“How to Be a Patriotic Christian: Love of Country as Love of Neighbor” by Richard Mouw and six other books – AND – Pre-order the forthcoming WENDELL BERRY book “The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice”)  ON SALE

I saw a note on Twitter the other day suggesting we are seeing more idolatrous Christian Nationalism these days. A reply from another friend rang true: there isn’t more, but we’re just realizing more what it is, noticing it. There are varying degrees and kinds of dangerous alt-right groups, of course. Some are fairly conventional fundamentalist or Pentecostal churches with a penchant for overstating the goodness of America even if they aren’t overly aggressive about it and there groups that are weird in their Christian-sounding lingo, even like the KKK, and are plainly dangerous. (Perhaps you recall a book I reviewed at BookNotes several years ago called Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America by Vegas Tenold, still one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read and as important study and a good read.) Almost nothing is a kookie as this cult that uses guns in religious services, whose leader has a crown made of bullets, and that our Republican candidate for Governor here in PA may have some connection with. Yikes.

It dawns on me that most BookNotes readers know a bit about why this is all so dastardly and maybe have even bought books from us offering historical anthological discernment about this heretical movement. (Just a few weeks ago we highlighted a new Oxford University Press book called The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy by Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry with a good foreword by Jemar Tisby.) Here is a  good list of 10 titles about this put together by our friends at the Englewood Review of Books (although not all are about recent nationalism as such.) I’d add to the list the brand new book by pastoral psychologist and Lutheran scholar (who teaches at Union in New York) Pamela Cooper-White, The Psychology of Christian Nationalism: Why People Are Drawn In and How to Talk About the Divide (Fortress Press; $21.00.) We stock all of these, actually; we recommend reading up a bit as this movement is not going away. These are, dear gentle readers, as John Adams put it, “serious times.”

And yet, still — what does it mean to embody a proper, balanced sort of appropriate patriotism? Condemning the heresies of the Trumpian wing of the religious right, while important, is almost too easy. How might we avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater? It may be a bit controversial for some, here, but I want to ask, with Richard Mouw, how to be a faithful Christian patriot. But first, a story.

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I will never forget a retreat presentation, the talks being given by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton whose book Transforming Vision had influenced the gathered group, and whose book on postmodernism, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, then just out, was also very important for many of us. Although there were several hot evangelical books that year all alarmed about the way postmodernism seem to erode a sense of truth and therefore was inappropriate for Christians, the Walsh & Middleton book really was the only one of all of them that actually used the Bible as a response to the famous pomo suspicion of meta-narratives. The Bible is full of deconstruction, they said, subversive, even. To this day, I recommend Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be for anyone grappling with the forces of postmodernity or the ideas of postmodernism or those grown cynical with conventional religion that chases after power and might. 

In that retreat one of them read one of the Psalms and, I think, a bit from Jeremiah, and, with gusty insight then associated nearly exclusively with Walter Brueggemann, they showed how the Bible itself offered (unpatriotic) critique of Zion, a view that was surely controversial and subversive in its day, singing the Lord’s own songs in protest against the Lord’s land. (Years later Brian would, with his co-author Sylvia Keesmaat, do the same thing with Romans 13 in their must-read Romans Disarmed commentary and Richard would bring his Old Testament contextualized reading to the vexing Abraham/Issac story in the must-read Abraham’s Silence, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) 

To make the point, then they read the Biblical text over the background of the fuzzy, acid-rock, distorted and mournfully brilliant version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” from the 1969 Woodstock album. Wow. This is what Hendrix was doing as a black man crying out just a year after the murder of Dr. King with a lament not disavowing the American story, but reclaiming it by naming the deep failures. Hendrix was not just doodling with hippy rock coolness but was offering a sober lament, a pained patriotic plea. And this is exactly what some of the most potent anti-Zion Psalms were doing as Brueggemann brilliantly shows in Israel’s Praise: Doxology Over Idolatry and Ideology. Get that subtitle — “Doxology over Idolatry and Ideology” — which reminds us that praise and worship must subvert our idols, even those good things given by God.

I doubt if you heard Hendrix’s messy “Star Spangled Banner” at church this weekend. You most likely won’t even hear the Psalms Brueggemann uses, either. But I do hope your worship exalted Christ alone as the only true King. I trust that isn’t too much to ask.

Naturally, I appreciated Brian and Richard’s critique (begun already in Transforming Vision) of the idols of the land — including the nation state — and resonated with the brave, subversive Hebrew prophets they taught us about who dared to raise their voices against bad worship and unjust public policy. I saw myself as a child of the late 60s, dismayed by the murders of King and Bobby Kennedy,  a conscientious objector against the brutal war in Viet Nam, made cynical by Watergate and Love Canal and TMI. One of the first books I read, in the mid-70s, about how my simple Christian faith informed my political life was by Richard Mouw, a long out of print paperback called Political Evangelism. It was deeply Christian, not conservative like most church people knew, but not lefty, either. It invited us to an integrated Christian social vision where politics and citizenship were coherent parts of our Kingdom discipleship — our loyalty to King Jesus — and not just a dry matter of our secular lives.  

Years later in a book on a passage in Isaiah that points to the restoration of all things in Revelation 22, the incredible When the Kings Come Marching In, Mouw envisioned despots and unjust rulers kneeling before their oppressed victims. Of apartheid leaders asking for forgiveness from the likes of their torture victims. It was a very powerful insight about the upside down Kingdom of Christ and how even power politics can be seen as being, someday, healed and made right.

I followed Mouw’s ongoing work for decades — it was an honor to have him talk about our bookstore and cite me in his last book All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight and he remains one of the thinkers and writers I trust them most. His inter-denominational (indeed, sometimes interfaith) generosity, his Biblical piety, his expansive Kingdom vision, his friendly style, his balance and grace, all appeal. Mouw’s own wonderfully interesting memoir is tellingly entitled Adventures in Evangelical Civility: A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground. I recommend it to one and all.

Very important these days is his tremendous book on civility — ahead of its time and still one of the very, very best in the genre — is called Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. I will come back to this in a moment. It would be a good companion to his brand new one on being a patriotic Christian.

But now, sent to you with a smile from historic Pennsylvania on this 4th of July the year of our Lord 2022, I present to you Dr. Mouw’s brand new book, just out. I’d say “bring on the fireworks” but, really, this book is too reasoned and calm for that. It brings more light than thunder.

How to Be a Patriotic Christian: Love of Country as Love of Neighbor Richard J. Mouw (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICER = $13.60

This holiday weekend (in the US, at least) I want to very highly recommend the brand new Richard Mouw book, How to Be a Patriotic Christian: Love of Country as Love of Neighbor, even though it is even less punchy and more balanced than I expected and more patriotic than I believe is warranted. But, there it is: I’d read Mouw on anything and listen carefully to everything he says. And he gets everything that is most important very right here, even if I may wish for slightly different emphasis or conclusion on this or that fine point.

Since I’ve already admitted that I’ve got some minor disagreements (like, say, on the legitimacy of national flags in a sanctuary of worship, which I oppose and he very cautiously approves) I’ll say this: one of the great virtues of this little book, like all of Mouw’s books, is how fair-minded he is. He goes out of his way to explain for us the various positions on a topic, from the Mennonite opposition to swearing oaths to some Scottish Presbyterians views on theonomy to many black Christians understandable skepticism about too quickly saying US wealth is a blessing from God when it was significantly earned with slave labor on stolen land. Mouw has talked to people all over the world about all manner of topics both broad and specific and he recounts various views and points from real discussions as if you are a conversation partner. It is a most congenial way to learn. He is a very good teacher, less telling you what to think or believe, but inviting you to wrestle with the primary issues.

Mouw is very, very clear — and goes to very helpful lengths to explain why it is so — that our love for our land, our patriotic affections, are for our nation (that is, our people and our myths and our values and our shared history) and not so much any given government, let alone any one party. That is, he explains the distinctions in political science between a country and a state. He goes from Aristotle to JFK, St. Paul to MLK, exploring terms and helping us realize much. I chuckled when he said something to the effect that we may get teary eyed singing about our purple mountains and, with hand on heart (maybe), showing our affection, but such inspiring moments aren’t really about our local zoning ordinances or tax codes. Our patriotism is about kinship, about place, about care for others and for the civic values we might hold together, in our shared, if wounded, history. It won’t surprise those who track with this that he cites Robert Bellah and Robert Putnam and historian Jill Lapore. You might even think of the “Front Porch Republic” sort of patriotism exemplified in books like Bill Kauffman’s Poetry Night at the Ballpark. Mouw commends our involvement in sports leagues and the Boy Scouts and PTO and service clubs and other third-place groups that deepen our bonds to actual neighborhoods and real neighbors.

Mouw is always able to adeptly cite, with a quick explanatory nod and a quick caveat or two, older theologians like his favorite, John Calvin, and apply their deepest wisdom to the concerns of today. From Calvin to Mother Teresa, he reminds us that we are to contemplate well, to attend to, to care about our place and the dignity of others made in God’s image. The heart of the book really is profound, and explored in helpful ways, insisting that our loyalty to our country is an act of love. I have never thought of this, actually, but it is his chief motif and it was helpful for me. One of the chapters is simply called “Human Bonds.” 

Naturally, he highlights the standard Biblical texts about political life, and he treats them well — not woodenly, nor dismissively, but as authoritative light on the topic to be lived into in healthy and wise ways. As a thoughtful, moderate evangelical in a mainline church with ecumenical and interfaith friendships (as I mentioned, all over the globe, especially China where he lectures often) he handles the Word of God with admirable clarity but not simplistically. He brings the very big reminder that we must apply God’s truths in our own contexts with discernment, wisdom, and prudence. There is no one Bible verse that insists on this or that form of government let alone this or that specific policy, and thinking Christianly about government and public policy is no simple matter. He explores this a bit, but since this is not a book about politics, as such, he only gives the most basic overview and groundwork. (There is one fascinating chapter on the scope of government in which he tries to move us away from the simplistic binary of big vs small government and shows that all but the most radical libertarians surely appreciate safe bridges and clean water and regulation of airlines and fair tax codes and the like. Right?) It is good stuff that every church-going citizen should read, even if it only scratches the surface of what constitutes a faithful, wise, Biblically-directed sort of public theology and social ethic for a Christian understanding political life. His goal in this is to show why we should be glad for good government, appreciative, speaking with honor about the positive aspects of our civic life together.

In this lovely little guide, How to Be a Patriotic Christian, Mouw invites us to love our land, our people, our country. He explains how this can be done without falling for the temptation (which can turn very evil) to make an idol out of our own tribe or state or party. He warns against nationalism, about pride, in our own souls and in our collective consciousness. Incidentally, Richard was studying in Canada when President Kennedy was assassinated and he tells about how his rather anti-American friends there showed great empathy in those sad weeks. Our care for each other goes beyond national borders — of course. I wouldn’t be promoting a book that says otherwise! And Mouw makes a big deal of that, that the Body of Christ (our defining and ultimate loyalty) is global and transnational, multiethnic and multi-racial.

I appreciate his caution about his subject. He tells a funny story about feeling sinful as a child for buying a Mother’s Day card that insisted that his mom was the best one in the world. He had reason to think this wasn’t technically true, and wondered if God minded his dishonesty as an unacceptable sort of bragging. He notes that of course we needn’t really worry about such claims, but that patriotic declarations insisting that we are the best country ever (the academic theory is called American Exceptionalism) are considerably more dangerous. Remember this:

There is a problem with the patriotic version. My mother would not have been offended to find out that a twelve-year-old down the street told her mother that she was the greatest mother in the world. What was most important to my mother was how I cared about her. She did not see the mother down the street as a competitor for her own children’s loyalty.

But here’s the important part:

I’ll put it bluntly: my mother commanded no armies. She did not use guns and bombs to defend her right to be called the best mother in the world. Nations are obviously different in this regard. They go to war with each other. And sometimes they make decisions about such matters that some citizens call into question, and the result is that the questioners are accused by their fellow citizens of being unpatriotic.

And so, Mouw proceeds with caution in inviting us to love our fellow citizens well by honoring the land and country into which providence has placed us by saying repeatedly that we must never offer an unquestioning sort of ultimate loyalty. He calls us to wrestle with many things, grappling with various arguments and positions, but to agree to start here: we are to love our neighbors and one way we can do that is by loving the place, culture, social architecture, institutions, including governments, that we are a part of. Patriotism, properly understood, is one way to show honor and affection and love within our social fabric.

Professor Mouw has written before about the Roman Catholic social ethic of “subsidiarity” and the Dutch Calvinist / Kuyperian notion of sphere sovereignty so it may not be a surprise that he especially affirms our role in local and state civic life. Politics can be big and broad and abstract and yet knowing our local DMV worker or librarian or small town zoning commissioner or dogcatcher or school board member can be a good step for us in order to help our region flourish. He worries that not enough church people are involved in local stuff as day-by-day ordinary citizens and he commends those civil servants who do such public work. He calls us to pray for non-dramatic government employees and civil servants, those who try to help things go well. Disparaging bureaucrats (let alone damning the “Deep State”) is wrong, he says, and he is right. If we are to seek the shalom of the city where God has put us, even as exiles, (Jeremiah 22) we need to come to know those who serve us. We need to exercise our citizenship muscles, trying out involvement in local civic and even political initiatives. Like (or not) whoever lives in the White House any given year, appreciate or not the party principles of whoever is governing your particular state, there is much we can do apart from partisan politics to be good citizens. And, at least, loving our neighbors, including local public servants, can help us help our country thrive with greater civility and maybe even real friendship. Remember, one of his early chapters is about strengthening our human bonds, a sort of kinship in our land. He makes much of Simone Weil’s reflections on rootedness, almost sounding like Wendell Berry at times. 

Two quick asides:

First: you may want to pre-order right away the forthcoming Wendell Berry book that is due in early August called The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice (Shoemaker & Company; $24.00 / OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20.) It seems to be, in part, a long-awaited follow up to his book on racism called Our Hidden Wound and will obviously explore questions akin to the ones Mouw is raising about civic kinship and our commonwealth. It is going to be a release of considerable importance.

Secondly, I wish time and space permitted me to do some comparisons between themes in this new Richard Mouw book and his very important aforementioned Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (IVP; $22.00 / OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60.)That book on pluralism and civility and kindness and styles of speech and attitudes of graciousness and a citizenship of patience (in a hotly polarized culture) are mostly here in one way or another in How to Be a Patriotic Christian. If you have that oldie (especially the expanded 2010 edition) perhaps you’d be wise to pull it from the shelf for a re-read. If you don’t have it, order it today. It is a fabulous companion to this one.  

In his brand new one about patriotism  Rich talks about the pros and cons of what is called (often derisively) civil religion and he is more positive about that than he used to be. He wonders about the efficacy (and the faithfulness) of public patriotic rituals — singing the national anthem at ball games, say — and he realizes this is freighted. (Ahh, I can’t wait to hear what Jamie Smith says about all this.) He has a section that is provocative about patriotism in church. He worries about how we don’t teach much about civic values these days, and while Mouw doesn’t cite him, this is something Os Guinness has said over and over for decades.

Again, this plea for a positive rendering of civic education is not a guise for hiding from the facts about injustice or overlooking the stains in our national history. He may be moderate in tone and enjoy patriotic songs and the like, but he is very clear over and over that a good patriot cares enough to have the occasional lovers quarrel with her country and its history. Our original American sins of mistreatment of first nation peoples, of slavery, ongoing racism, anti-immigration animus, cavalier mistreatment of creation, bellicose and often unethical foreign policies, and on and on are not to be denied by Biblical people and true patriotism is always eager for an honest accounting. There are other books these days, including some from what we might call the religious right, that water down facts about (let alone offer prophetic denunciations of) our national sins. Mouw isn’t breathy about it, but he is crystal clear. I am grateful for this and therefore can hear his words of patriotic counsel.

I bet most Hearts & Minds friends will really appreciate it in many ways. The writing is interesting and the book offers wise, good stuff.

Skip the military-themed, red-white-and-blue liturgies in MAGA megachurches and the pseudo-patriot scoundrels like Eric Metaxas that are dishonest about things like the January 6th insurrection. We don’t need more flag-waving showiness that verges on gaudy idolatry. Just ignore the ideological guys whining about the 1619 Project which wants to put an honest accounting about slavery more central in the telling of American history. (You may recall that I mentioned in a BookNotes review a week or two ago that Bill McKibben’s most recent book The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon has some extended conversations about the 1619 Project and I commend his easy-to-read overview of the urgency of such historical honesty.)

There are times we need “doxology against idolatry” (see above) and Hendrix’s plaintive version of a tragic national anthem is called for. Given the rise of so-called Christian Nationalism in recent decades, maybe that time is now. Granted.

But maybe Mouw is on to something, ahead of the curve in discerning what we also need. We need to do more than sound the alarm against what we do not want. We need to say what we are for. That is, we do not need to throw the patriotic baby out with the idolatrous bathwater. As this great read reminds us, we can be loyal in a limited way to our country, navigating a fine path between Christian nationalism on the one hand and bitter cynicism about all things American on the other. There are sticky questions all along this path and, in many ways, it is easier to just raise the flag or tear it down. A third alternative, neither right nor left, neither nationalistic nor anti-American, is possible. Loving the right things in the right way is a sign of Christian maturity and rightly ordered desires and properly ordered love is a healthy goal of Christian discipleship. I am not sure I will end up where Richard is in this book, but that’s okay.I savored every word and will re-read it soon for the exercise of practicing discernment.  I’d love to know what you think after you read it.

What does it mean to truly love our native land? What does it mean to be a good citizen? What does it look like to be a patriot that is firstly loyal to the international body of Christ? To be active as a citizen but not unquestioning, willing to say yes to some things and no to others, and showing gladness for the ideas and the freedom allowing participatory democracy? How can we render to Caesar what may be Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s? It was a trick question when Jesus first said it, and it is tricky yet today.

Mouw reminds us, gently, over and over, that even as our first loyalty is to the Triune God of the universe, known in Jesus Christ, and to his global Church, it is one of the great Christian insights —yes! — that we are all, every last one of us, made in God’s image and we each have a shared humanity with all fellow humans. Further, as creatures, we have a shared creaturehood with all things. St. Francis was pretty right with that “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” stuff. Yes, we can have a limited sort of affection for and provisional commitment to our own country, but we are, firstly, fellow creatures and fellow human beings. Our common ground with all others is the best place to start even as we explore how to be patriotic in our own particular place.

Which brings us to a fine little message at the end of How to Be a Patriotic Christin. Mouw may be a neo-Calvinist in the line of Abraham Kuyper who famously reminded us that Christ claimed “every square inch” of creation and that we must “think Christianly” about every theory, policy and practice, but he, like Kuyper, actually is a bit of a low-brow Protestant mystic. I’m not sure Richard would admit this, but he cites contemplatives and is not unaware of the importance of personal and communal spiritual formation. He loves his Bible and he loves old hymns and is unafraid sounding pious and spiritual. It is this ordinary mysticism, this Biblical spirituality, that can form us into caring people who learn to love our place, our region, our own country, even.

He invites us at the end of the book to slow down, to be contemplative, to ponder, to pay attention, to listen well to others. This, then, is to be followed up in the school of love: we must cultivate compassion, he says. Compassion leads us not only to acts of personal kindness but to a politics of grace, social righteousness, economic justice. A third guideline is fascinating: “go deep in the quest for rootedness.” Naturally this is sensible when learning to be more patriotic, to learn well about our land, our watershed, our place, our system of government. But as he means it here, he means to double down on, to lean into, to celebrate firstly our identity as members of the Kingdom of heaven, a citizenship that trumps all loyalties and an identity that pledged allegiance to the Lamb and our siblings far and wide. I’m not sure he says it in the final pages, but this big point about our Christian rootedness certainly relativizes any overzealous sort of patriotism. Our “hopes and dreams” (as he puts it) are not finally made manifest by government policies but by Jesus. To be assured of that, “in the deep places of our hearts,” he writes, “should inspire us to keep wrestling with what it means to be patriotic Christians.” 

SIX OTHER BOOKS TO READ ABOUT FAITH & PATRIOTISM

I have in several other BookNotes listed books that offer Biblically-based and thoughtful guidance on uniquely faithful citizenship based on Christian thinking about the nature and task of the government and the like. My views have been generally consistent for decades that we need to read widely in discerning the framework for a faithful sort of politics, not primarily driven by ideologies of the right or the left. Not a muddled, moderate middle, but something else, a way shaped by Christ’s Kingdom.

Here are books that are less about the shape of Christian politics as such but about this question of American civil religion, civic pride, our approach to the Founders, etc. Good for this season of American life, I think, to be read alongside or after How to Be a Patriotic Christian by Ricard Mouw.

We the Fallen People: the Founders and The Future of American Democracy Robert Tracy McKenzie (IVP Academic) $28.00                               OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This book has garnered rave reviews from thoughtful critics and won awards. I cannot do it justice here so we’ll let my favorite history prof, John Fea (author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?) has described it:

In the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr, Tracy McKenzie places original sin at the center of American political history. We the Fallen People weaves American history, historical thinking, and public theology into a compelling narrative that forces readers to rethink the meaning of our democratic experiment.

Dr. McKenzie, a history prof at Wheaton College, has two chapters under each of five main parts.  These sections don’t explain it all, but gives you a sense of his approach:
Part One: Governing a Fallen People: The Founders, the Constitution, and Human Nature; Part Two: The Great Reversal: The People’s Candidate Exalts the People’s Virtue; Part Three: Servitude or Liberty: Jacksonian Democracy in Action; Part Four: I Cannot Regard You as a Virtuous People: A Conversation with Alexis de Tocqueville;  Part Five: Remembering, Reminding, Responding: Lessons for Today. Fascinating and mature scholarship, offering a valuable theological contribution to our flag waving. Highly recommended.

