – just say, the rise of Pentecostal renewal of personal holiness and the rise of the social gospel movement, both in the early parts of the 20th century – by closely examining the hymns that emerged from those movements.

Professor Rorem (a retired professor of Ecclesiastical History from Princeton) brings together fabulous stories and insights from well-known hymns and he offers theological analysis of what was going on in the social and religious context which gave rise to the lyrics of various hymns. He draws on music familiar to Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, historically black and other faith communities from around the world. That is, I’m guessing there will be some chapters here where the music might not be familiar. But, those very chapters might prove most enlightening for you as they explore streams of church history that have brought us to where we are today. We are “singing church history” every Sunday, as he notes, and this book will help us understand our long history.  It is about 230 pages, solid, even hefty, full of the tunes of our great cloud of witnesses. Alleluia for Singing Church History.

A brilliant idea brilliantly done. There is no book we can hold in our hand that contains as much history as a hymnal. The story of each hymn in its particularity can teach us moments in church history that, together, give us the entire sweep of the past from Miriam to Lina Sandell. A great treasure and resource for congregations. – Gracia Grindal, professor emerita of rhetoric, Luther Seminary

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TWO BIG LISTS of favorite novels and memoirs. (But first 12 books about reading.) ALL ON SALE

I know last week’s BookNotes included some thick heavy volumes. What with the important and fascinating new Charles Taylor and the big new one by James Davison Hunter and Life After Doom by Brian McLaren, you might now enjoy some suggestions about fiction and well-written memoirs, most as good as fiction. Read on, friends read on.

Last week I had the great opportunity to lead a retreat with a handful of Western Pennsylvania Presbyterian clergy. I gave four big presentations (some almost 2 hours long) and preached (in one of the most beautiful contemporary Catholic chapels I’ve seen.) It was about what Jennifer Holberg calls “nourishing narratives” in her great book by that title and I rambled on and on about why the reading life is essential for pastors and how creative memoir and novels and poetry can enhance the pastor’s imagination and make her a better preacher.

I read out loud from some very good books and told some stories and shared some dumb jokes. I trust it was as interesting for them as I had hoped and I pray it was as inspiring for them as it was for me. Thanks much to the Shenango and Beaver-Butler Presbyteries for hosting this refreshing time for your clergy and thanks for trusting me to offer something of use. I am humbled and grateful.

We only talked a little about the very real evils of Amazon and the detriment they have been in the publishing industry, to local economies, and to me and my family; Bezo’s promise to shut down family bookstores is still ringing in my ears, a haunting dark cloud over everything we do, every single day. Their theft and bullying and selfish lobbying is disgustingly immoral and so I invited clergy to consider that as merely a quick case study of why we need Christian folks in every zone of life, thinking Christianly about economics and work, business and politics, and all the other sorts of callings and careers, from engineering to education, health care to lawn care. While my theme was the role of stories and reading in the life of the pastor, one thing good books and serious reading can do is remind clergy of their vocation among God’s people who are necessarily sent and scattered into the ordinary world,  marketplaces and schools and homes and hospitals and offices and factories. Helping parishioners want to read about their own callings is itself an uphill battle since most clergy are ill-equipped with a theology of the marketplace and a Christian view of work (and some laity hardly know their Bibles or theology 101 so find it complicated to live out their Sunday faith in their Monday worlds.)

One way into this conversation, by the way, that is enjoyable and accesible, is by taking up the collection of short essays in the eloquent little book The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work by Steve Garber (IVP; $20.00 –  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00.) While he does have a few entries on business ethics, Garber writes beautifully about  all sorts of good work and callings and worship and spirituality, and, actually, often cites novels and films and artists. Reading one of two of his pieces for them was lovely. Do you know it?

Still, stories can help. Widening the imagination can help. We can all take great pleasure and solace as we find we are not alone, allowing authors to give voice to our own crazy lives and to our deepest and finally most ultimate concerns.

HERE IS WHAT WE ARE GOING TO SHARE WITH YOU IN THIS BOOKNOTES COLUMN:

I have offered, below, links to two very big handouts I shared with these clergy which list (with brief annotations) some of our favorite novels and some of our favorite memoirs.  Some have been asking for this…

Please click through to open each one. Maybe print ’em out.  We’ll do 20% off any of these,

This is a bit scary for us. After forty years of bookselling you might think we are used to recommending ending titles. It’s what we do, after all, on our podcast and here at BookNotes, not to mention every single day via email and during in-person shopping conversations.

But this is something else.

My favorite novels? Like asking for my favorite albums (or my favorite children, for that matter) it’s hard to say. And it may depend on what day you ask. And who you are, since I rarely like to suggest one book for everybody, since reading is such a uniquely personal matter (and, as they say, there is little accounting for taste.) One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor and all that.

To be clear, Beth’s great reading choices are reflected here, too.

We’ve been asked a thousand times, and I almost always wiggle out of answering.

Here, then — coming up in just a moment —  are two big lists of excellent titles created for these mainline denominational pastor friends last week.

  • ONE BIG LIST IS OF MEMOIRS and some CREATIVE NONFICTION REPORTING.
  • THE OTHER LINK IS TO A BIG LIST OF NOVELS.

These are shared as Google docs and I hope the formatting works. This is sort of a new experiment for us here at BookNotes. Let us know if you experience difficulties opening these.

FIRST, though: a dozen books that formed the foundation of the retreat I lead and books I very, very highly recommend to one and all. Even the ones for pastors are so very good, I think any Hearts & Minds friend or fan would adore them. These are all very highly recommended. All are 20% off.

Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith Jennifer L. Holberg (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I’ve highlighted this often, lately, as it is such a fun and inviting study of stories, literature, good writing and the call to read and, more, to live robustly inspired by the stories (and Story) of which we are a part. Fantastic! Jennifer is the esteemed director of the Calvin University Festival of Faith and Writing.

Threading her own stories with rich reflection on biblical narratives and on the novels and poems she has taught and loved, Jennifer Holberg offers here a beautiful way of understanding what it means to live by stories. Nourishing Narratives is a rich celebration of cookbooks, dog walking, Dante, college life, embracing solitude, and living in communities bound together by shared stories that equip them to see one another through whatever life brings. Every page offers food for thought and thanksgiving. — Marilyn McEntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies and When Poets Pray

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books Karen Swallow Prior (Brazos) $21.00

I love this for a host of reasons, and I applaud her thoughtful study of virtues and how various virtues can be discerned and taken on by reading classic literature. Each chapter is essentially an extended reflection on a virtue gained from a novel or short story. Some are older, a few are quite contemporary. By the way, I don’t always say this, but I love the feel of the recent paperback edition.

There’s a very cool linocut for each chapter, too, done by none other than the great Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books and World’s End Images. Huzzah.

Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This. This. This. It explores how we read and why, exploring a few key strategies from past Christian thinkers.  She asks (and offers a quiz to explore your style): “What kind of reader are you?” She asks, with Karen Swallow Prior (of course you know her On Reading Well) “Do Good Books Make You a Good Person?” She’s creative and interesting and, importantly, has a chapter called “What Does the Trinity Have to Do with the Art of Reading?” What a great book.

The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I think I cited a little section she has on C.S. Lewis’s own narration of his conversion and how it focuses more on his life-long love of books and how reading shaped (“baptized”) his imagination. Shout out to George MacDonald. Only then could Lewis come to Christian conviction. In any case, this is a fabulous book. You should have a few and share them in your church or school.

 

The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry Austin Carty (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I have said here at BookNotes and I said it to these pastors in Western Pennsylvania, that this is, truly, one of my favorite books, a book about the importance of reading, how all that works and why, and ways to become a better and more efficient reader. (That is, there is a chapter on taking notes, another on filing stuff so you, as preacher or teacher, can find good quotes or notions, even years later.) I had copied the fun Foreword by Tom Long which led to a bit of good discussion about how it is hard to find time for extensive reading. I get it. We all do. Still, this book will helper-inspire you to do this sort of formational reading which will pay off in the long run.

The Pastor’s Bookshelf is fun and fabulous — you should buy one for your pastor but read it yourself first. You won’t regret it, I promise. Very, very highly recommended.

Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

It is a hard call to say which I like better, the aforementioned The Pastor’s Bookshelf by the wonderful Austin Carty or this genius of a book by the fabulous thinker and great, great writer, Neal Plantinga. I call him Neal as if he’s a pal because he feels like a friend, so intimate and clear-headed is this lovely book to inspire preachers and teachers. I told my clergy friend that, even apart from his book-ish program of general reading that he extols here, it is, truly, one of the best books on preaching I’ve ever read. (Oddly, I’ve read a bunch; it’s a strange hobby, reading homiletics books, I know.) Anybody who is a pastor, public speaker, teacher or communicator (podcaster, or blogster or Substacker) should take up Reading for Preaching. Yes, yes, yes.

Your Minds Mission Greg Jao (IVP) $8.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $6.40

I so enjoy quoting a long paragraph where Greg mentions a “worship experience” in a high school science class and how his science textbooks became for him almost like prayer books; later, his humanities studies became like a vespers service. This is the most succinct and yet quite powerful introduction to the topic of the Christian mind that is short enough to be read by anyone, with implications for everything. Greg is a long-time Hearts & Minds friend and we value his gracious, book-loving leadership. This booklet offers so much, nicely put.

I really enjoyed reading a bit from this out loud to our Presbyterian friends.

The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationships in a Technological World Andy Crouch (Convergent) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I try to weave books by Andy Crouch into talks I give and so esteem his work from the seminal Culture Making (now out in a new, expanded edition) to his latest on the questions which arise from the ubiquitous nature of screens and digital culture. He obviously is not against modern devices and he spends his fair share of time on screens and computers. This, though, is his beautifully-written manifesto about what it is we really are seeking as we spend time online. We cited older classics like Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and the essential works of Maryanne Wolf (Proust and the Squid and Reader, Come Home) not to mention The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The Life We’re Looking For, though, is wise and beautiful and a must-read for us all.

Deep Reading: Practices to Subvert the Vices of Our Distracted, Hostile, and Consumeristic Age Rachel B. Griffis, Julie Ooms, and Rachel M. De Smith Roberts (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

If the workshops I was leading were geared to a slightly more academic setting — in higher education, say — I’d have drawn much more on this amazing new book. It is a great read and wonderfully researched and has been an extraordinary resource for me. I cannot imagine anyone who cares about the lack of a good and generous reading in our society (even in our churches or even among our college educated adults) who would not be greatly blessed by spending time with this. It is, as they say, “for all readers who desire to read deeply and live deeply.”

While exploring certain contemporary sins and foibles — they call them vices — like distraction and hostility and consumerism, this shows how significant and careful immersion in the world of books can help us be better people; books can help us live into a better story as they pull us away from the current foibles of our age. It is a treasure, and gift, with rave reviews from sharp, lovely folks like Mary McCampbell, David I. Smith, and Jeffrey Bilbro. Susan VanZanten calls it “a jewel of a book.”

Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just Claude Atcho (Brazos) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

As I weave together stories of my own life-long engagement with the works of MKL and my own passions for cross-cultural and anti-racism work — I didn’t even mention the threats we got under our door from the KKK — I’ve discovered that this recent book says so much of what we’ve longed to say well, for decades. We are thrilled that this amazing work is available and we take it everywhere we go. Please consider it. It will do you good.

Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls Mitali Perkins (Broadleaf Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

People sighed out loud when I read a passage from Mitali’s wonderful book. We talked a bit about how children and youth have a certain innocence and idealism and hope which can be crushed (or which might just slowly seep away) and revisiting as adults the books that so inspired children could be a very wise practice. This is a fabulous book making the case — allusively and indirectly — that books matter, that stories matter, that novels are formative. Each chapter explores a different children’s classic, plumbing its depth for insight, wisdom, faith, courage, hope, love…

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

I wanted to end my lectures at the retreat by highlighting the good work of author (and poet) Marilyn McEntyre. I had already cited a paragraph from her amazing book When Poets Pray so I hoped they recalled that gracious, elegant writing. But time ran out and we ended on another good note.

To wit, here’s what I would have shared:

The Princeton lectures once given by Abraham Kuyper (who I would be quoting in my sermon during the closing communion service), were called “The Stone Lectures” and they still are offered most years at Princeton Theological Seminary. A good number of years ago Marilyn McEntyre got to give those lectures and they, naturally, became a book. Her thesis and format were both radical and sensible: we are made by God to steward things in God’s world and, like with natural resources, failing to do so conscientiously can be disastrous, as water and air are fouled and life is endangered. Similarly, she notes, we can suppose that language is a gift of God that we are called upon to steward well. If we don’t, things can get toxic, quickly.

It was going to be somewhat of a big ending. I hoped to have read to them out loud her table of contents — stewardship strategies, she calls them — as somewhat of a benediction. I leave them with you here, now: Love Words, Tell the Truth, Don’t Tolerate Lies, Read Well, Stay in Conversation, Share Stories, Love the Long Sentence, Practice Poetry, Attend to Translation, Play, Pray, and Cherish Silence.

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Here are our (big) lists of some of our beloved NOVELS and MEMOIRS by some favorite wordsmiths, writers, and reporters. My, my, there is something here for everyone — from artsy stuff from Slant books to bestsellers from Random House; Noble Prize and Pultizer winners, self-published titles, overtly Christian work, and, well, some that are not quite so wholesome. Reading widely, friends. Enjoy.

LIST ONE: Some favorite NOVELS available from Hearts & Minds.

LIST TWO: Some favorite MEMOIRS and CREATIVE NONFICTION available from Hearts & Minds 

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  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.33; 2 lbs would be $5.07. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
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Sadly, as of May 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It isn’t good. It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing.

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SEVEN VERY IMPORTANT NEW BOOKS – by Charles Taylor, Brian McLaren, Wesley Vander Lugt, James Davison Hunter, and more. ALL 20% OFF.

Thanks to those who sent kind thoughts about our last BookNotes in which we talked a bit about (and shared some links about) the war in Gaza. We tried to offer a bit of balance, knowing that no side is innocent in that complicated part of the world. The state of Israel has neighbors who are out to destroy them. Yet, I said, I wished that the government and citizens of Israel might be shaped by the Scriptures of the Jews which, finally, has a trajectory towards a city of shalom. Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s lack of awareness of the “things that make for peace” and if that is what moved him in the first century, imagine his weeping today, as Israel — with billions of dollars worth of military aid from the US — is one of the most brutally militaristic powers on Earth. I listed some books that might help us understand various sides of the conflict and which might help us be more drawn to being peacemakers in God’s broken world. Anyway, I understand that not everyone liked it, so we were warmed by those who spoke graciously to us. Even more by those who bought books. Thanks, all.

In this BookNotes we will list seven brand new ones, each important, again books that ask big questions about important matters, hoping to provide some reading pleasure and helping us be more wise as we live in our culture. I’m leaving other new good releases out, I know, but these few new ones seem most worthy of comment. All are 20% off.

Scroll down to the very end to see the links to our secure order form page. Thanks.

Beauty Is Oxygen: Finding a Faith that Breathes Wesley Vander Lugt (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is one I’ve been waiting for as I am sure it will be a cut above the many pop ones on the topic that have come out lately; this brand new one is said to be exceptionally thoughtful and yet delightfully inspiring. I mean no criticism of the handful of volumes about creativity that have come out lately or the one’s with “beauty” in the title or subtitle; I’ve reviewed several here in the past year and we are truly thrilled for this emphasis among those writing books that might be best described as helping shape our daily Christian living. And we are glad for those more weighty theological tomes that explore beauty in more abstract terms. (Just think of the moving Beauty Chasers: Recapturing the Wonder of the Divine by the great Timothy Willard on one hand or the hefty but brilliant Abundantly More: The Theological Promise of the Arts in a Reductionist World by Jeremy Begbie on the other. Both are excellent in their own way.)

But this — wow! Natalie Carnes, a theology prof at Baylor University, says the writing offers “lucid, expansive prose worthy of his title.” Karen Swallow Prior says it is “breathtaking.”

The back cover tells us simply what is going on here: “Beauty is oxygen because it comes from the lungs of God.” This is an extraordinary claim, pushing us somehow beyond the mere “divine fingerprints” in creation we hear about often, to a more ambient, real “traces of divine glory.” The book itself seems to capture this, written as a meditation, with pull quotes and citations galore, quotes to sit with, to ponder alongside Bible reflections and theological jaunts. I’ve been waiting for this and can’t wait to spend considerable time with it. I’m going to show it off at a retreat I’m leading this week.

That Vander Lugt quotes one of my favorite writers, Calvin Seerveld, in the early pages (and one of Seerveld’s former students, James K.A. Smith) tickles me. That Annie Dillard comes up early is sweet. Later, flipping through, I see quotes from famous artists and painters and a surprising array of thinkers, from Cole Arthur Riley to Makoto Fujimura, from Dana Gioia to Father John Misty. One chapter reflects with Ippolit and Prince Myshkin by asking “What sort of beauty will save the world?” That’s a very good question.

And there are more questions, including some that are quite tender, personal, provocative, even. Beauty Is Oxygen is a book loaded with conversation starters and pointed questions to work through in meditative reflection or candid conversation with friends.

Sho Baraka wrote a great forward. Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt, a new friend this year, has a great endorsement. Vander Lugt directs the Leighton Ford Center for Theology, the Arts, and Gospel Witness at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and with this major, accessible work, he should catapult onto the list of go-to scholars and leaders speaking about aesthetics, creativity, and the arts. Oxygen gets our highest recommendation.

Life After Doom: Wisdom and Courage for a World Falling Apart Brian D. McLaren (St. Martin’s Essentials) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This book deserves a long review and, if he is even mostly right, it deserves to be urgently promoted, shared widely, discussed and prayed about and discerned with the utmost of intention. I’m with him: we are facing what some of the best scientists are calling civilizational collapse. It might be too late given the rates of the ocean temperatures changing, the ice caps melting, and so forth. Anyone who allows themselves to think about it — and Brian is very careful not to push us too hard and is gracious in his reporting of the dangers — knows that, at best, things are going to be painfully difficult for many North Americans in the coming generations. It is increasingly difficult for many throughout the globe as climate change has affected some of the most vulnerable. The beautiful and fascinating book I reviewed and named one of the Best Books of 2023 was Madeline Ostrander’s At Home on a Warming Planet comes to mind as it looks at those coping — with great heroism and resilience — with floods and fires, pollution and, amongst the Yupic Americans in Alaska, the tundra melting under their very homes. It’s a terrific read, if tragic in many ways.

Brian’s book, too, is a terrific read, if alarming. Yet, it is about so much more than the barreling force of climate change disrupting our economies, supply chains, information systems, food, schooling, jobs, and more. It is about the ups and downs of human wisdom, about God and the future, about hope and despair, about courage and goodness. He’s a kind teacher, honest, considerate, thoughtful, and mostly right, I am afraid.

Here are three things I’d say about Life After Doom, too quickly.

For those who have heard that Brian was a leader in the movement among those shifting away from conservative evangelicalism, you are right. We have followed his many books charting this move and we admire his courage and thoughtfulness. He is a long friend and I would read anything he writes, even if I may disagree a tad with this or that formulation. In this book he talks about the development of his own faith from fundamentalist youth to evangelical pastor, to post-denominational visionary (my words, not his) including some tender writing about a beloved fundamentalist grandfather and an earnest reflection on the worldviews of those who taught him a rapture-oriented theology in his youth. His love for the Scriptures remains clear and his early passion for nature writing, for science, and for literature (and music) is, as always, evident. In any case, he is not writing about doctrine as such and he clearly says he is hoping for a wide readership of this book so he isn’t pushy about faith.His faith shines through, though, as he invites people to deep consideration of their own deepest views and values, and while he says he’s not doing a theological or religious work, he can’t help himself.

Once an evangelist, always an evangelist, it seems, even though he is writing about current events and science; again, this is finally a book about true hope and, finally, about true love. As his friend (and a wonderful writer herself) Debra Rienstra puts it, Life After Doom is a book written with “patience and clarity” that helps us discover “the magnificent and beautiful task set before us.”

Secondly, this “magnificent and beautiful task set before us” is not merely a matter of better management of resources or of tightening our belts or shifting to renewable energy. It is not only a prudent matter of living ecologically in an era of climate disasters. Rather, this is a book that — urgent and gloomy as it may sound — is exciting in its analysis of a whole bunch of interlocking issues.

I think McLaren’s 2008 book Everything Must Change, which drew upon the work of the late, great Dutch economist and Biblical visionary Bob Goudzwaard, took the right approach: he exposed the idols and ideologies of what he called the “suicide machine” underneath the issues that most of our churches were ignoring or complicit in, or even blessing with civil religious gestures. McLaren showed how certain worldviews and ways of life were underneath the interlocking problems of world poverty, global ecological disruption, war and political authoritarianism.

Surely each of these concerns have only gotten worse and the ways in which some churches have underwritten these matters with false Biblical teaching is only more evident. Brian does not rant against the Christian nationalists or MAGA ideologues as much as you might expect because he realizes we are all in this together. There must be higher ground we can find and he suspects that most everyone (regardless of their partisan politics) has anxieties and fears about our futures. So, finally, this is a book about becoming communities of care that can offer alternative approaches to social arrangements (can anybody say the Year of Jubilee, just for instance?) and take up the spiritual work of becoming activists on a variety of fronts, in a variety of ways. It is about what one section calls “agile engagement” where things like beauty matters to us deeply. As another of his good books puts it, “we make the road by walking.” Let’s go!

Thirdly, besides the nice tone and the broad range of vision, there is this: it really is about life after becoming aware of our doomed situation. How shall we comport ourselves in these days, knowing what we know? It isn’t for mere crisis management but, as the subtitle puts it, about finding “wisdom and courage.” (Ahh, I think of the refrain of the hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory.”) How does that happen; how do you find such capacities, such lasting virtue?  Well, Brian has been studying this for years now, and it has led him to some interesting findings about neuroscience and how people (and societies) tend to respond to crisis.

This is fascinating stuff, and he deploys his curiosity and faith to help him understand all kinds of insights about trauma and resilience and memory and ritual and song and science — it’s a fascinating read that I guarantee will teach you something new and valuable (even if you don’t happen to share his utter urgency about the vast repercussions of the climate changes we are facing.) Life After Doom really is a remarkable read.

So.

It is not intentionally written about or even (only) to the Christian faith community (but still feels religious, even sacred) and it looks at a bunch of inter-related, deeper drivers of the many social dislocations and problems we are facing; it does so by exploring psychology and brain studies and anthropology and all sorts of interesting disciplines that can inform our resilience and courage, granting us a mystical hope. Not every chilling book cataloguing the crisis of our times is written with this kind of charm and grace.