Robert Tracy McKenzie has incisively identified one of the most subtle and insidious dynamics contributing to the present state of partisanship in America. That is, our stark societal divisions are often fueled by flawed approaches to making sense of the past. The genius of McKenzie’s book is in his challenge to us to think both Christianly and historically, demonstrating that the two are not mutually exclusive. He shrinks not from the exceedingly difficult task of drawing moral wisdom from history, and he does so with characteristic care and aplomb. We the Fallen People helps us to see the past more clearly, giving us the ability to think more rightly about ourselves. These are the indispensable first steps for us as we pursue the common good. –John D. Wilsey, author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea

Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith and Citizenship Diana Butler Bass (Church Publishing) $18.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16

I will not describe this short book in detail as I’ve reviewed it often before. (Enter it into the search engine of our “BookNotes” archives to find a few previous descriptions.) The short version is simply this: Diana worked for a church in Northern Virginia when they were understandably grieving the attack on the US on September 11, 2000. The nearby Pentagon was hit and people were killed. It was a horrible time, but, as many of us too clearly recall, our nation seemed to come together in a spasm of militarism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and civil religion that wasn’t healthy or good. United We Stand meant any number of things, but some with under that banner were prepared to launch nuclear attacks on Middle Eastern lands. The language of American greatest and vengeance was common.

Diana thought that a posture of shared brokenness was more appropriate and appealed to her colleagues for a ministry or at least tone of peacemaking, for a more sober sort of patriotism, not jingoistic or worldly. As her memoirs tells in moving detail, she lost her job over this call to reject aggressive God-and-country militarism. 

I am not ashamed to say it was deeply, deeply moving for me when I first read it and it sustained me as few books did in those complicated years. That it was reissued a few years ago is a publishing grace and I am glad to suggest it any time people are considering a faithful view of public life and Christian citizenship. 

The Possibility of America: How the Gospel Can Mend Our God-Blessed, God-Forsaken Land David Dark (WJK) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

David is another friend that I admire very much and who has become a bit of an internet sensation, enduring as he does in his vocation to be a pest to everybody on twitter by insisting that we pay attention, be honest about faith and justice, speak out, name complicity, live true. Agree or not all the time, he is one heck of a writer — you should sign up for his Substack blog — and he cares deeply about public life. That some of his deepest influences are Will Campbell and Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan and Padraig O’Tuama might give you a hint of his prophetic mantle. That he loves literature (and pop culture) means the book is garnished with tasty quotes from James Baldwin and Bono, Ocatavia Butler and Faulkner.

I highly recommended The Possibility of America this book in great detail when it first came out and then recommended it again at BookNotes when a second, expanded edition was released. It is a colorful, fiery, interesting read. I figure I should name it again, here, a rare and nearly essential book about civic imagination and public compassion. His tone is not as moderate or as reasonable as Richard Mouw, but it is passionate and good. Wow. 

Cold Civil War: Overcoming Polarization, Discovering Unity, and Healing the Nation Jim Belcher (IVP) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Okay, I’m not going to lie: I like Jim Belcher a lot, and raved here about his first book, sort of an intellectual travelogue, a record of he and his family traipsing around Europe to go to the spots of his favorite books, from C.S. Lewis’s favorite Oxford tavern to Bonhoeffer’s place to  That was called In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity. I appreciated his next book, a fine effort to adjudicate the differences between conventional evangelical churches and the postmodern emergent ones, nicely called Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. I am glad he didn’t keep the “deep’ theme going here or this new one might have been called something about the “deep state” which would have given the wrong impression. Ha.

But, again, I’m not going to lie: I did not adore this one as I did those two; it is a different sort of scholarship and more philosophical than either of his others. The footnotes are astonishing, from older political classics to update internet data from recent think tanks and research centers.  He draws on dozens of very heady scholars such as Deirdre McCloskey, William Galston, Patrick Deenen and James Caesar, a scholar who he seems quite indebted to. Dr. Belcher, by the way, got his PhD from Georgetown University; in recent years he served as President of Providence Christian College in Pasadena,Ca.

If Jim’s first two thoughtful paperbacks were exceptionally balanced and wisely ecumenical, this one, impressively issued in sturdy hardcover, seems a bit hard-hitting, maybe partisan. He tries to walk through the profound polarization of our “cold civil war’ and take seriously the deeper background assumption of both “sides” which is an important project, digging deeper. He invites us along for a deep dive into questions about the nature of order and the nature of freedom. By showing the strengths and weaknesses of various takes on these age-old political philosophy questions — and a clever four part quadrant chart to show surprising interconnections, actually — he offers ways that he thinks might help us create a new vibrant center that won’t be as fragmented. He talks about an American synthesis, which is fascinating. I kept thinking, well, yes, “good luck with that.”

And yet, he is on to something. I liked a chapter on patriotism for “resident aliens and alienated residents” Here is how Bradly Campbell (professor of sociology at California State University Los Angeles and author The Rise Of Victimhood Culture) explains the premise of Cold Civil War:

He argues that the four main political orientations act as countervailing forces that strengthen the country when in their more centrist forms, but tear the country apart in their more extreme forms. The way forward isn’t to abandon our ideologies entirely or for us all to agree with one another, but the country does need to move toward the ‘vital center.’ And Belcher offers a vision of how to do so.

I assume that my cynicism about his hopeful realism and this appreciation of the seeds of insight from each quandary is unfair. I want to get out of the left-right stalemate as much as the next radical moderate but yet I am not convinced that Jim is adequately above the fray to help us see everything that we need to consider. He cites David Koyzis’s essential Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies, but nearly enough. I remained concerned about some of his judgments and am eager to hear others who grapple with his major work.

I appreciate those who have said this book was very clarifying for them and that they appreciated the faithful call to civility and hope. One former mayor said he had experienced people for whom politics and citizenship was a “blood sport” and this gave him a better framework.  That is a good thing, that scholars and activists and elected officials and serious citizens can all appreciate that this study of the history of ideas that have shaped our polarization can provide fresh insight and new approaches.  I’m not fully convinced, but there is something important going on here, and I wanted to list it for your consideration. 

Here’s a good line from the foreword by John D. Wilsey, the respected author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: 

Belcher’s work on our current state of affairs in cultural discourse, marked by hyperpartisanship, incivility, and political, social, and moral instability, contributes a needed perspective borne of clear, careful, and charitable thinking. It is reflective of deep thought and research that has obviously been ongoing for many years, and I’m certain it will spur further dialogue among scholars in the academy and citizens in the public square for years to come.

The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom Os Guinness (IVP) $25.00                      OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Here is what I wrote about this when I named it as one of the most important books of 2021. I have often said that as one of my personal heroes and favorite authors I would read anything written by Dr. Os Guinness. Of course I say that about the breezy Anne Lamott and funny, blue-collar, farmer-pundit Michael Perry, too, although with them, the promise isn’t as daunting. Os writes deeper, serious, and often challenging works, and, in this case, on a topic I am not naturally drawn to — the glories of the ideas behind the American Revolution. I’ve read Os on this before (such as his 2019 Last Call for Liberty) and heard him lecture about the ordered freedoms that the founders (despite their flaws) brought into the world in 1776.

I know Guinness’s work fairly well, having read most of his books more than once. I was not quite prepared for a few things in this magisterial, important work, The Magna Carta of Humanity. It wasn’t odd or alarming, but I’ve never recalled Os being so very passionate about Judaism, about Hebrew scholars, and about the extraordinary genius of one of the most significant public intellectuals of our times, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I got tears in my eyes when Guinness (somewhat uncharacteristically, perhaps) shared how Sacks read the manuscript of Magna Carta and Guinness’s explication of the significance of the very idea of the Old Testament law, and how appreciative Os was that Sacks wrote back, even as he was ill.

The revolutionary faith of “Sinai” in the subtitle is very significant and Guinness, always the teacher of important history, shows how the Hebrew worldview in many ways launched (and in some places critiqued) Greece and Rome, the medieval West, the British empire and, supremely, the American founders and framers and their revolution for a republic.

And, importantly, all of this is in contrast to the stream that moves from the French Revolution to Hitler and, more so, Stalin and Mao. How different were the bloodless English revolution and the American war against King George, offering the world a set of ideas that, if applied and nurtured, could offer the ordered freedom under law unlike anything the world had ever known.

Note the two pictures on the top and lower portion of the dust jack and realize they go with two dates — 1776 and 1789; those, in turn, go with the choices — Sinai or Paris?

The Magna Carta of Humanity is worth reading just for Guinness’s reflections on the Old Testament and the legacy of Exodus. He shows the significant consequences of the notion of the covenant, about which his writing is outstanding. He knows the work of Tremper Longman, say, or John Goldingay, Chris Wright, Walter Brueggemann, John Walton, or other eminent Christian Old Testament scholars, but he is drawn to Abraham Heschel, Michael Walzer and Rabbi Sacks, to whom the book is dedicated. It makes for illuminating reading.

A second theme of the book you will have to discover and evaluate yourself; I am firstly celebrating it here, not offering my own critique which must come at another time. I will just say this: I do not fully agree with Dr. Guinness (and I shudder to find myself typing these words) about his assessment of the greater threat from the cultural left these days than from the revolutionary far right. (He has yet another book on these themes coming in September 2022 which will will be called Zero Hour America: History’s Ultimatum Over Freedom and the Answer We Must Give; You can pre-order it now, of course, at our 20% off.) I have not seen this one yet, but in his major Magna Cara of Humanity I wished for more balance in his exposing the inconsistencies and dangers of progressive left.

For the record, Dr. Guinness, his wife, and his son, have worked tirelessly for a better world and have consistently renounced racism and social injustices, as he does in this powerful book, and I do not in the least suggest otherwise. (Just read chapter 8 for a compelling, solid Biblical theology of justice, hospitality, mercy and homecoming.) His 10 quick-fire points, though, against critical race theory, say, or his rebuke of the secular and postmodern progressive left, left me with more questions than reassurance that he was fully on target. Why suggest that the left are “twitter Jacobins” and not fret about the threats of rape and murder some Christian feminists face there from “brothers” on the right? Talk about cancel culture? The right has been at it for decades, as he well knows, having been the target of cruel rebuke himself for his public affirmation of political pluralism. Referring to a “mob” on one (leftist) side while not using such language against those on the right indicates, I think, a bit of a shift in Os’s own thinking and analysis. (He says as much, by the way, in his recent foreword to the celebratory 2019 re-issue of The Dust of Death.)

One need not agree with every word of every book to honor it, to celebrate it, to say that it was a favorite read and to highly recommend it. I do not hesitate to honor and celebrate and recommend The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom by the exceedingly informative and regularly inspiring Os Guinness. Like I said — I’d read anything he writes. Even if it pokes at my worldview a bit. Certainly as we think about a responsible and honest Christian view of American patriotism, this book by a Brit is a gift to us all and a must-read.

Jesus Takes a Side: Embracing the Demands of the Gospel Jonny Rashid (Herald Press) $17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

As you have seen, above, I really appreciate Richard Mouw’s call to think about a reinvigorated, reformed, sober sort of Christian patriotism. For those sentimental about the red-white-and-blue, it will be a no-brainer, I suppose, but I beg you to consider it. He invites you to be sure your patriotism isn’t idolatry, isn’t ideological, is rooted in our fundamental (and international, multi-ethnic) alliance to the Body of Christ. He wants a properly ordered love for native land, not a jingoistic American Exceptionalism so you may need to hear his careful concerns. Yet, if you are suspicious of any such talk (especially given the frightening presence of overt, militaristic white, evangelical Nationalism these days) you, too, can benefit from Mouw’s pleasant and teacherly exploration of what it might mean to deepen our civic bonds and love our neighbors well by being properly patriotic. It is a book that few will fully agree with but that nearly every Christian should appreciate wrestling with. 

I end this list about recovering a proper, balanced, thoughtful sort of Christian kind of love of country with this brand new book because — as Mouw says and as my reviews above all noted —we simply must be Christians first before any provisional concerns with the country in which we are “resident aliens.” Our loyalty to land or people is provisional and contextual. Our love for God and obedience to King Jesus is ultimate.

Or at least we say it is, right? Jonny Rashid will very helpfully hold our feet to the fire on this by insisting that if we are going to develop a Christian public theology, a Christian social perspective, then we have to, well, see what Jesus Himself says about such things.  Hooray!

It should go without saying, but as the back cover explains:

For the sake of our faith, for the sake of the least of these among us, and for the sake of Christ, Christians need to stand firmly for truth, peace, and justice. In Jesus Takes a Side, author Jonny Rashid lays out the political demands of following Jesus and offers strategies for how to engage politics practically and prophetically — even if it means taking a side.

For many, the specific teachings of Jesus — most thoroughly offered in the Sermon on the Mount — are nearly too idealistic to shape our witness in the rough and tumble and compromise of realpolitik. We preach these counter-cultural Kingdom values in church but we wonder if it is even plausible to call our country and our public officials to embrace such upside-down values. Well, Rashid, a pastor of Circle of Hope in urban Philly (where I have preached, years ago, btw) brings this Anabaptist insistence on the specific ways of Jesus to our citizenship. There are political demands of the gospel, in what another Anabaptist scholar decades ago called “The Politics of Jesus.” To put it bluntly, Pastor Johnny says, “Jesus sides with the oppressed. Will you?”

Blurbs on the back of this lively Biblical study and call for a radically Christian social ethic include great endorsements from indigenous activist and church leader Randy Woodley (author of many good books, most recently of Becoming Rooted, a devotional reader we’ve promoted) who says “Jesus Takes a Side leads us straight to Jesus and makes clear the path we are to walk with him. I enjoyed it immensely.” Melissa Florer-Bixler (author of How to Have an Enemy, another vital book  we’ve highlighted here) says it comes with “prophetic witness and embodied hope.”

Curt Willems, pastor of Brentview Baptist Church in Calgary and author of Echoing Hope puts it well when he writes,

This book will provoke important conversations about what it means to follow Jesus in any political system.

Here is one thing to think about as you consider this feisty and faithful study of pastoral and prophetic aspects of the gospel. Jonny Rashid and Drew G. I.Hart (who wrote a fabulous foreword) both push back about talk of a Christian “third way.” This perplexed me a bit until it dawned on me that both Dr. Hart and Rev. Rashid seem to see in that phrase some moderate middle ground that is afraid of being divisive, and thereby maybe attempts to blunt the sharp edges of Jesus’s vivid commands. As he puts it, “In a world divided by left and right, red and blue, many Christians have upheld a ‘third way’ approach in pursuit of moderation, harmony, and unity. But,” he very wisely and importantly continues, “if Christians are more concerned with divisiveness than with faithfulness, we have failed to grasp the gospel’s political demands.”

He writes, “We do not see Jesus taking a “third way” between oppressor and oppressed. And as followers of Jesus, neither should we.”  Drew starts his foreword with similar clarity against such views of moderate/middle third ways.

Here is my own push back, less against the book itself, which is excellent, but about this framing. In my experience, in my circles, and certainly in my own speaking and teaching (which, I suspect, Drew himself may recall) I have robustly called for a third way. However, by that I mean, a Christian approach that is something else again other than the typical binary social imaginary has it. That is, neither left nor right.  Not some blend or eclectic ideological mush or compromise just to prevent conflict, but a radical worldview that sees that typical options the world’s political theories offer are mostly two sides of the same bad coin.  A call to a third alternative as I’ve used it is an idealist hope for a radical, distinctive, fresh option, perhaps yet to be seen. Neither capitalist nor communist, subversive to all empires and principalities and powers, etc. etc.

(I am not sure I fully understand and may not fully agree with every detail, but for one sort of example of this see, at least, David Koyzis’s Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies and James K.A. Smith’s remarkable dialogue with Willie James Jennings and Oliver O’Donovan in his Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology or his very astute observations in conversation with four other Christian political writers in Five Views on the Church and Politics edited by Amy Black, which brings into point-counterpoint conversations a Lutheran political orientation, a historic black church view, a Catholic social teaching perspective, and a Mennonite public witness.)

Decades ago one of my heros, Ron Sider, tried to start a political action committed that would raise funds for rare political birds that were consistently pro-life: against abortion, yes, but also against the death penalty, war, racism, pollution, anti-immigrant hostility, torture, and the ravaging deaths of the poor both here and abroad. Such radically nonviolent, pro-feminist/anti-racist/abolitionist sort of pro-lifers do not find a home in any current political party.

To be serious about the ways of Jesus, if principles and values like those in Jesus Takes a Side were to be planks in a political movement, it would necessarily be a wildly alternative social ethic, different from conventional politicians from any typical political spectrum. Which is to say, when some of us argue for a “third way” in does not intend to conjure a view that is merely moderate and middle (even though it seems to me that one of the civic principles of the way of Jesus would be to find common ground and be civil and kind, seeking understanding; as Gandhi used to say, I don’t want to defeat my enemy, but I want to make him my friend.) 

Rashid and this vibrant new book pushes back against lingo of “third way” (even calling it a “lie” in one chapter) and I appreciate it insofar as he is pushing back against a milquetoast, moderate sort of mediocre witness that mostly doesn’t want to upset the apple cart. The view that is so impeccable in seeing all sides that it ends up not taking any stands, that is so abstract that it misses the forest for the trees. His warning about such high-minded abstraction in policy debates is vital, and comes, clearly, from a guy who is situated among those in the ruins. That helps.

Yet, if we take seriously the plea of this remarkable new book about “embracing the political demands of the gospel” it will look very different from anything we’ve seen in US political history; it will not be centrist, but will consistently stand graciously with the oppressed and hurting, making it a new way.  It will be like Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President, perhaps — I think Jonny would be glad for the connection to that book. No one should advocate some boring centrist space driven by fear of offending anyone. I am often haunted by Nelson Mandela’s line “I do not want my chains made more bearable, I want them removed!” Yes!

Maybe we should find something different to call such a movement, avoiding the “third way” lingo; fine. But if our rootedness is in Jesus, primarily, then we are not fundamentally loyal to ideologies of the right or the left and we are not ultimately loyal to red or blue parties. As black preacher Tony Evans once said, when Jesus comes back, he won’t be riding an elephant or a donkey. Right?  And so, read Jonny Rashid and know deeply that Jesus takes sides. We simply must “embrace the political demands of the gospel” starting, at least, in our own congregations, learning to be allies and advocates for communities who have been marginalized. Circle of Hope has done this and their pastor has learned much to help us in this journey. Highly recommended.

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More narrative non-fiction, history, expose, well-written, informative works. ALL 20% OFF from Hearts & Minds

We’re glad folks appreciated the long review I did last week of Bill McKibben’s study of what has happened in recent decades in his memoir The Flag, the Cross and the Station Wagon. My couple of paragraphs before the review (and the handful of other titles I listed at the end of the column) extolled the benefit of well-written nonfiction, investigative reporting, creative looks at stuff we can learn. It is part of our calling, we think, to share with you a handful of important and impressively done books.

My older brother sent me a tee-shirt a few years ago that was pretty funny and I put it on to write this column. It says, “I read books and I know things — it’s what I do.”  Ha. Is it what you do? 

(If only we could remember all we learn in the many books we read, right?)

Delightfully written and graciously artful telling of powerful stories about stuff that matters helps us not only “know things” in the simple sense, but it changes how we view and lean into life. As one reviewer of one of the books we commend, below, put it,

“Step up into this book, which like all great books, leads us to the center of something of great importance.”

As our friend Mary McCampbell explores in Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy, narrative art can increase our ability to care, make us deeper, even more kind. So can other nonfiction works if they are compelling enough. As I’ve said, we can enjoy and even be entertained by a nonfiction study if it is finely rendered and a page-turner. Such even academic reading can be transforming.

I offer this column also to illustrate that we really enjoy selling these sort of books — and, I guess, just to remind you that we here at Hearts & Minds carry all sorts of titles, not just religious or theologically-oriented books. (And can can order almost anything for you.) After the last BookNotes post, I wanted to highlight a handful of other immersive, stimulating nonfiction works. We do some of the heavy lifting for you by curating a selection, and offering titles here that we think are well worth your time and hard-earned cash. We are grateful that you appreciate our efforts and take seriously our suggestions. Here are some more we recommend, in no particular order, which we’d love for you to order from us. A few are on my own “to-read” stack and I can’t wait.  Let’s go learn some things!

America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization 1794 – 1911  Mark A. Noll (Oxford University Press) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

Allow me to say from the start that which most likely doesn’t need saying to our astute customers, but just in case you aren’t aware: professor Mark Noll is an esteemed emeritus history professor at The University of Notre Dame. He is a moderate in tone and social agenda, a thoughtful evangelical, and while this book is a studious exploration (almost 850 pages!) of the relationship of the Bible in early and mostly 19th century US history, it in no way would be aligned with what we call “Christian nationalists.” It isn’t even a study of that, although the question (about which Noll has spilled plenty of cautious ink) of whether the US was founded as a Christian nation looms large, then and now. Noll is impeccable and the most preeminent historian working with evangelical convictions in the religious convictions of American history. This book is not simplistic nor does its publication have anything directly to do with the modern Christian right. Just so you know.

We have long stocked most of Professor Noll’s important books, some on somewhat popular level publishing houses and those on the world’s leading academic presses (like this one.) This sweeping and epic study recounting the public role of the Bible in the US basically from the beginning of the republic through the early twentieth century is “a complex and fascinating story with measured judgement and penetrating insights” (according to George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War.”) He claim that Noll is “attuned to ironies and silences but is also deeply respectful of the human struggle with both scriptures and culture.”  It is, Rable tells us, both full of original research and an impressive project synthesizing others work.

My instinct when ordering this was that it may be what some will consider Mark Noll’s magnum opus since he has written much — often scholarly monograms, smaller hardbacks sometimes major, thick works, on everything from the role of the Bible in the earliest days of Europeans living in the so-called new world to the Founding Fathers to the theological problem and implications of the Ciivil War. I was not surprised to see an important scholar such as Candy Gunther Brown say that,

America’s Book shines as the magnum opus of arguably the most eminent historian of American Christianity of the past century.”