Yet, Brian, pastor that he seems still to be, is gentle and wise and careful as he guides us through this hard stuff. He tells you to skip a chapter here or there as it might be triggering. He invites you to the practice of journaling at the end of each chapter and he is wise about the sorts of questions he asks and the reflections he invites. This deep processing of the information is really important to him, and he is right. He often warns that some of the pages are sad, a grace that I appreciated, even if I am not unaware of the data he was documenting. He wants us to take this at our own pace, but he does want us to take it seriously, or at least in ways that we are able.

Here’s the thing: many of us know much of this. Yet, we avoid reading about it, for any number of reasons, I suppose; we seem not to want to dive deep, to ponder it all too much. Brian speculates a bit about why we are reluctant to face honestly that which must be faced and again, he is kind and gracious.

I recall in the worst years of the dangers of the nuclear arms race the book by Jonathan Schell — famously called The Fate of the Earth — captured the nation and brought us face to face with what came to be called psychic numbing. Nearly a decade later, Bill McKibben passionately penned a similar warning in his powerful 1989 book The End of Nature. Through it all, I heard Brueggemann speaking and writing about the prophetic imagination and how our imaginations are often co-opted and captured by forces of the consumeristic empire, our modern day Babylon. Later, he wrote that we are usually either in denial or despair.

Brian cites Brueggemann and it is a key point in Life After Doom. He also draws on indigenous wisdom, dropping quotes from a forthcoming book by Randy and Edith Woodley Journey to Eloheh which is coming out later this year. And he draws on Steve Charleston, the Native American Episcopal Bishop who has written books like Ladder to the Light and We Survived the End of the World: Lessons from Native America on Apocalypse and Hope. Yep, McLaren reads widely, has friends all over, and is the perfect teacher to guide us towards nothing short of apocalypse and hope.

For what it is worth, besides the journaling prompts, there is a study guide, an appendix of questions, a proposed action guide, a piece about talking with children, and a guide to evaluating biases. And, of course, a fine, annotated resource list of print, media, and online resources. Life After Doom is very highly recommended.

Democracy and Solidarity: On the Cultural Roots of America’s Political Crisis James Davison Hunter (Yale University Press) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

Hunter is certainly one of the major public intellectuals of our time, a deeply learned scholar and Christian intellectual. Rumor has it that he is the one who coined the phrase “culture wars” (in a book by that title published in the early 90s.) I’ve read his work for years and still recommend his Oxford University Press volume, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Agree or not with its assessment and recommendations, it is a major work that anyone serious about cultural engagement and social change should ponder.

This brand new one is a heavy book (literally — Yale makes lovely, sturdy hardbacks and this is weighty in more than one way.) I have not started it and, frankly, don’t quite understand what it is about. I am sure it will be clear enough when the pages start turning but we wanted to announce it here for those who are aware of his significance.

This doesn’t clarify where Dr. Hunter is going with this, but if Jon Meacham recommends it, that’s vital. Meacham says:

With his characteristic wisdom and acuity, James Davison Hunter has written an important and illuminating work on the cultural roots of our current democratic discontents. For those seeking to understand how we got here–and what we can do now–this is a vital book. — Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

I first heard of Jackson Lears from Ken Myers on his astute Mars Hill Audio services. Lears continues to be an astute cultural critic and it makes sense that he would know Hunter. Lears writes:

A fresh and challenging interpretation of America in crisis. Hunter has the insight to discern the nihilism pervading our politics, the courage to see its authoritarian consequences, and the wisdom to imagine humane alternatives. — Jackson Lears, author of Animal Spirits: The American Pursuit of Vitality from Camp Meeting to Wall Street

Kathleen Sands (of America’s Religious Wars: The Embattled Heart of Our Public Life) is a fan and suggests that Hunter’s cultural analysis of how we lost our way is a “powerful, clear, and original argument.”

The book opens with three epigrams, one from Reinhold Niebuhr, one from Abraham Lincoln, and one from Frederick Douglas.  With notes and index it’s 483 pages.

Cosmic Connections: Poetry in the Age of Disenchantment Charles Taylor (Belknap Press / Harvard University Press) $37.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $30.36

Speaking of scholarly books that are big and fat (how’s that for some down home parlance, not quite suitable for such sophisticated scholars from elite schools?) Taylor has done some heady ones, eh? If you attempted to work through his often-cited and exceptionally important A Secular Age you are a better man or woman than I am. Still, we’ve raved about James K.A. Smith’s complex but very helpful intro to Taylor, How (Not) To Be Secular. (And the late Tim Keller’s one chapter on insight from Taylor on preaching to our culture in his little Preaching offers a very succinct overview of Taylor’s magnum opus.) Besides Smith’s beautiful popularization of it, Rowan Williams had an important review in the Times Literary Supplement. Even David Brooks took a shot at reviewing it (and he did a fabulous job) in the New York Times.

After that amazing big volume which was a blast into the intellectual conversations about “our secular age” and the implications, Taylor did another important work that didn’t get nearly enough popular acclaim. (I get it, too; it was dense and philosophical, which is to be expected since Taylor is, actually, a philosopher.) It was called The Language Animal and it was about linguistics. Here’s a good take-away quote about its importance. Here Akeel Bilgrami (of Columbia University):

There is no other book that has presented a critique of conventional philosophy of language in these terms and constructed an alternative to it in anything like this way.

Enter this brand new Cosmic Connections. It is, they tell us, a sequel or follow up to his explosive theories in The Language Animal. One need not read that (I gather) and it is going to be much discussed in the world I am sure.

Here is what it is about:

Charles Taylor delves into the poetry of the Romantics and their heirs, a foundation of his distinctive philosophy of language. Taylor holds that Romantic poetry responded to disenchantment: with old cosmic orders depleted, artists groped to articulate new meanings by bringing connections to life rather than merely reasoning abstractly about life.

This big book will appeal, I suspect, to those who are fans and readers of his work, naturally. Further, those interested in the general flow of culture — the “ping pong over the abyss” from the disenchantment brought on by the materialistic reductionism  of the Enlightenment ideologies to the rise of the a more humane counter-culture; from Rationalism to Romanticism — and also for those who care about the cultural context of the Romantic poets.

That is, this is for those who read bona fide philosophy (especially linguistics and, I would guess, those who follow the phenomenology of the likes of Maurice Merleau-Ponty) and cultural studies aficionados, and those who study poetry, might find this meaty volume helpful.

As the cover says:

Reacting to the fall of cosmic orders that were at once metaphysical and moral, the Romantics used the symbols and music of poetry to recover contact with reality beyond fragmented existence. They sought to overcome disenchantment and groped toward a new meaning of life.

Professor Taylor studies in Cosmic Connections, among others, Keats, and Shelley, Hopkins, Rilke, Baudelaire, Mallard, and on to T.S. Eliot and Czeslaw Milosz.

Strange Religion: How the First Christian Were Weird, Dangerous, and Compelling Nijay K. Gupta (Brazos Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I have written about this before but I have not spent a bit more time with it and felt like I should give it another lively shout-out, noting how very good it is. This is not overly academic, neither gloomy nor preachy. It isn’t mocking our too-often common place “ease at Zion” as the prophet Amos might put it, nor a screed against our cultural accommodation. Yet, there is, underneath it all, a reminder that at our best, the church simply has to be something other than what the world already has on offer. We must be some kind of third way beyond the polarization of our time. It is a more scholarly (but quite readable) study of what missional activist Michael Frost explored in his little pocket sized gem, Keep Christianity Weird: Embracing the Discipline of Being Different.

According to professor Gupta, a fresh New Testament scholar and expert of all sorts of first century curiosities, this is exactly what propelled the early church to make a lasting difference in its time. Yep, like Frost playing with the branding slogan of Austin, they “kept Christianity weird” and “embraced the discipline of being different.”

How so? Well, you’ll have to read Strange Religion for the juicy details (and, as Preston Sprinkle raves, it is “an absolutely joy to read!”) But here is the fabulous table of contents:

Part 1: Becoming Christian

  •  1.  Roman Religion and the Pax Deorum Keeping Peace with the Gods
  •  2. “Believers”: The First Christians and the Transformation of Religion
  •  3.  A Dangerous and Strange Religion: Christianity as a Superstition

Part 2: What the First Christians Believed

  • 4.  Believing the Unbelievabld
  • 5.  Cult without Smoke and Blood: Strange Worship
  • 6.  Possessed by the Spirit of God
  • 7.  Beginning at the End of All Things: A Strange Reckoning of Time

Part 3: How the First Christians Worshiped

  • 8. A Household of Faith: The Family Practices of the Early Christians
  • 9. A Priest-God and a Priestly People: Church as a Liturgical Community

Part 4: How the First Christians Lived

  • 10. Dangerous Contact: Becoming Godlike
  • 11. To Treat All as Equal
  • 12. The Christians Were Not Perfect

There is a fine concluding section entitled “Strange Religion: Putting It All Together” in which Dr. Gupta circles back and “pulls together the different threads of his book to see what themes and ideas emerge.” He offers a synthesis, admitted to painting with a broad brush, and brings it all home. He writes with a light touch and it delightfully invites us to be willing to resist the tendency to uphold the state quo. Hooray.

Untangling Critical Race Theory: What Christians Need to Know and Why It Matters Ed Uszynski (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.00

I am very, very glad for this brand new book and I’m eager to highlight it, even though I’ve only skimmed it. (It arrived just yesterday!) I almost hate to have to describe this book as the accusations against CRT seem often like a mean-spirited ruse from the far right these days, criticizing those who are “woke” as if that’s a bad thing. Those who follow BookNotes know that we have carried books about racial justice since the day we opened four decades ago and have no qualms about insisting that racial reconciliation is key to the gospel itself. Every church should be an anti-racist church and every believer should be wide awake to the pain and hurt of injustice in our world which the Bible says is sometimes embedded in social structures and cultural patterns. We honor that older phrase of being “woke” from black culture and try to be as faithfully woke as we can be.

When Fox News and other disreputable sources started a cynical campaign to use “CRT” as a nasty shibboleth, a litmus test to critique those who were not adequately conservative enough, I realized we needed a good book to discuss what is right (and what is wrong) with CRT, honest but open, written from a truly reliable Biblical worldview. That first evangelically-wise and thoughtful book came out a year ago and was called Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation by Robert Chao Romero and Jeff Liou (Baker Academic; $23.95 – OUR SALE PRICE = $19.16.) It was rigorous, thoughtful, mostly favorable of CRT with some uniquely Christian insights about how to interact faithfully with this diverse (and sometimes Marxist) scholarly movement. I told a lot of pastors that they needed it since I’m sure every church in America who has spoken about race has had somebody bring this up. I know our church has.

(And, for the record, some who complain about it are stupid and ill-informed. It’s just a fact; they heard from Fox News or the 700 Club that CRT or DTT or RTC or whatever they heard was bad and they are out to condemn without concern about the facts or who they slander. And on the other hand, there are those that have studied the topic a bit and know there are legitimate concerns to be discussed with faithful, spiritual discernment and mostly likely offer their critique with humility. Understood.) That is a very good book.

This brand new book, Untangling Critical Race Theory by Ed Uszynski, is perhaps an even better choice than our previous fav for those who are not terribly familiar with the philosophical assumptions underneath CRT but want a sensible, layperson’s overview, translating what started in the postmodern academic world to the general public. Untangling is serious but conversational — the first chapter is about how a blue-collar white guy (the author) got involved in the conversation about race. He grew up in an ethnically-diverse high school and came to evangelical faith in his college years among several good black friends. It’s a good story.

Ed Uszynski has a PhD in American cultural studies (from the prominent program at Bowling Green) so knows critical theory and neo-Marxist philosophers and the sorts of influences that have shaped (for better or for worse) those scholars influenced by CRT. He has fairly conservative instincts and yet seriously asks, even as he unpacks this bloated baggage, what Christians can learn from it all.

The back jacket promises that Dr. Uszynski goes below the surface and provides a “reliable path of just discernment and cultural engagement.” I gather he is a practical man as well. For what it is worth, he has been a specialist for the evangelical campus ministry group called Cru and Athletes in Action for decades. He has written for “Desiring God” and Mockingbird and The Washington Times. That might earn him some street cred for those who don’t approve of the other Times.

Listen to what Tim Muehlhoff (a professor of communications at Biola and author of several good books on fair and honest communication) has to say about this author and his new book:

As co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project, I can assure you there is nothing winsome about our current discussions of race. As soon as Critical Race Theory, white privilege, or systemic racism is uttered, walls go up and voices rise. While many books have been written on race and CRT, Dr. Uszynski is my most trusted source on how to have productive and honest conversations on difficult issues, especially race. Whether you agree or disagree with Dr. Uszynski, his insights will provoke, inspire, and help us communicate and not separate. — Tim Muehlhoff, professor of communication at Biola University and author of Winsome Conviction: Disagreeing Without Dividing the Church

I’m a big fan of Chris Broussard, a well-known sports broadcaster and producer of the excellent “Share the Dream” DVD curriculum on learning from MLK that we highlighted a while back. Here is what Brousaard says; wow – note this:

What a refreshing, absolutely necessary read Ed Uszynski has given us in Untangling Critical Race Theory. As I lament the state of our country and its growing antagonism toward biblical Christianity, I can’t help but blame the American church at large. If we were united as we should be around the undeniable social ramifications of the gospel, society would see biblical Christianity as the answer, not the problem, to our stubborn racial divide. If we as American Christians have one last gasp at true unity across racial lines, salvaging our public perception, and perhaps sparking revival, reading Untangling Critical Race Theory is a critical first step. — Chris Broussard, sports broadcaster and founder of the K.I.N.G. Movement

Order one or two today, please. You’re going to need it.

Chasing Hope: A Reporter’s Life Nicholas D. Kristof (Knopf) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

I hope you know the world-wide reporting of the great Nicholas Kristof, one of the great (and somewhat unpredictable) journalists of our age. Kristof has been a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize (and co-wrote, among other great reads, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.) He is a generous humanist, one who cares about the poor and oppressed, and reports on what works to solve vast global problems. He is a hero.

For what it’s worth, he is a hero, too, because he has been a good voice — rare, for a while, in the mainstream secular press — to document the horrors of sexual trafficking and modern-day slavery. He heard the cries and valued the work of groups like The International Justice Mission and realized that some Christian mission groups were not mere neo-colonialists or trying to be white saviors but were genuine and capable and experienced. He followed his nose, followed the money, followed the pain, followed the solutions. I can’t wait to read this big book, which tells his whole, big, exciting story. Who knows, it may show that he even followed the Spirit.

Listen to these great blues by important, knowledgeable folks:

A gripping memoir by a world-class reporter. Nick Kristof takes us behind the scenes as he risks his life to shine a light on the world’s most pressing problems and blaze a trail to a better future. In a time when trust in journalism is in jeopardy, his honesty, humility, and humanity are rays of hope. — Adam Grant, author of Hidden Potential

In these dark, swirly times, Nick’s reporting and this page-turner offer us a sharp light of a hope that will not be shuttered. Doors are not exactly kicked open, but bullets are dodged, bad luck too. It’s a thriller, a chronicle and a set of keys to our most undervalued resource – hope. Nick’s not just chasing hope, he is it… a most reasoned, polite, persistent, insistent finger in the eye of injustice. — Bono, author of Surrender

Nick Kristof is a journalistic exemplar, practicing the art of storytelling in its purest form. He has a penchant for covering the stories too many shy away from — rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty with the hope that it will motivate us to act. His North Star has never wavered. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in journalism, or for those who need to be reminded that, in the right hands, it can be a truly noble profession. — Katie Couric, author of Going There

It’s fun to see a number of really good writers raving about this. From Bonnie Garmus (Lessons in Chemistry) to Lee Child (of the Jack Reacher series) to the great Kristin Hannah, this brand new volume seems to be an illuminating and inspiring book. As Hannah puts it, Kristof believes that truth matters. And that “is a lesson that is sorely in need of reposting in our modern, chaotic, divided world.” Chasing Hope is going to be a great read, I’m sure.

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Sadly, as of May 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It isn’t good. It is important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks very much for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

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Books on the Israel-Palestine conflicts – 20% OFF

In a previous BookNotes last November I recommended a large number of books to help us understand some of the complexities of the background of the brutal war in Gaza; it was extensive, listing a lot of titles we had on our shelves here at the shop, even if it was not comprehensive. From an older, award-winning history of Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore to one that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize (announced just last week) by Nathan Thrall, A Day in the Life of Abed Salam (Metropolitan Books; $29.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99) to the must-read memoir of Arab Christian leader Elias Chacour (Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel (Baker Books; $17.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39) we did our best to offer some good ones.

In that BookNotes column I framed the books about the war in the Middle East by a bunch of suggestions of various sorts on the Biblical-theological debate about the legitimacy of violence and the ethics of war— some on the just war theory, some on Biblical nonviolence, some that were point-counterpoint arguments showing several views. For a readable intro to the Biblical basis for peacemaking, might I suggest Speak Your Peace by the impeccable Ron Sider? (Herald Press; $16.99 / OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59.) 

You can read that BookNotes, here. 

After Easter my adult daughter, Stephanie, and I, started an informal course we put together for our small adult ed program at First Presbyterian Church in York, PA on peacemaking in the Middle East. We adopted the hard but thrilling vision of The Telos Group, calling us to be pro, pro, pro — pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace. It should be obvious that lasting peace for all has to allow for the flourishing of all, so we cannot be one-sided. We are no experts (that is obvious) but we did our best in this class and you can see those presentations at our First Presbyterian Church of York Facebook page or the church’s website. (I’m speaking rather off the cuff, so forgive my stumbling around for the right words sometimes. Ha.) In the last two weeks we’ve borrowed a bit from Walter Brueggemann’s book Chosen? Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (WJK) $18.00 / OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40.

As I write, Israeli IDF bombs are falling in Gaza’s Rafah City, where many refugees from previous bombs have been forced to flee, even as IDF troops renew ground assaults in the North. Those who know or care about the historic constraints of the just war theory can determine if these further attacks are morally warranted, but we know that tens of thousands of Palestinian people, most civilians, have died, and their infrastructure has been almost totally decimated. The International Court of Justice will perhaps rule further to determine if this constitutes genocide but it certainly is, at least, as Brian Walsh said on a webinar with us a few months back, domicide. Those who have been displaced from their homelands now even have their houses and culture destroyed.

And yet, this is, admittedly, a complex and even morally ambiguous war. Hamas is committed to terrorism. While most of their attacks have not been grand, that changed on October 7th when they performed their hideously evil attack on thousands of civilians. It is a day that will live in infamy.

I hope our reading suggestions can help some of us learn more and create some sort of theologically-wise response that is balanced and fair and rooted in an awareness of the social, political, ethnic, and theological contexts. And push us to take whatever action we can as citizens and, most of us, I suspect, members of the world-wide Body of Christ. See, for instance, the letter from Churches for Middle East Peace here.

This recent article in USA Today nicely shows a variety of views of what church folks are thinking and doing and it quotes at least two friends of mine, Todd Deatherage of The Telos Group and Mae Elise Cannon of Churches for Middle East Peace. 

It seems both morally obvious to me and a common sense low barre to now demand a ceasefire. Most mainline churches have called upon their members to contact their congressional leaders to press for such a ceasefire.

And yet, our Congress passed — agreeing on something for the first time in a long while — and our President signed an authorization for billions and billions more military aid to be given to the government of Israel. They are (in opposition to Biblical teachings, I would say) zealous about military superiority and one of the mightiest war machines on the planet. And yet, our leaders give them more firepower, which the prophet Micah might have called “the beginning of sin for you” (see his denunciation of the military warehouse in Lachish in Micah 1:3.)

What galls me now — sorry to speak bluntly to our gentle bookstore customers — is how the far right (and others, who should know better) are denouncing Biden for this small gesture of temporarily withholding some of the military materiel as a plea for Netanyahu’s armies to slow their vengeance against Rafah. Journals such as Commentary have written egregiously wild accusations suggesting that those who protest Israeli military policies are “celebrating” the Hamas attacks. Christian Zionist organizations have grossly mischaracterized the anti-war movement which, as all should know, includes Jews and Christians, both in Israel and in the US. There are one-sided, pro-Hamas activists, of course, but I am confident that most who speak out against the violence perpetrated by both sides are decent people trying to give voice to their decent social ethics or public theology. Shame on those disparaging all who stand for peace by overstating the influence of the violent and anti-Semitic.

Some of us are haunted by the hope of Isaiah 65 that enemies will reconcile and no one will be hurt in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The inclusive vision of Isaiah 2 stimulates my imagination. (I quipped in Sunday school class that of course you need to beat swords into plowshares to prevent serious fighting when all the various cultures show up in town, as promised.) One might wish that the current administration of the Israeli nation-state would care even a smidgeon about the normative principles in their Torah and prophets.

And don’t even get me started on what an obviously sick and unfaithful interpretation of Islam has captured the jihadists in the ranks of Hamas or Hezbollah. Heaven help us.

So times are bad and we must each determine what we think, what we believe, and what we will do. I hope we can help.

Here are a handful of books to help us further understand. All are 20% off.

This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Greg Myre & Jennifer Griffin (Turner Publishing) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Three things about this marvelously captivating read, a page-turner and a personal favorite for understanding the texture of life in the Middle East.

First, This Burning Land was mostly written by Myre, but is co-authored by his wife; they are a pair of seasoned war correspondents; Myre has filed reports with any number of mainstream media outlets (The Associated Press and The New York Times) and Griffin worked for Fox News. So that’s sort of intriguing, eh? They lived in Israel for decades and raised two children, which, in some chapters, become part of their story. This isn’t a memoir but there is moving stuff here, wonderful, honest, painful, and at times inspiring storytelling.

Secondly, it offers more information about various segments, factions, locales and sides of the conflict than nearly any book I’ve read. In good journalistic fashion they tell the backstory, bringing up up close, episode by episode. One author has called it “stunning” while Aaron David Miller (author of The Much Too Promised Land) says it an “extraordinary story — personal yet hard-hitting.” As he puts it, there are no punches pulled here. It is full of pathos and background, stories of friends and some hair-raising episodes. As yet another Middle Eastern author put it, “you will be swept up in their story of tragedy and hope.” And you’ll learn a whole, whole lot. I sure did.

Thirdly, it is not up-to-date. This isn’t a criticism, just noting that it doesn’t cover recent events. The horrors of the height of the suicide bombings of the second intifada (roughly 2000 – 2005) finally sent them home and the book came out in paperback in 2010.  It may not be current, but it is still “devastatingly insightful.” Very highly recommended.

Side By Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine edited by Sami Aswan, Dan Bar-On, & Eyal Naveh (The New Press) $24.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Created by the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME) this is innovative and an amazing resource for those who want greater understanding from two often contrasting perspectives. Yep, this is a side-by-side narrative, written in parallel (the one page from the Israeli perspective and the other facing pace offering a Palestinian perspective.)

Side By Side is almost 400 pages and was created by a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers. Naturally, the conflict can be explained and taught from just one side and these heroic university educators wanted to be fair and teach “both sides.”

Interestingly, the Library Journal, in a very favorable review, said it “underscores the problems” which, I suppose, it does. But what a healthy way into the conversation, showing in a nearly pioneering way, how various people understand their often different histories. Wow.

Christ and the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace edited by Paul Alexander (Pickwick) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This is an excellent resource offering a variety of authors each sharing a speech or lecture or sermon they gave at a peacemaking conference in Bethlehem ( yes — that Bethlehem, located in the West Bank, Palestine.) It is especially concerned about the role of evangelical Christians (often presumed to be Zionist and disinterested in the human rights of the Palestinians.) Some chapters are more academic than others and every one is worth reading. A few are brilliant and many are quite inspiring.

I recommended this before but didn’t share the details.

Because I’m eager to promote this, here is what you’ll find, chapter by chapter.

“Palestinian Christians in the Shadow of Christian Zionism” by Alex Award. Award starts the conference off with some moving stories of his experiences as an Arab Christian, including awful discrimination from fellow evangelicals experienced at global Bible conferences. He’s honest, upbeat, and inspiring.

“The Holocaust and the Evangelical Movement: From German Pietism to Palestinian Christians” by Manfred W. Kohl. One of the more scholarly pieces about anti-semitism, various understandings of Jewish people throughout church history, and a moving ending listing ways to help evangelicals develop a more balanced approach.

“A Palestinian Christian Evangelical Response to the Holocaust” by Sami Awad. Sami is a youngish, esteemed evangelical and here he tells movingly of an experience of anti-Palestinian ideology experienced while on an educational retreat to the death camps in Europe. Don’t miss it.

“Theology of the Land: From a Land of Strife to a Land of Reconciliation” Salim Munayer. I have read a lot on this topic and it is one of the best overviews I have seen, carefully interpreting the various themes of land-promises in the Bible. Good, good stuff. Dr. Munayer is founder of Musalaha, in Jerusalem, a charitable organization that works for reconciliation.

“What Can Pentecostals and Charismatics Do for Peace with Justice in Israel and Palestine?” by Paul Alexander. Paul is an old friend and the compiler of this collection of papers given at the Checkpoint conference. It is conversational, informal, passionate.

“Strange Freedom: Existential and Social Liberation from a Christian Perspective” by Mae Elise Cannon. We so admire Cannon’s good work (with the organization Churches for Middle East Peace) and here she offers a profound essay on the liberation God can bring as she frames the conflict in light of principles from the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom. Very thoughtful.

“The New Testament and the Land” by Gary M. Burge. Dr. Burge teaches at Wheaton and has written two books on this topic; he is an expert and this summary piece is extraordinary.

“The Land in Light of the Reconciliation of Christ: A Dispensationalist View” by Darrell Bock. Professor Bock (of Dallas Theological Seminary) is a well known and exceptionally thoughtful evangelical scholar. He was born Jewish and became a follower of Jesus which makes him that much more interesting. He offers a pretty generic overview of the dispensationalist worldview and insists that, despite his solid loyalty to Israel, they dare not do whatever they wish and are, like all of us, obliged to live well in the land, working for justice for all. Not bad.

“The Ethical Responsibility of the American Church Toward Palestinian Christians” by Tony Campolo. I have always enjoyed listening to Tony and am honored to call him a friend. He naturally preaches about Jesus and calls us to a wholistic vision of Kingdom living, trusting Christ and working for peace. He tells some great stories, too. By the way, Tony, raised in a vibrant Italian-American community was sent to a school in which he was one of only a few non-Jewish kids, so he knows the Jewish community well. This is good stuff.

“Evangelicals, Islam, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” by Colin Chapman. Chapman is an impeccable British scholar who at the time was teaching Islamic Studies in Beirut, Lebanon. He is exceptionally reliable, thoughtful, a tad scholarly, and here offers a brief but solid introduction, inspired by his must-read Whose Promised Land?

“Peaceful or Violent Eschatology: A Palestinian Christian Reading of the Psalter” by Yohanna Katanacho. The Christ and the Checkpoint Conference was held at Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem, Palestine, and Dr. Katanacho is a professor of Biblical Studies (and an Academic Dean) there. This is the most academic piece in the book with Katanacho interacting with important work on the Psalms by the likes of Gerald Wilson and Robert Cole, whose interpretations seems to fund a militant Zionist project, which he finds unfaithful.  His most recent book is Praying Through the Psalms.

“Contextual Palestinian Theology as it Deals with Realities on the Ground” by Mitri Raheb. Raheb is a rock star of global, post-colonial theological studies, a  Palestinian Lutheran pastor and life-long resident of Bethlehem. His chapter was somewhat informal even as he offers 7 key points to help us think faithfully about the occupation of his homeland by right-wing Zioinist forces.

“Where Do We Go From Here?” by Jonathan Kuttab. Kuttab should be better known, an important voice of human rights and the rule of law in the region. He is a lawyer and co-founder of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence and a variety of other advocacy organizations.

Some of these chapters and really, really informative and some are quite stirring. Kudos.

A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land edited by Mae Elise Cannon (Cascade) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

This is another anthology, a really great reader, that would be useful to have on hand for a lifetime. There is so much in here. Mae Cannon is a friend and customer and we so value her important, evangelical work for peace and justice. (She has done a few handbooks of faith-based involvement such as The Social Justice Handbook and the excellent follow-up, Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age, both published by IVP.)

She is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church and serves as the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Previously, she learned her chops as the senior director of advocacy and outreach for World Vision US on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

This edited volume done for CMEP, A Land Full of God, is simply one of the best big volumes on the topic, unprecedented for this kind of overview. There is so much in here, from so many perspectives. The forward reveals some of their approach; it is called “Multiple Narratives Toward Peace.” It’s a big book, but well worth having.

There are more than 30 chapters in Land Full of God, most original for this volume, although a few were previously done. It is nearly 300 pages and is arranged in seven sections:

PART I starts off with “Contextualizing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” with helpful pieces by Dale Hanson Burke, David Neff, Rich Nathan, and His Holiness Pope Francis.

PART II includes essays under the rubric of “God’s Chosen People and the Family of Abraham” and includes four very impressive chapters about the Jewish claims to the land (one written by a Jewish author, another about the larger family of Abraham, and the questions around supersessionism.)

PART III “Land and People” has four chapters about the land, culture, and peoples, including a marvelous survey (by Dr. Clayborne Carson and Rev. Troy Jackson) about Martin Luther King’s 1959 trip to the Holy Land and what we can surmise about his views of the contemporary conflict based on his diaries and comments from his trip There’s a bit on the rise of so-called Christian Zionism that’s important. Please don’t miss the stand out chapter by David Gushee on “Christian Just Peacemaking and Israel-Palestine.” Gushee is a world-class ethicist and a scholar of the holocaust.

PART IV is called “Political Paradigms and Perspectives” and includes the famous piece by Desmond Tutu in which he compared Palestinian conditions under the occupation with his experience of apartheid in South Africa, and an important historical piece by The Honorable John Kerry. I loved the piece on a Pentecostal view of interfaith learning by Paul Alexander (the editor of the above-listed book.)

PARV V offers voices for peace in four chapters in  a section called “An End to Violence and Vision for Peace.”

PART VI offers pieces under the section heading “We Belong to Each Other: Relationships Across Divides.” It has fabulous messages by Shane Claiborne, Lynne Hybels, Carolyn Custis James, and now Bread for the World President, Eugene Cho.

PART VII is entitled “Future Hope: Action and Engagement Toward a Just Peace.” It leads off with an excellent piece by Jim Wallis, which I highly recommend, an inspiring one by Joel Hunter, and more. These are really good.

There is included the full draft of the “Atlanta Summit of Churches in the USA and Holy Land” declaration called Pursuing Peace and Strengthening Presence. What a resource! Kudos to Christians for Middle East Peace. Highly recommended.

The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope Munther Issac (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I recommend this hefty book because it is so clear, so conversational, so obviously heart-rending and honest. Munther Isaac got his PhD from the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and is an academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine (and directs the ongoing Christ and the Checkpoint Conferences there.) He is the pastor of the famed Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. I bet you saw pictures on facebook of the baby Jesus in the rubble posted from there last Christmastime.

This is a voice that must be heard. As an evangelical biblical theologian and church leader, Munther Isaac speaks on behalf of sisters and brothers in Christ whose story and very existence is ignored and marginalized in the West. A wealth of historical and personal experience, including his own, authenticates the educative challenge of his biblical and theological perspectives. The Other Side of the Wall helps us appreciate the other side of an argument that is all too often assumed to have only one legitimate side for Bible-believing Christians. — Christopher J. H. Wright, Langham Partnership, author of Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Munther Isaac is a Palestinian Christian and as such an heir to the unbroken Christian presence in the land of Jesus going back to the early church. In this provocative book, he writes with the passion and urgency of an Old Testament prophet, offering a direct challenge to theologies from the West that have been weaponized against him and others like him in the Holy Land. His words will surely challenge and discomfort many American Christians, but if we are ever to become the makers of peace and the agents of God’s kingdom we are called to be, we must learn to listen to prophetic voices outside our own culture and traditions, and especially to the vulnerable, the powerless, and those who seek justice and peace. — Todd Deatherage, co-founder and executive director of the Telos Group

Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth (Herald Press) $10.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $8.00

This is a handsome, large-sized study guide put out by an ecumenical coalition, published by the Mennonites, but drawn up from within and among Palestinian Christain community. Drawing on language that might remind one of the Barman Declaration (about resisting Hitler in 1940s German) or the Belhar Confession (naming the sin of racism in South Africa) this document and the four week study offers a great resource for church or small group conversations. It argues for nonviolent resistance to the militarized and repressive Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  You can read more about it here at the Kairos Palestine website.

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TO PLACE AN ORDER 

PLEASE READ, THEN SCROLL DOWN AND CLICK ON THE “ORDER HERE” LINK BELOW.

It is helpful if you tell us how you want us to ship your orders. And if you are doing a pre-order, tell us if you want us to hold other books until the pre-order comes, or send some now, and others later… we’re eager to serve you in a way that you prefer. Let us know your hopes.

The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a quick, general guide:

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options and, of course, UPS.  If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be a little slower. For one typical book, usually, it’s $4.33; 2 lbs would be $5.07. This is the cheapest method available and seems not to be too delayed.
  • United States Postal Service has another, quicker option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.70, if it fits in a flat-rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.50. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. Sometimes they are cheaper than Priority. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well so let us know. Keep in mind the possibility of holiday supply chain issues and slower delivery… still, we’re excited to serve you.

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Sadly, as of May 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It isn’t good. It is important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks very much for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

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Books for church leaders, educators, parents, many about children (and some great kid’s books.) ALL ON SALE at Hearts & Minds

Before we launch into this week’s BookNotes, please allow me to ask a favor. While we are always hoping that our friends and customers will invite their book-loving friends to subscribe to our Hearts & Minds newsletter and while we are ever grateful for those who re-tweet or share on Facebook our book-ish missives, the last one we did — about an extraordinary, thorough study of restoring a Michigan creek that runs through the city of Grand Rapids, describing a vision of creation-care called “reconciliation ecology” — is one that really needs to be known. It tells of a Christian group mobilizing citizens of all sorts to get involved in their particular watershed, but, yet, it is a great read for anyone who cares about creeks (or canoeing or kayaking or fishing) or, frankly, anybody who cares about clean water.

The best stories are rooted in specific particularities and Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed by Gail Gunst Heffner & David Warners is no different. It is not abstract or theoretical. They get their hands dirty and their feet wet in this particular tributary of the great Grand River called Plaster Creek. Indigenous people (who, no surprise, lived with it in quite different ways than the settlers who arrived with a different worldview and approach to waterways) called it Ken-O-Sha.

As I explained with glee last time, the new book tells one story in one place but it is widely universal: we all live in watersheds and we all know, as the epistle to Romans puts it, that the whole creation is groaning. This book is important and will be entertaining and informative, stimulating and challenging, to all kinds of readers in all kinds of places. It is not only a story for those in Western Michigan. Would you consider passing my last BookNotes on to somebody who might care? Can you share it on Facebook or Twitter, or just cut and paste and forward the last BookNotes link  https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/2024/04/a-new-book-that-brings-me-great-joy-reconciliation-in-a-michigan-watershed-restoring-ken-o-sha-by-gail-gunst-heffner-david-warners-michigan-state-university-press/ to a friend or two? We are proud to get to tell about this marvelous, hopeful book and invite you to join us in spreading the word. Thanks.

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Even as we continue to feel the good residue of being with so many book-loving literary types at the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing two weeks ago, and having the great privilege of speaking at that great event, we are, truly, back down to Earth, boxing up books, using extra stuffing paper to make sure they are wrapped carefully as we jam-packed carton after carton into our big van. We drove nearly two hours to a yearly gig where we set up dozens of big tables full of books for Presbyterian church educators; how glad we are to be invited back, year after year, decade after decade, to the Eastern region of APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.) Long-time acquaintance (and former Pennsylvanian) John Franke was the main speaker, inviting the gathered educators and church workers to embrace a missional vision of the church that would offer a foundation for doing risky ministry.

The PC(USA) has a bit of a quiet campaign going, asking congregations to consider being Matthew 25 Churches. Not a bad thing to be known for, what with all that end-times sheets and goats language of Jesus, eh? If anything matters, surely, it is this, caring for “the least of these.” Anyway, it was a good event.

Here are some books I featured there at that central Pennsylvania event. This will not only give you a feel for a tiny portion of what we displayed but some of the titles I highlighted in my own hour-long workshop there. Thanks to those who showed interest in some of these books. Now you can order, too, at our BookNotes 20% off.

Of course, we had many, many categories of adult titles, from theology to prayer to congregational life to memoirs and devotionals to citizenship. On and on, from disability studies to Biblical studies, from books about the cultural ethos to books about trauma and recovery and body image. And tons of kids books of all kinds. Anyway, here are just a few of the titles we had, most designed for those who care about or work with children.

ALL ARE 20% OFF. ORDER BELOW.

Improvising Church: Scripture as the Source of Harmony, Rhythm, and Soul Mark Glanville (IVP Academic / Missio Alliance) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Of the good handful of books we had about church life — some rather academic like, say, the important series by Andrew Root (the most recent being The Church in an Age of Secular Mysticisms) or Joseph Small’s Flawed Church, Faithful God: A Reformed Ecclesiology for the Real World, and some more practical like the immensely helpful Pivot: The Priorities, Practices, and Powers That Can Transform Your Church Into a Tov Culture by Scot McKnight and Laura Barring — this recent one strikes a good balance. It is fairly academic and thorough; at just over 200 pages, it isn’t daunting, but it isn’t a simple breeze-through, either. Glanville is an amazing scholar (with a PhD from Bristol) and professor at Regent College in Vancouver. This book is informed by important thinkers (like Lesslie Newbigin, for instance, and the work of Brian Walsh & Steve Bouma-Prediger and many others.) He’s a jazz player and fan, too, and uses musical phrases and images and insights to frame this developing thesis about the Bible’s own story and our improvising our way into living it. This is, truly, as the back cover promises, not only a critique of our post-Christian malaise, but a look at twelve “notes” that give us a dynamic solution. It’s very impressive.

Ordinary Church: A Long and Loving Look Joseph S. Beach (Spello Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I’ve highlighted this before and want to quickly say that Joe is a great, great guy, a good customer, a lover of books (and novels) and is what I might want to characterize as a fairly normal, small-church pastor. I trust he would take that as a compliment. Yes, he was mentored by Eugene Peterson, who pulled him just a bit out of maybe a stricter evangelical culture and into a deeply Biblical, deeply spiritual work of caring for his flock there in Denver. He’s not about flash or pizzaz (although he drops the Dylan quote from time to time.) He’s friends with Brian Zahnd (who offered a foreword and who raves about the book) and the thoughtful Brad Jersak (who wrote a lovely afterword.) It is, as Jersak says, a “nourishing meal.” Anybody who goes to church, is part of a church, and, especially, anyone leading this funky organization cum new family we call the Body of Christ, needs this calming, sober, hopeful guide.

Four Views of the Church’s Mission edited by Jason Sexton (Zondervan Academic) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I love these books that give the best arguments for various theological views and then each of author’s responds to the primary chapter by the others. By the end, one gets four views and everybody’s critiques and rebuttals. Talk about clarification of thoughts! This is like sitting in on a long, drawn-out (civil) debate. In this case the four views of the nature of the church’s most succinct calling and task are explained differently by Christopher Wright, John R. Franke, Peter Leithart and Jonathan Lehman. John, who is a theologian in residence at a PC(USA) church in Indianapolis, offers what he calls a “contextualized mission.” He has taught all over the world and currently does a grad class each year at Fuller with his former student, Dr. Drew Hart so he is a particularly informed and good communicator. Nice.

Liberating Scripture: An Invitation to Missional Hermeneutics John R. Franke & Michael Barram (Cascade) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

It was good seeing John Franke there at our event leading this group of church leaders, inviting them to a missional sort of hermeneutics. Can the Holy Scriptures themselves be set free from the too-often less than helpful assumptions in the very read we read, work with, understand, and apply these texts as the Word of God? John has written widely on missional theology and seems to me to be a healthy both/and sort of thinker, rather than the either/or type, so this book is sure to be refreshing and healthy. I’ve not read it yet, but surely will. The co author wrote one I read year ago which was very good — Missional Economics: Biblical Justice and Christian Formation (Eerdmans; $27.50.) Happily, Franke’s former student, Dr. Drew Hart (of Messiah University), has a good forward and Lisa Bowens (a prof at Princeton, and author of African American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation) does the good work of an afterword. We’re excited about this recent book.

It is groundbreaking as the flagship book in a new series called “Studies in Missional Hermeneutics, Theology, and Praxis” and here is how they describe it:
Rooted in and advocating for a postmodern and postcolonial understanding of mission, Liberating Scripture is the first book-length study designed specifically to introduce readers to the emerging subfield of biblical interpretation known as missional hermeneutics. The authors provide a thoroughgoing overview of the background and development, rationale, terminology, and methodology of missional hermeneutics, doing for biblical interpretation what Missional Church (edited by Darrell Guder et al., 1998) did for reimagining the church in light of the missio Dei. As the initial volume in the new Studies in Missional Hermeneutics, Theology, and Praxis series, Liberating Scripture is a critical resource for study and practical application, and its accessibility will make it a go-to text for classrooms and congregations.

The Wise Leader Ali Chi (Eerdmans) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

Chi is, according to friends that know him, a truly remarkable person and a wise and solid leader in church circles and the business world, having worked also in the nonprofit context and in the theological academy. This is his insight gleaned from a lifetime of leading and mentoring. I assure you it offers some new insights (even for those who have read a lot of leadership books) and it is loaded with stories, illustrations, and good, good sentences. My, my. This is highly recommended. My friend Steve Garber says offers a way of seeing “over his shoulder and through his heart.” Since most of our participants at the regional APCE event were not ordained clergy, I liked having this one there.

Katerine Leary Alsdorf explains it very well. Hear her:

The brand new The Wise Leader  calls us to a deep and rich journey into the source and nurture of wisdom. Uli Chi draws on his own life experience as a follower of Christ, mentee and mentor, student and professor. Those who are leaders, he says, share the vocation of being faithful ambassadors from the Creator to the created order. To help us distinguish between wisdom from God and the wisdom of this world, he guides us through practices that cultivate humility, a healthy vision of power, and the wisdom to see the world as it is and as it could be. I love Uli’s focus on imagination as ‘the incubator of God’s Spirit’ that enables us to envision that better world. I look forward to sharing this book with seasoned and aspiring leaders as they seek to serve God and the people he loves in some small way. — Katherine Leary Alsdorf, coauthor (with Tim Keller) of Every Good Endeavor

Jeff Van Duzer is the author of one of my favorite books on business. He writes:

At one point in this remarkable book, Uli Chi writes that ‘wisdom is about formation, not just information.’ For me this short phrase captures the essence of his work. This is a book that does not so much define ‘wisdom’ as allow it to unfold. As we read through the book we observe different fabrics — visual art, biblical teaching, fantasy literature, poetry, business books and articles, and more — knit together with examples from Uli’s own career until a truly multifaceted image of the wise leader emerges. I strongly second Mark Labberton’s encouragement in his foreword: ‘If you are seeking wisdom, don’t rush reading this book. Savor it.’ — Jeff Van Duzer, author of Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed)

Attentive Church Leadership: Listening and Leading in a World We’ve Never Known Kevin G. Ford and Jim Singleton (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

This is brand new and while I have hardly cracked the cover, I am sure it is one of the great books in this field of this year. Tod Bolsinger, the author of the very important modern classic on adaptive change, Canoeing the Mountains, has a very nice endorsing blurb on the back, noting that it has great insight and “exhorts church leaders to discern and truly pay attention to what matters most a deeply disrupted, often anxious, and rapidly changing world.”

Ya think our churches exist in a disrupted time? Ya think it has produced some anxiety?

The global businessman turned urban pastor with a deeply contemplative tone, Ken Shigematsu (author of the terrific God in My Everything) calls it “brilliant, beautiful, nourishing.” Can God provide us with “living water” which can sustain us, as church leaders, in these perplexing times? Can we be leaders of discernment and attention?

I’m very excited about this brand new book and was proud to stack a few there for the regional APCE leaders to see. I hope BookNotes readers care about thriving pastors and leaders and maybe will recommend this book widely. Both authors have worked with the Leighton Ford Ministries; Ford has written other books on leadership, strategic planning, and the like; Singleton is a long-time ECO Presbyterian pastor in Texas.

The Spiritual & Educational Vision of Parker J. Palmer: The Birthright Gift of Self Elena Soto (Pickwick Publications) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I figured most everyone in the educational world — church educators, Christian school teachers, Sunday school teachers, servants in public schooling, and of course those in higher ed — know of the work of Parker Palmer. The Harper book To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey is seminal and remains a must-read for those thinking seriously about education (or, I might say, disciple-making.) His The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life is a modern-day classic. After writing that and doing many workshops with professional teachers he realized how many teachers viewed their work as a holy vocation, a calling, which led to the lovely reflection Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. Many working for a more gentle, spirituality for organizations and churches know him too. (His Hidden Wholeness is a great book, influenced a bit by his Quaker contemplative style but not only that.)