Dr. Brown continues, “This magisterial volume is the authoritative study of how the Bible and American national history shaped each other. Meticulously researched, compellingly argued, and masterfully written, it belongs on every serious reader’s shelf.”

Considered a landmark volume, another critic said “reviewers will run out of superlatives.”  Yet another insisted that “Everyone interested in American religion must reckon with this book.”  How can we not try to promote it here and sell it to you? It’s certainly one of the most important works in this field in our lifetimes. And we have it right here in Dallastown.

Brothers on Three: A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana Abe Streep  (Celadon Books) $28.99      OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

In my previous BookNotes I named Eliza Griswold as a great non-fiction writer. (I even have a blurb on the back of her Pulitzer Prize-winning Amity and Prosperity, and not a few readers have said how her Tenth Parallel changed how they viewed the geopolitics of world.) When she wrote that this Abe Streep book was “meticulously reported and exquisitely written” and a “masterwork of immersive journalism” I knew we’d want to carry it.

Another reviewer, Debra Magpie Earling (author of Parma Red), said it was a “heart-stopping, heart-stomping read.” She continues saying that it is “Unsentimental. Unforgettable. Astonishing. Brothers on Three captures the roar of a community spirit powered by blood history, loyalty, and ferocious love.” 

Here again is our hero Bill McKibben, quite the journalist himself, who has come to great solidarity and friendship with indigenous peoples:

Occasionally a sports team can reflect a community in all its complexity and beauty. The Arlee Warriors played with enormous grace under pressure, and this superb book — by being honest, real, and reflective — mirrors and honors that strength. You will not soon forget it.  — Bill McKibben, author of The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon.

But get this — a reviewer who says better what I’ve tried to say about good nonfiction works of this sort:

Beautiful. Extraordinary. Step up into this book, which like all great books leads us to the center of something of great importance. Who deserves a place in Montana, or for that matter, a place in America? To be not just the writer who wrote this book, but the person who could write this book, and ask these questions, took a sublime amount of humility and grace. Long live Arlee, its elders and its children. They bring honor to our world. — Bob Shacochis, recipient of the National Book Award, author of Kingdoms in the Air and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City Kent Babb (HarperOne) $27.99    OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

One of my wife Beth’s favorite nonfiction reads is a story set in a mill-town in Western Pennsylvania, Aliquippa, and its legendary sports teams. It is a riveting social history of mills and immigration, race and culture, economics and, yes, sports. Football, especially. Playing  Through the Whistle is considered by some to be one of the great nonfiction books of recent decades and one of the great high school sports books ever.

We wondered if Across the River will become as respected, as beloved, as enduring as that and we suspect it will. It is a story about the poor New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers, set on the West bank of the Mississippi, which, as the author puts it, is “short on hope but big on dreams.” The gun violence is horrific and the Karr High School 2019 season is tense and deeply freighted. It has been called a classic of sports journalism, but obviously, is much, much more — you will learn about mentoring in tough circumstances, about urban life, about resilience. If you are like me, you may not want to read a football book in the heat of summer, but you should buy it now.

I’m not kidding about how esteemed it is. It has been called “deft” and eloquent”, “masterful” and “essential.”  Check out these amazingly good blurbs:

This is the story the country needs to read–raw, expertly told, stripped of political agendas and preconceived notions. This is not a story about football, but about what football can mean. — Michael Rosenberg, senior writer, Sports Illustrated

At the Karr High School introduced to us by Kent Babb there is the expression, ‘Give Em The Real.’ This book is ‘the real.’ It’s as real as birth and death and all the heartache in between. Through Babb’s eyes, the story of Karr football is so much more than a sports book. This is the other America that too many people don’t know – or care to know – exists. — Dave Zirin, sports editor, The Nation

A literary masterpiece. Lyrically written and deeply reported, Across the River reads like a gripping, can’t-put-it-down novel. — Lars Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of The Mannings and Chasing the Bear

There is no better storyteller in the country than Kent Babb. Period. I’ve never learned more about the fabric of one of America’s greatest cities than I did in this book. — Ian Rapoport, NFL Network Insider

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach That Starts in Your Yard Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press) $29.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.96

We have number of nature books, bird books, books about trees, books about animals, books about caring for your place, like the wonderful Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace by Christi Purifoy (not to mention her beautiful, full color hardback, Garden Maker: Growing a Life of Beauty and Wonder with Flowers.) So many lovely titles.

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach… is notably a handbook and practical guide for yard care but it is a real joy to peruse — the full color photos are great. A customer we respect encouraged us to promote Douglas Tallamy’s earlier Bringing Nature Home a few years ago since it is both visionary about ecological sustainability and the joy of caring for creation, but also packed with solid information and guidance for planting the right stuff. 

This new one goes even further, even as it backs up and explains more of his philosophy and plan for interconnected “wildlife corridors.” Many animal species are struggling because of the disappearance of native plants. You know what comes next — the whole eco-thing gets out of whack and the demise of this creature hurts that one, which impacts another and effects us all. Tallamy’s very informative guidance in how to plant native species is fascinating and righteous. If you are worried about the planet, he says, “change starts in your backyard.” Homeowners have to take environmental action into their own hands, as he puts it, “one yard at a time.”

Richard Louv (whose books we also carry) calls the author “a quiet revolutionary and hero of our time.” Elizabeth Kolbert (author of The Sixth Extinction) says, “Tallamy lays out all you need to know to participate in one of the great conservation projects of our time.” 

As one fan of the book and its ideas noted, this is “one area where individual action really can help makeup for all that government fails to do: your backyard can provide the margin to keep species alive.”

The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe Matthew Gabriele & David M Perry (Harper) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

This is not the only new history of the Middle Ages, but the title may be the most clever (or in your face if you still call that era of the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas and the legal reforms of Charlemagne “the dark ages.”)  And it has been called “incandescent and intoxicating” and “lively and searing” so it’s the sort of nonfiction that we want — not dry arcane tomes. 

Many people have a natural curiosity about this fascinating era — before the secular Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation, but long past the era of the Greeks, Romans, and the early church. Whether it is a life-changing trip to the Cloisters in New York or youthful reading of the King Arthur stories or just a few too many viewing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this era has captured our imaginations. One of my favorite reads — not super scholarly and wonderfully written like all his “Hinges of History” series like the famous one, How the Irish Saved Civilization — is Thomas Cahill’s Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World. When I saw this new Bright Ages one, I knew we had to carry it.

Considered deeply responsible, this new approach insists that the medieval world was “neither a romantic wonderland nor a deplorable dungeon.” 

Matthew Gabriele is a professor of medieval studies and chair of the department of religion and culture at Virginia Tech. He is the author of the book An Empire of Memory: The Legend of Charlemagne, the Franks, and Jerusalem before the First Crusade, many articles on medieval Europe and the memory of the Middle Ages. David Perry is a journalist, medieval historian, and senior academic advisor in the history department at the University of Minnesota. He was formerly a professor of history at Dominican University. Perry is the author of Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, and his writing on history, disability, politics, parenting, and other topics has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Nation, the Atlantic… They really seem to illustrate what we’re sharing in this particular BookNotes post — top notch scholars who can write really well and draw you in to the story they are tell, the stuff they are teaching. Intoxicating!

I loved these comments from the Slate review, and then one from the Boston Globe:

While all of this is the sort of stuff that professional medievalists love to see, the thing I like most about Perry and Gabriele’s effort is that it is fun. The Bright Ages is written in such an engaging and light manner that it is easy to race through. I found myself at the end of chapters faster than I wanted to be, completely drawn in by the narrative. You can tell how much the authors love the subject matter, and that they had a great time choosing stories to share and evidence to consider.  Slate

Incandescent and ultimately intoxicating, for as the chapters progress, it dawns on the reader that those who lived in this period were more conventional than cardboard figures… They were, in essence, human.  — Boston Globe

Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women Alissa Wilkinson (Broadleaf Books) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

I was not sure I should include this terrific new book on this list of nonfiction works since Wilkinson is, I suppose, an essayist, not a journalist, and the very title of this book suggests it has “lessons.” That sort of polemical or instruction or inspirational book is standard fare for us here at BookNotes and I surely could list this along with other titles of witty self-help stuff, or even applied theology and embodied spirituality. Sure. But there is so much fascinating content here about famous (or not so famous) women – and their favorite foods and cocktail recipes – that this imagined gathering around a table with a group of extraordinary woman really does seem almost like a hilariously fun and solid documentary.

Alissa herself is a writer with a story – homeschooled in a religious home that didn’t watch TV or movies, she became a Manhattan college teacher at a Christian institution and became a somewhat controversial film critic for Christianity Today. Still a film critic and feisty writer (for Vox) Wilkinson’s project here is classic: who would you invite to a fictional dinner party. Dead or alive, who would it be?

I wonder how many other writers have attempted to write books like this that were turned down? How many were less interesting or too driven by some agenda of what you’d learn from said dinner guests? I almost cringe at the thought. But yet, it is a fun party game, isn’t it?

Alissa Wilkinson is one sharp thinker and so I want to know who she’s inviting, and why. (And, boy, was I surprised in glancing through the table of contents.) Her earlier book (written with poltical theorist and public theologian Robert Joustra on how the philosophy of Charles Taylor might give us insight into zombie movies and how that might help us be better citizens (take a breath and read that again) called How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World. So, yes, she is an amazingly curious person and if anybody can do a book like this, for fun and education, it is she.

I love the comments of Lauren Winner, which ring true even before I start this clever volume:

Ostensibly, this book introduces you to nine women — nine amazing women, who all have something to teach about food and about life. Here we heard Laurie Colin’s wisdom about imperfection and vulnerability (and lentils) and here we hear from May Angelous about hope and truth (and hot dogs.) But, it is Alissa Wilkinson herself — the host of this dinner party and the author of this book — who turns out to be the most vivacious presence, It’s not nine companions this book offers; crucially, it offers ten.

Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives And On the Health of Our Nation Linda Villarosa (Doubleday) $30.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

When I saw this described in an advanced review source I knew it sounded important. The more we heard about it, the more important it seemed. Novelist Jacqueline Woodson said it is “groundbreaking, as brilliant as it is timely.” One prominent reviewer called it “brilliant, illuminating.” The New York Times Book Review called it “singular, expansive, eminently admirable.”

We wanted to stock it in our medical ethics area for local docs and health care providers to spot and also in our large section about racism. It’s just that important. It belongs on this list in this BookNotes column because it is not only vital stuff we need to learn, but, by all accounts, it is a rip-roaring read, a page-turner. It is empathetic, full of stories, sharp-sighted journalism and, powerfully, some of her own story. I have pondered the art on the cover, even, even though I”m not drawn to it.

I’ll let the blurbs on the back of Under the Skin explain why we are eager to recommend it.

Linda Villarosa, one of our fiercest and most cutting-edge journalists, has given us a classic for the ages. Through engrossing stories of people’s real experiences and her signature rigorous reporting, she reveals the biggest picture in American life–that racism has done us all in, and produced a nation so steeped in white supremacy mythology that we cannot take care of ourselves or each other. This book is a gift, a map and a necessity, relevant for every reader who wants to understand their own time. — Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show

It’s no secret that Black people are subject to the cumulative effects of systemic racism. But Linda Villarosa’s Under the Skin walks us through the inevitable consequences of living in a racist country on our bodies, our environments, and our healthcare system. The cultural manifestations of the physical and psychological traumas affecting Black People alter or distort all our lives. Those of us who understand that structural violence has physical ramifications will be in debt to Under the Skin. I am grateful for the arrival of this book. It is a relief to have the truth of racialized trauma exposed in such cogent, undeniable writing and with such genius analysis. This is journalism at its finest. If you read one book this year, let it be this one.  — Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen

In Under the Skin, Linda Villarosa has written a book that will transform how you understand the relationship between race and medicine, one that makes clear the connection between our history and our health. This is a book filled with indispensable research, but also filled with humanity. Villarosa tells us important stories, and also becomes part of the story herself. I’m so glad this book exists, I will be thinking about it for a long time.  — Clint Smith, author of How the Word Is Passed

Black Hands White House: Slave Labor and the Making of America Renee K. Harrison (Fortress Press) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I promised that this list will suggest only the most interesting, well-written, illuminating works of serious nonfiction. I have not spent as much time with this as I need to, but I will say that it is heavy, if not daunting.  At 375 pages it is a hefty (and well made) volume. As Fortress likes to say, it is “scholarship that matters.” Indeed.

One can only take so much horrible data but the facts in Black Hands White House are urgent to know and, in Renee Harrison’s good hands, the story is told with care and insight. Georgetown University historian Terrence Johnson said she writes with “clarity, precision, and agility.” And, yes, there is stuff about a “hermeneutical shift in the nation’s origin story” so it isn’t simplistic or simple. Still, it offers the sort of research that Bill McKibben’s The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon implores us to explore. It is a major academic work  — how long did it take her to learn all this? — so many of our most meaningful public and civic spaces were built from “the stolen days, and cemented by the stolen sweat, of enslaved African Americans.” It explores the building of the White House and the Capitol building as well as Jefferson Monticello and Washington’s Mount Vernon and other federal sites and memorials.

As Edward Baptist (of Cornell University and author of the seminal The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism) says, “Harrison shows us that the presence of enslaved labor at the heart of the United States tells us truths that we must confront with honesty, and with the commitment to repair. 

Part of the repair she calls for is a specific proposal for some national monument on the National Mall about this. As the publisher explains, “Given the enslaved community’s contribution to the US, this work questions the absence of memorials on the National Mall that honor enslaved, Black-bodied people. Harrison argues that such monuments are necessary to redress the nation’s role in forced migration, violent subjugation, and free labor. The erection of monuments commissioned by the US government would publicly demonstrate the government’s admission of the US’s historical role in slavery and human-harm.

Dr. Harrison, who is a professor of US religious history at Howard University, opens the book with a story of a “walkabout” as she calls it. What a good story comes from it! 

A Supreme Love: The Music of Jazz and the Hope of the Gospel William Edgar (IVP) $24.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I hesitated to list this one here for one main reason: it arrived a few hours ago and I haven’t had a chance to look at it for more than a few minutes. But, believe me, I’m excited. Even if you don’t listen a lot to the classic sounds of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, or Louis Armstrong — let alone modern jazz — this book is going to be a thrill and an education.

I don’t want to give the impression that, like some titles here, it is a scholarly tome. It isn’t on the IVP Academic imprint and is written for a general audience, by a music historian, theologian, popular culture scholar, and — yes! — a real jazzman. Professor Edgar has played piano in a jazz ensemble for years, and has from time to time done a stunning show which incorporates classic black music — old blues, early jazz and ragtime, and gospel — even as he lectures on the topics that finally have now made their way into a book. We’ve been waiting for years for this great contribution to the ongoing conversation about faith and culture.

Bill knows more about black music history than most and has pieced it together within a thoughtful Christian framework more wisely and astutely than anyone. As many have noted, he knows it because he has studied it as a scholar, he’s lived it — and the gospel of racial reconciliation — as a follower of Christ, and he’s lived it, man, as a real jazz player, hot musician, an artist. He gets it.

This marevlous book will need to be more carefully reviewed. For now, be the first in your circles to learn this stuff — we have it at 20% off, too.  Oh yeah!

Here are three blurbs on the back from there people who, if you know anything about the serious engagement of Christian faith and the arts and music, you know this is remarkable. Wow.

In my musician mind there has always been a deep connection between jazz, musical improvisation, and the disciple life. To risk the creation of improvised music armed with only imagination and talent is to dive right in to the center of grace. It’s in the grace of God through Jesus that the musician finds peace, receives love that casts out fear, and learns to trust the reconciling power of the gospel to turn every misspent note into a glorious tool of orchestration. I simply don’t know of any contemporary who has mined this field more than Bill Edgar. With A Supreme Love, the gifted Dr. Edgar invites all readers from every vocation to experience what he’s known and taught for decades now: Jesus and jazz are inextricably linked. — Charlie Peacock, Grammy Award-winning music producer and founder of the commercial music program at Lipscomb University

For many years, Bill Edgar has been a leading figure in the music and theology world. Here he shows how deeply intertwined jazz is with the Christian gospel. But not only does he have an impressive grasp of his subject, he is a practitioner par excellence. This double qualification means that anything he writes deserves to be listened to with special care. –Jeremy Begbie, Duke University, author of Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music

Jazz pianist Professor Edgar shows convincingly how jazz is rooted in the African American Black experience of daily persecuted suffering and Sunday jubilation. The biblical faith of spirituals and the psalm-like lament of blues constitute the very fiber of jazz. That is why jazz music can move from expressing deep misery to ending with sounds of inextinguishable joy. This well-written book has verve, is effortlessly informed, and offers a treasury of websites and books for anyone who wishes to understand and enjoy the gift of jazz. — Calvin Seerveld, professor emeritus of philosophical aesthetics at the Toronto Institute for Christian Studies. author of Rainbows for the Fallen World

The History of Contemporary Praise and Worship: Understanding the Ideas That Reshaped the Protestant Church  Lester Ruth & Lim Sweet Hong (Baker Academic) $44.99            OUR SALE PRICE = $35.99

This was released near the end of last year and I quickly listed it as one of the Best Books of 2021. I think I’ll share bit of what I wrote then about it:

I have had a few intellectual mentors even if I suspect they’d say that wasn’t so, as I didn’t offer them the rapt attention they deserved. One was a Dutch neo-Calvinist that studied philosophy under Herman Dooyeweerd in Amsterdam; another was R.C. Sproul, then a youngish “old Princeton” Calvinist who was, to my ears, just about the smartest person I ever met. I had a college prof who was important to me — he taught geography and I was surprisingly captivated. Each of them said, emphatically, that whenever one is seriously approaching a topic it is important to study the history and development of that topic. To have true insight and a solid analysis of something going on, one must know the context, which includes the rise and influence of the ideas and forces that shaped it. We don’t sell many books on the history of this or that here at the store, but when I notice an astute one, my heart pounds a little.

My heart pounded alot when I heard about this, even more when I first saw it earlier this year — a solid, serious hardback. And then I sighed, worried that those who need this most, to understand the background and history of contemporary praise and worship as it is often understood (by those who approve and those who do not) and practice it, will be unlikely to shell out this much for a complex, if exciting, account of this topic as it developed in the past 50 some years or so.

It is simply astonishing that a book like this, rich and wise and detailed and interesting, has not yet been done. (And there are some that attempt this, or that do it in bits and pieces. These two authors, in fact, have a rough guide from about five years ago called Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship that was published by Abingdon Press.)

A History of Contemporary Praise and Worship, in all 345 pages, does what no book has done and we commend it heartily. As my old influencers said, knowing the history of things that have reshaped our world, for better or for worse, is the first major step of being wise. The book is, by all accounts, the most comprehensive account yet given of the history of the development of “the liturgical forms that reshaped the landscape of Christian worship.”

The story is fascinating, starting in 1946 and quickly moving into the era 1965 – 1985. The two largest units are on “praise and worship” and “contemporary worship” and the final section explored the late 1990’s “new normal” and the confluence of the two.

Lester Ruth got his PhD from the University of Notre Dame and is now a research professor of Christian Worship at Duke Divinity School. Lim See Hong, who is native to Singapore is a Professor of Sacred Music at Emmanuel College of Victoria University at the University of Toronto.They are both astute, Godly, lively scholars and practitioners who care about the health of God’s diverse people in Christ’s diverse church.

Listen to Melanie Ross, who grew up in an evangelical church doing music ministry and now teaches liturgics at Yale Divinity School; she has written books comparing and contrasting the liturgy, music, and worship in several nondenominational/free churches and higher-liturgical congregations. She knows much about all of this and she extols the book, saying:

The story of contemporary praise & worship is fascinating and complex, and Ruth and Lim follow its twists and turns with historical precision, theological sophistication, and wondrous clarity. This book is a remarkable achievement. It will remain the standard work of reference on evangelical and Pentecostal worship for years to come.

And listen carefully to John Witvliet of the beloved Calvin Institute on Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, who is always worth listening to:

What a remarkably rich and thought-provoking account of the people and the convictions that have directly or indirectly shaped the worship practices of millions of Christians in several quite different traditions. Those who remember the people or events described here may well be astonished to see the contours of the larger story in which they played a part. This is a book that will help us slow down and listen attentively, a crucial task for anyone who is called to discern the nature of vital, faithful worship practices in the years to come, including Christians from traditions that seem at first not to be influenced by the worlds described here.

The Plateau Maggie Paxson (Riverhead Books) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This book got lost in the pandemic quarantine seasons and I am sure if we were out at events, or had browsers in our Dallastown shop, we’d have sold a few. It is beautifully written, and a compelling story, very informative and, in the words of one back cover blurb, is “exquisite, excruciating, fearless – a book not only for these times, when our need for understanding is so great, but for all times. A masterpiece.”

You see, this woman takes us on her own “wondrous, probing journey” in search of kindness and where and how it happens. (She is a professional anthropologist and knows well the vast amount of research done on war and violence and conflict; she tires of it, wondering why there isn’t more research on where and why goodness appears.) The book ends up revisiting a story and following the later generations) that was once told in Philip Hallie’s unforgettable Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There. In that book, Hallie makes his way to Le Chambon and discovers the church pastored by Andre Trocme and his wife, and how they welcomed and protected Jews during the Nazi holocaust. How did this Reformed pastor come to teach nonviolence and resistance to evil and how did the people in this common village respond as they did, putting their own lives above others?