Who can take all this — his early stuff on public theology and his latest on aging (On the Brink of Everything) and tie it all together with a robust philosophy of education? Who can write for the broader public square about the spirituality of education? I do not know Elena Soto (other than to realize she teaches in the Religious Studies Department at Fordham Preparatory School in New York.)  She moves as briskly and wisely as does Parker from the complexity of the classroom to the quiet of the soul, from questions about educational workshops and seminars to the big matter of the teacher’s truest self. It is a masterpiece of bringing together the educational philosophy and spiritual perspective of Palmer, set in the context of her own encounter with Palmer and how it impacted her own life and work. There is nothing like it in print.

I learned so much reading Elena Soto’s book about Parker J. Palmer, an extraordinary public intellectual, and his thinking on living an authentic ‘undivided life’ — a life directed toward grasping the fact that education itself is a religious activity, enriching and ennobling both students and teachers. — E. Doyle McCarthy, professor emerita of sociology and American studies, Fordham University

Thriving on a Riff: Jazz and the Spiritual Life William G. Carter (Broadleaf Books) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

This is not precisely on church leadership, but I sure can imagine a creative church staff reading it together for ministry inspiration and Kingdom insight, and it isn’t about children’s ministry except, well, if inspiring kids to take up the arts and understanding jazz and race and loss and joy and holding up the example of one young Presbyterian kid who didn’t choose between his love of music and his love of the Word, between jazz and Jesus, well, maybe this is a good book to celebrate at an APCE event.

And celebrate it we did, since Bill has been at our little, regional, Eastern APCE event. (He gigs in the finest concert halls and cathedrals, and, yes, small camp and conference centers and church basements.)  Several of the educators there know him well and some knew of him, certainly. He makes us Presbys bop and we’re glad for his witness. And, man, we’re glad for this book.

I hope you saw my energetic review previously at BookNotes noting how this very well written book combines a well-informed history of jazz with his own low-key stories of life in the jazz scene, combined with his earnest, mainline denominational sensibilities as pastor and preacher. We learn about minor keys and openness, we learn about the “wow factor” and we hear stories of injustice. From improvisation to cooperation, there are spiritual principles embedded in this music and it’s a blast to learn about it all from just a thoughtful author. As one reviewer, Diane Stephens Hogue (a spiritual director and former convener of the Liturgy & Spirituality Seminar Group) puts it: “This is prayer.”

The Kingdom of Children: A Liberation Theology R.L Stollar (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I suppose this may be a bit too academic for some in congregational leadership or children’s ministry, but it is provocative, stimulating, challenging, and a boat-load of fun for those who like reading theology and church studies. Stollar proposes a liberation theology of the child that “centers the children in our ecclesial life.” As the back cover puts it, “By lifting up children — truly valuing and learning from them — we can build up the kingdom of God here in our communities.”

It doesn’t sound that complicated or radical, but as Stollar teases out the implications and to ask if we truly care — truly care — about the children in our communities, it could inspire a radical reconsideration of the tone and structures and practices of our churches. Obviously, in this day and age, every faith community or organization that includes children has to be diligent to protect littles from abuse (and this must include guarding against what some might call religious abuse.) This means rethinking a lot, I’m afraid…

It has long been said, but not adequately grappled with, that the phrase “family values” has been co-opted by a far right political and theological agenda, and more moderate and non-extremists must take back the phrase, struggling to know what family values means through the Jesus lens. The Kingdom of Children will help.

The forward is by Cindy Wang Brandt. At the Eastern-APCE event we featured her 2019 book (I think the last one with a preface by Rachel Held Evans) Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness. Want a better world, asks Brandt, one shaped by justice, mercy and kindness? Try raising our kids that way. Yes!

The Gifts They Bring: How Children in the Gospels Can Shape Inclusive Ministry Amy Lindeman Allen (WJK) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Amy Lindeman Allen is an ordained Lutheran (ELCA) minister and a professor of New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary (Indianapolis, Indiana.) I appreciate her emphasis that the church not only ministers to children but invites us to relate to the children as contributing participants. This child-centered theological approach helps her interpret Biblical passages with a fresh eye, gleaning new insights from old texts. This is inspiring.

The Gifts They Bring is part Biblical scholarship, part devotional reading, and part children’s ministry handbook. As a professor of religious education at Brite Divinity School puts it, “this is biblical scholarship and practical theology at its best. Allen helps us see and hear the children who were among Jesus’s first disciples as well as the children whom we must recognize as Jesus’s disciples in our churches today.” What a visionary, multigenerational approach.

Shepherds as children? Children as full participants in worship? Kids as central followers of Jesus? This book will radically transform how you read scripture, revealing children where you’ve never noticed them, and not as bystanders but as powerful actors. And once you begin to see children — suggests biblical expert, wise pastor, and caring parent Amy Lideman Allen — you cannot help but envision Christian community as far more inclusive than you’ve ever imagined before. — Bonnie Miller McLemore, author of Let the Children Come: Reimaging Childhood from a Christian Perspective and In the Midst of Chaos: Care of Children as Spiritual Practice

Raising Kids Who Care: Practical Conversations for Exploring Stuff That Matters, Together Susy Lee (598 Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I wrote quite positively about this a few years ago and when I heard that E-APCE was studying the initiative called becoming a Matthew 25 Church, I was sure I wanted to take a few of these. I know some of the participants saw it and we sold a few. Still, it deserves to be better known as it is a tremendous guidebook and resource. As one author put it, it is “brightly and clearly written, with real personality.” It evokes in us an understanding that, unlike the way we typically think, we don’t make kids happy by typical means, but, in fact, by helping them learn to make others happy. As kids become agents of change in the world themselves, they find a greater joy and gusto, a purpose beyond themselves. As another psychologist and social researcher noted,

Wise, warm, imaginative and intensely practical… Raising Kids Who Care is like a blueprint for building strong families and caring communities. Highly recommended for anyone who cares about the future of our children and our society.

You may not have heard much about this great title as the author is Australian. She has a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; rousing blurbs come from her down-under pals Michael Frost and Tim Costello, the former CEO of World Vision Australia. Believe me, it’s a fabulous read, a big and witty resource, and, fun as it is, very, very important.

Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God Together Lacy Finn Borgo (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We highlighted this book when it first came out here at BookNotes and, that year, in a book plug I do for Eastern-APCE each year. I am sure I went on and on, explaining how wonderful and interesting, and useful, and enriching this book is. Borgo provides spiritual direction with children (at a transitional housing facility for homeless kids, in fact) and knows well what it is like to talk about God with kids. Perhaps when they listen to God, they hear the divine voice as well and — whew! — maybe they have some leading and revelation themselves, eh? This is a beautiful book with step-by-step guidance about how we, too, can have not just theological or Bible-teaching sessions with children, but profound spiritual conversations, learning to, as she puts it, “listening to God together.” What a joy, a rare and beautiful guidebook.

Strong Girls, Strong World: A Practical Guide to Helping Them Soar — and Creating a Better Future for Us All Dale Hanson Bourke (Tyndale) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Bourke is the sort of writer and author who we really appreciate. She has been a thoughtful evangelical throughout her career and has written on a wide variety of topics, about which she just seems to know so very much. She is clear-headed and yet inspiring, a fine wordsmith and a caring soul. She has served groups like World Vision International (and has visited 62 countries) and has often written about the people she has met along the way. Her vision is wholistic and caring and now she has turned her talent and passion towards a topic that is quite personal: how we can make a global impact, one girl at a time.

This is a fascinating book, not only for parents (or grandparents) of girls, but for anyone who wants to understand the need and benefits of investing in the lives of girls. She names eight areas that create “high-impact” outcomes. She even reports on effective organizations and what they are doing to change the lives of girls. Not since From Risk to Resilience: How Empowering Young Women Can Change Everything by Jenny Rae Armstrong have I been so excited about a book that helps us help children soar.

By the way, almost every other page has a sidebar and pull-out section either called “Did you know?” or “What you can do.” What a resource to have handy — we are in debt to Dal Bourke for this solid title, a great gift to the world. Cheers!

Grace for the Children: Finding Hope in the Midst of Child and Adolescent Mental Illness Matthew S. Stanford (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

It would seem to me that nearly anyone working with children would be blessed by this lovely, helpful, wise, good book. Stanford has a PhD from Baylor University and is CEO of the Hope & Healing Center & Institute in Houston (and he teaches in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine and the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston. That’s a lot, eh? He’s a pro, for sure.)

This explores everything from disruptive behavior disorders to depression, post traumatic stress disorder to anxiety, from eating disorders to various aspects of being on the autism spectrum. Based on the DSM-5 diagnoses, this invites the church to her uniquely positioned role to offer things that, frankly, our mental health system often lacks. Grace for the Children is a fabulous resource, a good tool to have on hand, and what has been called (by Siang-Yang Tan at Fuller) “an excellent and comprehensive clinical guide.” The author has compassion and theological chops, care and insight. Unless you already have something like this on hand, we highly recommend it.

The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness Jonathan Haidt (Penguin Press) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

Naturally, this question is always on the minds of anyone who works with children — parents, school teachers, educational professionals, Sunday school volunteers, youth pastors, those doing children’s ministry, and (yep — say it loud!): grandparents. Anyone who cares for kids obviously is asking this million dollar question.

I am not sure of Haidt’s full position as I have not read this yet. It is brand new, but has immediately become a best-seller and will surely be on everybody’s lists of books about all this. The statistics are clear: the kids are not okay. Susan Cain, the wonderful writer of Quiet (on being introverted) and the moving, richly-construed Bittersweet (on the mysterious relation of sorrow and longing and wholeness) says that Haidt is a “modern-day prophet, disguised as a psychologist.”

You may know his vital work on polarization from more than a decade ago, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and his important 2018 book (which I found a tad cranky) The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. With this brand new one he is being called “the most important psychologist in the world today.” Johann Hari (author of Stolen Focus) says, “Every single parent needs to stop what they are doing and read this book immediately.” Okay then.

It is, admittedly, an urgent and provocative book, an alarm. As some quip, it isn’t alarmism if it is true; it isn’t paranoia if they are after you.

As Adam Grant writes,

Jonathan Haidt makes a powerful case that the shift from play-based to phone-based childhoods is wreaking havoc on mental health and social development. Even if you’re not ready to ban smartphones until high school, this book will challenge you to rethink how we nurture the potential in our kids and prepare them for the world.

Perhaps Russell Moore describes it best:

This book poses a challenge that will determine the shape of the rest of the century. Jonathan Haidt shows us how we’ve arrived at this point of crisis with technology and the next generation. This book does not merely stand athwart the iPhone yelling ‘Stop!’ Haidt provides research-tested yet practical counsel for parents, communities, houses of worship, and governments about how things could be different. I plan to give this book to as many people as I can, while praying that we all have the wisdom to ponder and then to act. — Russell Moore, Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America

SOME CHILDREN’S BOOKS WE FEATURED AT THE PRESBY EVENT

The Apostles’ Creed For All God’s Children Ben Myers; illustrated by Natasha Kennedy (Lexham) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

The Lord’s Prayer: For All God’s Children Harold L. Senkbeil; illustrated by Natasha Kennedy (Lexham) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

The Ten Commandments: For All God’s Children Harold L. Senkbeil; illustrated by Natasha Kennedy (Lexham) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

We have told you about these “Fat Cat” books before and we are big fans. As I told these Presbyterians, those who are astute will recall that these three topics — the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commands, and the Apostles’ Creed — form the basis of Luther’s catechism of new believers, and has long served as a foundation for teaching youth the foundations of Christian thinking and living. With these playful but exceptionally sound books, you’ve got a great start of what kids need to know most. We adore

Seeing Jesus: Social Justice Activities for Today Based on Matthew 25 Phyllis Vos Wezeman (The Pastoral Center) $33.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.40

I mentioned that the Eastern-region APCE conference was, in part, floating the idea of being a Matthew 25 Church. Well, for that agenda (which should be taken up by every congregation naming Jesus as their Lord) there is simply nothing like this. Wezeman is a long-time leader and experienced curriculum writer for children and here she offers six chapters (each with ten learning activities which explore one aspect of the chapter’s theme.)

Each lesson plan is organized into three parts: Learn, Locate, and Lead. It has tons of practical guidance and lays out the design of each activity and its lesson. While each lesson is related to the passage Matthew 25:31-46, it is also organized around another story or verse from the Bible which further illustrates the specific topic.

As they promise on the back, Seeing Jesus provides creative, concrete methods for responding to Jesus’ commission. It once again challenges each and every learning with the question, “What will you do?”

Over 215 pages — some of this was found in an earlier form in the now out of print Ave Maria volume, When Did We See You? This is ideal for fourth through eighth graders and comes with a permission and authorization to make limited copies for use in your class or group.

Zion Learns to See Terence Lester & Zion Lester (IVP Kids) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I so, so appreciate all the IVP Kids line, and this one is a stand out. It is written with such joy and warmth, but yet, quietly at times, shouts “every person matters to God — and that means every person should matter to us.” But, of course, that means we have to see — really see — each person in their need and glory, their hurts and their dignity.

Zion is a young black girl who wants to understand and do something with this important message and her father reminds her of this lesson when he takes her to a community shelter at which he works and introduces her to house-less and other hurting folks, his friends from the streets. She decides to help raise awareness and funds through a project at school and it becomes, well…. You’ll see. It’s a great story.

Zion Learns to See is a lovely book for little ones inspired by the adult book by Terence Lester called I See You: How Love Opens Our Eyes to Invisible People. There’s a bit of the follow up on in this kid’s book, too, the one called When We Stand: The Power of Seeking Justice Together, which comes with a great foreword by Father Gregory Boyle. Both are by IVP.) Terence is a great author of adult books and now he has partnered with his daughter to do this lovely, inspiring kid’s book. Kudos to them both.

Any Time, Any Place, Any Prayer: A True Story of How You Can Talk to God Laura Wifler, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

As you most likely know (and may tire of hearing, here) we are quite taken with the Biblical insight of these “Tales That Tell the Truth” books that highlight a historical-redemptive sort of wisdom about how to connect various random stories in the Bible with a gospel-centered vision. Plus, we adore the whimsically serious art by the great Catalina Echeverri. In any case, we had ‘em all, and this one was propped up and shown nicely along with the workbook, which gives kids a way to interact with this material and end up with a big view of God and a resource that Kristie Anyabwile says is “chock-full of gospel.” 

We’ve got the small, companion, full-color 15-day workbook/devotional study too; it’s wonderful.  Any Time, Any Place, Any Prayer  Family Bible Devotional (The Good Book Company) $5.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $4.79.

The Anytime.. Family Bible Devotional is really nice, a great price, and includes some optional extra sections for older children and bonus puzzles and art activities for younger children. If I were a Sunday school teacher, by the way, I’d have one of these at the ready when you need a quick lesson plan.

God’s Beloved Community Michelle T. Sanchez; illustrated by Camila Carrossine (Waterbrook) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

The message is clear: when we love others the way God dreamed, we help build God’s beloved community! This content-rich, fun storybook reminds us that God created a world filled with vibrant variety (and called it good!) Now God calls us, it says on the back, “to move from being color-blind to color brave and to proclaim with him how precious all people really are.”

I love how it roots ethnic diversity in the created order and invites us to honor and include all; this is pushing towards anti-racism in a lovely, evangelical way, affirming creation, fall, and redemption. Plus, it rhymes.

God’s Beloved Community takes young readers on a biblical and historical journey to learn more about the notion of “beloved community.” Naturally, it draws a bit on the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King and explores how we can create communities filled with God’s love “as we delight in our differences, stand up to bullying and unfair rules, and declare with our lives and our love that everyone matters to God.” I so appreciate this writer and storyteller, author of Color-Courageous Discipleship, both the adult version and the teenaged, youth edition. And now this one for children maybe from 3 – 8.

Celebrating My Baptism: The Day I Joined God’s Family illustrated by Estelle Corke (Paraclete Press) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

I love this small sized book with lovely, upbeat illustrations including all kinds of and ages of people celebrating a child’s baptism. It is truly a “delightful collection filled with biblical promises, prayers, and poems. It has good content — a lot more than some kid’s books — and yet is playful and colorful. I’m a fan. I like that it has pictures of children at a fairly conventional font (in a mainline or liturgical church, it seems) and another in an outdoor setting, getting dunked in a lake, making it useful for all sorts of congregations. There is an emphasis on the new family of God’s community that surrounds and enfolds the child and the joy of learning about church, the Trinity, including the Holy Spirit’s guidance. There’s a nice little ribbon marker, too, and a presentation page to fill out. Hooray!

God’s Holy Darkness Share Green & Beckah Selnick; illustrated by Nikki Faison (Beaming Books) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

We featured this and talked about it in my workshop last year, so I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t sell too well this year. Still, for those that didn’t see this — we featured it during Advent and during Lent — it is a year-round wonder. This book celebrates the beauty of darkness and with beautifully, creative, modern art, accomplishes at least two things: it celebrates that (as Barbara Brown Taylor books it) we can walk with God in the dark and it “deconstructs anti-Blackness in Christian theology.” By exploring instances when darkness, blackness, and night are beautiful, good and holy, it opens up a new layer of imagination for your smart kids. There is nothing like this and we recommend it.

The Story of Water: God at Work in the Bible’s Watery Tales Caroline Saunders; illustrated by Jade Van Der Balm  (B+H) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

The Story of Home: God at Work in the Bible’s Tales of Home Caroline Saunders; illustrated by Jade Van Der Balm  (B+H) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

These two lovely books have the look of creative but fairly normal children’s picture books; the artful illustrations are clever and multi-ethnic and full of interesting stuff going on. In each story there is an upbeat and solid Biblical teaching about water and about homes, about new life and a safe home. From thirst to homesickness, this author realizes something deep about the human condition and uses some imagination to realize that the Scriptures address these universal longings and needs. Jesus brings living water and welcomes all who are homesick. Years ago there were two somewhat similar books, maybe more liturgically connected and more evocative. I really like these two books which are clear and evocative even as they share the gospel in creative ways with little ones, ages 4 to 8.

A Very Big Problem Amy-Jill Levine & Sandy Eisenberg Sasso (Flyaway books) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

You may know Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish prof of New Testament and popular author of books about Jesus in his first century context. Sandy Sasso is a retired Rabbi , a beloved and popular children’s picture book author, and an instructor of an arts and religion program at Indiana University and Purdue University. Together they’ve given us a real midrash, a reflection on what I might call the original sin, or something like that.

The story begins cheerfully enough in a retelling of the creation story. Then, to cut to the chase, each creature – animal and human – starts saying that they are the most important (and, of course, that, therefore, God loves them most.) On and on they go, hilariously (even if a bit sensibly, at times) saying why they are the cream of the crop and most beloved by their Creator. You can just imagine what God thinks of all this one-upmanship. No, the features of each special creature do not make them better or more worthy of God’s love, it is just an example of why God loves them and how wonder-full it all is. Even humans are put a bit in their place — a wise move, I think — assuring us that the whole of creation is good and loved. Is God’s love big enough for everyone? One could hardly ask a more urgent question and one could hardly find a more enjoyable way into the conversation. Highly recommended.

What Is God Like? Rachel Held Evans & Matthew Paul Turner; illustrated by King Hui Tan (Convergent) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Some forget that the late Rachel Held Evans, author, agitator, memoirist, speaker, conference organizer, was also a mother. As she reconstructed her own previously too-strict faith (her first book was called Evolving in Monkey Town which was about growing up fundamentalist in the town famous for the Scopes trial) she also raised some children and, obviously, taught the Bible to them. Here she answers a child’s first big question about God in what some have called a “gorgeous picture book.” It is a real favorite, full of metaphors and similes, lovely illustrations and a book to encourage young hearts. And their parents. It will make you feel brave and make you feel loved.

Given that Rachel had just died (so suddenly) when this book was in the works, it is fitting that her husband, Daniel Jance Evans wrote a little foreword, telling of their son Henry and their daughter Harper, who was still a baby.

My Heart Sings a Sad Song Gary Alan Shockley (The Pilgrim Press) $18.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16

Shockley is both an author and artist and he knows grief intimately from his work as a hospice chaplain (and certified grief counselor.) He has done adult books (one I liked on leadership comes with a foreword by Graham Standish) and several children’s books, generally on themes of empathy and social awareness.

This brand new one is said to be “caring and honest” as it helps children process their grief after the death of a loved one. It is “lovely, comforting, uncomplicated” as a story and “a valuable tool for grieving children and adults.”

You may have had reason to talk with a little one about their emotions and their memories after they lost a loved one. If you haven’t, you will. We have a lot of books on this topic and this new one is gracious and done with obvious love.

When God Makes Scribbles Beautiful Kate Rietema, illustrated by Jennie Poh (B+H) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

This is a simple, sparse picture book, just a bit bigger than some, and a real sinner. It imagines that the hard things in a child’s life is like a scribble following him everywhere. The child can’t get rid of the scribble, no matter how hard he tries.

As they say on the back, “His story offers reassurance to all readers, young and old, that God will take care of their own hard things and turn them into something beautiful.”

Rietema has mothered bunches of kids as an adoptive and foster care parent and knows a thing or two about the hard stuff in the lives of children. And, even though sometimes hard things happen to children, she is confident God can make a way, bring redemptive care and renewal through all things. This book is artful and evocative, a real glory. Artist Jennie Poh is obviously very talented in a cool, creative way; she lives in Surrey, England. If you’ve got a church library, you should have this book. There is extra content online too.

Bible History ABCs: God’s Story from A to Z Stephen Nichols;  illustrated by Ned Bustard (Crossway) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is not as large as the majestic, big picture book these two friends did previously (The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith) and , as such, is designed for little hands. Don’t be fooled, though, this has some great content, giving kids not only the fun of the classic ABC book, but solid information and witty details about everybody from Adam to Zion and lots in between. This is fine for children up to about 6 or 7, easily, and might be interesting for even old ones. In any case, it’s a substantive, playful, interesting book and we are delighted to show it off. Naturally, we had the fascinating companion volume Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation–From A to Z, also by Mssrs Nichols & Bustard. What a blast!                                                                                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World of the Old Testament: A Curious Kid’s Guide to the Bible’s Most Ancient Stories Marc Olson, illustrated by Jemima Maybank (Beaming Books) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

The World of the First Christians: A Curious Kid’s Guide to the Early Church Marc Olson, illustrated by Jemima Maybank (Beaming Books) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I suspect I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: I would have loved these books when I was in elementary school, or what they now call Middle School even. I was inquisitive and curious, I think, but didn’t read much fiction. I loved encyclopedias and clever books with lots of information. This series does the trick with lots of content and just enough quirkiness to keep reader’s studying the pages. There are fun infographics, maps, charts, diagrams and besides the visual appeal, it teaches real stuff about the life and times of the Biblical eras. This does not offer fundamentalistic proof-texting but solid history, culture, complexity, and truth. Great for ages up to maybe 14 or so.   

God’s Big Picture Bible Storybook – 140 Connecting Bible Stories of God’s Faithful Promises N. T. Wright, illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia (Tommy Nelson) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I talked about this in my E-APCE workshop last seek and for you, here, I’ll just reprint what we wrote a month ago:

If this isn’t the coolest thing for kids and families — heck, for anyone! — this season, I don’t know what is. We had heard Tom was doing a children’s Bible story book and, of course, we were thrilled. It is fantastic, just fabulous. I respect his Biblical insight and his theological worldview that shapes his deep understanding of the interconnectedness of Scriptural episodes, so this book which will amplify the unfolding nature of the drama is sure to be a fabulous resource for any family wanting to not only get the stories right, but the Story.

Often, after the telling of a story, you will see the phrase “What else in God’s big story links up with this?” When that nicely appears there are one or two little colorful circles with a word and a page number to show how those themes show up in other stories. I’m not saying it is like the old Thompson Chain Study Bible, but it sure is a very nice (and useful) feature.

There are other children’s Bibles these days that show the interconnectedness of the overall biblical plot, and we are grateful. There are some that may have a more edgy sort of artistic appeal to young parents, or a higher quality of illustration, but this has fairly typical art for kids. More could be said about what might have been done better and while it may not be my choice for the best looking design, it is still quite engaging and very, very good. The fabulous text is on the left of the spread and the vivid picture is on the right (with a hint of color or symbol or a bit of the picture spilling over just a bit onto the page of text, which is a nice, integrated touch.) For ages 6 to 10 or 11, I’d say, this is a fabulous new resource. Certainly it would be good for children growing out of the popular Jesus Storybook Bible. Every church library should have one. Hallelujah.

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Sadly, as of May 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It isn’t good. It is important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks very much for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

We are doing our curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see friends and customers.

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A NEW BOOK THAT BRINGS ME GREAT JOY: “Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed: Restoring Ken-O-Sha” by Gail Gunst Heffner & David Warners (Michigan State University Press) – 20% OFF

I am dedicating this special Earth Day BookNotes to a long review of one new book, one that we are particularly excited about, for a variety of reasons, as you will see.

We’ve done other lists of ecological books, and we suggest revisiting those BookNotes columns and lists that are important to us, HERE, HERE, or this long and somewhat dated essay about, among other things, being disappointed by Kurt Vonnegut and living near Three Mile Island, HERE. Some of the books mentioned in passing may not even be in print anymore, and the prices are surely different, but many from these three BookNotes are easily available. I hope you enjoy my reflections. Thanks for caring.

Other than this big brand new one I’m reviewing today, I’d also most eagerly recommend these four fabulous books offering foundations for a Biblically Christian view of creation care; interestingly, the authors of which admire the work of the Gail Gunst Heffner and David Warners, who wrote the book that today’s book review explores. We’ve highlighted these others before so I won’t say much but had to highlight them as they are so good. The fourth one listed, published by Calvin College Press, is one where the authors of today’s book appear, as well. They obviously have a lot to offer.

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Creation Care Discipleship: Why Earthkeeping Is an Essential Christian Practice by Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker Academic) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

I’ve raved about Steven’s previous works from his classic For the Beauty of the Earth to the fabulous Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic. This recent one is smart and not at all simplistic, but really foundational, if you will. Everybody should read this. It’s a must, showing how creation-care should be an ordinary part of faithful discipleship.

Following Jesus in a Warming World: A Christian Call to Climate Action by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Kyle Meyaard Schaap is one of these fabulously passionate, delightful young leaders who is good at Bible teaching, theology, storytelling, knowing theoretical insights and offering down-to-earth practical guidance about faithful steps. Richard Mouw calls it “marvelously engaging.” Highly recommended.

 

Refugia Faith:Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth by Debra Rienstra (Fortress Press) $23.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19

This hardback is one of the most moving, graciously written, glorious book about eco-care that we know of. It explores with faith-informed glory all about caring for the Earth. Debra is cited by the book below as she should be (but she does teach with the authors at Calvin University in Grand Rapids.) This is one of the best books I’ve read in recent years, and it repays multiple reads. Truly lovely even as it makes you re-think much.

Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care edited by David P. Warners and Matthew Kuperus Huen (Calvin College Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I’ve explained this amazing collection of essays before and, curiously, all three of the above mentioned authors have chapters included. It should be better known, I’d think — there is a lovely, good foreword by Bill McKibben and an important afterword by Loren Wilkinson. Although the book is not overly heady or academic, it is audacious in many ways: it invites us to ponder whether the paradigm of “stewardship” of creation it itself a helpful way to think about our relationships with other creatures in God’s world. Maybe not, they say, in many ways, from many angles. There’s a lot in this rare volume and I find myself coming back to it for time to time. It would make a fantastic study book for those wanting to dig deeply into the subject. Here’s a fun bit of extra stuff designed for those wanting some visual aids in reading. And there is a podcast with a lively interview with each author of the chapter’s of the book. Hooray. What a good book this is!

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Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed: Restoring Ken-O-Sha Gail Gunst Heffner & David P. Warners (Michigan State University Press) $29.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.96

While on a panel at Calvin University’s Festival of Faith & Writing a week or so ago, I was asked, while sitting next to the wonderful Anne Bogel and Karen Swallow Prior, by our conversation partner, Jennifer Holberg, what books these days have brought me joy.

I rattled off a handful of fun, recent reads, books I’ve delighted in, either because they were a touch silly (like the great, smart novel by Bob Hudson, The Beautiful Madness of Martin Bonham telling the wild fiction of starting a college department about the love of God and how a local seminary objected) or just because they were so very well-written (Beth and I simply adored Lost and Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by esteemed writer Kathryn Schulz) or that were truly funny, if dark, such as the most recent by a fabulous author Harrison Scott Key (How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told.) I could have mentioned Jennifer’s own book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape our Faith which is a book-lover’s dream and promises great delight for those that value reading and stories.

One that I mentioned is not intentionally funny or overly joyful, even, but it has brought more delight than anything I’ve had in my hands in ages.

This is one I’ve been waiting for.

Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed: Restoring Ken-O-Sha by Gail Gunst Heffner and David P. Warners is a book of hope, telling a remarkable story with great care and nuance, teaching, preaching, exploring, and documenting a decades-long, brave, hard, journey into reconciliation ecology as it informs the cleaning up and care of a creek that runs through the city and regions around Grand Rapids, Michigan. Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed tells of the restorative work of many community partners organized through teams at Calvin College (now University) and their Office of Community Engagement.

It is a story I want to celebrate now — here in this special Earth Day edition of BookNotes —  because it is stunningly important and exemplary (as we shall see) but also because it is a long labor of love by two dear friends of ours. One of the authors, Gail Gunst Heffner, is one of our best and oldest friends in the world (who helped us launch our store in the early 1980s.) You should know we want to be a champion for her extraordinary work.

Gail has a PhD in urban studies and used her graciously outgoing personality to expertly serve the greater Grand Rapids area by harnessing the social capital and resources (and sometimes, sheer person-power) of Calvin College, finding ways to partner with agencies doing good work in the area. From racial justice topics to housing and public health concerns to big ecological issues, she served the Provost of the college by building neighborhood networks, serving on the Boards of nonprofits, writing grants, meeting with church, community, and civic groups, listening well so as to help the college learn what the city might need of it. I don’t know if other colleges have such an “Office of Social Engagement” but Gail has done remarkable work in this important role.

Her previous work for the college on academic-based service learning (twenty-some years ago she co-edited a ground-breaking book called Commitment and Connection: Service-Learning and Christian Higher Education) already had cache as Calvin became recognized as one of the best examples of such academic-based service learning, department by department, helping students learn well by serving the community in particular ways, suited to their disciplines. That Gail and some of her colleagues from the service-learning world were asked to offer guidance to institutions of higher learning in the aftermath of the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa indicates her mature leadership in discerning and living into God-honoring initiatives of transformational social change.

And so the Plaster Creek Stewards came into being and was one of the many projects Gail (co)-organized and managed. Many Calvin colleagues — from the hard sciences to oral historians to computer science techies and more — joined the movement to recruit folks to clean up Plaster Creek, then considered one of the most polluted waterways in Western Michigan. We have followed her leadership on this from afar for more than a decade and have prayed for this book’s pages for years. What a joy to now hold it. And to tell you about it.

The other author of Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed, David Warners, is a brilliant scientist (with a specialty in botany), a scholar of creation care theology, and an excellent, beloved Calvin biology professor. He co-founded the Plaster Creek Stewards and took up the cause of stewarding Plaster Creek with whole classes of eager students, realizing early on that simple riverside restoration is incredibly complex. History, as they say, is messy, and such ecological projects are, like most everything else, rooted in history.

Gail understood better than most some of the deeper implications of the study of environmental racism (see her chapter on this in Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care called “Making Visible the Invisible”, mentioned above) while Dave knew well the exceedingly detailed webs of ecological complexity; together they and their teams started to share with those living in the watershed stuff about healing the degradation, reparations such as bioswales and rain gardens; they researched and warned about the dangerously high E-coli levels in the water, and why industrial pollution and agricultural run-off (that is, fertilizer from farms and lawns) upstream simply must be understood as it damages everything downstream. What does it mean to love your downstream neighbor, they asked. It’s an important question for all of us, since we are all situated in watersheds.

(Did you know there is a sub-science and movement of those helping care for urban waterways, coping not only with rainwater flash floods and sewer drains and underground streams and such, but urban wastewater and more? It is not a major part of this book, but you will learn a bit about this little understood scene; Plaster Creek is, largely an urban watershed.)

To start even small projects of river restoration one can clear brush and replant native plants and do any number of simple gestures of inhabiting a watershed in healthy ways. But, again, the bigger questions, as Reconciliation in A Michigan Watershed so painstakingly shows, have to do with how early European settlers understood water and their practices of managing it in certain ways, the rise of industrialization and urbanization and ways storm run-off and sewage treatment plants work. It has to do with agricultural policies and factory farms (and, yes, other sorts of factories that even in our day and age dump chemicals into creeks and rivers.) Plaster Creek Stewards very quickly became much more than happy college kids volunteering to clean up waterside litter or plant some lovely native flowers. They faced what we sometimes call structural and systemic matters, and questions of who gets a voice (“a seat at the table” as they say) and who calls the shots becomes urgent. They tell the story with flare; it is a bit unclear if they realized, starting the project so many years ago, what all they were getting themselves into!

I will never forget as long as I live the exact place Beth and I were — in our van while returning home from an out-of-state trip — when Gail called us to ask for immediate prayers. Their ongoing work in community development and grass-roots organizing led to sometimes contentious community meetings, town hall forums, civic gatherings, and zoning debates in boroughs and townships around Grand Rapids about policies and protocols. As the book tells — it’s a page-turner but not overly flamboyant — they had just received bomb threats!

Was it from industrial scale farmers? Racist opposition from anti-indigenous people movements? Fancy but ill-informed suburbanites who thought native plants would hurt their little near-by park? I’m paraphrasing here, but you can imagine the sorts of people that get up in arms (in this case, literally) when college activists, no matter how gracious and willing to listen, start talking green. One person got into the faces of our friends and spit out that they don’t trust academics and they don’t trust scientists. David and Gail are among the nicest people on the planet, and I wish the book told even more about how they felt and handled these egregious opponents, some most likely packing heat, as they tried to help restore this messy, abused waterway.

Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed: Restoring Ken-O-Sha has as its subtitle the indigenous people’s name for what the European settlers re-named Plaster Creek, and this is a very important aspect of the book. David and Gail learned early on that to truly understand the devastation of the watershed — that had been cared for wisely for centuries by the Hopewell people, the Anishinaabeg clans, and then what the French called the Ottawa — they would have to learn from and partner with Native peoples.

The chapters about the history of 18th and 19th century friendships and broken treaties, forced removals and residential schools, and all the rest of the devolving of peaceful, cross-cultural relationships, are captivating and compelling and tragic. Their accounts of visiting local burial mounds (most were destroyed by those forming the city of Grand Rapids, even as they drained the landscape starting in the mid-1800s) is very moving and their respectful citations of Native sources is fabulous.

For anyone who has been reading First Nations stuff (or learning about the Doctrine of Discovery) this will be good to take up after, say, The Land is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery by Sarah Augustine (Herald Press) or Mark Charles & Soong-Chan Rah’s Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (IVP.) I think Randy Woodley’s Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision (Eerdmans) is essential reading, here, and would be a good companion volume to pair with Reconciliation… In fact, with their good section comparing worldviews and the assumption different worldview communities bring to their engagement with the natural world, and water, particularly, they might have cited his Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview: A Decolonized Approach to Christian Doctrine (Baker Academic) Woodley is a respected Cherokee teacher, missiologist, and historian who brings a good word for any of us who think about these things.

Those of us not from the Great Lakes regions, I think, have much to learn from this quick but solid overview. We may know about the Appalachian Trail of Tears or the storied Plains Indians or the great struggles of the Sioux against Custer and the like; we are eager to learn about the lively cities in the American Southwestern deserts but for some of us, the Hurons and Ottawas are less known, I suspect. I might want to give a shout-out to last year’s National Book Award Winner The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History by Ned Blackhawk, published by Yale University Press, but Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed nicely does some of the heavy lifting for those wanting a glimpse of the history of Native Peoples and their encounters with the influx of Europeans into their homelands. To be clear, Heffner & Warners want to learn from the worldview of those who once lived in the watershed area not only as a justice issue but also for practical reasons: the Ottawa seemed to know a thing or two about rivers, fishing, farming, developing culture, housing, and watershed care long before we coined the phrase “sustainability.” Could we, even now, learn from local Native people? This book tells some stories and offers some good guidance, an aspect of the watershed restoration project that I had not quite expected. If you liked the beautiful, powerful Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer [Milkweed Editions] you’ll appreciate their efforts, I’m sure. Kudos!

In any case, Heffner & Warner’s eagerness to integrate the history of Native peoples and honor their capacity to live well within the watershed is a great value of the book.  How great it is that a major blurb on the back cover is from Ron Yob, Chairman of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, who found it “extremely interesting.” He is right in saying that it is “written for the benefit of all living creation.” And non-living creatures, too, all of which, as these Reformed Christians so deeply understand, praise their Maker and give glory to God.

There are three units or parts of Reconciliation… that frame the telling of this story that unfolded year after year in Grand Rapids. The first they call “Discovered Ignorance” which is how they came to recognize the depths of the problem From some of Ken-O-Sha’s geologic past to the Plaster Creek watershed today, they explore the native peoples that once cared well for the river known (then, as the name, translated, indicates) for plentiful Walleyes.

And they tell how pollution was an early feature of white European colonial impact — missionaries and pioneers and those running trading outposts discovered gypsum along the banks of the Ken-O-Sha and they mined it fiercely, creating buildings and barges and railways to send the cheap fertilizer as far away as San Francisco. Coupled with the notoriously savage clear cutting of old-growth forests for the lumber barons — Grand Rapids still is considered one of the fine centers of the furniture industry — the stewardly care for the ecology of Western Michigan has been a disaster. Such disregard for creation came to a symbolic head when the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland (just a bit south) caught fire in 1969! Of course, the polluted river had caught fire plenty of times before that and it was legendary in those parts, south of Lake Erie, the lake into which it flows. Ken-O-Sha, or Plaster Creek, flows directly into the Grand River, which not far away flows into the beautiful, but troubled, Lake Michigan. This, frankly, is part of the story of most of our regions and it is good to see how these authors invite us not to guilt but to honesty about our past and possibly present complicity in ecological brokenness.

After two chapters on naming the problems, the important Part 2 “acknowledges our complicity” by teaching us more about the interactions between the Ottawa and European immigrants, the fascinating development of European settlement in West Michigan and what they’ve learned from careful archival study about the impact upon Plaster Creek. There have been violent episodes in the harsh periods of colonization and too often attitudes of white, Christian, supremacy (that are seen yet today.) Their section called “Worldview Contrasts and Ecological Fallout” is a tremendous case study in how various groups perceive and engage in the world around them and what those with a more modernist worldview might learn from indigenous wisdom.

As social and natural scientists informed by what some might call a neo-Calvinist or even somewhat Kuyperian sort of world-and-life orientation — Calvin University is known for its legacy of “thinking Christianly” as they integrate faith and scholarship —  these author’s insights into the influences of world-and-life social imaginaries is delightfully evident; that a book on a major, scholarly publishing house like Michigan State University Press includes footnotes from the likes of James Sire, for instance, is notable. Naturally, our authors are fluent with many of our best eco-thinkers and writers, from Wendell Berry to David Orr, from Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba to Gretel Van Wieren, and the important Doreceta Taylor and the inspiring Richard Louv. It isn’t every day we see citations from Ched Myers’s edited volume, Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice but, obviously, it is important for them. You want “ecological literacy”? Dave can tell you the names of hundreds of plants and they both know the best books and authors which makes reading this a learned delight. Hooray!)

The biggest part of this 280 page book is Part 3, “The New Story of Plaster Creek: Committing to Restoration and Reparations” which is not only a history of their multi-pronged approach but  nearly a handbook for social change organizers anywhere. What a delight learning how they wrote grants, organized work crews, evoked artists and poets, partnered with civic leaders, faith leaders, science writers, municipal officials. How diligent, playful, and (often) effective they have been. What a joy — I’m not just saying this! — to be caught up in the energy of living out hopes and dreams, experiencing frustrations and set-backs, learning and teaching, building networks and finding new ways to engage others in caring for ecological responsibility in the local watershed.  They tell of working with schools and civic groups, with children and youth, and, obviously, with churches. Interestingly, in one page-turning part that built momentum, they are invited to speak at a local mosque, helping Muslim congregants do their part in caring for the environment. (And there is always the very real, human touch: they admit how Dave thought he was supposed to take his shoes off when entering the mosque, until he realized, later, he was the only one in sock feet. Ha!)

This last third of the book is thrilling, I’d say, and, as many books as I have read about environmental care, Biblical earthkeeping, stewardship, and the like, I have never quite pieced together quite so much about the incredible significance of watersheds and bioregions. (We live near the mighty Susquehanna, that flows into the Chesapeake, by the way, and there is good, good work going on in our area with The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, The Watershed Alliance of York,  etc.) Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed is, obviously, a Great Lakes story, but, frankly, it could be easily adapted and used anywhere; it serves as a way to not only motivate and challenge but guide us all into being River Keepers.  If you think this is something your not interested in, I’d invite you to prayerfully give it a go — who knows, it might stir something. Who doesn’t value clean water and lovely streams and rivers?

There are colorful chapters on “developing engaged citizens through place-based education” and how to “asses the problems with applied research.” You will be delighted by their stories of “reconciling the human-nature relationship through on-the-ground restoration.” I learned the phrase “green infrastructure” by which they mean various sorts of low-impact development plans to enhance local ecosystems and “rainscaping” like vegetated buffers, channels, rain gardens, bioswales and such.

I mentioned that Gail has already written (a chapter called “Making the Visible Invisible”) on environmental racism and the structures and cultural habits that tend to put people of color at greater risk from toxic sludge and the like, so it is no surprise that this comes up in their fight for Plaster Creek / Ken-O-Sha. They have a section called “Loving Our Downstream Neighbors — a Call for Environmental Justice” which is informed and at times, dramatic.

How local congregations have taken up their call to public justice and cared well for their own facilities is a lovely part of the chapter on engaging faith communities. They tell a variety of stories (including a neat partnership with the National Wildlife Federation and their Sacred Grounds programs resourcing local congregations learn to plant and steward native plantings.

Ahh, and it isn’t always easy — they tell in the book about the EPA calling them asking them to create plans to educate churches upstream about the detriment of dumping farming wastes into the creek; when the feds call the local Christians saying that the polluters “… won’t listen to us but maybe they’ll listen to you”, you know it is a fascinating — and urgent — story!

(And, let’s face it — I suspect most of us don’t have freinds who end up with their smiling pictures on the EPA website, congratulating them on their hard work. Reading this book will help you understand why. Hooray.)

Some of you will love the chapter about raising up young ecological leaders — watch the inspiring Youtube video from the website Plaster Creek Steward showing highschool kids doing good work, trained by PCS.  All will be inspired by the last piece, entitled “An Invitation to the Work of Reconciliation Ecology Everywhere.”  Wow.

Two other quick notes about the book:

One of the ways David and Gail got academic colleagues and students involved was recruiting some to do oral histories of those who once lived near, or still do live within, the Plaster Creek Watershed. The Plaster Creek Oral History Project has not only been charming and interesting but really, really important. These first-hand accounts of the memories of the creek of older folks, the stories of post-WW II neighborhoods and their relationship with the streams and watershed, the stories of modern-day, local, urban kids or contemporary testimony of regional farmers, all make the book come alive. You will not want to miss a single one of these fascinating transcriptions of ordinary folks (some quite unaware of the dangers of chemical pollutants, say, and others who were very involved in working for cleaner waterways.) From stormwater run-off specialists to those working in the sewage-treatment industry, from the mayor’s office to ordinary folk who played and fished in the stream, these first hand stories are magnificent and occasionally quite arresting. This brings the book context and texture — even when the conversation partners called it a “crick.” I get that!

Also, and importantly, their language of reconciliation ecology is somewhat unique, but may be the vanguard of new and faithful ways to describe our projects of the future. They insist that God desires reconciliation between estranged people groups and between people and the creation itself. The interface of peacemaking and justice work between races, genders, and other conflicted groups with the disorientation we all experience when not in harmony with the creation itself is the nexus (they might say) of their gospel work.

That this vision is underpinned by their deep, serious, convictions about Christ’s redemptive arc and the creation-wide scope of Kingdom restoration should be evident, but the work, somewhat funded by Calvin University and inspired by their own life as disciples of the Lord of creation, fundamentally Christian as it may be, isn’t the focus of the book. In plain language, it bears witness to their faith and talks about congregations and worldviews, but it doesn’t feel like a “Christian” book, let alone a theological treatise. It is, of course, shaped and informed by their own wholistic Christian worldview, but it can easily be read by one and all as it is for the general public. In fact, that is one of the great genius points of this profound study — it is for the reading public, to mobilize ordinary folks, for the sake of the world.