Maggie Paxson takes us to Le Chambon today, wondering how the grandchildren of those who resisted Hitler are faring today. The answer? Today they are offering hospitality to the influx of refugees and immigrants in Europe and, again, standing for goodness. As did their grandparents and, we find out, as did those in this French area centuries before (even resisting the Crusades!)  The Plateau is a less religious story that Hallie’s was, but the legacy of the Trocme family has somehow endured. This is a book that some have said has “effected me in ways few books ever have.” Highly recommended. 

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation     Imani Perry (Ecco Press) $28.99                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

Like other titles on this list this is what some call narrative nonfiction, written somewhat as a memoir or autobiographical sketch, reporting and ruminating from various trips taken to the American Southland, with lots to observe, lots to learn, much to appreciate, and even more to ponder. Written by a passionate and powerful black author, we are taught much, even as she observes and teaches so much. From her explorations of West Virginia Appalachia to how the enslaved found safe haven in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina (and how archeologist are still finding artifacts and tools from this generational, unnoticed community) to her curiosity about whether DC, or even Maryland, is really “the south” and then her journeys to the very deep South, we are brought along on a passionate, slow, jaunt. Her teaching about HBCU while visiting Howard is fabulous. Her writing about Annapolis is brilliant. I still have a few chapters to go — there is great depth of insight here, historical tangents, luminous prose, so I am going slowly, one chapter a night… One the face of it South to America is a really well-written travelogue; another reviewer said it is a “tour-de-force reckoning.”

For what it is worth, you will really appreciate this if you have read Lisa Sharon Harper’s important Fortune. There are even some overlaps with that narrative as Ms. Perry wonders with such longing and passion, about her old enslaved relatives from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Importantly, it seems like she is flipping the script, as they say, subverting the notion that there is just one or two primary views or archetypes of the South. It is amazing, teaching us so very, very much.

Please read and ponder these thoughtful endorsements from various reviewers:

Any attempt to classify this ambitious work, which straddles genre, kicks down the fourth wall, dances with poetry, engages with literary criticism and flits from journalism to memoir to academic writing–well, that’s a fool’s errand and only undermines this insightful, ambitious and moving project…. An essential meditation on the South, its relationship to American culture–even Americanness itself…. This work — and I use the term for both Perry’s labor and its fruit — is determined to provoke a return to the other legacy of the South, the ever-urgent struggle toward freedom. — Tayari Jones, The New York Times Book Review

Provocative, perspective-shifting…. Rendered in exquisite detail…. In this vibrant, revelatory book, Perry proves herself to be a radiant storyteller…like Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Nina Simone before her. — Oprah Daily

Perry is deft and disciplined, her efforts to situate the beauty, oddity, and terror that mark southern life are critical and compelling. As a travel writer, she embraces detours with an eye toward discovery…. Perry asks what it means to be tied to a ‘land of big dreams and bigger lies’ when one is committed to the pursuit of a truth that bursts the nation at its seams. — Vulture

South to America marks time like Beloved did. Similarly, we will talk not solely of books about the south, but books generally as before or after South to America. I have known and loved the South for four decades and Imani Perry has shown me that there is so much more in our region’s fleshy folds to know, explore and love. It is simply the most finely crafted and rigorously conceived book about our region, and nation, I have ever read. — Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

Fulfillment: America in the Shadow of Amazon Alec MacGillis (Picador) $18.00                              OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

This is another one of these immersive journalistic stories that takes you all over the country, into the histories and backgrounds of places as different as small towns in Texas to the most posh neighborhoods of DC, from the crisp boardrooms of tech startups in the Silicon Valley to the industrial grim of hard working union guys in the huge Bethlehem Steel plant in Fells Point, outside of Baltimore (now an Amazon warehouse.) The local color is spectacularly rendered in Fulfillment and readers will be drawn into the cultures, economies, ups and downs, hopes and dreams, of various sorts of people – rich, poor, successful, forlorn, upbeat and angry – in various regions of the country. All revolve around and come back to (eventually, even if you have to hang in there a bit to see the connections, like an unfolding mystery novel or cop show) the shift to a one-click, on-line, faceless, automatized, mass market economy that has shifted the fabric of our lives and, almost always, has Jeff Bezos and Amazon at its center. 

For instance, there is a fascinating section – perhaps a bit nostalgic for anyone older than 25 and certainly interesting for almost anyone who has shopped anyway other than online –  about the rise of department stores and the segue to shopping centers and the eventual development of malls. (Remember malls?) MacGillis grounds his big picture analysis always in a place, and I was jumping out of my chair and yelling to Beth to “come listen to this!” when I realized he has a whole chapter about various businesses and the several malls in York, PA. He talked about our Queensgate Shopping Center, four miles from us, for crying out loud, and explored the rise of central PA shopping centers and retailers (Boscovs! The Bon Ton!) I don’t have to explain that the takeover of nearly everything by Amazon has contributed directly to the demise of real retail stores and the disruption of local economies and ruin of whole industries and locales and livelihoods. That they get gigantic tax breaks and are paid by municipalities and state and federal grants to open their grueling warehouses is well known although few crunch the numbers to show how Bezos et al our laughing their way to the banks, making a killing taxpayers expense.

MacGillis studies these things always using the structure/genre of reporting from the field, from real places. From the Latino businesses in Texas that specialize in business paper supplies to our central Pennsylvania clothing retailers to certain towns – all over – that have become shipping hubs and interstate trucking spots, to the posh Amazon lobbying offices in DC, Fulfillment offers remarkable glimpses into 21century life in these United States, in this economy, in these days. It is (as the New York Times Book Review put it) “Deeply humanizing… a picture of contemporary America.” I couldn’t put this down and it gave me many hours of fabulous reading. Highly recommended.

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains Kerri Arsenault (St. Martin’s Griffin) $17.99                       OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I admit to not realizing or thinking about how Maine is one of the primary locations for the dangerous logging industry and I admit I came to learn this when I read Dopesick, the riveting book about opioids, addiction, and the new century heroin crisis. Part of that powerful nonfiction study was made into the award-winning Netflix show by the same name. As the TV show and the book document, the Sackler company that aggressively marketed OxyContin firstly in two places where the people were often injured at work but had to keep working: coal miners in Appalachian West Virginia and loggers in Maine. And, naturally, in the nearby paper-mills.

This stunning read is called Mill Town but it is not quite like other books on steel mills and rustbelt plants and those working in the fading industrial factories. It is about a paper-mill in the working-class town of Mexico, Maine.

Mill Town is written with great affection, as the best exposes must be, and a “vividly human personal narrative uncovering a heartbreaking story that could be told in countless American towns, along countless American rivers.” There is pollution, there are cancer clusters. Some readers will wonder if there would be an Erin Brockovich type character. This reckoning is not that simple but it offers a remarkable tribute to a place that the author so loves. And we learn a lot in the meantime. This really is narrative nonfiction at its finest.

Mill Town is the book of a lifetime; a deep-drilling, quick-moving, heartbreaking story. Scathing and tender, it lifts often into poetry, but comes down hard when it must. Through it all runs the river: sluggish, ancient, dangerous, freighted with America’s sins. —Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

Part beautiful memoir and regional history, part investigative journalism, part environmental diatribe countered by a poetic ode to place. In short, it’s a fraught love letter to that fragile American entity, the small, rural, working-class town….Arsenault’s prose shines…She has done immense and important research and delivered an engaging tale that deserves a close read.” — Stephanie Hunt, The Post and Courier (Charleston)

Unbroken and Unbowed: A History of Black Protest Jimmie R. Hawkins (WJK) $30.00            OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

When a book is touted as having “astonishing ambition richly fulfilled” (and the person who wrote that line is the excellent writer Timothy Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name) you know you have to notice. Having grown up with that black-gloved hand raised at the 68 Olympics, with the disastrous but understandable revolt inside Attica (about which there is a huge and hugely informative book called ), and having learned early on that the Black Panthers did much good in their community before their gun-toting public image distorted the nature of their primary work, I  have long wanted a book about this topic, placing black protests and revolts and uprisings in a broader, organized history, and this book seems to do what no other book I know does. 

From slave revolts to Jim Crow-era resistance, from CORE to SNCC to William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign to various iterations of BLM, there is a rich and fascinating and important history of black protest.

This is the best volume on the subject, just published, written by the Director of the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA.) He is ordained in the PC(USA) so we are particularly proud to recommend this seemingly comprehensive chronicle of 500 years of outrage, organizing, and bearing witness to the hope for a better world.

What Your Food Ate: How To Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health David R. Mongomery & Anne Bikle (Norton) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

There are so many books explaining the need for and showing how we can reform our agricultural systems that it is hard to keep up. There are arcane academic ones, lovely inspiring ones, some with forwards by the likes of Wendell Berry, others with endorsements by high-end restaurateurs. From wise, outspoken foodies like Alice Waters and Dan Barber to food producers like Joel Salatin or Norman Wirzba and farmer activists like Gary Paul Nabhan (Jesus for Farmers and Fishers) there is so much.

We think this brand new one should be on any good shelf of these sorts of vital books. It is, granted, mostly about the kind of soil in which our food grows, so it is, as the subtitle suggests, about the relationship of land (literally) and our health.  But it isn’t just for agronomists. Paul Hawken says it is sure to become a classic and Emeran Mayer (author of The Mind Gut Connections) says it is “authoritative, informative and entertaining.” When a book can be eye-opening and called “stunningly good” we figured it’s one you should know about.

Dave Chapman, cofounder of the impressive Real Organic Project, says the old adage, “eat whole foods from healthy soil” is still essential. “This book,” he says, “gives us a riveting expose on why that is true.”

Gabe Brown, who wrote another great book we’ve carried, From Dirt to Soil, says  What Your Food Ate is “a must-read for farmers, ranchers, eaters, and scientists.” Okay, then.

The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America Michelle Wilde Anderson (Avid Reader Press) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00 

This may be a bit more scholarly than some are used to when thinking about civic engagement and social concern and the common good. It is not a handbook to activism or a guide to getting involved. But yet, it repays the time taken to work through it, I am sure, with deeper sensibilities about citizenship, about localism, about lifting up what is nearly a blueprint for reform. 

The author of The Fight to Save the Town is an esteemed and well loved professor at Stanford Law School. She has written widely in law journals and in the thoughtful popular press. Her area of research in this book, or at least what drew her into the topic, is how “decades of cuts to local government amid rising concentrations of poverty have wreaked havoc on communities left behind by the modern economy. Forty years after the anti-tax revolution began protecting the wealthy taxpayers and their cities, our high-poverty cities and counties have run out of services to slash, properties to see, bills to defer, and risky loans to take.”

Some discarded places, she reminds us, are rural. Others are big cities or small cities or historic suburbs. “Some vote blue, others red. Some are them are the most diverse communities in America, while others are nearly all white, all Latino, or all Black. All are routinely trashed by outsiders for their poverty and their politics. Mostly, their governments are just broke.” 

This book offers a “unsparing, humanistic portrait” of the hardships left behind in four such places. But the four cities (Stockton, California, Josephine County, Oregon, Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Detroit, Michigan) are all doing things to help their places rebound. This, finally, is a story of good news, fresh thinking, positive models.  Matthew Desmond (author of the extraordinary Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City) says of the blueprint for reform, “This book pierced means left me inspired.”  Even Alec MacGillis (author of the above mentioned Fulfillment) says it is written with “empathy, analytical acuity, and highly readable prose.” 

Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and The Long Journey Home Lauren Kessler (Source Books) $26.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59 

I opened this at random and started skimming a few pages and it was simply captivating. It is immersion journalism and very urgent about real lives, but it seems, then, there is an emerging pattern, a bigger picture, an insightful vision written “with clarity and heart”  showing that we can work for real transformation for those who have been incarcerated and need to make a fresh start once they get out. The six lives this book tells us of just six of thousands that could be told. Anyone who knows anyone who has had a hard time with “reentry” into the mainstream culture after time incarcerated knows how very complicated and important this kind of resource could be. 

Alex Kotlowitz, the respected and caring journalist who has written such poignant, powerful stuff, says it is written with “tenderness and empathy.” 

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimaging Chronic Illness Meghan O’Rourke (Riverhead Books) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Since many of us know a bit about this topic of chronic pain and chronic illness (and now with long-haul Covid a reality among so many of us) we are committed to bringing important books on this topic into our store. We raved about the must-read story The Deep Places by Ross Douthat, about Lyme disease but so much more. We truly value those who tell their stories and tell them well.

The Invisible Kingdom is a book about this near silent epidemic of sufferers of a different tone and caliber. It is on the illustrious Riverhead imprint indicating, for starters, that it is serious and literary (if not exactly academic.) It is an account of her illness and is what one reviewer called a page-turner. There is beautiful writing and cutting edge science. Cathy Park Hong, author of the amazing Minor Feeling) says it is written with “poetic acuity.” Hong continues, “O’Rourke gives language to pain that eludes diagnosis. Bound to help countless patients overlooked by the medical industry, The Invisible Kingdom is also an astonishing must-read for anyone interested in how illness and suffering irrevocably change our sense of selfhood.”

Various reviewers have used superlatives, some saying that it is urgent, beautifully written, brilliant, and crucial. It is exactly this sort of serious, intelligent and important book we love to suggest for your reading.

In this elegant fusion of memoir, reporting, and cultural history, O’Rourke traces the development of modern Western medicine and takes aim at its limitations, advocating for a community-centric healthcare model that treats patients as people, not parts. At once a rigorous work of scholarship and a radical act of empathy, The Invisible Kingdom has the power to move mountains.  –Esquire

The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy: Weak Power, Great Power, Superpower, Hyperpower  Michael Mandelbaum (Oxford University Press) $34.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.96

One of the interesting things about university presses like Oxford’s is that their books are first vetted with peer-reviewed to assure the reliability and academic significance of their scholarship. It is one of the reasons texts from scholarly presses are so expensive.  Well, this work by this scholar would be recognized around the English speaking world and, at just over 600 pages, the book could be a lot of pricey. It is a book that surely deserves to be on any list of significant, well written, remarkable, recent nonfiction books.

Dr. Mandelbaum is a esteemed professor and scholar at Johns Hopkins and has published numerous highly regarded work. He has his distractors, of course, but even those who may not fully agree with his often provocative theses, respect him and remark on how important his books are.  This one, which I’ve been eyeing up for months, now, is surely one of his most acclaimed.  It has been called a sweeping masterpiece, elegant, accessible, readable. In this day and age of course it is something we must more deeply understand and grappled with. People of Christian faith will want to bring a certain sort of ethical framework to the study, of course, but this looks to be, in Susan Eisenhower’s estimation, “invaluable.”

Just listen to these impressive recommendations. Of course we want to suggest it our customers!

Michael Mandelbaum’s new book is a masterpiece. I am often asked what is the best single book to read to understand the grand sweep and history of American foreign policy, and I will now say that it is this book. Mandelbaum uniquely combines the depth and knowledge of the best historians and the breadth and imagination of the best political scientists. His organizing paradigm of the great ascent of America through its four successive ages of increasing power–coming at the end of that ascent and at the beginning of a new age of diminished power–should be fundamental and invaluable to future scholars, policy analysts, and concerned citizens. — James Kurth, Claude Smith Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Swarthmore College

The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy is a masterwork — a defining contribution to the most critical international debate of our time. It is essential for anyone concerned about world affairs. Mandelbäum’s analysis contains unique perspectives and new insights for understanding America’s role in today’s turbulent era. A profound searchlight on the past and a guidepost for the future, it combines rare scholarship with lucid relevance. Vital for both general readers and professionals. — Ralph Buultjens, Former Nehru Professor, University of Cambridge;  New York University

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“The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon” by Bill McKibben – ON SALE NOW at Hearts & Minds

I often say that one of the great joys of reading nonfiction is finding those books that are so educational and informative (making it well worth the investment of time and money) and so well written and engaging that they can also happily be called entertaining. Of course, a book doesn’t have to be funny to be considered entertainment, but the reading has to be nearly effortless, the writing so pleasant or curious or artful that it is not only intellectually enriching but fun. There are plenty of books like this — some of them quite serious, but just so compelling that they are page-turners, as riveting as any good mystery novel.

Memoirs are a genre that sort of cheats at this as they are not attempting (I don’t think) to instruct much and can be written as playfully or as luminously as the author can manage.  I learned a lot about Marsh’s life and passions and gained good insight about our times by reading his excellently written Evangelical Anxiety, for instance, but as intensely true as it was, as a memoir, it wasn’t didactic. The reading experience of taking up a memoir, or really good historical writing, can feel like fiction.

Investigative reporting or polemical studies can be righteous and yet dry; they can be vividly written and wrong. The sweet spot is when a book is hard to put down because you want to learn more and more, and that is often because the author explains things with such color and zest that it is a blast being schooled. Praise the Lord for authors who can be educational and artful, informative and colorful, true and gracious. These are the books that, finally, are less about data and facts but about shaping our worldviews. Reading a book like that leaves you changed for good. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Just think of the popularity and respect of esteemed works like Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer or Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth by Deborah Rienstra. Think of the captivating writing in Bryan Stevenson’s page-turn Just Mercy or the unforgettable All That She Carried by Tiya Miles or the Pulitzer Prize winning study of fracking in two small Western Pennsylvania towns, Amity and Prosperity by the great Eliza Griswold. I couldn’t put down the very thick Dopesick (Beth Macy) or the very thick Soul Full of Coal Dust (Chris Hamby) and I am still gob smacked by the eloquent prose in the brilliant collection of essays Thin Places by Jordan Kisner which is one of my favorite books of recent years. Curt Thompson can write about faith and neuroscience as if our souls depend on it. Len Sweet has more clever wit per page than any serious author I know. I’ve often shared the joy I find in the writing of Michael Eric Dyson, black-preacher-sociologist that he is. As I will say again shortly, I think James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere are on the short list of the books that most entertained and influenced me. Like Calvin Seerveld’s dense and artful Rainbows for the Fallen World I don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t read them and loved them so.

Whoa, sorry about all that; I couldn’t help myself. It’s hard to stop once I start listing wonderful books that deliver education and joy; good insight and good writing, gravitas with an aesthetic touch. I suppose I don’t have to convince you of this; you know what I’m talking about.

I would like to tell you about a book that I easily put in this category. It is about very important stuff, but conveyed in a pleasant and engaging way, teaching us much in only about 200 trim- sized pages. I suppose I kept turning the pages because I agreed with the author but even when I knew little about what he was writing about, I was captivated. I think this author is a modern hero, a fine, clear, writer, and his story is one I truly want to recommend to our Hearts & Minds friends and fans. Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce Bill McKibben of Middlebury, Vermont. I think the first book I read of his was the fascinating Age of Missing Information which contrasted a weekend spent with over 100 cable TV channels and a weekend of solitude in the woods; his most enjoyable was the tremendous Oil and Honey, about his activism against climate change and his rejuvenating retreat by learning about bees and beekeeping. His new, quite enjoyable, hugely important, quasi-memoir is The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened. Oh my, what a read.

The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened  Bill McKibben (Holt) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

The format of this memoir is, obviously, in three big parts. But first, why do I say “quasi-memoir”? I’ll leave aside if that is even a word, but the point is made clear in the beginning when McKibben wryly notes that the best memoirs have drama and adventure and pathos and since he grew up in a pretty ordinary, middle-class, stable family, was dealt a good hand and has had a fairly uninteresting life, his memoir, such as it is, is going to be more social history than gut-wrenching autobiography.

McKibben is a prolific author of great renown, actually, and he not only is a professor of note at Middlebury College in Vermont but has founded several environmental organizations. He has travelled the world. His campaigns to do MLK-type mass civil disobedience to try to stop dangerously polluting pipelines and his mobilizing even against the Obama White House is, frankly, quite thrilling and would be, for most, drama enough for several lifetimes, so he’s being a bit demure in suggesting that his life doesn’t have enough angst for a full-on memoir.  Maybe that will come later.

For now, though, he uses this storytelling format of recalling moments and eras of his life as a window to see other, bigger things. He has an agenda and it is to illuminate much about the last fifty years of US history and how patriotism, religion, and our consumerist way of life (rooted as we are in suburbs and automobiles) have shaped our culture and the world’s climate, how these things have themselves changed in recent decades, and need now to be reimagined and refined if we are going to rise to the occasion of being faithful in this day and age. That he is finally getting at how to more urgently and effectively mobilize to lower our carbon output and mitigate the disastrous climate change (of which he is an expert) should not surprise anyone who knows him. That he would do so with antidote and charm and a lovely survey of his own patriotism and faith, while not exactly surprising, is a writerly delight and makes for one tremendous book. I am not alone in suggesting this may be his best book yet. (And I’ve got The Bill McKibben Reader by my bedside!)

“Bill McKibben has written a great American memoir, using the prism of his own life to reflect on the most important dynamics in our society. Bill McKibben’s writing is poignant, engrossing and revealing. His message is a clarion call for a generation to understand what happened to their American Dream, and to fight for our common future.”  — Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us: How Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

THE FLAG

This is a fabulous couple of breezy chapters – not long — where McKibben shares his own passion for US history, especially colonial history. You see, he grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, and worked as a teen as one of those New England historical interpreters, wearing his tricorn hat and waxing eloquent about the shot heard round the world and the nearby Battle of Bunker Hill and Paul Revere’s famous ride. He knows that stuff cold and his retelling of it is vital, and with enough local color and backstory to make it captivating. In memoir fashion, he is telling us of his telling of it (a standard colonial-era joke, playing the board game Risk while waiting for the next crowd to arrive, his “half hour spiel” to “maybe one family with a couple of bored teenagers, maybe an entire bus of Japanese tourists” and holding out that hat” to collect tips, which was his summer job pay.) This respected scholar and activist-leader and New Yorker writer who is known around the world was a pimply faced kid wearing that three-sided cap and earning tips by sharing his passion for the great US revolution. I loved it, hearing of his love for our country and its founding story.

As McKibben puts it, “I came by my patriotism honestly.” He writes about the account the guides would deliver and the lasting influence of the basic importance of the story,

It was a clean and brave story, and, as I say, it has informed me ever since. The valor of standing up to unjust and arbitrary power seemed to me its clear and obvious moral. Indeed in the years that followed, as I read more deeply in American history, the importance of that stand sank further in.

I want to talk about that – to tell how and why the Revolution came to seem so important to me. I want to draw the picture in as bold lines as possible. Because soon enough the picture is going to get much more shaded, much less noble. But not quite yet.

Here it gets even more interesting and provides good instruction for many of us. He tells briefly about the important work of the 1619 Project and what new insights it brings to our understanding of our nation’s early history. He is embarrassed that his teenage job holding forth about the revolutionary years in Lexington didn’t have him telling the truth about the indigenous people nor the role of enslaved people (or black freemen like Crispus Attucks, say.) He ponders which is worse, that they knowingly ignored the unpleasant fact or if they just didn’t think to include them – an example of the generous but candid self-awareness that gives this book much of its appeal.  That is, it is neither a white wash or a diatribe. It’s just a good man trying to say what he’s learned to be true and ponder its significance for us all today in our own cultural moment.

It is, as I’ve implied, earnest and fair and wise. Terry Tempest Williams (whose most recent, luminous writings are collected in Erosion: Essays of Undoing) described McKibben as an “everyday hero” and says the book is plainspoken, direct, and conversational. His candid and well-informed critique of the right-wing pushback against the 1619 Project is worth the price of the book; it is not overly zealous and it is not unfair. But on just a few pages and with a few key examples he shows why we need the insights of black and native peoples and why their stories need to be part of our national story. I’ve read a bit on the controversy and think McKibben is sensible and right; I’m surprised that some writers I respect have fretted about the Project – I just don’t get it, and so appreciated McKibben’s sensible generosity.  It is interesting how he gets a bit passionate and names what needs to be named, but comes back to the memories of his own early patriotism formed there in the Lexington Green.

(There is one paragraph unlocking a racially-consequential line in the famous poem about Paul Revere that will take your breath away if you do not know about it; I did not, and McKibben’s discovery is stunning.)

I do not know if this will be so, but Rep. Jamie Raskin has said that if we survive the “interlocking plagues of climate change, right-wing authoritarianism, and savage inequality” our future generations will – get this! – “utter the name of the New England moral visionary and activist Bill McKibben with the reverence with which we speak of Emerson, Thoreau, and Garrison.” Whew! In any case, this “graying American” looking back to figure out how the boomers and his 70s generation went astray is a great study. That it starts in his youth in Lexington, Massachusetts, is perfect.

There is a pivotal event that happened in the town when he was a kid and I won’t spoil the show by saying anything about it, but I want to say for the record that I so admire his parents and was very glad for this fascinating glimpse into small town New England politics in the late 1960s. Kudos to local historians and small town storytellers who write booklets and make tapes and keep records and oral accounts alive in local libraries and historical societies. McKibben comes back to this episode throughout the book, but I don’t want to ruin it by saying more.

There is a part that explains, too, about the economic realities that emerged from our troubling history of white privilege. Books like Richard Rothstein’s must-read The Color of Law, Dorothy Brown’s scholarly treatise The Whiteness of Wealth, Randall Robinson’s The Debt and Ta- Nehisiha Coates’s stunning 2014 call for reparations are mentioned and it becomes clear that McKibben’s commitments to the flag, seen in his telling of his pride in raising Old Glory with his Boy Scout troop – a lovely paragraph that made me smile — are now deeply tied to true truths about economic injustice stemming from a history of institutional racism. What the hell happened? This book explains it as clearly and succinctly as any I’ve read.

I needn’t say much more about his early formation as a proud, if now sobered, US citizen but I will note this: I can’t wait to read the soon-to-be-released Richard Mouw book coming in a few weeks from IVP on a rightly ordered love of country called How to Be a Patriotic Christian; I like and trust Rich Mouw a lot and will assume he and McKibben will have much in common in wanting to restore a glad sense of patriotism even as we know deeply the horrible aspects of our original sins. (Mouw’s subtitle is suggestive: “Love of Country as Love of Neighbor.” It is $17.00 but at our BookNotes 20% OFF sale price it’s just $13.60 — you should pre-order it now!)  Look: I’m inclined to protest, or, these days, at least compliment those who do, when things go haywire. But the sort of honest lament McKibben names about our sinfulness doesn’t mean we cannot affirm the good ideas and good things that emerged from our founding as a nation. McKibben’s reflections on the flag and proper patriotism are solid and, I think, very important.

THE CROSS

Beth and I were thrilled even by the first page or so of this section where McKibben describes the character and tone of his youth group (often held in “fellowship hall”) and church camp and mission/service trip and endlessly singing songs like “Kum Ba Yah” and “Day by Day” from Godspell. (Does anybody out there remember “Pass It On”?) These were the early and mid-1970s and kids didn’t sing “praise and worship” songs like they do today. His testimony of the value of his UCC church was as wonderful to read as, well, some of the scenes in Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads novel that I devoured last summer. His earnest mainline faith, his reading of the gospels, his telling of his own faith journey is simply delightful.

Those that have followed the nature writer, environmentalist, anti-global warming activist, and social critic, have known of his faith. He writes for Sojo and had a book published years ago (on Job, actually) by the prominent religious publisher Eerdmans out of Grand Rapids. But to hear him talk about his Sunday school teachers and his spiritual concerns as a young adult is terrific and encouraging. Importantly, his description is not offered only for the purpose of literary memoir but to make an observation, to testify, about the positive formative nature of much mainline Protestantism and the social ethic that emerged from this broad, non-fundamentalist youth ministry which so influenced him. In fact, this piece is, in many ways, a eulogy for a certain sort of healthy civil religion that allowed mainline Protestant public intellectuals (from Reinhold Niebuhr, say, to Martin Luther King to Dorothy Day) to have influence over the discourse and values of American culture.

I might want to push back in conversation about his take on mainline Protestantism although, given his framing of it – in the 60s we had Tillich and Barth and King and the brilliant William Sloan Coffin as public representatives of Jesus and in more recent times we have had the Jerry Falwells, Franklin Graham, and Trump sycophants that seem to care little for the Bible or Jesus – it is hard to argue. Hipster evangelicals mock “Kum Ba Yah” (as did Donald Trump, for that matter) but if singing that around the church camp campfire gave us the likes of Bill McKibben, I’ll take it.

McKibben is earnest, also, about his college years and it is a great grace that he sought out thoughtful Christian leaders while a student at Harvard. He is never proud or smug about this but it is clear that he was mentored, in part, by the black, Republican (and gay) preacher there, Peter Gomes. McKibben is nearly evangelistic when he wishes others would read Rev. Gomes’s book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?

There is little doubt that Christianity has been a hugely important influence, for better or worse, in both forming and fraying our social fabric in the last few decades. No social commentator can ignore the role of faith communities, or what we sometimes called “the religious landscape.” It is helpful that McKibben here shares both personally and more broadly, about his sense of how the Christian faith ought to be an influence for the common good. It is all so very interesting, informative and at times beautiful.

As in the previous section, he refrains from academic footnotes, but there is a fabulously interesting essay about sources and book recommendations in a final epilogue. His passion for early US history is evident and his suggestions there offer a year’s worth of reading, at least, starting, not least, with the important work of Gordon Wood (for instance, his early The Radicalism of the American Revolution.)

For the section “The Cross” he thanks his friend Diana Butler Bass (a fine church historian and contemporary writer who I mention often in BookNotes) and he commends her on-line newsletter “The Cottage.” He names the magisterial collection, The Future of Mainline Protestantism in American, edited by James Hudnut-Beumler and Mark Silk,  the fabulous edited IVP volume by Mark Labberton called Still Evangelical? and he highly recommends Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise. I was glad to see that he pointed readers to Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s must-read Jesus and John Wayne — again, a book that we very, very highly recommend.

 THE STATION WAGON

I suppose it makes sense that McKibben uses the station wagon – indeed, one that his family owned and for which he has great affection to this day – as a symbol of the consumerism and social inequity caused by the rise of the American suburbs. I mentioned the rowdy critique of the ugliness and ecological harms of suburbia described with such wit and zeal by James Howard Kuenstler and McKibben stands in his tradition, I suppose, without any of his cynicism or rudeness. (I kept wishing for a quote from The Geography of Nowhere or Home from Nowhere.) Happily suburban bred and raised, McKibben realizes that the rise of individual homes, and the station wagons that transported the (mostly white) kids across this land in those glory days of the American Dream, became detrimental to the planet and here his passion about climate change begins to appear.

We knew it would, of course. He’s been writing about this since his 1989 breakout bestseller The End of Nature — inspired, as I recall, by his colleague Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth — and the influential Eaarth that came out, I think, in 2010. In the previous sections of The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon he exposed how the lovely boyhood and middle class, churched upbringing contributed to a distorted understanding of our society and how thinks work in the world, but here – oh my. His reporting continues to shine; his prose riveting and his insight brilliant. The relationship of the flag and the cross are coming into focus and much of it is about, well, not exactly the station wagon, but the money accrued from the homes where those station wagons were parked. I know housing bubbles and interest rates and zoning battles may not seem like the sexiest topics for an entertaining nonfiction read, but trust me.

McKibben has lived this stuff, but he has also researched it well, drawing on the definitive and the most fascinating works, such as Meg Jacobs, who he thanks, for her Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s.

Here, particularly, is where McKibben’s writing style makes this complicated stuff accessible – he is able to tell a story or two, bringing in a big picture analysis, and name the need for some kind of repair – all while keeping the prose light, the information interesting, the story compelling.

You see, he is showing the ways in which owning one’s home naturally creates wealth; generational wealth. Yes, certain suburban cul de sac lifestyles can cause increased pollution and alienation from place and creation, and yes, ice caps are melting due to our materialistic extravagance. But that is only the most calamitous of the implications. Along the way we got racist policies (like redlining and the gross injustice in disallowing black World War II vets access to the benefits of the GI Bill, educational opportunity, lines of credit, jobs.) Deeper wealth discrepancies developed and the economic injustices based on the rise of the US suburbs (and subsequent home ownership and banking) is damning. That he isn’t even more emphatic and prophetic in his denunciation is admirable. The social evils are so obvious in his telling, the book could have gone off the rails with screeds and anger and extremist proposals. He verges on it, but he returns to his town, the ups and downs, the good and bad, rooted in a good family and good faith and decent folks who mostly want to make a difference. The “Station Wagon” section, like the others, is a fair minded, honest critique. It is the kind of analysis that, if widely heard – that is, if this book sells well and is discussed widely – could become a compelling game-changer. We hope you consider it and order a few.

There is another episode that McKibben comes back to from his beloved hometown. It has to do with zoning stuff, a bit arcane, admittedly, but clearly a saga of huge significance. As a specific case study of how many predominantly white towns and urban areas vote to forbid multiple family buildings being built, his Lexington story shows not only our ongoing racial segregation but the ways in which institutional racism and NIMBY style individualism effects housing, neighborhood development, and assures an unequal playing field when it comes to wealth accumulation and family stability. From liberal white suburbs like his beloved Lexington to tony, progressive neighborhoods in San Francisco with all their anti-racist placards in their little lawns, nobody wants to sacrifice what they think is their property value.

And, finally, yes, this leads to more pollution and the crisis of climate change, which is deeply connected, our funky lifestyles causing, pretty darn directly, the suffering of people in low-laying parts of the globe, like the Bangladesh village he takes us two near the end of the book. It is a riveting few pages and an essential part of the story.

He writes about some of the big calculations that have been done by nonprofits such as EquoEquity that try to name the economic global impact upon the poor by our big homes and SUVs and the like. It is sobering, but his call to think about cause and consequence, about just reparations and public expenditure is rooted in a deeper sense of neighborliness. He wants to recover some of the public social ethics and prevailing communal responsibility that was actually part of the Puritan communities in his Lexington hometown’s earliest years. (Read that part, fellow Calvinists!) Our modern libertarian disinterest in the commonwealth, our retreat to private individualism, the erosion of commitments to public justice — these are what alarms him as much as rising temperatures and ocean levels.

I’m telling you, The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon is a great read, and it is really entertaining to read much of it. For instance, what a blast to hear his own story of the famous solar panels installed on the White House by Jimmy Carter and famously taken down, out of spite or ideology stupidity, by Ronald Reagan. (I recall that Ed Meese called them “a joke.”) McKibben actually knew a bit about those panels as they were rescued from some Washington warehouse and ended up being used effectively at a small college in Maine. Bill tells the rest of the story, including a large Chinese business startup making more of these panels, inspired by one they got from the college in Maine, and how he got some students to create some holy trouble when they brought some of the remaining panels — still working good as new — as a gift to Obama whose people refused to meet with them, let alone put them up on the White House roof.

In retrospect, McKibben writes, sharing his disillusionment, “it was pretty clear why Obama wanted nothing to do with those solar panels: they were tainted by their association with Carter. The 1980 election, thirty years later, still dominated our politics.”  Yup.

There is a final piece to The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon which I will only mention briefly, but it is his big altar call / patriotic ending. It is hinted at in the story about taking college kids on the road trip – stopping for PR events along the way – to the White House to give the historic Carter-era solar panels back to the Obamas. He mentions that he truly felt bad causing the disillusionment of the youth he had brought along. It was a tell-tale line in passing, but McKibben – as the subtitle notes – is graying. And this is how he ends the book, with some remarkable stuff about how older people can become mentors for younger ones, can encourage and fund them, how our more experienced citizens can mobilize alongside the idealistic younger leaders. He has (of course he has) started a great organization to help facilitate that and it is already going strong.  Check out his group, Third Act.

Mr. McKibben’s last, short chapter is inspiring, entitled “People of a Certain Age.” He is encouraged that many older people are ready to act differently. He notes that “many of us are now emerging into our latter years with skills, with more than our share of resources, and with grandchildren. Surely that might give us the capacity and the reason to help.”

After some beautiful lines about caring for our kids and grandkids, McKibben continues,

But older people have something beyond their kids and grandkids to think about. We also have the chance to partially redeem some sense of our history, and, for those to whom it matters, as Christians. Conservative political leaders try to do this by suppressing the truth – hence all those bills about banning the teaching of the 1619 Project, and, indeed all “critical race theory,” out of schools was premised on the idea that telling such truths “attempt to deny or obfuscate the fundamental principles upon which the US was founded.” I doubt very much whether this strategy will work: I think the actual blood on which America was too much founded will keep seeping through whatever whitewash we assiduously apply. I think the only way to make our heritage any better is to make our present and future better: if we change decisively in the direction of inclusion and fairness, then perhaps history – taking a very long view – will see something laudable in the promise that “all men are created equal” or in the Gospel injunction to love one’s neighbor; perhaps if we install enough solar panels, then the American science and engineering of the twentieth century (which birthed those miraculous devices) will be remembered for more than making the comfortable more so.

And so, dear readers of any age, I invite you to consider this great summer read, an informative and illuminating book written as a sweet memoir, a story of this ecological activist’s youth, his steadfast patriotism, his continued faith, his call for living in a manner that is equitable, inclusive, and sustainable. He loves our flag, Christ’s cross, and his parent’s old station wagon. In his capable hands, they become icons of a sort, pointing us beyond themselves to great problems, from race to wealth to climate change, and, yet, also, to great possibilities of redemption. It’s a book I couldn’t put down. In clever prose and fine storytelling, he tells us what in the hell went wrong and what we all – especially those of us who are graying – can do.

a few others that come to mind, highly recommended to pair with McKibben

The Flag + The Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat To American Democracy Philip S. Gorski & Samel L. Perry (Oxford University Press) $21.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.56

This brand new book is from the prominent academic press, Oxford, and yet is readable and feisty. The authors are known in this genre of studying the relationship of Christianity and democracy and have written elsewhere about the rise of the authoritarian American right. With vibrant recommending blurbs by historians like Kristin Kobes Du Mez and Anthea Butler, and a foreword by fellow historian Jemar Tisby, these authors have given us a slim book that is potent and important.  I don’t have to explain how important this is.

Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah (IVP Academic) $20.00        OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We have written about this before as one of the several books that explore the so-called theological and legal basis for the stolen land, genocide, and other sorts of mistreatment of first nations people groups in North America. McKibben’s book refers to this a bit and admits he might have explore it more.  This is an essential volume in this history, informative and passionate.

Here is an endorsement from the preeminent Christian historian, Mark Noll,

Why should I endorse a book when I do not agree with some of its historical judgments? Answer: for the same reason you should read it. Charles and Rah attack a pernicious principle (the Doctrine of Discovery), review an evil history (the United States’ treatment of Native peoples), challenge a persistent stereotype (American exceptionalism), and psychoanalyze white America (in denial about the nation’s history). The entire book, even when you think things could be evaluated differently, will make you think, and think hard, about crucially important questions of Christian doctrine, American history, and God’s standards of justice.–Mark Noll, author of America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794-1911

Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair Duke L. Kwon & Gregory Thompson (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I have written about this before hoping to persuade customers to pick it up. Of the hundreds of books about racial justice that we stock, this is one of the most important, well-written, interesting, informative, theologically and Biblically faithful, compelling, and a fabulous call to action, pleading with us to become agents of repair. If you read this with or after McKibben, you will be glad you did.

Reparations is passionate, clear, smart, thoughtful, and blessedly troubling. I hope every American Christian leader — especially White Christian leaders — will read it because it is truly the rare book that, if taken up with an open heart, has the potential to change the world.
— Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest; author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

What hope do we have of racial reconciliation unless we right the wrongs of our past? Kwon and Thompson have argued convincingly that reparations is a necessary part of the healing of our churches and our nation, and that people of faith should be leading the way. Read this book and learn how to be a bridge builder…”
— Latasha Morrison, author of Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation

Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

To follow up McKibben, many of us will want to, naturally, reflecting on his own faith journey, ponder our own. Have Jesus’s own counter-intuitive values and teachings and the Biblical narrative towards restoration and healing of the cosmos become the story that has shaped our lives? How has the evangelical renewal from the Jesus Movement of the 60s on down through the last decades of the 20th century and the rise of everything from contemporary worship and megachurches and missional theology and liturgical spiritually and moral majorities and gospel coalitions and all that has changed in recent years effected your own faith. (Have you, like Diana Butler Bass, in her amazing book Freeing Jesus that I have talked about here often, seen a change in your understanding of Jesus, his nature and work and presence in your life?) There are hundreds of great books, many quite new, that offer fresh and needed insight about the ongoing work of growing in faith and fidelity.  Here is one important one.

Here is how the publisher describes it: “With our witness compromised, numbers down, and reputation sullied, the American church is at a critical crossroads. In order for the church to return to health, we must decenter ourselves from our American idols and be guided by global Christians and the poor, who offer hope from the margins, and the ancient church, refocusing on the kingdom, image, Word, and mission of God.”

There are lots of very enthusiastic supporters of this book. Here’s one by Jenny Yang, a fine example of why many leaders realize we need this book:

The church is flourishing in many parts of the world today, but it’s easy for those of us in the West to feel a sense of hopelessness as we see the churches we attend, love, and perhaps lead mired in scandals, materialism, consumerism, and nationalism. Our brothers and sisters around the world, however, are tackling the challenges of poverty, forced migration, trafficking, and natural disasters, pointing a broken world to a better way, and we in the Western church have so much to learn and receive about the good news being proclaimed in both word and deed from the broader church. This book helps us do just that, sharing the incredible work that God is doing around the world, pointing us to a better way to listen and learn from our brothers and sisters who are living out the ways and truths of Jesus to transform their communities and ultimately point people to Christ. The Bible is the story of God centering those on the margins, and this book teaches us as the church to do the same  — Jenny Yang, senior vice president for advocacy and policy for World Relief and coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger

A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic Work and Community Work of Brian Walsh edited by Marcia Boniferro, Amanda Jagt & Andrew Stephens-Rennie (Pickwick Publications) $34.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

This is another rare and stellar volume that I have highly recommended several times and it comes to mind, again, now. This is a book of essays, almost all simply extraordinary, all done to honor the retirement from campus ministry (at the University of Toronto) of Brian Walsh. Brian has done worldview studies, postmodern theology, written about eco-theology and just economics, He has been a scholar in residence at a homeless shelter and created innovative Biblical liturgies for early morning prayer groups at the U of T.  He and his wife, Biblical scholar Sylvia Keesmaat have written two unforgettable, subversive Bible commentaries — un-commentaries, we might call them — called Colossians Remixed and Romans Disarmed. If anybody has a voice to consider as an alternative to the religious mess McKibben writes about, it is Walsh and his friends and extended community.

These thought-provoking and important pieces offered in tribute to his work as scholar, activist, and organic farmer, are about faith and Scripture and economics and justice. It is about housing and home, about faithful ways of living well in this world. It is a book that offers heady perspectives that are perhaps more breathy and zealous that McKibben’s clear-headed prose, but it is just what he needs to follow up with a sustainable sort of faith that is deeply Biblically and faithful to the homelessness in this broken world.  I think many of our BookNotes friends need this vision as well. We recommend this a lot.

Mark D. Bjelland (Calvin College Press) $9.99          OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

This short book is part of the series by Calvin University professors called “Calvin Shorts.” (And, yes, there is a funny little logo of John Calvin in short pants. Ha!)

Each of the many books in this good series offer brief, solid, insight for ordinary readers giving a bit of the practical application of the scholarly research of the college scholars. Dr. Bjelland, for instance, is a Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies and his academic training and research is on how his ecological concerns might influence urban planning (and even engineering.) He has studied urban geography in Europe and the UK and here offers a beautiful, readable summary of a theology of place, a biblical framework for imagining how cities, neighborhoods, housing markets, and transportation systems work, and should work. We should care about zoning codes and local politics and neighborhood associations and real estate development — as Bill McKibben’s book suggests over and over.  Good Places for All is a good example of thinking Christianly about hospitality and places.