This book deserves a wide readership, in part because it is so well told. And it does hope to inspire action; in that sense it has an agenda. It wants to serve the creation that is both glorious and groaning. The first line in the first page of the preface of Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed notes, “We live in a world of beauty and of wounds.”  After a few sentences, they say, “This book tells a story of splendor and provision while also revealing a story of disorder and degradation.”

This is the sort of book that we need more of — thoughtful, Christianly done, but with faith more between the lines, happily accessible to readers of various philosophical views, working out a Christian worldview for the sake of this world of “beauty and of wounds.” I am honored to tell you about it. Beth and I hope many purchase it and commit to working through it over this next season or so. I’m sure you will learn a lot. Maybe, just maybe, it will inspire us all to be agents of God’s reconciling work, even into our own unique places, embedded as we are, in our own particular watersheds.

“A fascinating and moving tale, and a fascinating and powerful book. Reconciliation ecology is a discipline we badly need, and its motto could well be “Unhealthy water reveals unhealthy relationships.” — Bill McKibben, author The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon

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Sadly, as of April 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It isn’t good. It is important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks very much for understanding.

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PRE-ORDER – Deep Reading: Practices to Subvert the Vices of Our Distracted, Hostile, and Consumeristic Age — 20% OFF all books mentioned

Please know, you can pre-order anything, anytime, from us. We’re delighted to secure your place on a waiting list for any forthcoming titles. Almost anything. Anytime. Here’s one that’s coming soon… It’s 20% off, too, as usual here at BookNotes. Thanks for reading.

For the last few days Beth and I have been at the breathtakingly exceptional Festival of Faith & Writing, sponsored biennially by Calvin University. Due to the dangers of Covid, they didn’t run the event for a few years, so this was a big year, bringing back old friends and new writers, publishers, booklovers and readers of all sorts. Due to work schedules, we’ve not attended often, actually, but it is always a great highlight of our year when we do. I am sure there is simply nothing like it anywhere with presentations by poets and novelists, children’s authors and essayists, filmmakers and critics. And a bookstore owner.

Thanks to those there who were so encouraging as I gave a whirlwind summary of our 40 years in the biz. And how about that panel conversation I got to be in with conference Director Jennifer Holberg (of Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith) and Ann Bogel and Karen Swallow Prior? What an honor to be with these smart women. For those that want a taste of the event, I’d seriously recommend Dr. Holberg’s wonderful book.

Plenary addresses were by Mitali Perkins, former poet laureate Tracy K. Smith, the wonderful Yaa Gyasi, and Anthony Doerr who gave a talk on similes. Wow.

Over the past years there we’ve heard the great Katherine Paterson (whose lecture decades ago really was important for me — she even mentions it in her marvelous autobiography, Stories of My Life) and John Updike and Anne Lamott (we just got her brand new book in, last week, called Somehow: Thoughts on Love) and a workshop by Bruce Cockburn and presentations by Margot Starbuck and talk by James McBride (ooooh — I hope you know his recent novel The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store.) As with those older events, the FFW 2024 was excellent; it’s rare for us, being with so many like-minded people who care about the printed page and who champion, in various ways, the reading life.

I suppose it is obvious that these people who are often very serious about Christian convictions but who hold their faith in a manner that makes room for others, who glory in what some might call “common grace”, and who value writing that raises the deepest questions of life (in novels and poetry, especially) that need not hammer down all the doctrinal details — yes, I suppose it is obvious that these are, in many ways, our tribe.

As I said, it was an amazing honor to get to do a workshop presentation, to be on a well-attended  panel (with the energetic new friend Anne Bogel (her little gift book I’d Rather Be Reading is fabulous!) and the brilliant, longer-time pal, Karen Swallow Prior, author, most recently, of The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis) and even say a few words at a reception for poet and memoirist Jeanne Murray Walker (celebrating her Slant Book Leaping from the Burning Train: A Poet’s Journey of Faith. I had named that one of my favorite books of last year.) To get to celebrate Beth’s 70th birthday with our dearest friends and to spend days hanging out with book people is a rare joy indeed.

What a blast to hear authors we have written about here at BookNotes — Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See is a modern classic; Cloud Cuckoo Land, which Beth finally loved, is a bit more eccentric.) Yaa Gyasi (her Homegoing is truly epic, a must-read, and the follow-up, Transcendent Kingdom, as I’ve quipped before, is itself transcendent.) Tracy K. Smith’s latest is To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul, about which it has been said to be “a stunning meditation on ritual and collectiveness that explores how older forms of inquiry — from song to prayer to ways of public gathering —might help us all survive violent times and address America’s shared history.” Imani Perry says she is “one of the most beautiful and profound writers of our time.” I very much loved her 2015 memoir Ordinary Light.)

Anyway, it has been busy and exhausting and intimidating and refreshing. Thanks to those who prayed for my talks. We are grateful.

And it is true, so true: we would not have any standing to say anything at these sorts of events if we had not a loyal legion of friends and customers who have supported our efforts over these last decades to somehow reimagine and redefine the nature of a Christian bookstore. I know we’ve not pleased everyone, but we will be forever grateful for those who have hung in there with us, who send us orders regularly, who support our small-town shop here in south-central Pennsylvania. Thank you, readers and book-buyers. Without you, our customers, there would be no Hearts & Minds.

And so, a short but pointed BookNotes, inviting you to pre-order a soon-to-be released book coming from Baker Academic. I’m sure it has the name of a few of you on it, and I’m hoping others will generate some conversations around this forthcoming title. It’s remarkable, if a tad on the heavy side.

Deep Reading: Practices to Subvert the Vices of Our Distracted, Hostile, and Consumeristic Age Rachel B. Griffis, Julie Ooms, and Rachel M. DeSmith Roberts (Baker Academic) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99 // NOT YET RELEASED – Due May 28, 2024  PRE-ORDER NOW. (Scroll to the end of the column for the easy, secure link to the Hearts & Minds order form page.)

This is a book that captures so much about the nature of reading for people of faith these days that it seemed perfect, now, to highlight it. It is written by three college professors (all who have PhDs from Baylor University) who have followed diligently the recent spate of Christian books about the reading life, the values of reading, and the ways in which books can be an asset to our formation as Christian people. They bring us up to speed with a gracious bunch of hat-tips to authors and books that we love to promote, including:

  • Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior (T.S. Poetry Press) $19.99
  • On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books (Brazos Press) $21.00
  • Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $18.00
  • Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just Claude Atcho (Brazos Press) $19.99
  • The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction Alan Jacobs (Oxford University Press) $21.99
  • The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99
  • Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99
  • Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry Into the News Jeffrey Brilbo (IVP) $27.00

Just their opening introductory chapter — laden with a tone of academese as it sometimes is — is nonetheless thrilling, engaging a growing consensus that reading is a spiritual practice, that fiction and non-fiction both can be used by Godly folks seeking to be more alive to God’s world, and that in a culture that “amuses ourselves to death” with “restless devices”, we simply have to encourage the habits of reading widely and well. We must “care for words in a culture of lies” as Marilyn McEntyre puts it in her wonderful volume of that name.  And, yet, they are not re-iterating what has been said; they are not preaching to the choir. This brings something new and important, if a tiny bit tedious, to the table.

In fact, these authors are being a bit cheeky — carefully so, maybe too carefully so — in suggesting that while these books are helpful and good and proper and even transformational, they, in some ways, miss the mark by not going deep enough. That is, all of these aforementioned books, they claim, are mostly about the content of the books we read; we read in order to (however imaginatively and wisely) grasp the content, or at least be influenced by the content. I did not notice if they discussed C.S. Lewis’s famous lines in Experiments in Criticism that we are not to seek to “use” a book, but to “receive it” but it’s a helpful insight and apropos.

Their call to slower, engaged reading — “deep reading” as they call it — is less about what to read, but how to read.

And (big spoiler alert) they do not think the classic How to Read A Book by Adler and Van Doran is the right approach!

Their argument is bookish and they obviously enjoy reading widely. And they are very aware of the world in which we live, maybe more than most since they are teachers involved in the lives of young adults. There is no doubt —Griffis, Ooms, and Roberts, young, intelligent, women teachers that they are, get it.

They cite just the right stuff in their discussions of digital culture, including the fabulous research done about digital learning [done before the pandemic caused students everywhere to experience online learning, like it or not] called Digital Life Together: The Challenge of Technology for Christian Schools by David L. Smith, Kara Sevensma, Marjorie Terpstra, and Steven McMullen published by Eerdmans. What a joy to see them engaging the work of Maryanne Wolf (Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain and Reader, Home Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World) and one of the very first serious books about reading that I read, the lovely The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age by Sven Birkerts. Naturally, Nicholas Carr of The Shallows shows up, as does Neil Postman. They are not alarmists about Google or ebooks, but they are helpful by offering a balanced critique and refreshing ways to counter the ubiquity of the virtual and helping us find ways to read well in these digital times. They have a bit about “digital tools and equity”, too, which I found fascinating.

They are also astute about reading literature by and about people of color, of reading books by those different than ourselves, understanding well the liberative results of engaging black books or those written by those who are not from the dominant culture. From The Pedagogy of the Oppressed to James Baldwin through Claude Atchko and Esau McCaulley to bell hooks and, then, authors writing from the perspective of those who have disabilities, they offer fruitful insights. You will be struck, as I was, by their section called “Beyond the Diverse Reading List” offering “inclusive practices to cultivate listeners.” Oh my, this is vital, potent stuff.

By the way, they interact with the work of Daniel Bowman, college English prof (and editor of a fine lit mag / poetry journal) and author of On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity. They have a section on “neurodiversity, accommodation and attention.” Kudos, there. Well done!

One of the big projects going on here in Deep Reading — beside the insistence that we must learn how to read in a truly Christian fashion, not merely refining what to read, causes them to look askance at canon-making and book lists — is how the movement promoting the formation of a Christian worldview (especially in Christian higher education, although I’d say, we, too, here at Hearts & Minds) can become wooden, ideological, overly rationalistic. We’ve never tried to promote some dogmatic ideology of “worldview” but I hear their concerns.

There is more than can be said, I suppose, but they learned some of this critique of certain expressions of wordlviewishness, it seems, from the wonderful worldviewish scholar, James K.A. Smith and they happily cite many of his works. From the deepest tracks in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom to the one from the Top Ten Charts (You Are What You Love: the Spiritual Power of Habit, obviously) they use his work well, reminding us that we are shaped by habits, liturgies, ways of being in the world. The things we do, do things to us. That some people in Christian publishing and conservative circles promoted a rather rigid sort of worldview analysis, as if the notion of “worldview” was pretty much just old-school apologetics, is true enough, but not all uses of that word are connected with that kind of orientation.

(Decades ago some of those who most popularized worldview language in at least some corners of evangelicalism, published a book called After Worldview edited by Matthew Bonzo & Michael Stevens, reflecting on ways not to use worldview rhetoric as a tool against others; it was a plea to rethink worldview language in an era of dogmatic weaponizing of what was once life-giving and imaginative. But I digress.)

I am not ready to say if I understand or agree with the ways Griffis, Ooms, and Roberts critically engage notions of worldviews, but I am glad whenever folks speak out about the things that matter most, and they are surely onto something that I think most Hearts & Minds readers will care about. Again: kudos.  Again, Deep Reading, strikes a chord and is intriguing. You really should consider pre-ordering it.

They use David Smith’s pedagogical work a lot, too, like his “Reading Practices and Christian Pedagogy: Enacting Charity with Texts” found in Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning edited by David L. Smith and James K.A. Smith. They even quote the rare David Smith book (co-written with Barbara Carville) on the habits of hospitality needed to teach foreign languages well, The Gift of the Stranger: Faith, Hospitality, and Foreign Language Learning, which we always carry. All in all, they understand that our social imaginaries, our ways of being in the world, our world-and-life views, are embodied through formative habits, not merely by dumping more data (even if that data is good Kingdom content) into our brains. By drawing on the unrelated Smiths — David and Jamie — they bring a depth and vitality to this project of helping us nurture a big vision of why and how we read and how deep reading can undo and redo our worldviews.

Which brings us back to the main premise of this fabulous, rich, deep, important work.

They believe — and show, in impeccable detail — that reading deeply will equip us to be shaped by virtues that can help us withstand the onslaught of unhelpful forces (shall we call them vices?) emanating from the principalities and powers of our fallen world.  In this sense, this heady study of reading seriously ends up being really, really influential about very basic matters of Christian formation.

They name three relevant vices in the subtitle, and they are potent — distraction, hostility, and consumerism. If reading well can help unseat the power of these disordered forces in our lives, then bring on the books!

And to think we can take pleasure in reading while fighting the unseen forces that surround us? Yes, ma’am. This is great!

These three women are giving us a great assist in spiritual formation and anyone who cares about Biblically-wise, vibrant, intelligent, whole-life discipleship in our culture, will find this immensely helpful and, I’d think, gratifying. It isn’t simple or even always fun, exactly, but it is nicely written, in a serious sort of way, and it is stimulating and challenging and generative. These teachers help us develop practices for discerning wise reading and for them, wise reading can be (must be?) subversive. That is, this is not a book merely making us feel guilty for not adequately wading through the important bibliographies from the classic Western canons.

Rather, Deep Reading says, we must learn to pay attention. (The first chapter is about cultivating temperance — you’ll be fascinated with the connection.) And then, their “prudent reading practices” help us move “beyond dogmatism.”  Wow, this is provocative stuff.

I could offer more, but I’ll note one more thing. They talk a lot about reading communities. They are college educators, so I get that much of their experience is with professional colleagues who fret about efforts to shape their students. But I think many more of us are in “reading communities,” and even if their context is intentionally Christian higher education, if you are in a church, a Sunday school class, an on-line book club, a small group, or whatever, I think these deep reflections on deeper reading would be very influential in your ministry. Their reflection on “conversation as gift-giving” is beautiful stuff. This is not about reading for self-improvement or developing skills or becoming super-smart. The final chapter is about enjoyment, finally about “being human.”

Their earlier critique of consumerism leads them to big questions about what leisure is and the differences between entertainment and amusement. I had forgotten that pithy quote from Screwtape that they cite in a section about “practices that subvert consumerism” where a person says, after death, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” Wow. This big afterword invites us to “reread.” It is a mighty ending piece, and it may leave you inspired or perplexed. Either way, it is unforgettable.

There are helpful summaries at the end of each chapter of the suggested practices. There are reflective questions to discuss (of course there are — they are inciting us to do this together, to become reading communities, after all.) These resources increase the value of the book quite a lot and you will be glad.

“This book eloquently joins the other voices calling us to soul-forming kinds of reading that can resist our descent into superficiality and hostility. Importantly, it goes beyond them in describing the actual practices that might get us there. All those who use text to teach others should read it. Anyone else who cares about reading and spiritual growth should join them.” — David I. Smith, Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, Calvin University

 

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The False White Gospel: Rejecting Christian Nationalism, Reclaiming True Faith, and Refounding Democracy by Jim Wallis AND FIVE OTHER TITLES… 20% OFF

The False White Gospel: Rejecting Christian Nationalism, Reclaiming True Faith, and Refounding Democracy Jim Wallis (St. Martin’s Essentials) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I can hardly say how much I loved this book, how much I value Jim’s perspective and clear-headed writing, and how badly I hope Hearts & Minds friends order it from us (sooner rather than later.)

This exuberant acclaim does not mean it’s a perfect book. As with most books we highlight here at BookNotes there are things that are off about it, stylistically and, I’d argue, in terms of some small bits of content. It’s not a big deal, though, as overall, the book is thrilling, challenging, insightful, urgent, and deeply, deeply faithful to the vision of gospel truths for the common good. The distinguished Princeton academic and activist Eddie Glaude has a remarkable forward. What a book!

I’ve always been a fan of Jim and my own early story, I sometimes say, is like his, just not nearly so dramatic. But I resonated in the early 1970s when I saw that very first, radical underground paper called the Post-American. I knew of a few radical prophets, Dorothy Day and MLK and the Berrigan brothers, but this gang of evangelical seminarians spoke my language. Soon enough we opened our bookstore and Jim was the first author event we hosted, a small, informal gathering when his fame was already growing. I remain deeply grateful for his willingness to befriend me a bit. My first published book review — on a Ron Sider book on nonviolence — appeared in Sojourners. I found myself in protests with him more than once and appreciated the magazine and the movement.

Wallis’s many books (from his first two, Agenda for a Biblical People and Call to Conversion to this brand new one) have emerged from this movement of increasingly ecumenical voices making a difference for the public good, inviting Biblical values of peace and justice, mercy and reconciliation, ecological stewardship and compassion for the distressed, into the conversations both in Washington DC and among the many (many) grass-roots activists forming networks of social change initiatives throughout the land. Sometimes the books have been edgy and prophetic, other times maybe less strident. Sometimes he seems deeply Biblical, and, in others, more generic about faith values. And, yes, sometimes some have accused him of being merely the flip side of the religious right, accommodating the complexities of faith to the mostly secular left. That’s a conversation worth having, I suppose — we have long argued for a non-partisan, third-way sort of approach that is neither right or left. (Joshua Butler’s brisk new little book calls Jesus The Party Crasher.)

Agree or not with Jim, he’s a voice to be heard and his books are always worth reading. Especially this one.

The last one (which came out in 2019) was a fabulous title that we highlighted here. Called Christ in Crisis? Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence it was about Jesus and how Jesus’s teachings were missed or misused in the political debate.  It developed themes from the 2018 “Reclaiming Jesus” declaration, and was necessarily a bit more Biblical / theological than some of his titles. Granted, for obvious reasons, he hits harder at the political and cultural right with their pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps / free market ideologies and endless loyalty to an harsh prison system and carelessness about (if not out and out resistance to) Biblical issues such as hospitality for the stranger, compassion for the hungry, and concern for the Earth. When the religious right blesses that sort of distorted and idolatrous political economy with their own brand of un-Christ-like flags and guns and patriotic piety, we should all see how damaging it is to authentic faith. Christ in Crisis? named all that. A refrain throughout the book was “Don’t go right, don’t go left; go deeper.” It invited us to return to the Jesus of the gospels and not allow him to be aligned with movements that were anything but Jesusy and the long preface in the second (paperback) edition written after the election of Donald Trump, during the start of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, is powerful, and, again, points us to “what a focus on Jesus can do for us, even in the direst times.”

Now, Wallis comes with an even harder-hitting, seriously passionate overview of much of his life’s mission, and he developed the heart of the book around six key Biblical texts. Again, he resists the secular left and the religious right, and invites us to a truly Christian perspective, rooted in Scripture.  No, it isn’t primarily an exegetical commentary, but he takes inspiration and much solid wisdom from these classic texts and shows their potential political implications. He invites others of various faiths (and of no faith) to grapple with the values inherent in these texts and he asks us to carry them into the public square with vigor.

Again, agree or not with all of his conclusions, it is hard to argue with the methodology, teasing out real-life social and political ramifications of key passages from the Bible.

Allow me to say this: there are other books that explore the details of the overstated sort of nationalism that has been discussed, everywhere, lately, and Jim’s book is not mostly a scholarly account of the rise of that sort of idolatry. He’s a preacher and an activist and  storyteller and he nicely mobilizes folks — including young adults (he speaks often of his class at Georgetown) including those with no apparent faith — to better citizenship and civic involvement and public life. He obviously knows many of the best scholars about white nationalism (and has had them on his podcast, “The Soul of the Nation with Jim Wallis”) but it isn’t that kind of an academic treatise.

For more rigorous historical depth to our analysis of where this trouble came from, see, just for instance, the updated Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States by Andrew Whitehead & Samuel Perry (Oxford University Press) or American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church by Andrew Whitehead (Brazos Press) or Defending Democracy from Its Christian Enemies by David Gushee (Eerdmans.)

It is not all that needs to be said, but the short Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right by Randall Balmer (Eerdmans) is vital, documenting how racial prejudice was one of the motivating forces with the rise of what was once called the religious right.

For more recent coverage, you simply must get the excellent The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism by reporter Tim Alberta (Harper.) Jim Wallis’s new book is a great introduction to this urgent topic (but you will then want to go deeper with at least one of the above.) Or, if you’ve read some of this historical background with Biblical discernment and you now wonder what to do to bring our Republic back to sensible and just ways, and our churches away from this false gospel orientation, then you will want to read Wallis immediately.

Jim Wallis has a way of telling stories about pretty remarkable stuff from his experiences with pretty ordinary folk — a poor woman in his neighborhood who prayed so very well in their neighborhood food line, a couple of stories about the beloved youth baseball team that he coached for so many years, a dramatic arrest while taking a (nonviolent principled) stand in Congress, a lesson learned while chatting with pastor’s wife who put her foot down during unkind prayers after choir practice, a single mom he observed at Burger King, his meetings with Crips and Bloods gang members, his Zoom meetings helping train poll chaplains and lawyers willing to stand guard against voting rights repression, his young friend who lost his job at a Christian college due to his advocating for public justice and is happy to now be serving the homeless.

And, sometimes, he tells of somebody famous he met, and it is inspiring (without at all feeling like name-dropping or bragging.) He was friends with Dorothy Day. He knew Desmond Tutu, he has the privilege of telling stories from his pal Bryan Stephenson, he tells about the faith and courage of Raphael Warnock; his old friend Barbara Williams-Skinner once met the civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, and he tells of meeting Dr. Ray Guerrero, the sole pediatrician at Uvalde, Texas, who joined Wallis on the White House lawn in a coalition working against assault weapons.

Of course he’s on a first name basis with Bono. And, yes, with George W. Bush.

If you’ve never heard Jim’s story about Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright— who threatened him boldly when Sojourner’s was first breaking the story of the big money and creepy power behind what became the Moral Majority and the religious right — and the remarkable reconciliation that happened between the two of them before Bright died, you’ve got to read it.

Despite years and years of enacting public theology — some learned from the likes of radical protestors like Daniel Berrigan, but, it seems, more learned from civic educators like Catholic intellectual Jack Carr or evangelical Michael Gerson  or legislatures like John Lewis or social organizers from CCDA — two things, at least, are clear, again, in the story and work of Jim Wallis.

First, he was raised strictly evangelical, Biblically conservative, and when he went to seminary and helped with famous documents like 1973 “The Chicago Declaration” he helped exemplify what in those years were called “the new evangelicals” or the “young evangelicals.” He influenced (and was influenced by) Fuller Seminary’s William Pannell, the colorful preaching of Tony Campolo, the studious Bible teaching of Ron Sider, and the community development models of John Perkins. It is unclear if he really identified fully with evangelicalism — he’s delightfully ecumenical and was equally influenced by Episcopalian lawyer William Stringfellow and mainline preacher William Sloan Coffin, say — but when he starts talking about altar calls and prayer meetings and picking up your cross to follow Jesus, and highlighting Charles Finney and revivalism, you know he has deep roots in that particular tradition of American religion.