Stability: How an Ancient Monastic Practice Can Restore Our Relationships, Churches, and Communities Nathan Oates (Paraclete Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

McKibben rightly critiques the consumerism and wasteful lifestyles of our times and he is right to do so. Many of us learned years ago from the like of Ron Sider and his unforgettable Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger that materialism and excessive financial wealth can be idolatrous and that any faithful reading of the Bible should give us pause about our way of living. McKibben looks at accrued wealth from mortgages and bank loans and credit and that big picture stuff that goes with the rise of suburbia. He isn’t harsh and he doesn’t directly go after our constant moving and upward mobility which is part and parcel of this American Dream.

Oates, an evangelical pastor rooted in the monastic tradition, very nicely takes us in that direction, drawing on the old Benedictine virtue of stability.  Staying put, Caring about place, community, the common good of our own neighborhood. It’s sort of a spiritual sort of localism and it is a fine, fine book, inspiring and wise.

Nathan Oates is a modern prophet who has written a refreshing and important book. He does more than offer a critique of modern culture. Indeed, drawing upon the Bible and visions of St. Benedict, Oates shows us ways to reject toxic consumerism and replace it with a life-giving work of restoration. — Rev. Dr. Lyle Dorsett, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism (ret) at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, AL

The Power of Place: Choosing Stability in a Rootless Age Daniel Grothe (Thomas Nelson) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

Again, I needn’t say much about this because I have reviewed it at length at BookNotes. Consider this your reminder to consider this, one of the best books on our big lists of Best Books of 2021. Grothe is a surprising writer, a small-time farmer mentored by Eugene Peterson (and the printed pages of Wendell Berry) who pastors a large, evangelical church in Colorado Spring. He’s a wise and good writer, reminding us not just of the virtue of stability (as the lovely Nathan Oates book, above, does) but to actually love our places, to be intentional about cultivating a lifestyle shaped by the contours of your own geography and local culture.

As Pete Greig says, “I can’t recommend The Power of Place highly enough. Everyone needs to read it! It is beautifully written, compellingly argued, and urgently necessary for a rootless generation like our own.”

Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind Grace Olmstead (Sentinel) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Although McKibben’s story is centered around the well trimmed homes of his small-town, upper-middle class New England town, some folks live neither in upscale towns or bland, ex-urbs. In fact, many folks are rural, hurting from brain-drain and dislocation. This is exactly the sort of place Grace Olmstead grew up and left. This beautifully written book — another that we’ve raved about here before — is her study of her town in rural Idaho and how many who moved away lost connection.

The stellar blurbs on the back of this wonderfully written book come from Sarah Smarsh (author of Heartland) and Chris Arnade (author of Dignity) and the ever-important Norman Wirzba, author of the soon to be released Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land. McKibben surely knows much about this literature and the deeply human need for roots. He knows that recovering belonging and stewardship and a sense of place are aspects of a renewed sort of way of life that will help mitigate the climate disaster.

Our Angry Eden: Faith & Hope on a Hotter, Harsher Planet David Williams (Broadleaf Books) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I’m sure I named this as one of our Best Books last year and I know I’ve suggested it to anyone asking about the topic of understanding the urgent matters of a changing climate. God’s creation seems to have gotten even more angry since this book came out two years ago and so we recommend it now with a great urgency than before. It is, as it says on the back, “an unflinching yet hopeful call to faithful action.” Indeed, in Bill McKibben’s rave endorsement he says it shows how there’s “plenty we can be doing to fit in better with creation. Read it and change!”

But here is what is also interesting (recalling my opening monologue about nonfiction books that are well written, full of gravity and grace, informative and fun.) McKibben calls Our Angry Eden “beautiful.” Isn’t that interesting — a title that sounds scary (and comes to us in a flaming, hot orange color scheme) is considered beautiful?  That is some of what I said about it when I first reviewed it at BookNotes — it surprised me how down to Earth it was, how much I liked the rather pastoral tone of the small town preacher. Yes we have abused the creation and yes the Biblical witness is that the creation is afflicted, “groaning” as Romans 8 has it. But despite the moral crisis of our abuse of creation and its own anger, seen in the ugly facts of the hard science, Rev. Williams is mostly gracious, more hopeful than I expected, and pretty artful in his own telling of the tale. He is a novelist, after all — you’ve got to read his oddball post-apocalyptic story When the English Fall which involves the Amish.

Our Angry Eden by David Williams is a must-read. With clear-eyed honesty and a perceptive analysis of the existential threat of the climate crisis, Williams forces us to face the mess we are in, but he also conjures hope through lively storytelling, biblical insight galore, and sound practical ideas that embody God’s good future. — Steve Bouma-Prediger, author of For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care and Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic

In a time when the words climate emergency send many people into a panicked despair or an overwhelmed paralysis, David Williams offers a third way. This book gives attainable, tangible ways to engage, while spreading out a rich theological foundation for how to love our neighbor as we care for our earthly home. — Anna Woofenden, author of This Is God’s Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls and founder of The Garden Church

Stewards of the Earth: Christianity and Creation Care introduction by Lorin Wilkinson (Lexham Press) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.38

This collection from the outstanding “Best of Christianity Today” series is exceptionally important and useful for at least three reasons. Firstly, it problematizes, as they say nowadays (I have my tongue in cheek as I hate that word) the narrative, partially assumed by Bill McKibben, above, that Christianity in general and evangelicalism, particularly, has been all shallow and worldly and fundamentalist and captive to the religious right or, at least churchy and spiritual and not very involved in stuff that matters. Christianity Today, now known as CT, is perhaps the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, not terribly fundamentalist (they hate them for being too liberal) and yet not progressive like Sojo, say. As Christian Century is to the mainline denominational churches and orientation, so CT channels the more moderate, often thoughtful, evangelical vision. For fifty years they have been writing — perhaps not enough, and perhaps sometimes in their own quirky way — about environmentalism, Earth-keeping, creation care, ecological ethics. This handsome hardback collects these five decades worth of essays, articles, interviews. It shows the diversity and the development of evangelical perspectives.

So, firstly, it is a good window into what some evangelicals have thought and publicly said.  It makes clear that evangelicalism, at least insofar as they are represented by CT, even if not always where it should have been, has been addressing contemporary social issues since their founding. The many editorials are here, and it shows some initial suspicions about the green movement, and increasingly the editorials are more faithfully engaged with the theology of creation care.

Secondly, many of these pieces are very, very good, sane, Biblical, inspiring, and needed yet today. Some writers in progressive social ethics journals write in odd ways with lingo and cadences that are not congenial to ordinary Bible-beliving people, and these essays often just shine. That is, they may be compelling to the perhaps unconvinced. Here you will find Bill McKibben (yes, in CT), Ron Sider, Leslie Leyland Fields, Andy Crouch. Tim Stafford’s marvelous piece on Cal DeWitt is here, respected global surgeon Paul Brand is here, there is an interview with Eugene Peterson.

The book’s contributors, granted, are almost entirely white and mostly male. The magazine’s makeup and vision is somewhat different even today. But these are good pieces and we wanted you to know about them. Kudos.

Recovering Abundance: Twelve Practices for Small-Town Leaders Andy Stanton-Henry (Fortress Press) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

This is a book that deserves a longer review but, for now, I just wanted to suggest it as a companion to the remarkable call to local action in the memoir by McKibben. He ends that book invite others — especially older folks — to be involved alongside others in the global effort to mitigate the crisis of climate change. This will involve speaking out about everything from community development to banking practices, from congregational mission strategies to racial justice initiatives, from recycling projects to land use questions.

We obviously need people of faith to care about their places, to be increasingly engaged in gracious and caring justice actions grounded and informed by thoughtful public theology. What does it mean for a local Christian leader — say, a pastor — to also become an advocate for place, caring about small town contexts and speaking out about rural and small town community flourishing?  We need all kinds of resources to help us on our way — we could hardly do any better than the great book Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society by Amy Sherman that I highlighted about a month ago. This one, though, specifically offers practices for small town leaders. There is nothing quit like it and I love it.  Kudos one and all.

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Christian approaches to mental health, psychology, counseling – ON SALE FROM HEARTS & MINDS

We’re glad folks enjoyed our big review of Charles Marsh’s stunning memoir Evangelical Anxiety that appeared in our previous BookNotes. The book is a fabulously written and entertaining rendering of his evolving faith as he copes with the repressive (and too often anti-world, anti-body) conservative evangelicalism of his Baptist youth, and, more interestingly, a story of his coming to terms with an anxiety disorder including panic attacks and the like. It’s a great read that will make you think.

Since that memoir explored the author’s psyche and a bit about his work in psychotherapy, I reviewed another book or two about coping with emotional difficulties and contemporary experiences of anxiety: It’s Not You, It’s Everything (by Eric Minton, a former evangelical pastor who is now a therapist and important social critic) and the soon to be released The Lord is My Courage by K.J. Ramsey, a trauma-informed certified counselor who has written beautifully about chronic pain and, in this brand new one, about toxic church leadership and spiritual abuse. Thank God for her insights drawn from Psalms 23.

And then I reviewed a study of five exceptionally detailed counseling cases by Catherine Gildiner (Good Morning Monster) and then added a description of The Emotional Life of Our Lord, a handsome pocket sized reprint of a little known essay by B. B. Warfield, the Princeton Seminary giant of the early 20th century. I hope you didn’t miss my brief comments about that thoughtful gem.

These books are not about developing a distinctively Christian perspective on mental health issues or a faithful theoretical approach to the academic discipline of psychology or the nature of what we might call Christian counseling; that’s just not their project. An annoying line in the otherwise brilliant Marsh memoir, though, got me thinking that there isn’t enough awareness of the many good books that are taking up the project of integrating faith and psychological scholarship. 

So without too much comment, I’ll list just some of the titles we have in this section of our Dallastown shop, starting with some books about a Christian view of psychology, then some books about mental health issues, especially in the church, and then some books about counseling. Naturally, we have others here on the shelf, but this is a good start, I hope.

By the way,  a mail-order customer who is a professional in this field recently wrote a note encouraging me in our book-recommending work and suggested that many colleagues of different sorts should seek to, “engage (hopefully wisely and charitably) with the psychologies using the lens of Scripture, rather than simply dismiss (as some of our neighbors to the right tend to) or uncritically embrace (some of our neighbors to the left tend to.)” He closed his email saying we all need to grow in this.  Nice, eh?

Maybe you have a church library or a fellowship group resource center or a ministry booktable… some of these might be helpful to share. I hope the listing is useful. Let us know how we can help. 

FIRST, FOR STARTERS…

Understanding People: Why We Long for Relationships Larry Crabb (Zondervan) $16.99     OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is a really basic, easy-to-appreciate guide for those starting off this sort of study. A nice read for almost anyone. If you want to help people, we must first understand them. Here is how the publisher descibes this award-winning paperback:

“Exploring the inseparable link between spiritual and psychological realities, Understanding People offers a vital lens on how we’re put together–who we really are and what makes us tick in our relationships with other people, with God, and with ourselves. In three parts, this book first points us to the Bible as our source of insight into perplexing heart issues. Then it helps us come to grips with our brokenness as God’s image-bearers, and it shows how we can reclaim our ability to reflect him in our growth toward maturity and healed relationships.

Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen: How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans Scott Sauls (Zondervan) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Again, this isn’t exactly about developing a coherent Christian philosophy of psychology but it is brand new and Sauls is a great writer (and some have said this is his best yet!) It is certainly a good read for those stepping carefully into this field. He is an astute pastor, a caring person, a fine thinker and writer. The title really does show that this could setting the stage nicely for deeper studies of psychology and counseling, so consider starting here. From clarity about God’s great grace and help about practicing emotional health and how to “quiet shaming, wearying thoughts with God’s divine countervoice” this stuff about contentment and being more fully alive in our human experience is beautiful stuff.  It’s not every Reformed pastor who opens his book with a quote from Kubler-Ross and thanks Bob Dylan and Brandi Carlisle and calls the first chapter “tears on my shirt.”  This is going to be good.

I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Living When the Old Ways Stop Working Shauna Niequist (Zondervan) $26.00       OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

Another in what I might call the “prelude” category here, getting us warmed up for more academic studies of the discipline of psychology and mental health and counseling and the like. This, though, is a beautifully done, self-helpy kind of book that could motivate anyone to see God’s help in figuring out a healthy way to believe and life; Annie Down’s called it “a masterpiece” and Kate Bowler describes it as “Gentle. Loving.” and says, “This tender book asks us to listen to our pain, lean into our discomfort, and trust that we can be lifted back on our feet by God and each other.”

I like Niequist’s vivid, earnest writing (including her last one about stress brought on by perfectionism, called Present Over Perfect.) To understand the approach of this, consider that the endorsement on the back is by the honest, elegant, eloquent Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor. The good reverend says this:

There are so many ways you can lose the only life you know how to live. When that happens—as it will for all of us sooner or later—the number of people willing to walk through it with us can fall into the low single digits. With this book, Shauna Niequist becomes one you can count on, no matter what. She won’t lie to you about anything. She won’t offer you a spiritual bypass. Instead, she will keep reminding you that what you don’t know about where you’re going is what oils the hinge to new life. — Barbara Brown Taylor, author, Learning to Walk in the Dark

Why Do I Feel Like This?: Understand Your Difficult Emotions and Find Grace to Move Through  Dr. Peace Amadi (IVP) $18.00                 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Dr. Peace Amadi is an energetic and dynamic counselor, public speaker, and advocate for folks who need a bit of help learning to understand and manage their conflicted and sometimes painful emotions. Her emphasis on God’s great grace and learnilng to accept God’s love as a basis for our own self-worth and dignity is beautiful, but that becomes the generative foundation for teaching several helpful psychological theories and helping readers know what to do next. As one reader put it, this explains what therapists mean when they say you must “do the work.” She helps. This is a nice introduction to Chrisitan self-care written by a Godly woman and effective professional counselor.

Being Human: Bodies, Minds, Persons Rowan Williams (Eerdmans) $12.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60

A slim book by one of our great Christian public intellectuals, this invites us to consider the nature of consciousness, how the mind works, the relationship of our body to our interior lives. Again, this isn’t exactly a Christian view of psychology but a fine rumination on foundational stuff that will influence how we think about the social and healing sciences. I list it as a thoughtful but brief guide to start of our thinking about the topic. His insight about the role of silence, by the way, in helping us realize human flourishing is lovely and wise.

 

Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices Curt Thompson (Tyndale) $17.99                           OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

One of our great contemporary Christian writers, Curt is an MD who is a psychiatrist who really knows much about neurology and faith and healthy flourishing. Read his other books, too, (such as the splendid, even healing, Soul of Shame) but this is his most basic one.There are a lot of books these days on Christian faith and neuroscience and this one is very accesible. Highly recommended — would be great for a book club or small group study, too.

 

Preserving the Person: A Look at the Human Sciences C. Stephen Evans (Regent College Press) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

I suspect this classic book may be a bit outdated but it is such a foundational book that we are delighted that Regent College (in Vancouver, BC) released it anew. Evans was a philosopher at Calvin College (with a Phil and PhD from Yale and a scholar of Kierkegaard) and here he assesses the pioneering thinkers in the social sciences, from August Comte to Sigmund Freud, from B.F. Skinner to Emile Durkheim, and he “shows how the attack on personhood has created tensions for Christian scholars in the human sciences.” His guidelines for recovering a robust and lasting concept of the person is needed now as ever.

SOME BOOKS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY AND PSYCHOLOGY

Psychology: A Student’s Guide Stanton K. Jones (Crossway) $11.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $9.59

A small book designed for college students, introducing the lay of the land of this field, from a traditional Christian orientation. This is part of a good series of short but intellectually oriented books called “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition.” Know any students going off to college to major in Psychology?

While we’re at it, see also the first one in the series, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide, not to mention the good one on philosophy (by the late David Naugle), the one on history, the one on media/journalism, and certainly the one on education which I liked a lot.

Psychology in Christian Perspective: An Analysis of Key Issues Harold W. Faw (Baker Academic) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

We often suggest this for a solid starting study for psych majors or those new to the genre as it offers Biblical insight in a way that follows pretty much the standard flow of an intro psych text.  Nicely done.

 

 

 

Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith: An Introductory Guide Paul Moesv & Donald J. Tellinghuisen (Baker Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

What a great text!  Solid and engaging prose, drawn from the authors many years teaching as beloved college profs at Calvin College. The authors are also scholars in the field — Moes is a neuropsychologist and Tillinghuisen is an experimental psychologist. Excellent.

 

 

Psychology and Christianity: Five Views edited by Eric L. Johnson (IVP) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

This is so good and is very highly recommended. Five different psychologists who all agree that there should be a principled Christian approach, but they disagree about how that “integration” works and what it looks like. Wow. Every field should have a book like this to compare and contrast various models and paradigm for faithful and fruitful Christian thinking. It’s simply a must-read book.

 

edited by Glendon Moriarty (IVP)  $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Here are the fascinating testimonies of twelve different scholars or practitioners  about how they live out their faith in their vocation. What a great and encouraging collection of insights. I love this. Every career area needs a book like this.

 

 

 

Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians Can Learn from Psychological Science Everett L.Worthington Jr. (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

First published in 2010, it is considered by some to be a wonderful classic. Listen to Malcolm Jeeves, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, St. Andrews University, former editor-in-chief, Neuropsychologia and past president, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy. The esteemed Dr. Jeeves says:

Past discussions of how psychology and theology are related have tended to be written either from the perspective of psychotherapists and counselors or from that of psychological scientists. In a remarkably well-informed, wide-ranging review of the literature, Everett Worthington argues that ‘we are wise to look at all sources of information and wisdom we have at our disposal–and this includes both Scripture and psychological science.’ This outstanding book is an invaluable, up-to-date reference source on issues at the interface of psychology and Christian belief.

Theology for Psychology and Counseling: An Invitation to Holistic Christian Practice Kutter Callaway & William Whitney (Baker Academic) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

I like this recent lively one as it is both foundational and framing the topic but with a trajectory towards practical application in contemporary culture. It is winsome and interesting by scholars trained in both theology and psychology. It shines in ways that make it exceptional — in what Sarah Schnitker of Baylor says is “a long-awaited addition to the conversation!”

 

The Integration of Psychology and Christianity: A Domain-Based Approach  William L. Hathaway & Mark Yarhouse (IVP Academic) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This is a recent book and I think an essential resource, the fruit of many years of working out this integrated Christian perspective. No one serious about this ongoing discussion should miss this.

The authors’ attention encompasses five domains, by the way, are what they call

worldview integration, theoretical integration, applied integration, role integration and personal integration. This really is a comprehensive approach that yields plenty of fresh insights relevant for non-clinical areas of psychological science as well as for counseling, social work, and other related mental health fields. I’m grateful for publishers doing this kind of very impressive work. I hope Christians in the field take notice.

Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, Fourth Edition: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations, and Models of Integration David Entwistle (Cascade Books) $48.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $38.40

Earlier editions of this were considered groundbreaking and in this, a recently released 4th edition the respected author (professor at Malone University) adds even more to this classic big-picture survey of various approaches.  I like this (of many) lovely recommendations:

“Entwistle well represents the multifaceted nature of creation by graciously interweaving history, philosophy, science, and religion. His emphasis on the need for both intellectual caution and courage reinforces the integral role of intellectual humility as we seek to better understand the human condition. This book is a great asset for all who are interested in the integration of psychology and Christianity.” —Angela Sabates, Associate Professor of Psychology, Bethel University

The Person in Psychology and Christianity: A Faith-Based Critique of Five Theories of Social Development Majorie Lindner Guano (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

This book is fabulous — just great for anyone interested in how our deepest understandings of the human person influences our theories about society and psychology. This is a brilliant framework and fascinating project, by a fine professor at Calvin University. If you in the field, or aspire to think well about this, even if you find the cover off-putting (as I sure do) you should still buy this book. Listen to the respected pioneer and scholar in this field, David Myers, professor of psychology at Hope College and co-author of Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith

“Kudos to Marjorie Lindner Gunnoe for building a new bridge between psychological science and Christian belief. By viewing famed theories of human development through the lens of theology, she illuminates who we are―as embodied, purposeful, moral, accountable children of God. With her lucid prose, informative storytelling, and blend of curiosity and conviction, Gunnoe enlarges our human understanding and informs our faith.”

Modern Psychotherapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal  Stanton L. Jones & Richard Butman (IVP Academic) $50.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $40.00

I wish this amazing volume was not so expensive as I would recommend it to anyone working professionally in any scholarly field as a model for how to graciously summarize, evaluate, affirm and critique most of the main schools of thought and their subsequent practices in a discipline. For instance, this shows how various views of what wrong shape various views of what treatment modality to use. Assumptions about what’s going on, what’s wrong and what the answer may be are evident in each school of thought and wise Christians must be somewhat discerning about these presuppositions, postures, and proposals — not to be overly skittish or judgmental, but to be wise and faithful and truly helpful. I would say that if you are a professional in their field (or a leader, like a pastor, who shares opinions about these things sometimes) and you haven’t grappled with some of this content, you haven’t adequately pursued all that you should in developing your own view of these things. This extraordinary volume examines and appraises — and ends up with a view they call “responsible eclecticism” — therapies such as classical psychoanalysis, psychodynamic psychotherapies, behavioral and cognitive therapies, family systems approaches, and more…

Modern Psychopathologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal Mark Yarhouse, Richard Butman & Barrett McRay (IVP Academic) $60.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $48.00

This book is another in the style of the previous one but explores pathologies.  Again, they are attentive to the reality that disorders are seen and treated within various schools of thought. Assumptions about what’s going on, what’s wrong and what the answer are evident in each school of thought and wise Christians must be somewhat discerning about these presuppositions, postures, and proposals — not to be overly skittish or judgmental, but to be wise and faithful and truly helpful.  This looks at all kinds of issues from anxiety and mood disorders to psychosis to personality pathologies and sexuality stuff offering keen insights about faithful ways to help.  Agree or not with their apparels, it is a fabulous project. 

Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology John H.Coe & Todd W. Hall (IVP Academic) $38.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $30.40

We stock all the books in the The Christian Worldview Integration Series (edited by J. P. Moreland and Francis J. Beckwith) which seeks to promote a robust personal and conceptual integration of Christian faith and learning, with textbooks focused on disciplines such as education, psychology, literature, politics, science, communications, biology, philosophy, and history. (For what it is worth, I really, really like the business one!)

John H. Coe and Todd W. Hall tackle provocative questions in this volume of the series which offers what some might find a helful approach to psychology that seeks to integrate psychology and spiritual formation. This model “represents a spiritual formation and relational approach to psychology for the sake of servicing the spiritual needs of the church.” Their goal is to provide a unique model of doing psychology and science in the Spirit. As the publisher puts it,  “Here you will find an introduction to the foundations, methodology, content and praxis for this new approach to soulcare.” Wow.

To go deeper into this particular sort of integration of psychology and spirituality, see the magisterial, 720-page work by Eric Johnson called God & Soul Care: The Therapeutic Resources of the Christian Faith (IVP Academic; $60.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $48.00.)

Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, and Pastoral Care Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger (Eerdmans) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We have several excellent books on what we might call trauma-informed theology.  This serious author from Princeton Theological Seminary writes with mutli-disciplinary insight and much grace. It is in the genre of “pastoral care”  but anyone interested in the psychological sciences should consider it — it is that good. Dr. Katherine Sonderegger, the respected professor and systematic theologian at Virginia Theological Seminary says it is, “Lovely, powerful, and rich. Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger brings to this book an analyst’s skill, a theologian’s wisdom, and a pastor’s heart, each in turn providing the language, the tools, and the hope needed in the face of great suffering. . . . This book is a treasure in our broken world.”

Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing  Justin Barrett & Pamela Ebstyne King (IVP Academic) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Co-produced with the faith/science organization BioLogos (in their books on science and Christianity series), this positively explores evolutionary psychology  This may be a bit above my own pay grade –it’s not the first on this smart list — but people I trust have told me this is nothing short of brilliant.  I love Debra Haarsma’s endorsement:

“This book is a model of Christian discernment, considering the latest scientific research in the light of Christian faith to address challenging questions of our day. Barrett and King explain the established findings of evolutionary psychology (EP) while shedding the pop psychology and anti-God baggage that is often added to it. Yet their goal is not merely showing the intellectual compatibility of EP with Christianity but ‘placing evolutionary psychology in the service of Christian theology’ to address larger questions. By better understanding human nature and the traits that make us unique from animals, we can better fulfill our purpose as God’s image bearers and work more effectively to build communities that thrive in the ways God intended. The book’s readable style, vivid examples, and helpful study guide make it a great book for students, book clubs, science fans, and pastors.”

Positive Psychology in Christian Perspective: Foundations, Concepts, and Applications Charles Hackney (IVP Academic) $45.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $36.00

A recent text co-produced by the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) this is the definitive study about what is called “positive psychology” showing what is both healthy and good about it and yes a Biblically-informed constructive critique. This is a readable and yet sophisticated bit of Christian scholarship. 

 

Neuroscience and the Soul: The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology  edited by Thomas M. Crisp, Steven Porter, Gregg A. Ten Elshof  (Eerdmans) $39.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.60

As I noted when I mentioned Dr. Curt Thompson’s first book that there are many books coming out on faith and neuroscience and Christian views of the mind, warranting a whole section in any good bookstore. This is a fairly early one that continues to be important and respected. Professor Dr. Charles Taliaferro of St. Olaf College called it a “superb collection of outstanding essays” and “an exceptionally important work.”  

 

Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses & Medications Michael Emlet (New Growth Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

I so respect this author and appreciate this little handbook that reminds us that there are times when pastoral care and deeper discipleship is needed to help with the foibles of wounded sinners and saints, and there are other times when medication is called for and that there is no shame in that. Emlet offered this little guide book for anyone helping others, clear and balanced.

BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH AND THE CHURCH

Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission Amy Simpson (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I’m sure you’ve seen us mention this before, a vivid story by Amy, a pastor’s daughter, whose mother became seriously ill with schizophrenia and left the family in paranoid delusions. She shares how this touched their family, how the church responded (both for better and for worse) and offers good insight about how we all might be more aware and faithful. A well written, moving story that is an excellent introduction.

 

Making SPACE at the Well: Mental Health and the Church Jessica Young Brown (Judson Press) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Dr. Brown serves as a Professor of Counseling and Practical Theology at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University. Her model uses the acronym of ”SPACE” to examine Silencing the Stigma, Presence & Persistence, Application & Action, Cautions & Crisis, and Expressions & Exhortation. Young Brown is a clinical psychologist and vibrant woman of God working especially in the historic Black church. 

 

Hiding in the Pews: Shining Light on Mental Illness in the Church Steve Austin (Fortress Press) $23.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.40

This is a remarkable, honest, raw book by a church leader who struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. The foreword is by Robert W. Lee who is also a person with bi-polar disorder. After the book was printed but before it shipped out a year ago the author took his own life.  Rave reviews on the back about the author’s courage and candor are from Aundi Kolber (of Try Softer), worship leader Paul Baloche, K.J. Ramsey, and Marc Alan Schelske.

 

Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith Monica Coleman (Fortress) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

We have promoted this before not only for those wondering about mental health issues among the faithful, but also as a literary memoir. It’s a good read, powerful, energetic, vivid. (We even keep it it in a $26.99 hardback, if that is helpful for you.)   Rachel Held Evans, before she passed, said it was “a stunning, unforgettable read.”  Blurbs on the back include endorsement by Cornel West, Joshua DuBois, and Bishop Vashti McKenzie. 

 

Not Quite Fine: Mental Health, Faith, and Showing Up for One Another Carlene Hill Byron (Herald Press) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is very well written and clear as can be, but is mostly a practical guide about his best to care. She has had years of experience as a patient and a mental health advocate and researcher. We raved about this when it first came out in a  previous BookNotes column and highly recommend it here, again. You know, there really is a great need for resources like — has there been a time that you recall when so many people know themselves to be hurting? Please consider this.

Carlene Hill Byron wants the church to know there are a whole lot of us sitting in the pews dealing with mental health challenges. Her warmth, insight, and call to mature faithfulness will encourage every one of us to be more fully present in community, just as we are, even when we’re not quite fine.  — Michelle Van Loon, author of Translating Your Past: Finding Meaning in Family Ancestry, Genetic Clues, and Generational Trauma

All Who Are Weary: Easing the Burden on the Walk with Mental Illness Emmy Kegler (Broadleaf Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This is recent book by the fiesty, queer author of the study of Scripture called One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins. I am sure it is thoughtfully written, deeply moving by all accounts, and one that we’re happy to suggest.

All Who Are Weary is a beautifully and gently written companion to those who journey with mental illness and a guide to help us all love one another better. No matter who you are or where you are on the journey, I hope you’ll get this book and allow Emmy Kegler’s powerful words to come alongside you. — Kaitlin Curtice, author of Native: Identity, Belonging & Rediscovering God

Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness Kathryn Greene-McCreight (Brazos Press) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

We have long suggested that this one is one of the very best basic guides to depression and a thoughtful Christian understanding and response. The author, an Episcopal priest, finds some solace in the Psalms, but this is still a raw and moving book. The foreword is by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Highly recommended.

 

Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness Matthew Stanford (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

As both a church leader and a professor of psychology and behavioral sciences, Crawford “has seen too many mentally ill brothers and sisters damaged by well-meaning believers who respond to them out of fear or misinformation.” Grace for the Afflicted really is designed to help educate Christians about mental illness from both Biblical and scientific perspectives. Solid, helpful stuff that we very highly recommend. 

 

Christ on the Psych Ward David Finnegan-Hosey (Church Publishing) $17.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36

The author is the College Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministries at Barton College in Wilson, NC. In 2011, David was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. He now speaks and writes about the intersections among mental illness, mental health, and faith. David lives in Wilson with his wife, Leigh, and their dog, Penny Lane.

In Christ on the Psych Ward, David Finnegan-Hosey does something the Church has had difficulty doing regarding mental illness; he opens up the blinds and he lets the light in. David’s story is compelling, his voice clear, his insight profound, and his subject matter critical. A book like this is long overdue, both in and outside the Church. It will save lives. — John Pavolvitz, author of A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community and If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk

Grace Is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare David Finnegan-Hosey (Church Publishing) $18.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16

My, my what a fiesty read —honest and prophetic and snarky and real. And theological. And important. It is not only about mental health, per se, but is about the personal experience of living with this “pre-existing condition”, which is to say it is also about insurance and health care providers and a whole lot of messed up systems that need to improve if we are going to serve well our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.

 

Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church Sarah Griffith Lund (Chalice Press) $ 17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Lund serves the UCC denomination as a Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice; she holds degrees from Trinity University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Rutgers University, and McCormick Theological Seminary. Here writes about her own family experiences (her father was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder) and how the church often responds. It’s an important, small book from her UCC context and many have found it helpful. 

Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage Sarah Griffith Lund (Chalice Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

Lund serves the UCC denomination as a Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice (and wrote the moving Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church.) This is a one-of-a-kind resource that offers stories and honest theological reflection and, as one reviewer put it, writing that is both “heartwarming and heart-wrenching.” 

 

 

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

This is a rare and well written guide for those wanting to think through how the church can respond to mental health issues among children and youth. Based on DSM-5 diagnoses, it looks at all sorts of various topics and issues. Every church should have this good book as a handy resource! 

 

 

To Loose the Bonds of Injustice: The Plight the Mentally Ill and What the Church Can Do Marcia A. Murphy (Resource Publications) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

This book offers an overview of the lives of those struggling with mental illness through the lens of Christian social justice and how the church can be more appropriate in providing care, inclusion, and advocacy for the dignity of the afflicted. It offers insight about policy and treatment standards and how this can cause even more distress. Drawing on resources of faith and the church, she offers a model that can remind us to do better and find real solutions. 

Dutiful Love: Empowering Individuals & Families Affected by Mental Illness Elizabeth L.Hinson-Hasty (Fortress) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Here are two great endorsements that convinced us to stock this important resource:

“Every so often a scholar writes a book that has the potential to reshape an academic discipline or at least establish an important new research area or subfield. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty has done that with this breakthrough Christian ethical engagement with the neglected issue of mental illness. This work . . . tackles a serious human problem involving profound suffering and injustice, attends to the voices of those most affected, diagnoses societal shortfalls that worsen the problem unnecessarily, brings serious biblical and theological reflection to bear in order to change our moral vision, and offers examples of a path forward for Christian communities.” — David P. Gushee, Mercer University,  Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today

“Hinson-Hasty gifts us with a groundbreaking liberation theology for mental health disabilities that speaks the unspeakable: how serious mental illness impacts all of us, including those living with serious mental illness and their loved ones. This book empowers us to create communities of belonging and to advocate for social change for disabilities and mental health justice.” — Sarah Lund, MSW, author of Blessed Are the Crazy

Resurrecting the Person: Friendship and the Care of People with Mental Health Problems John Swinton (Abingdon Press) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

Swinton is a serious scholar of pastoral care and in recent years has been writing profound books which offer Christian insights into those with disabilities and special needs. This is an earlier one and still a classic that we recommend.  Stanley Hauerwas says he “sets a new standard for work in pastoral theology by… rediscovering the practice of friendship.” And, yes, this human practice can offer dignity and community and bear witness to the resurrection. 

A FEW BOOKS ABOUT CHRISTIANS AND COUNSELING

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

Michael is a friend who we respect greatly; he was trained operates out of what we might called an electric (or even progressive) sort of “Biblical counseling” model as advanced by the CCEF. I will list this book first in this section because, as I said in a longer BookNotes review when it came out last year, it is really for anyone who wants to treat well and care for those going through hard times. It is clear that all of us are “all of the above” — saints, sufferers and sinners — and it is in that realization that a healthy approach to psychology and counseling emerges. Anyway, this is a fine book, a real treasure. As CCEF faculty and counselor Ed Welch put it, it is, like Mike himself, “clear, helpful, gentle, and wise.” 

Speaking Code: Unraveling Past Bonds to Redeem Broken Conversations Diana DiPasquale (Square Halo Books) $33.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.19

Although not written only for counselors, we think this certainly would be useful for anyone doing even informal, friendship or pastoral counseling.  We reviewed this in somewhat greater detail in a previous BookNotes, noting that it is a remarkable book, almost unlike anything I’ve read, an oversized volume (with room for notes) which serves as a  guide to faithfully discerning what people are really communicating. This notion of speaking code is shorthand — well not so short as she explores in from many angles, quite extensively — for the obvious idea that people say things with lots of baggage carried along between the lines. From unspoken cues to emotional hints to literally code words used to signify something special to that person, we really can learn to honor each other by attending to not only the simple words spoken but the code language that, as she explains, are laden with past stuff and sometimes other less obvious motivations and desires.  Diana is a exceptionally well-rounded person, learned in art, history, science, theology, urban life, and more. She is a working therapist and knows well how “we long for relationships where truth is spoken in love.”

Who doesn’t desire to be really heard and deeply understood? As it says on the back cover, “this book helps decipher cryptic conversations, allows us to see where God’s specific goodness enters our lives.” Call this a redemptive, gospel-centered vision for communication and a discernment guide, at least, for therapists and counselors, and, frankly, for anyone wanting to put in the time working through her lively case studies, exercises, and assessment tools.

Counseling and Christianity: Five Approaches edited by Stephen Greg & Timothy Sisemore (IVP Academic) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I hope you saw the above listed title called Psychology and Christianity: Five Views. This one is like that one, building upon it, standing in the great tradition of comparing and contrasting different perspectives with each author not only presenting his or her view, but then replying to the others. If you do anything that you would like to consider a Christian approach to counseling, I beg you to read this remarkable, fascinating, compelling conversation among thoughtful Christian scholars and counselors There are contributions from Thomas Plante, Mark McMin, Diane Langberg, Gary Moon and Stuart Scott, each making their case that a certain model or paradigm is the most faithful to Scripture and theology and a sensible way to integrate Christian frame of reference and teaching with the actually way they do counseling. 

The perspectives are, as they put it, a Levels-of-Explanation Approach, the Integration Approach, the Christian Psychology Approach, the Transformational Approach and the Biblical Counseling approach. Very highly recommended.

A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry Heath Lambert (Zondervan) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

I am not persuaded that so-called “Biblical counseling” is the right model (and most of the books listed below are not of that particular movement.) But this is a foundational volume in that school of thought, showing the history of this counseling tradition (especially as it has developed in the the years after Jay Adams) and the Biblical and theological basis for their considered rejection of many commonly assumed views of secular schools of thought. Many will not agree with this particular use of the Bible and some many not think that theological doctine, as such, should be applied to counseling methodologies in this manner but it is, in my view, a live and good question. Agree or not, this is an important volume for anyone who takes Scripture and conventional theology seriously as a light for our path in this area and it is a volume from which we all can learn.

A Biblical Counseling Process: Guidance for the Beginning, Middle, and End Lauren Whitman (New Growth Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

Obviously I am no therapist or counselor and yet found skimming this small book to be quite interesting. It is rooted in the gospel-centered “Biblical Counseling” movement and offers, out of that paradigm, a concise discussion of the actual strategy and process of starting, carrying out, and finalizing some sort of redemptive therapeutic relationship.  Of course it doesn’t purport to be a recipe or formula but it is, as Jonathan Holmes notes, “brief but packed” with key notions. From “doable foci” to “clear benchmarks” this is fascinating. 

Embodying Integration: A Fresh Look at Christianity in the Therapy Room Began Anna Neff & Mark McMinn (IVP Academic) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This is another of these recent CAPS Books that we are happy to promote which illustrates why it is ludicrous to suggest there isn’t a healthy and robust movement of those working out an integration of theology, Christian psychological perspective, counseling methodology, and caregiving practices. This book is rich, wise, humble, and a great example of a readable scholarly work. It is made particularly interesting in that it is a dialogue between two generations of intentional scholars — itself an instructive discussion — bit between a father and daughter, making it that much more fun, even tender. Highly recommended.

Skills for Effective Counseling: A Faith-Based Integration  Elisabeth A. Nesbit Sbanotto, Heather Davediuk Gingrich, and Fred C. Gingrich (IVP Academic) $50.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $40.00

We are grateful that CAPS (Christian Association for Psychological Studies) does theoretical and intellectually stimulating books about the integration of faith and psychology and the ways in which even counseling methodologies can be shaped by and resonate with the gospel. This one shows the fruit of those carefully developed theories, offering skills and practices that make for effective skills in the counseling office.  This could be a text for training counselors or used by anyone that wants to be a people-helper.  I like the recommendations by Gary Moon:

Skills for Effective Counseling is a comprehensive yet accessible textbook written from decades of professional practice by the authors. It is for people helpers across a variety of roles—professional counselors, pastoral care providers, spiritual directors, and life coaches—and features a wealth of training activities, exercises, and transcript analysis. This is a welcome addition to the counselor education fields. — Gary W. Moon, executive director, Martin Institute and Dallas Willard Center, Westmont College, author of Apprenticeship with Jesus

The Soul of Desire: Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community. Curt Thompson (IVP) $27.00             OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

We are not the only ones who named this extraordinary, thoughtful, beautiful book one of the Best Books of 2021 and we continue to recommend this, and his other two The Anatomy a Soul and The Soul of Shame. This isn’t exactly about how to do counseling, but he tells stories of his psychiatric practice, drawing on his understanding of neuroscience and our deepest longings for beauty and connection. Renowned visual artist Mako Fujimura wrote a wonderful foreword. Highly recommended for anyone, and certainly for those looking for some profound ruminations that could revolutionizer view of flourishing through therapy. 

Sin and Grace in Christian Counseling: An Integrative Paradigm Mark McMinn (IVP Academic)  $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

As one Christian leader who has done supervision of counselors put it, “Christians in counseling work tend towards being informed theologically but naive clinically ,or income d clinically but naive theologically.” McMinn, per usual, breaks out of this either-or model and offers an approach that is theologically informed and clinically sound. What a pleasure to know about these kinds of faithful, winsome, deeply integrated perspectives. 

 

Addiction and Pastoral Care Sonia Waters (Eerdmans) $26.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.20  

Rev. Dr. Waters is an assistant professor of pastoral theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and an Episcopal priest. I have heard from several well-informed scholars and practitioners that there is no better book on the market for thoughtful pastors wanting to help congregations help members in recovery. We do have a whole section of books on addictions and the recovery movement, but for professionals seeking a faithful perspective, this may be a life-line. 

 

Treatment of Childhood Disorders: Evidence-Based Practice in Christian Perspective Sarah E. Hall and Kelly S. Flanagam (IVP Academic) $55.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $44.00

Here is how the publisher describes this: “Caring for the mental health of children and their families is complex and challenging—and meaningful. Considering a variety of disorders commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents, this unique textbook presents a research-based Christian integration perspective for treating these disorders that combines biblical, theological, and psychological understanding.”

Restoring the Shattered Shelf: A Christian Counselor’s Guide to Complex Trauma (2nd edition) Heather Davediuk Gingrich (IVP Academic) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Forgive me for once again naming a CAPS Book from IVP but these are so reputable and so important and look so interesting. Too few religious bookstores carry this sort of stuff and even fewer mainstream bookstores know or care. Gingrich is a professor of counseling at Denver Seminary and has a private practice working with complex trauma survivors. I’m told this is very, very useful so we really want to suggest it.  By the way, see also the 500-page, edited volume called Treating Trauma in Christian Counseling edited by Heather Davediuk Gingrich and Fred C. Gingrich, also done in cooperation with CAPS, published by IVP Academic ($60.00 – at 20% off = $48.00.)

Counseling and Psychotherapy: A Christian Perspective (2nd edition) Siang-Yang Tan (Baker Academic) $49.99                               OUR SALE PRICE = $39.99

Psychotherapy is a complex and serious sub-field in itself — read just a little bit about it in Charles Marsh’s memoir Evangelical Anxiety or the stories in Good Morning Monster by Catherine Gildiner that I reviewed last time —so there cannot be a simplistic Christian reply. This substantive text was years the making and was just re-issued in a considerably expanded edition this Spring. As the publisher notes “a leading scholar provides a comprehensive survey of major approaches to counseling and psychotherapy, offering a Christian critique and perspective.” But listen to this:

An already great textbook has been made better! In addition to updated original chapters, the second edition has new chapters on cognitive-behavioral therapies, constructivist therapies, and integrative therapies, including coverage of narrative and positive psychotherapy. All in all, the comprehensiveness, erudition, and Christian convictions and practices evidenced throughout make this book one of the most impressive examples of integrative scholarship in this or any contemporary discipline.    — Eric L. Johnson, Houston Baptist University, author, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal

Christian Meditation in Clinical Practice: A Four Step Model and Workbook for Therapist and Clients Joshua Knabb (IVP) $40.00            OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

I’ll admit I don’t know much about all this — meditation or therapy — but it makes sense and resonates with those looking for deep spiritual practices alongside more conventional talk therapy. The respected Siang-Yang Tan of Fuller Theological Seminary calls it a “substantial book on a distinctively Christian approach to mindful meditation” and, in perhaps an unexpected manner, these beautiful practices are discussed with attention to science and research, drawing on empirical studies the author has conducted. With endorsements from scholars as diverse as Regent University and Harvard Medical School, Christian Meditation in Clinical Practice looks very reliable for therapists and clearly useful.