But more, as a teen and young adult he left his faith and certainly the evangelical church for a season, the one his parents helped lead, and moved in with a black family, getting a job with blue collar workers. On the inner city streets of late ‘60s Detroit he developed a relationship with — a life-long relationship with — the historic black church. He has said it before, but he is as tender and earnest here as he ever has been about the black church being his spiritual home. From black preachers and scholars like The Reverend Otis Moss III to Episcopal priest, Kelly Brown Douglas to Bishop Vashti McKenzie (and Edie Glaude who wrote the forward) Wallis knows this community and is committed to learning from and with them. He knows about the slave Bibles, the role of the spirituals, about hush arbors; his telling of all that, citing the likes of Frederick Douglas, subtly and humbly, is, again, worth the price of the book.

There are a few telling moments that those of us who have followed his work for decades might recall: oooh, how I shivered when he told the story (familiar to our family) of his getting a call from the evangelical Nicaraguan doctor, Dr. Gustavo Paragon, who said God told him to call a group at a retreat center in Pennsylvania, to tell them to start a resistance movement against the Reagan administration’s possible plans to invade that country. Those Pledge of Resistance cards and promises to do civil disobedience at congressional offices all over the country should we invade — according to Congressional aids that were in the rooms — helped dissuade the administration from a full-on invasion. (We were less successful in stopping the contras’ bloody attacks, funded illegally by Falwell and Ollie North and other corrupt Christian nationalists, although the nonviolent service of the Witness for Peace movement was part of the legacy of those years, too.)

Which is what makes The False White Gospel so very valuable; Wallis isn’t just jumping on a bandwagon, responding to a fad by yelping about nationalism, now, as if it is a new thing. He has been at this personally for more than 50 years! The book does do what needs to be done informing us about the history of the co-mingling of fundamentalist faith and extremist, far-right politics, especially in recent years. It warns about Trump and his MAGA movement in no uncertain terms and it is unsettling. Has the ugliness of far-right misinformation ever been so weirdly entwined with Christian lingo? Is it overstated to worry about fascism and authoritarian totalitarianism?

The False White Gospel shows powerfully the influences of race and racism in that tragic history of nationalism, white, so-called Christian nationalism. And he gets in the weeds of cultural habits and political policies. His pages on racist gerrymandering and voter repression and such should concern, and motivate, citizens of any political stripe, it would seem to me. Those who think the Republican Party is racially benign simply have to read this! He explains the data from books like The New Jim Crow or The Sum of Us or Just Mercy and frames it as the sort of brokenness that only the gospel can overcome. For the good of our land, for the good of ourselves and our neighbors, we have to resist the false (white) gospel of bondage and embrace the gospel of Jesus. That much, at least, is that simple.

But the book isn’t just a critique of racism (heck, he did that in old Sojo studies decades ago, speaking out consistently while on the road with John Perkins or Lisa Sharon Harper or Vincent Harding or Catherine Meeks or Cornel West, and decisively in America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, published by Brazos Press in 2016.) Rather, this new book is hoping to invite a conversation about “a remnant church” which can help offer principles and spirit to rebuild our frayed Republic, and shore up our best democratic impulses in a multi-racial and multi-faith context. Yep, he even nicely cites Abraham Lincoln. And, perhaps drawing on the gentle, wise, Parker Palmer, he invites us to find common ground and engage in honest dialogues — informally in the work world, neighborhood, or church, or in more structured ways. There’s even a guide in the back for civic minded circles that could foster hard conversations about the things that matter most for the sake of the Republic.

The heart of the book looks at six key Biblical texts, texts that serve sort of as touchstones for this manifesto for our movement. At one point I think he calls them iconic.

He looks at and fleshes out the public implications of these classic passages:

  • Luke 10: 25-37
  • Genesis 1:26
  • John 8:32
  • Matthew 25: 31-46
  • Matthew 5:9
  • Galatians 3:28

Perhaps because he spent some time as a pastor and partially because he knows how strategic pastors are in mobilizing Spirit-empower folks who are sent into the public square, he has a page of idea for pastors who might want to use the book, offering some advice about preaching and teaching and nurturing what he calls civic discipleship.

Civic discipleship. Not bad, eh? Truly and wisely shaped by Scripture, that is the alternative to the false white gospel.

Once we understand the way the MAGA movement with its lies and aggression and all manner of complicity have co-opted the gospel itself, what do we do?

Insightful books analyzing White Christian Nationalism have been appearing. But Jim Wallis asks the next crucial question — what does this mean for the church? His prophetic answer should galvanize our attention: a calls for a ‘Remnant Church,’ shaped by repentance, return, and restoration. Beyond analysis, this book provides clear answers which offer the hope of real transformation. — Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America; author of Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage and Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century 

Jim Wallis is a national treasure. In this powerful new book, he focuses our attention on the pernicious problem of American racism, but more importantly he inspires us to never give up hope on the great promise of American pluralism. — Eboo Patel, President of Interfaith America; author of We Need To Build

For more than fifty years, Jim Wallis has been calling on his fellow white evangelicals to live up to the teachings at the heart of their shared faith: loving their neighbors, doing justice, and pursuing peace. With American democracy hanging in the balance, Wallis’s message has never been more urgent. Without shying away from hard truths, The False White Gospel draws on Christianity itself to point the way forward to a multiracial democracy in which people of all faiths can flourish. — Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation

FIVE MORE BOOKS TO HELP YOU CARRY ON  — WHAT TO DO NEXT

Saving Faith: How American Christianity Can Reclaim It’s Prophetic Voice Randall Balmer (Fortress) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I mentioned above, in passing, the short little book Bad Faith by historian Randall Balmer which is well worth reading. This newer one, Saving Faith — what a great play on words! — is his reminder that “any attempt to arrest the decline of Christianity in American must first reckon with its past, especially America’s ‘original sin’ of racism.” I think he is right.  E.J. Dionne has called him “one of our most discerning scholars about religion, one of the most passionate voices within his tradition, and one great storyteller.”

This is well researched and clear-eyed, although he grew up clearly in the evangelical subculture and he continues on in his dedicated Christian faith, so there is warmth and care, even though it can feel a bit stinging at times. Short and solid.

When God Became White: Dismantling Whiteness for A More Just Christianity Grace Ji-Sun Kim (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

This just arrived, a bit early, and I haven’t studied it yet. I admire Grace Ji-Sun Kim a lot — her podcast (Mandang) is very impressive and widely respected. She has written a lot (and is, by the way, ordained as a PC(USA) pastor) most well-known, perhaps, Healing Our Broken Humanity. Although her PhD is from the University of Toronto and she teaches at Earlham (in Indiana) she resides in Pennsylvania. Hooray.

Look: when Christianity became Western, God seemed to become white. This ought not be a controversial claim but other such books exploring this oddity were viewed with suspicion by some (mostly white folks.) Why? It almost proves the point that we desperately need a book like this.

Christianity is rooted in the ancient Near East. We’re getting that, finally, in children’s Bibles showing Biblical characters and Jesus in ways that are historically accurate, and not as Europeans. But, still, we need a corrective to this view, and that which too often comes along with it — the myth of a white male God and a colonialist worldview. These views and postures, she will claim, have been harmful around the globe and we simply have to dismantle much of that.

We need to, as it says on the back, “recover a biblical reality of a nonwhite, non-gendered God.”  As one reviewer put it, this is a “liberating expose,” Kudos to IVP for helping us disentangle authentic faith from this white male power stuff, that only reinforces and authorizes white Christian nationalism. This looks really good.

Claiming the Courageous Middle: Daring to Live and Work Together for a More Hopeful Further Shirley A. Mullen (Baker Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Wow, I’ve long admired Dr. Mullen — former president of Houghton College in New York state — and her long-respected work in faith-based higher education;  I know she nurtured students (and faculty) as President to be more deeply sensitive to multi-ethnic concerns, to an evangelical spirit of inclusion and care, and for a wise and courage sort of balance that often doesn’t get as much press as do the more dramatic calls from the extremes. Can one be prophetic from the center? What sort of habits of mind and heart and what sorts of virtues of courage are needed to come down on a prolonged, consistently thought out view that might be called an alternative to polarization?

Claiming the Courageous Middle came just a day ago — hooray! — so I don’t even know what all she may mean by this call to the courageous middle. I am sure it is not side-stepping deep Biblical mandates about justice or racial equity. It certainly is not a nice way of saying we need not engage in public matters and dare not be prophetic. I’m supposing that it will be a powerful call to be, indeed, Biblically prophetic by denouncing extreme ideologies of all sorts and of working for common ground, including the often excluded.

Dr. Mullen is a cultural historian (perhaps somewhat in the mold of Robert Putnam; I know she cites American Grace) and has been an evangelical mentor to many, so I am sure there is both serious social analysis and good, heart-warming stories. I like how committed this book seems to be for the principle of unity — what some call building the “beloved community” — or at least working towards something akin to it. Believe me, I appreciate how painful it can be to be misunderstood by “both” sides and to nonetheless try to be cruciform, somehow, arms outstretched to all. It’s hard.

I suspect this just might be a good book to read after the Wallis volume. It is what one scholar calls “a book of hope in the midst of despair.” Kudos to Baker Academic publishing for this.

I like how Walter Kim (of the National Association of Evangelicals) put it:

Mullen calls us to live and lead from the courageous middle — not a place of muddled thought and squishy compromise but of curiosity, humility, love for Jesus and others, and a confidence that God is not daunted by our moment.

John Inazu (whose fantastically delightful and exceptionally profound book, Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect, I mentioned last week, and describe again, below, endorses it as “important” by saying this:

Mullen brings a lifetime of wisdom and experience to this meditation on the courageous middle. An important book full of resources, ideas, and practical steps for Christians seeking to faithfully navigate the deep differences in our society. — John Inazu, Sally Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University, St. Louis

Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect John Inazu (Zondervan) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

I celebrated this great, fun, wise, new book in last week’s BookNotes, noting that this notion of “learning to disagree” and moving towards a confident sort of pluralism was a mark of resurrection life in our broken, polarized culture. I firmly believe that, and this book is so profoundly wise (even if deceptively simple) I wanted to give another brief recommendation here, now. I loved this book!

I do not know if John Inazu — a distinguished scholar of law and religion at a mainstream, secular law school — would agree fully with Jim Wallis’s work, above. As an American of Japanese descent (and a decent, thoughtful human, and a justice-seeking Christian) he knows a bit about racial injustice. There is an very understated but moving story in a chapter on forgiveness in Learning to Disagree of his trip to the internment camp his grandparents and other relatives were forced into in the 1940. (His grandfather respectfully pursued meetings about the affront to his U.S. citizenship that this forced relocation and captivity caused, and they were punished for that as well.) After some local medical folks helped care for a two-year old son (John’s uncle, I think) his grandmother put an add in the local paper thanking the medical team for their kindness and care; it seems she was a good woman, but she learned to forgive (helped along when President Reagan offered a full apology on behalf of the government.)  It’s a moving chapter, but, like I say, it is casually told and nearly understated.

John is a law school professor and this book is written as a memoir, a report of a year of his life, the classes he taught, the students he guided, the campus politics (some quite tense with protesting students — you can imagine.) There are coffee shop conversations and golf games and flights to speaking engagements and comments about his home life. Mostly, he walks us through a few key classes and the main things he invites students to grapple with, always with a tone of wanting them to understanding the complexity of the law and the ways in which lawyers debate about the best interpretation and application of precedent and legal rulings. This is a beautiful example of hearing of a Christian professor telling how he lives out his calling and we get to learn much — about the content of law and the stuff taught in some law school classes, yes, but more about his formational role in deepening the empathy of his students and the graciousness with which they do or do not move into the world of complexity and polarization.

And it is just a delight to read; charming, even.

As Tish Harrison Warren writes in her excellent foreword, John “wades into the complexity of divergent ideologies he encounters eery day in his classroom and work and graciously invites us to have a front-row seat.” In this way, it is a “field guide” to understanding the limits of our own knowledge and move towards a healthier culture.

I love his self-effacing stories, his humor, his honesty. He is clearly a Christian, even in his theoretical framework for his approach to law and religion and culture and the meaning of justice, but there is little direct Bible stuff here. I’m glad for this kind of a “Christian book” that could easily be shared with any reader who cares about building a better world. His gentle reminders about learning to care and make room for others and disagree well, framed as they are by his stories of being a legal scholar and prof, and a dad and a church member and a friend and colleague, really makes this book shine.

Tish Warren jokingly notes how her pal John sometimes pops her bubbles of self-righteous zeal and indignation when she calls him to rail about this or that. He is a wise voice of moderation and grace, with a deep knowledge of legal opinions and precedents, and she respects that so much. She knows how tense it can be out there. And she knows that to be agents of God’s reconciliation means we have to learn better how to navigate our differences, not just rant about them.

She writes:

We can’t merely think our way to a better, healthier society — a society in which we know how to disagree well. Embracing convictions with both confidence and humility is a skill and a habit, a way of being that is practiced and grows over time. Learning to be a good neighbor, friend and coworker across deep differences is more often like learning to walk than learning a creed. It is an embodied art of relating to others and the world around us…. It is a practice, a craft, a dance, a vibe, a mode of living. We therefore must learn to practice civic virtues in our own contexts and our daily lives.

And then she extols John’s storytelling and the “granularity” of the relationships and conversations he writes about, explaining how they can help us. Inazu shows how healthy disagreement is not only possible, she says, but is, in fact, “the very path of wisdom, virtue, and love.”

She notes, in Learning to Disagree,

…John doesn’t just tell us that a convicted and kind pluralism is vital to the health of society; he brings us into the ordinary and mundane rhythms of his life as a legal scholar, a public thinker, a professor, a dad, a friends, a coworker, a church member, and a neighbor.

Join the Resistance: Step into the Good Work of Kingdom Justice Michelle Ferrigno Warren (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Wow — this is a stunner of a book, well-written, exciting, visionary, hopeful about (and maybe helping widen) an awakening, an awakening that she says has been happening all over. As Wallis poured his life out for decades, and as the grass-roots activists and coalition builders and networkers he highlights illustrate, faith-based justice work has been a major part of the religious landscape for decades (and, historically, longer than than.) The vibrant sort of new leaders of the 21st century look like Michelle Ferrigno Warren — the CEO of Virago Strategies, a consulting group that provides strategic direction and project management for civic engagement campaigns. Who knew there was such a thing?? She has been in the middle of all kinds of stuff — she helped found Open Door Ministers in downtown Denver, which addressed poverty, addictions, and homelessness.

You may know her from the fabulous, passionate, and compelling book called The Power of Proximity. (It is a phrase Wallis uses, I think — no doubt because he knows her work!)

And the forward to this thrilling guidebook is by the great Latasha Morrison, who wrote the 2019 best-seller, Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation. (By the way, in mid-May 2024 her long-awaited second book is coming in hardback, Brown Faces, White Spaces: Confronting Systemic Racism to Bring Healing and Restoration  – Waterbrook; $27.00. OUR SALE PRICE WILL BE $21.60. You can pre-order it now at our BookNotes 20% off and we’ll put you on the waiting list, sending it in May.) She is a powerful force herself and it is fabulous to see her lovely introductory pages, complimenting her sister Michelle Warren.

So many people we admire give a hats off to Michelle — Lisa Sharon Harper says it is “full of relevant stories and practical tips — well-earned by hears of faith-rooted resistance and action.” Karen Gonzalez (Beyond Welcome) says “When Michelle speaks, I listen, because she embodies Christ’s command to love and serve those on the margins.” Robert Chao Romeo (author of Brown Church) says it is “an important guide”

I enjoy the blurb from Kristine Vaillancourt Murphy, the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network who says it,

Offers heartening lived experiences and inspiring faith lessons that will surely encourage both seasons advocates and newcomers to the work of social justice.

Kikki Toyama-Szeto, the executive director of Christians for Social Action, puts it nicely:

Join the Resistance is an opportunity to take a master class with a seasoned savvy leader.

This master class is something all of us can use (especially after being informed and inspired by the types of books mentioned above.) She talks about “stepping into the good work” and the first three chapters about “serving the movement” and she inspires bravery and more. Wow. The middle part is about that long arc and is an invitation to “stay at the table.” She has a great chapter on resilience and insight about “leveraging what you have.” It all rings very true to me but also seemed fresh and vital. You will be glad you read it. The third section (“Help Your People”) is about being rooted in peace, in love, and in joy.  Not bad, huh?

The afterword is by Dominique DuBois Gilliard, a leading black author and head of justice ministries in the Evangelical Congregational denomination. He ends the book well with some Biblical reflections and a reminder of marching orders we get from Scripture to  be “ambassadors of reconciliation and repairers of the breach.” Amen!

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Living Like Resurrectionaries — 16 book ideas to help us live out the hope of Easter ALL BOOKS MENTIONED 20% OFF

Many Easter mornings I post on Facebook my favorite version of the hymn “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” as done by Mark Heard. It is a frail and folky version on acoustic guitar by the extraordinary singer-songwriter (who died too early years ago.) It sings of victory, but if not tentatively, at least humbly. It is earnest, sung by a guy who had seen plenty, who seemed tired.  It reminds me that we live in hope, but as the Bible teaches, that means we are still waiting. We talk about the “already but not yet” at Christmas and I think it is appropriate to temper our Easter jubilation with a bit of restraint.

I am still reeling from the discovery — how did I miss this? — that in the Luke account, the disciples who fell asleep while Jesus prayed and sweated blood in the garden the night of his arrest were exhausted with grief.

I find it increasingly hard to shift abruptly from the hard commemoration of the horrific death of my Friend and King, Jesus, to the glories of His resurrection (which I believe in with my whole heart.) Yes, he destroyed Death but I — like most of you, I assume — have lost too many loved ones this past year or so, have had painful ruptures in relationships, daily mourn the wars in too many places. We have seen some walk away from vibrant faith because of the gross witness of too many far-out fundamentalists. I need Mark Heard’s slow, simple version of this triumphant song, its confidence in an almost minor key.

Yes, Christ is Risen Indeed. But we must then, in the goodness of God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, in communion with our siblings in Christ, respond to this very good news about a very good gospel.

I sometimes call this way of living resurrectionary. How does new life and new creation show up in our lives? How can we point to “the day the revolution begun” (as N.T. Wright’s book on what Paul was up to in describing the death of Christ calls it)? What books might help us get a vision for being resurrectionaries? To call up another Heard song, how can we see “dry bones dance”?

Here are just a few random ones, some quite new, a few oldies.

Order any from us at 20% off. Just scroll down to the end of the column to see the links to our Hearts & Minds secure order form page.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Exploring Its Theological Significance and Ongoing Relevance W. Ross Hasting (Baker Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Hastings, with two PhDs, is the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver. He’s written widely on the nature of the atonement and how it catapults us into the arms of a missional God, commission, as we are, to serve wisely in the world. Pastor Philip Reinders notes that this book is not just for preachers doing Easter sermons, but “for everyday resurrection living.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, he notes, “traces out the creation-affirming, salvation-expanding, hope-declaring theological trajectories and practical implications of Christ’s resurrection for full human living.”

That’s it! This lively book shows, as Oliver Crisp says, the role of the resurrection in “a fully worked out theological account of the Christian life.”

I hope this isn’t too academic for most of our readers — it has six chapters on the saving efficacy of Christ (which, as noted above, explores the vocational and missional trajectory of that) and it has several chapters on what he calls the “ontological significance” of Christ’s victory. This is rich, good stuff, well worth reading slowly and pondering for a lifetime.

In The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Ross Hastings demonstrates how central the resurrection is to the gospel, to Christ’s identity, and to our identity in Christ. Evangelical readers in particular will have their minds stretched and their spirituality enlarged by the dynamic resurrectional reality to which this book bears witness.       — Michael J. Gorman, author, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross

The Resurrection Life: The Power of Jesus for Today Myron Augsburger (Evangel Publishing House) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

There are several good books— some rather breezy, others quite academic — about making the claim that Christ rose, bodily, from the grave. Some call that sort of writing apologetics as it makes a case for the resurrection, trying to persuade skeptics that it is sensible and true. We have them, and value them. As the apostle Paul said, if it didn’t happen, we who follow Jesus are to be pitied, presumably for staking our lives on something untrue.

Yet, it seems increasingly clear that in our postmodern and post-Christian culture we need more than good arguments for the truthfulness of the gospel accounts. It perhaps once was that if one could convince a skeptic, one could pretty much assume such a person would become a Christian — what else does a truth-seeker do, once persuaded? Nowadays, for a bunch of reasons, one can make a compelling case for the resurrection and folks might even agree, but still say, in so many words, “so what?”

I think Tim Keller’s previously mentioned (a week ago) book Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (Penguin Books; $17.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60) is a masterpiece of making a solid claim for why the historicity of the resurrection is reliable, but, then, pushes towards the meaning and helpfulness of it all. He was an imaginative and compelling apologist for the 21st century, and I commend his book to you, yet again. That he wrote it while under a dire cancer treatment regimen shows much about how faith can provide “hope in times of fear.”

But, again, it seems that we simply must move forward towards vibrant and gracious lives that show the goodness and beauty of a resurrectionary life.

And I turn, again, to the wonderful Mennonite pastor and scholar, Myron Augsburger. This is an older book that never got the publicity it so rich deserved. It is a great little book, a good read and a challenge to life well in the power of Easter. We only have a few left, but I had to mention it.

Here is how one reviewer described it: “The truth of a living Christ sets Christianity apart from all other religions. How does Jesus’ resurrection impact our lives in the twenty-first century? Myron Augsburger contends that because Jesus is alive, the power of God is current to transform our lives and empower us for authentic Christian living. He stresses that the Christian life is one of relationship with Jesus and with the community of believers.”

That may sound fairly conventional, ho-hum, maybe, even, but trust me: The Resurrection Life is a fabulous companion as you ponder why it matters that we say “He Is Risen Indeed!”

Doing Evangelism Jesus’ Way: How Christian Demonstrate the Good News Ronald J. Sider (Evangel Press) $13.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.16

My dear friend and somewhat of a mentor, Ron Sider, was friends with Myron Augsburger (above) — their Anabaptist (Brethren & Mennonite) tradition gave them both an impeccable sense of the importance of solid doctrine and robust faith and lived obedience. Ron worked that out both in his representing evangelicals at ecumenical gatherings (and voicing more Biblically progressive views among conservative evangelicals) and always, always, lecturing about combining words and deeds, good ideas and lived action, faith and works.

He was gladly obsessed about that, so much so that some evangelicals thought he was a socialist for talking about the poor (almost) as much as the Bible does and many who cared about social reform though he was a bit of a pietist, which, actually, he was. I adored his big Kingdom vision and how he embraced some worldview language he picked up from neo-Calvinists he knew. In any case, he was a humble follower of Jesus, inviting us to live well into Christ’s Kingdom, through word and deed, prayer and politics.

Doing Evangelism Jesus’s Way is one of several good books that collected his sermons and lectures. I like it because it is succinct, solid, clear, and has a great chapter “If Christ Is Not Risen” that was first preached as part of a Lenten series at a Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kansas. It’s perfect for this season —listen in as Ron reminds us all of the importance of an Easter faith, but also one the is connected to the Cross. His chapter on “The Essence of the Christian Faith — The Rising Link” is nearly a solid manifesto and worth the price of the book.

The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World Michael Goheen & Jim Mullins (Baker Academic) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I have shared about this often and I can hardly think of a better book to follow up the celebration of Easter than with this delightful (if substantive) invitation to “play your part” in God’s symphony of mission. Not to be misunderstood, this is not a call to drop everything and head off for the foreign mission field (although, that, too, may be a legitimate call to some.) Rather, this is about understanding the resurrectionary power that is redeeming the world — the “all things” of Colossians 1:15 – 20 — and exalting Christ through projects of the common good, each finding their part in the multi-dimensional movement of shalom.

Like an orchestra playing a complex but beautiful symphony, we all have our own part to play. Nobody has to do it all, nobody gets to be the only hero or big star. Together, we’ve got this.

I love these two authors — Mike Goheen is a writer and professor (who contributed a chapter to the expanded edition of Creation Regained by Al Wolters) and Jim is a pastor in Tempe, Arizona, with an emphasis on helping parishioners discern and live out their vocations in the world.

And hence, this book, full of lively resurrection hope, invites us to do all manner of stuff, enjoying a robust faithfulness as we participate in the missio Dei.

Here’s the table of contents —nine meaty chapters:

  1. Story: Listening to the Symphony
  2. Simplicity: Learning the Notes
  3. Intentionality: The Movements of Mission
  4. Stewardship: Displaying the Glory of the Father through the Work of Our Hands
  5. Service: Displaying the Love of Christ by Washing the Feet of the World
  6. The Spoken Word: Displaying the Power of the Holy Spirit by Opening Our Mouths
  7. Listening: Finding Your Place in God’s Symphony
  8. Performing: Participating in God’s Symphony
  9. Sustaining: Persevering in God’s Symphony

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right Lisa Sharon Harper (Waterbrook) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

I often come back to this book to recommend to book clubs or small groups wanting to unpack the various implications of a full-orbed gospel message. As we’ve often said, Lisa is a courageous and faithful leader, a black woman who told much about her own history in the exquisite memoir about family genealogy called Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World–And How to Repair It All.

In The Very Good Gospel she does two audacious things: the first half follows the story of a good creation made with shalom that gets drug down into brokenness and sin due to our alienation from God and how the really, truly, extraordinary news is that God is bringing reconciliation to restore the many ruptures now in the formerly good creation. (That is, her rhetoric for a quick overview of the grand unfolding plot line of the Bible moves from shalom to alienation to reconciliation.) God is making all things new, not merely offering forgiveness from guilt and God is invested in making this world right, not merely taking us to some otherworldly place sometimes called heaven. That’s the first part.

The second part of this marvelous book is fleshing out what Christ-centered, gospel reconciliation looks like in various spheres — between nations, between the rich and poor, between races and genders and between us and other creatures. We have soul-deep alienation within our very selves and she writes about inner healing, all of this based on the goodness of a God who offers grace to restore us to a relationship with our Maker and Redeemer. This is a very good gospel and it is explained well in the first half of the book and worked out in a variety of arenas in the second half. What more could your group want?

In a serious foreword, the brilliant Walter Brueggemann finally commends her work by saying:

Harper bears witness to the thicker, true, understanding of a saving transformative, reconciling faith that is indeed “very good.”

Hope Ain’t a Hustle: Persevering by Faith in a Wearying World Irwyn L. Ince, Jr. (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I loved this book and could tell you about it at great length — I started it one Sunday last month and couldn’t stop reading — but the short version is that this is done by a spiritually upbeat, theologically well-informed, seriously missional, urban pastor, and it is on the book of Hebrews. Using Hebrews as his jumping off point (perhaps this was a sermon series at his church in Philly), Ince invites us to live in hope and to do so by exalting Christ Jesus. Hebrews makes wonderful connections, obviously, with the Older Testamented story of priests and kings and law and glory, how it all anticipates the coming of the fulfillment of God’s promises, in Jesus. It is not a commentary on Hebrews, as such, but it draws heavily on the book, inviting us to hold on to hope.

I started this column with a note about my appreciation of Mark Heard’s faithful, frail, rendering of an Easter hymn. If that resonated with you — the need for some reserve in our triumphant cheering about Christ’s victory since we live in a very hurting world and in a very damaged culture, certainly needing to embrace the “already but not yet” of Kingdom longing —  then you will appreciate this book a lot. It is a clear and accessible call to place our confidence in the finished work of our great high priest, and to thereby show confidence and hope.

Yet, we have grief and sorrow, anger and disappointment. We can face those things, though, not as people who “have no hope” but as those who live well in the face of injustice and scandal and sorrow. It is, as Tish Harrison Warren writes of it, “a wise book to help us to have eyes to see the beauty of Jesus anew.”

This seems like a perfect study for this post-Easter season. There are 10 chapters; less than 200 pages.

Irwyn Ince is a pastor’s pastor, offers us in this book an opportunity to experience honest, kind, and directive shepherding toward the reasonable and secure hope we have in Christ. — Christina Edmondson, co-author, Truth’s Table: Black Women’s Musings on Life, Love, and Liberation and author of Faithful Antiracism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change

An Invitation to Joy: The Divine Journey to Human Flourishing Daniel J. Denk (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

You may recall a longer review I did of this when it first came out, or my second shout out when we named it one of the Best Books of 2023. It has not faded from my memory and I thought I should pick it up again, now, admitting to being a bit uncomfortable with abundance of Facebook injunctions to Easter joy. Obviously, knowing Death is defeated is a lot to be happy about, and a deep joy can pervade those who suffer. But still, really, how do we do that? What if don’t exude exuberant celebration?

Author Daniel Denk, a PCA pastor, knows all of this. From feeling the weight of the sorrows of the world to knowing his own foibles and pains, he nonetheless hears the Biblical call to joy.

As Christopher J. H.  Wright (Bible scholar, author, and global activist with Langham Partnership) says, it is “refreshing, rebuking, reviving, rewarding, and richly biblical and practical.”

“This book is refreshing, rebuking, reviving, rewarding, and richly biblical and practical.”

A book that promises all that makes me glad! And after Easter is a perfect time for it.  Denk, as Joel Carpenter notes, “knows life in its depths” and “he knows God.”  This is a great book to read after Easter, especially if you’ve lost some of your joy and no simple meme or quick reminder will help. This powerful book can.

Centering Jesus: How the Lamb of God Transforms Our Communities, Ethics, and Spiritual Lives Derek Vreeland (NavPress) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I was happy to promote this when it first came out a few months ago and am glad to do so again. It is a great, thoughtful, read, substantive and well-informed (oooooh, I love the footnotes) but chatty and conversational with stories and good illustrations. In terms of style, it is one of those sorts of books we like to promote because it is thoughtful without being dryly academic and it has both a clear Christ-centeredness (duh, the title, obviously) and yet has a significant boots-on-the-ground sort of practical trajectory. It covers a lot and is good for those who have been following Christ a long time and it is also good for those new to this sort of religious reading. It’s a great book.

The point, of course, is that Jesus is what — or should I say who — it is all about, and His indignity as the Lamb of God is not only pivotal, but transformative. As the subtitle implies, Christ can change all aspects of our lives, personal and social.

Vreeland is a discipleship pastor at the Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, where the head pastor is Brian Zahnd, author, most recently, of the extraordinary Wood Between the Worlds. He wrote a previous book on a Mennonite publishing house called By the Way which was suggestive that we are to join Christ in a “way” of life. (We have long carried his fun little introduction to N.T. Wright’s vision called N.T. Wright and the Revolutionary Cross which is actually “A Reader’s Guide to The Day the Revolution Began.” Hooray for such a thoughtful pastor.

Centering Jesus offers a way beyond the terrible polarization in our world and, as it says boldly on the back cover, “When we lose our focus on Jesus, the church’s credibility suffers.” In this time after Easter it is easy to move into an ordinary time of less drama and less focus. In other words, as he reveals, we end up with a spirituality that is driven by our sense of self.

He looks here at spiritual formation, our moral lives, and our common life together in our congregations. Wow. It leads to maturity, civility, kindness, and more. This is resurrectionary faith, for sure. Highly recommended.

The Gift of Thorns: Jesus, The Flesh, and The War for Our Wants A.J. Swoboda (Zondervan Reflective) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Oh my, what a strong book this is. Don’t let the light pink cover fool you into thinking this is some rosy, light-weight book of cheer. I don’t mean to say it is a “downer” or overly complex, but it isn’t simplistic and it offers no cheap answers.

It is about how we are living in a moment in history when our desires, longings, and wants are being weaponized against us by cultural, spiritual, and relational forces. For many, we feel “torn asunder by the raging desires within.” (After spending some weeks reading books like I reviewed a week ago about the addiction crisis, such as The Least of Us and Raising Lazarus, I know this is so.)

Swoboda is a brilliant writer, a creative thinker, and has a good ability to popularize immensely complex matters. He is not the first to write about disordered desires — start with You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith if this is somewhat new to you — but he is wisely asking what we do with “unwanted desires” the the forces which seem to capture us with dumb wishes and finally don’t bring real human flourishing, anyway. He asks, “How do we cultivate desires which bring life and freedom and lead to Christ.” The Gift of Thorns addresses this sort of stuff.

I share this description from the back cover as it puts it so well; please read this:

The path forward is anything but easy. It is assumed by too many in the Christian community that desire is in and of itself bad or dangerous and must be crucified for simply existing. Desire is demonic for some. But, for many others–particularly in the secular West–desire must be followed through and through. This side deifies desire. But these two options sidestep the joy in the great challenge of finding God in our desire. There exists an ancient and sacred way that is forged around the life, wisdom, and power of Jesus and his Spirit. In short, what makes a follower of Christ is not whether or not we have desires. Rather, it is what we do with the desires we have.

Thorns — from the symbol of a broken creation in Genesis 3 to the odd sort of torture that ended up cornering Christ Himself — appear throughout the Bible. (Who knew?) This thematic repetition is part of the story, unpacked here.

The Gift of Thorns is new and I’ve yet to read it through. I can say without a doubt, though, that it could be a great tool for you or your group or church to move to a serious sort of discipleship, in the power of the Spirit, living out resurrection, even in this odd cultural moment of inordinate desire, consumerism, and secularization.

Professor Swaboda hosts the Slow Theology podcast with Dr. Nijay Gupta.

Practicing the Way: Be With Jesus / Become Like Him / Do as He Did John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

The books of John Mark Comer are always among the best sellers we offer at the big collegiate event at Jubilee and this past February we sold out of this one. It was new, then — we had sent out our pre-orders a few weeks before — and there was a growing buzz. We were so happy that something so substantive was capturing the attention of these young adults.

Comer, as you may know, wrote Garden City (about work and rest and being fully human) and a best-seller called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, among others. He is honest about his life and is a good communicator.  This book — which channels a bit of Dallas Willard, I guess I’d say about being transformed into Christ-likeness from the inside out — is upbeat but serious. There will be soon a video curriculum, even as there is now an online podcast about the invitation to Godly practices as explained in the book. This is a big deal and you shouldn’t miss it.

In Practicing the Way, John Mark Comer brilliantly shows us what it means to follow Jesus, and here is the best part: as you read, you will want nothing more than to be on Jesus’ heels. We are a disciple-less generation, and yet, walking this closely with Jesus is our way back to the purpose of life. This is one of the most important books I have read in a decade, and if we would all follow in this way, our lives would change and the world would change. Jennie Allen, author of Get Out of Your Head and Find Your People

This is part of what we mean when we talk about being Easter people, people of hope, people who live in the power of the resurrection — that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us and is touching the world, through us. It starts with small steps. How badly do you want this?

Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect John Inazu (Zondervan) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Okay, first this: John Inazu is a remarkable individual, a fine Christian man who is a professor of Law & Religion at Washington University. He’s smart and witty and very impressive, without being overly dramatic. A decade ago he wrote a scholarly work on the historic claim of freedom of religious assembly (Liberty’s Refuge on Yale University Press.) Later, he did a fairly academic, really great volume on pluralism (on the prestigious University of Chicago Press) that got him to Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan where he became good friends and partners-in-crime with the late Timothy Keller. They compiled a book together (and their two respective chapters were excellent) of people making a difference in the complex, secularizing world, letting their Christian lights shine in a way that is effective. (That was called Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference and included writers and artists and activists such as Lecrae, Kristen Deede Johnson, Sara Groves, Tish Harrison Warren, Rudy Carrasco, and more.) This brand new one is as popular and easy to read as the last one, but informed by his scholarly speciality about pluralism, equity, freedom for all.

And here’s the thing — it’s a real blast to read, arranged from the point of view of his role as a law professor, sharing stuff he teaches, reactions he gets from students, strategies he employs to get them thinking well, tools of the trade to nurture empathy. A good lawyer, he says, simply can’t just win arguments by touting facts and points. To be a good communicator one must listen, care, understand others. Holy smokes, who knew a memoir-esque account of a law prof could be so deeply gracious and kind and wise. And funny.

Learning to Disagree is quite practical and stands alongside many others these days on polarization and gracious communication, even if he surprises us by coming at it as he does. Of the others on this topic, this one is extraordinary. It is really well written — Shadi Hamid, a columnist for the Washington Post calls it “wonderful, quirky, beautifully written, and often quite funny” — and is not about winning, or even always trying to be persuasive and convincing (although that it part of it) but more foundational about “living with our deepest differences.” I suppose in a way, this is his on-the-ground, practical book for ordinary readers of his early Confident Pluralism.

Obviously we must not demonize people who think differently. Nor can we back down from taking stands, even in contrast to those who disagree with our moral convictions or policy positions. But, clearly, Inazu offers a better way, not demonizing and not compromising; he offers what decades ago Richard Mouw called “convicted civility.” It is easy to have convictions, Mouw often quipped, and easy to be polite. But to do both at the same time, to have strong convictions and be committed to civility? That’s the ticket.

And Inazu is thus far the best person showing us how it is done.

As Hamid continued in her rave review, “Unlike most books, this one might actually change how you argue, fight, love, and even hope.”

I’m not sure how much John talks about the resurrection, but if we want to show forth Christ’s Easter victory in Christ’s own way, we simply have to be captured by this bridge-building, creative way of “learning to disagree” and how to bear witness to God’s love in all things. As Habid noted, it might even help us learn to hope. Hooray. This is surely one of the great books of 2024.

Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping, and Sharing the Things Unseen Mark Oestreicher (IVP) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80  while supplies last

I loved this book when it first came out years ago and it never got much traction. It is out of print but we have a few and it seems like the right time to highlight it here, again.

Mark-O, as he used to be called, was a big name in evangelical youth ministry, emerging congregations that were grappling with cultural changes years ago, and was to live faithfully for Christ in the postmodern cultural context. He’s authored a number of books about mentoring youth and having fun instilling in kids a love for their churches.

In this stunning, helpful book — part visionary inspiration, part how-to guidebook and tool box — he wonders out loud why it is that some people seem so full of hope while others can hardly get out of bed, laden with apathy or anxiety? Hope is, clearly, elusive.

Not only is it hard to experience, it is hard to explain. What is hope? What sort of fresh perspective could a guy with a mid-life crisis have to offer? Drawing on everything from the music of David Crowder to the justice work against trafficking of IJM to the nuanced, fraught books of Walter Brueggemann, Oestreicher brings so much to our consciousness as we read. In what Jim Burns calls an “incredibly brilliant and very personal writing style” Mark-O tells some gut-wrenching stories and he does some good Bible stuff and he offers honest, hard-wrought words of true Kingdom hope.

Gary Haugen of IJM doesn’t endorse many books, even though he is an avid reader and globally recognized leader. Here is what he says — read it and see if this is something you need! Gary writes:

Mark Oestreicher offers deep encouragement for those of us who have ever struggled to cultivate transformative hope in hard places. Drawing on personal experience, he offers a practical path for pushing through fear and cynicism toward refreshing hope. I am grateful for the invitation Mark offers us here — an invitation into active, faithful confidence in the goodness of God. — Gary A. Haugen, president and CEO, International Justice Mission, author of Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian

Creation Care Discipleship: Why Earthkeeping Is An Essential Christian Practice Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker Academic) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

You may recall how often I’ve highlighted this — and others like it. Since the victory of Christ over sin and Death indicates that the whole creation is being set free, then surely (surely!) ecological concern plays a hefty role in an Christian worldview worthy of the name. This book graciously makes that case, that creation care practices are simply a part of daily discipleship, it is who we are and what we do, as followers of the risen Lord of creation. It is as good a book on all of this as I’ve ever seen and can’t say enough.

Many whose other books are also brilliant and essential have chimed in. Norman Wirzba, Debra Rienstra, A.J. Swoboda, Ben Lowe, Jonathan Moor and others have said this is “a decisive case” that creation care is necessary, not optional, to faithful Christian living. It is a terrific book, inviting, thorough, poetic, wonder-full. What might happen if churches all over followed up the creation-healing message of the Bodily resurrection with a trajectory towards Earth Day, bearing witness that the Bible could be our primary ecological text and our discipleship will help us care for creation as a matter of faith and hope and love? This book could change everything.

Resurrection Matters: Church Renewal for Creation’s Sake Nurya Love Parish (Church Publishing) $14.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.96

Nurya Love Parish is an Episcopalian priest and serves at Plainsong Farm, a farm-based ministry that we appreciate up in Grand Rapids, MI. Given the fantastic title, I’m delighted to highlight the small and altogether lovely little book Resurrection Matters: Church Renewal for Creation’s Sake.

 I love this little volume which includes a bit about food and eating, gardens and fields, living joyfully amidst what Regan Sutterfield, notes as “our declining church and endangered earth.” Short and sweet, it’s a great little start and very highly recommended. Yes!

The Art of Living in Season: A Year of Reflections for Everyday Saints Sylvie Vanhoozer (IVP /formatio) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I sort of wish this book would have been released last fall as it starts — as a daily devotional arranged our the liturgical calander — in Advent. But it is brand new and so, so great, you can pick it up after Easter. As with other such year-long collections of readings, you can start at any point you’d like.

Another thing to know about it’s formate — it is richly illustrated with truly lovely botanical illustrations (of flowers and vegetables and gardens and the like.) Each chapter introduces what in her native Provence in southern France are called santons (“little saints” that one might see in a diversely peopled nativity scene.) Her own life has introduced her to many little saints and here she invites us to follow them not such as Christmas but throughout the year. This communion of little saints is beyond lovely, although it is quint and lovely, but a truly extraordinary way to invite us to daily, ordinary, discipleship.

Besides the fabulous full-color drawings the writing is beautifully crafted, what British poet Malcolm Guite and priest calls “tender, beautiful, and entirely original.”

Good thinkers and writers have zealously endorsed this new book — from Julie Canlis to Bobby Gross, Lancia Smith to Bill Edgar and more.  Read this fabulous blurb — what an amazing endorsement! Wow.

What then are we to do with this book so unlike any other? Shelve it all alone and give it pride of place? It is a work of art. Or might we slip it in a pocket to carry through the afternoon? Or better, allow ourselves to be carried by it through a calendar of seasons, instructed in the folkways of each one, in unexpected beauty and surprise? Might we allow this book to ask us questions, make us wonder, tell us new and ancient stories of other places, other times? And surely, if we listen, if we pay attention, we will see and learn. We will be charmed; we will be changed. For yes, this lovely book is just that fine. — Linda McCullough Moore, author of The Book of Not So Common Prayer

And this, from Vicar Sam Wells:

Sylvie Vanhoozer’s winsome and infectious compendium is about learning in practical and endearing ways to use our imaginations and behold Jesus becoming incarnate in the seasons of our days. But more profoundly, it is about letting our lives be transposed so we become characters in the story of God in Christ. Here you will find something for body, mind, and spirit to cluster round Christ’s earthy throne of grace. This book will make your soul grow. — Samuel Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, author Humbler Faith, Bigger God: Finding a Story to Live By

Pentecost: A Day of Power for All People Emilio Alvarez (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This little hardback came out about this time last year when the Fullness of Time series (compiled and developed by Esau McCaulley) was just getting started. Dr. Esau McCaulley had just released Lent and, naturally, on the heels of Lent and Eastertide and Ascension we soon move to the church celebration of Pentecost.  Dr. Emilio Alvaraz (with a PhD from Fordham University) is well suited to unpack the liturgical meaning of this church season — he is the presiding bishop of the Union of Charismatic Orthodox Churches. He is also the provost for lifelong learning at Asbury Theological Seminary. All right, then, he’s our guy, eh?

Liturgical, renewal-minded, Orthodox, charismatic. You just don’t see all that together in one person that often and we are thrilled to remind you of this rich tradition where the church calendar’s commemoration of the day of Pentecost is taken seriously. It’s nice that he is familiar with Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Pentecostal faith traditions and helps us see the commonalities of our expressions of this season of the church calendar.

After a nice preface to the Fullness of Time series by Esau McCaulley, Dr. Alvarez offers a nice introduction to the power of Pentecost. And then he offers these four, short chapters:

  1. Pentecost: A Feast of Fifty Days, First Fruits, and Harvest
  2. Learning to Speak in Other Tongues: Pentecost and Its Multilingual, Communal Spirituality
  3. How Shall We Move? Rituals of Pentecost
  4. Pentecost Prayers, Hymns, and Scriptures

This volume offers a brilliant reflection on the meaning of the great feast of Pentecost. Alvarez masterfully weaves biblical and historical references to help readers see the powerful light that this feast brings to the world, namely the light of God’s manifest presence. Moreover, Alvarez’s anointed and beautiful writing creates a hunger for more of the divine light.  — Cheryl Bridges Johns, Director of the Pentecostal House of Study at United Theological Seminary author of Enchanting the Text: Discovering the Bible as Sacred, Dangerous, and Mysterious

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Sadly, as of April 2024 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It isn’t good. It is important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by long Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks very much for understanding.

We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen. Pray for us.

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