Contemplation & Counseling: An Integrated Model for Practitioners  P. Gregg Blanton (IVP Academic) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Perhaps there is some overlap with the Knob title, above, but this one offers less empirical data and useful suggestions as a bigger picture approach to this kind of integration of psychology and spirituality, counseling and contemplation. This paradigm builds on useful aspects of the contemplative movement to “balance various dimensions of the human person: emotion, cognition, and action.”

Dr. Blanton is a professor of psychology and human services at Montreat College in Black Mountain, NC, and founder of the Center for Contemplation and Marriage in Asheville, and has written an Orbis Press book on centering prayer.

Trauma-Informed Yoga: A Toolbox for Therapists – 47 Practices to Calm, Balance, and Restore the Nervous System  Joanne Spence (PESI Publishing) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

We have written about this before at BookNotes and wanted to add it in here since it is not really for the casual yoga fan, but for therapist who use yoga practices in ways that help their traumatized patients and clients. Joanne is a friend from Pittsburgh, active in her Anglican church, a spiritually aware leader and good trainer.  We’re delighted to recommend it and, as with all of these, offer our Hearts & Minds BookNotes discount. 

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“Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir” by Charles Marsh; “It’s Not You, It’s Everything” by Eric Minton; “The Lord Is My Courage” by K.J.Ramsey and “Good Morning, Monster” by Catherine Gildner. ON SALE – 20% OFF

The last BookNotes newsletter included descriptions and reviews of a handful of books for pastors and ministry leaders, including several that were those who are weary and perhaps disillusioned. I described how much I appreciated The Gift of Disillusionment by our friends Peter Greer & Chris Horst, how moved I was by The Resilient Pastor by Glen Packiam, and the powerhouse stories in Stuck: Why Clergy Are Alienated from Their Calling, Congregation, and Career by sociologists, one a former pastor himself, Todd Ferguson & Josh Packer. Not all were for those who are drained by their call to minister these days; I so appreciated Tom Nelson’s The Flourishing Pastor and can’t recommend it enough. Every pastor I know would love the fabulous The Pastor’s Bookshelf which offers pretty exquisite writing about the value of the reading life and the different ways reading widely and deeply can inspire and equip pastors in their important work. That reminded me of a post we did a month ago on the significance of reading thoughtfully and well which included amazing books like The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints by Jessica Wilson Hooten and Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy by Mary McCampbell and Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just by the very lively, righteous Rev. Claude Atcho. It’s been a good season, eh? Those of us who are book lovers and love reading about our favorite pastime will be grateful for these wise reads.

I want to start this BookNotes edition telling about a book that blew me away and which I am now reading for the second time. It is rare when I make time for an immediate repeat but this book was so engaging – that is, it was very well-written in a way that was artful and richly-crafted but was equally inviting and enjoyable. Not every book that is written with literary verve and gorgeous prose is, frankly, still that interesting. This, though, a memoir of a journey in and coming out of a southern sort of fundamentalism, and finding a way through the hurts and hang-ups of that milieu, is a page-turner. My mind is reeling thinking of a dozen things to say about it as there is so much going on in this breathtaking story.

And then I review several others, each pretty honest about our human condition and yet oddly enjoyable to savor. Good reading, friends!

ORDER ANY OR ALL OF THESE BY CLICKING ON THE “ORDER” TAB AT THE END OF THE COLUMN. THAT TAKES YOU TO OUR SECURE ORDER FORM.  THANKS.

Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir Charles Marsh (HarperOne) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Evangelical Anxiety by Charles Marsh is some of what I might have expected in a memoir from him, knowing a bit about Dr. Marsh’s journey and scholarly interests. I am not sure I can describe simply his current, lively, Episcopalian kind of mere Christianity, but his conservative, Southern evangelical past is the swamp he has slogged through. As a Bonhoeffer expert (I heard him lecture gloriously about the martyred saint maybe 30 years ago and became an immediate Marsh fan with his second Bonhoeffer book, Strange Glory, an essential one), a scholar of and advocate for racial justice (and author of several excellent books on these exact themes, including one co-written with John Perkins called Welcoming Justice) and Director at the Project for Lived Theology at Charlottesville’s UVA, I assumed his story surely included some shift away from evangelicalism and distancing himself from the ugly compromises made by many white evangelicals in the last decades as they’ve drifted from gospel clarity and focused increasingly on right wing politics. When former evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr say that Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with their values voting, what is a somewhat socially progressive evangelical Christian to do? Needing to disavow the weirdness of a shallow God and Country sort of so-called evangelicalism has produced a number of memoirs and a number of serious studies about the value and wisdom – for the sake of the gospel! – to continue to use the phrase evangelicalism. Other books in this recent genre are less about the current state of the evangelical brand, and are artful tellings of the tales of living through what was often a toxic sort of legalism.

We have commended, for instance, the much-discussed Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey as a gripping look at the boyhood and young adulthood and ongoing faith journey set in this complicated and sometimes religiously harmful subculture. As any good memoir, Yancey’s book allows us to look over his shoulder and into his life as he navigated his broken family and harsh faith – it’s an entertaining if intense read; I often say that well-written memoirs provide a reading experience akin to reading great fiction. In some cases, one could hardly make up such astonishing stuff. Let’s face it, regardless of what one thinks about or what relationship one has with a given religious subculture, it makes for great literature.

(By the way, this is part of the appeal of the unforgettable true crime story Under the Banner of Heaven that is now a popular Netflix drama. We are not just drawn in by the grisly and tragic murders, but by the question of what kind of a religion can produce this kind of bad fruit. Especially in the TV series, that is the question the young LDS detective must struggle with. The show is as much about human questions of identity and religion and family and love as it is about cops and danger. And had highly recommended the book (with the subtitle “A Story of Violent Faith” by Jon Krakauer when it came out.)

This is a long way to get to a major point about the exquisitely written story, Evangelical Anxiety. It is, in fact, mostly not about the somewhat predictable question of how a smart young scholar and person of conscience with devout commitments to Christ can abide being am evangelical, given how grubby that phrase has become these days.  I was wrong to assume he was talking about that anxiety. (Although not as a memoir, Marsh did explore this already in 2007 with an acclaimed Oxford University Press book, Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity.) With Charles’s masterful writing chops and his extraordinary mind and learning, it would be fabulous to have a book about his worries, struggles, disagreements, cognitive dissonance, and theological ruminations, about his evangelical past. However, I was wrong about this being that kind of a story, really. It is, in fact, about his real anxiety disorder. In this stunning report that reveals more than I expected, we learn about Marsh’s years of psychotherapy to cope with his nearly debilitating panic attacks and something akin to depression.

Within the opening paragraphs we realize how very well written Evangelical Anxiety is and what an artful reading experience it will be. Wow. Soon enough, we realize that even as some of the themes are what we might first expect – a strict religious background giving way to a more expansive faith, the struggle to understand for oneself the spiritual life in the college and young adult years, the not uncommon journey from sparred down fundamentalist preaching services to a more liturgical (Episcopalian) worship — we soon realize that coping with real anxiety is much of what this book is about. And, well, well, well. What a story it is!

You should know this: Mr. Marsh wrote an earlier autobiographical account of his growing up years and it focused on an exceptional episode in his young life, a life-changing season at his father’s church, and while Evangelical Anxiety is not a sequel or second part of his life story, the remarkable stuff told in that previous one, does inform this new one. He explains those years briefly since it comes up over and again.

In The Last Days: A Son’s Story Of Sin And Segregation At The Dawn Of A New South, written in 2001, Marsh tells about how his father, a good preacher and thoughtful Baptist pastor, realized that there were violent KKK guys in his church, even on his leadership council. The Last Days tells of their horrible crimes, his father’s coming to terms with it. Like many Protestant pastors in those hard years in the South, Reverend Marsh was not an active anti-segregationist nor grossly bigoted. He was, perhaps, the sort of leader who would have realized that King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail was, in part, addressed to him. He was a good man and a good father, if conventional in that Southern Baptist setting and slow to come around to the courage needed to confront the likes of Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Mississippi KKK who lived near the Marsh’s in Laurel, Mississippi.

The violence in the town, aimed at Blacks, of course, was in the air, and Marsh was not unaware of this fearful texture to daily life. But when his father removed the men of the KKK (and their families) from his church, the violence was aimed at his family as well. Young Marsh — athletic, popular, strong — couldn’t sleep at nights. 

In a nutshell – and Marsh describes it with considerable beauty and pathos and understanding and keen insight based on his own decades of studying the civil rights movement in the American south – this consequence, this violence and fear of violence, is the origin of Marsh’s own crippling anxiety attacks.

Yes, he reads literature and theology by authors outside of his evangelical world in high-school and then college; yes he ends up at Harvard Divinity School after Gordon College with some nearly anti-Christian teachers, or so it sounds. Yes, there is this refining and reframing of his faith and church life (perhaps akin to what some today call deconstruction) but all of that, or so Evangelical Anxiety suggests, is colored by the trauma of growing up in a repressive fundamentalist subculture, and of coming of age in a time and way that might suggest his fears are a fallout from his father’s fidelity to the gospel. Charles does not cheaply pat his father and mother on their backs and does not portray himself as collateral damage from their small, if belated, part in the civil rights struggle. But he knows the cost of discipleship in his bones. It drives him to seek help.

And this – oh my – is where the book gets even more captivating. He ends up (to make a colorfully long story of his circuitous path a bit shorter) in Freudian psychotherapy.

Think what you will about the appropriateness of a Biblically-trained evangelical young man heading to the couch to talk about his sexual desires and his mother and such, it is at the heart of this story. In a few spots, the book admits to Marsh’s own awareness of the irony of this (he knows all about Jay Adams and the anti-Freudian teaching from conservative evangelical thinkers who propose more overtly Biblical counseling; golly, he had a meeting with Francis Schaeffer when he was a teen as he sought guidance and direction. The story is made that much more fascinating knowing just how unlikely it was for this young man to take up such therapy. 

 (One small irritation at this point in the narrative: Marsh has my support in dismissing as inadequate the Bible quoting anti-psychologists in the tradition of Adams and his noetic counseling. Their view seems to me to be a good example of what Mark Noll has called “the scandal of the evangelical mind.” But surely Marsh knows about the extraordinary Christian scholarship published since the 1980s that illustrate the existence of an intellectually credible and creative movement exploring the integration of faith and the discipline of psychology and the practices of what might be called Christian counseling. Just look at the remarkable bibliography of Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) and their books published by IVP Academic, just for instance.  His declarations about evangelicalism’s alleged disinterest in such scholarship struck me as odd.)

As a broke young scholar with a new wife, feeling drawn into therapy, he ends up in a rare situation of doing analysis with a new shrink in a nearly free program in Baltimore. For those who know anything about this, you won’t be surprised that it goes on, almost daily, for years. Some of his breakthroughs and insights are disclosed here although the book never devolves into a mere account of his id and superego. It’s a great memoir, not a document of his therapy. Nonetheless, working on the couch has been a significant part of his life in coping with his disorders, and, well, there it is, written about with candor and wit. It is sharp and at times funny. 

As Jemar Tisby puts it:

“Marsh probes the realms of piety and mental health with engrossing prose and naked honesty, showing us how the sacred can be found in literature and on the therapist’s couch. Anyone curious about a better way to navigate mental health and belief will find hope and inspiration in this.”

I do not think I have ever read a book like this. The glimpse into a professional and religious life in which debilitating panic attacks and gripping depression and unusual ticks and so many concerns are described in such detail (without being overly dramatic or maudlin or self-pitying) is rare and so very interesting. I was stunned when I read early on in the book about his first attack. (Sorry for the spoiler alert — I hadn’t seen it coming. It is, no matter, an amazing piece of writing.) If you care about how some people cope with psychological disorder and their subsequent physiological consequences, this book will be illuminating. (Granted, he is from an educated class, a world-famous scholar, and award-winning author and the book is a memoir, not a guidebook, of his particular experience as a professor, academic, writer, and theologian.) I do not think it is a bad thing to say Evangelical Anxiety will be entertaining, a good read, as they say. There were descriptions and well-crafted sentences that just made me shake my head in wonder and there were episodes described that made me laugh out loud. Publisher’s Weekly called it an “endearing and rewardingly unusual account of mental illness and faith.”

Patricia Hampl, author of The Art of the Wasted Day says,

“A harrowing book but, weirdly and wonderfully, also a hoot. I kept laughing aloud–and then sighing. A remarkable achievement.”

But, again: Mr. Marsh’s story unfolds against the backdrop of considerable anxiety around the religious questions of leaving behind a strict version of faith; it is, as more than one reviewer observed, connected to the questions about the relationships of the so-called secular and sacred; the split between body and soul, desire and duty. As in the Yancey memoir, moving away from the faith and very worldview of one’s youth, especially if it was a demanding subculture defined as over-and-against all others, can be painful and can create relational ruptures. Fortunately, Marsh’s parents were not toxic or harmful and some of his faith experiences (and the webs and networks of relationships he experiences) were perhaps less caustic that the caricature of this harsh setting might conjure; still, getting severely paddled by high school coaches and terribly shamed by youth group leaders was part of what was considered ordinary in that time in that place.

As Marsh comes of age in the 1970s there is cultural change in the wind, not unrelated to the seismic shifts begun in the 1960s. “The Times They are a Changin’” Dylan sang and the words were prescient. I feel it in my gut as I type it, knowing how I myself snarled out the words with my own cheap guitar in the ‘70s. Marsh reports well how one person and family – including his beloved wife K – negotiated these changes in these times as they moved into their early married years of the 1980s and on. Again, I could not put this book down and was very deeply moved by it all; I can at least say that anyone who is aware of the nature of Protestant life during the end of the 20th century and into the new millennium will find it fascinating.

We need you, dear and gentle reader, to know something else about this stunning memoir. It is honest. Marsh is exceedingly candid about his fears and his failures. Do I need to issue a trigger warning? Perhaps. He is candid, particularly, about his sexuality and, given the way purity culture was made into a fetish in some evangelical circles and how the Biblical teachings not to have sex before marriage were made exceptionally clear and linked to the looming threat of hell in his subculture, it is no wonder, I suppose, that he, uh, had issues.

A scene in Evangelical Anxiety of Charles and his then girlfriend reading wildly together while house-sitting in the home of Elizabeth Elliot of all people (look her up if you don’t know) is so erotically charged I don’t know how they remained chaste. In any case, there is some very frank talk in parts of the book. As a reader with a pretty wide palate for “language” in stories and who doesn’t think that human sexuality needs to be off limits for writers telling about their life story, I still have to say that some of this felt gratuitous. I think an editor should have put her foot down a time or two, even if Publisher’s Weekly enjoyed the “bawdy” parts.

Nonetheless, the book really does need to explore this stuff: it is an integral part of the story. It was the heavy-handed sexual repression combined with the ubiquitous racial violence that helped shape the psyche of a man who realized he could not manage a life in these modern times, as a faithful person, without unpacking it. And, so, he goes there, sharing without shame some intimate details of his life and not so unusual desires.

The very discerning James K.A. Smith called it “at once transgressive and faithful.“ Perhaps that’s it — both transgressive and faithful.

Other early readers also have raved about this long-awaited memoir by Mr. Marsh. We know it may not be for everyone but it is a major book by an important voice, and it was very difficult to put down. I’m happy to tell you about it and hope you’ll send us an order.

There is vivid storytelling, there are remarkable recollections of important stuff, and there is some broad-brush cultural analysis, placing his own journey in the context of the fundamentalist and evangelical world of the past generation, up to and including his own worship experiences today.

The opening page describing in smooth detail the crisp khaki trousers and brand name shirt of the Anglican worship leader presiding at worship, the tasteful praise songs, and the shockingly weird sermon, was so well written and deftly designed, shifting to a line at the end of the page that made tears well up in my eyes, alerted me that this was going to be one great read.

There is also great tenderness in Evangelical Anxiety. Marsh writes about taking his kids to a Christian camp. He describes his love for his mother, including the solace she offered during his fearful nights as a boy. He is deeply remorseful when he has hurt his wife. He struggles with how to relate his own scholarship – he writes about Bonhoeffer, after all – with his own practice of lived discipleship. He holds what he knows to be true about the world, its racism and violence, and is learning how to carry on as a sane and happy person. In a simple passage about finding joy in good things in God’s creation, the spirituality of the ordinary, so to speak, he mentions how his friend, the evangelical, black leader John Perkins likes blue berries. I got a lump in my throat, just such a lovely little line about a man who has suffered much and experienced great fame, Charles’s friend. Many who pick up this book and enter this story will also be struck by Marsh’s great love for literature and the often beautiful way he mentions novels and authors, his intimate relationship with their truths and artful pleasures. I so enjoyed reading about a man I respect and the books he loves and the authors who have informed him.

Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir is one of the important books of the season, and we are eager to promote it. It is my hunch that few religious bookstores will celebrate it – it’s just a bit much for the safe tastes of evangelicals apparently without anxiety. And yet it is so rooted in the religious subculture of the American south, even in the rather elite New England and mid-Atlantic settings into which he later became comfortable, that I’m not sure if the hipster indie stores and the big box secular chains will get it. I hope so. For Hearts & Minds fans and BookNotes readers, I invite you to give it a chance, start a book club, maybe; Charles Marsh is an important scholar and leader you should know and bares much in this gripping new memoir. It is one great read.

This is a bold, beautiful memoir, at once transgressive and faithful. Marsh embodies a theology with the courage to tackle the taboo, including depression and desire, in prose that is evocative and seductive. In the end, we learn that the most astounding grace is found in the God we can tell our secrets. — James K.A. Smith, Calvin University, editor in chief, Image, author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine

In this beautifully choreographed memoir, Charles Marsh’s lyrical prose dances as he recounts a tormenting anxiety disorder. Eventually he finds solace through years of a masterfully-described psychoanalysis (later supplemented with a bit of Prozac). Evangelical Anxiety is a courageous memoir where Christianity and psychoanalysis –worlds that rarely converge–interweave. — Dinah Miller MD, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of Shrink Rap: Psychiatrists Explain Their Work

 

It’s Not You It’s Everything: What Our Pain Reveals About the Anxious Pursuit of the Good Life Eric Minton (Broadleaf Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Well, I’ve opened a bit of a can of worms with this BookNotes, leading off with my rave review of the aesthetically rich, profound story of the great writer Charles Marsh as he narrates, among other things, his anxiety and panic attacks and depression and his experience of years of psychoanalysis as a way of coping with his religious trauma from his Southern fundamentalist youth. It’s a great read, candid and even shocking, all the more for being so very well written. Evangelical Anxiety: A Memoir is, at least in part, about the quest not only for reasonable, radical faith in a secularizing world, but for emotional and psychological wholeness coming from a world of (to swipe the subtitle of her much earlier memoir) “sin and segregation.”) It is a memoir, not a study of counseling or a self-help guide but it does, in ways that are not oblique, explore questions of mental health.

This new Broadleaf book by Eric Minton also explores the quandaries of holding on to mental health these days and it is a stunner. Like Marsh, at least in some significant ways, the author has shifted from a harsh and restrictive religiosity that plagued him in his earlier days. As a former Southern Baptist minister turned therapist, Minton knows well the struggle to clarify (some might say deconstruct) unhealthy faith and discover a more faithful, coherent, graciously Biblical worldview that could shape a well lived life. He, like Marsh, has seen some shit.

What is so very impressive with this engaging book is how the author insists that our own anxieties these days, religious or otherwise, are amplified by the cross pressures of the age. Perhaps it has always been so, but it certainly is now. Trying to conform to a sick culture, he suggests, is part of what is making us so very restless, anxious, prone to depression and ill health.

I do not know (although it has surely been written about) how the weirdness of the Middle Ages affected ordinary people’s self awareness and sense of themselves, or how the early modern or industrial age left its mark on what we now call the psyche. Scholars tell us that common folk hardly had a sense of self in the modern sense of a certain sort of identity in ancient years, which some claim is a relatively recent construction. (One seriously significant study about some of that, by the way, interacting with Philip Reiff and Charles Taylor, is by the often brilliant, if sometimes a bit cranky, Carl R.Trueman, in his hefty Crossway volume, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.)

But, geesh, the writers of the Biblical Psalms sure seemed to have a sense of self, wounded and redeemed as they were.

In any case, we know a bit how society  — ideas and forces — influence us. We about the critique of the ticky tacky little boxes and the gray-suited zeitgeist of the corporate man during the post World War II era (and the consciousness raising that spawned the feminist awareness among suburban woman in the 1960s and 70s.) I just started the splendidly enjoyable end of the 20th century social history written as memoir by Bill McKibben (The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon: And What the Hell Happened) and, again, we know that social trends and cultural forces create an ethos that influences and sometimes impacts harshly the mental health of people and families. Again, think of industrialization and urbanization, including the Great Migration, and the very real personal fallout from suburbanization. Or the “cultural amnesia and expressive individualism” Trueman writes about, finding its glory in the romantic notions of the counter culture and the “triumph of the erotic.”  Tell me all that doesn’t create some personal angst. Or, simply, consider the tragic loneliness of our time, despite our 24/7 social media access.  Maybe it’s like we’re back in Glome, the dark world of Lewis’s Til We Have Faces, a story about love.

The big contention of It’s Not You, It’s Everything, is that there is really hard stuff in the air now, weirdness in the water and our current zeitgeist nearly pushes us into stress and anxiety. From the well-documented influence of social media, the pressure to parent in certain ways (think the pressures of youth sports and the drive to have our kids achieve more and more at younger and younger ages) to our ubiquitous political tensions, the pace of life and shallowness of so much our entertainment (and religion, we might say, drawing on Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, at least) we are overly stimulated, longing for peace, worried about everything. It isn’t just you, it isn’t just me. As Minton the pastor turned therapist says, it’s everything.

I am a fan of It’s Not You, It’s Everything and I am quite sure reading it will be valuable for you, too. It will provoke you to think, to receive new insights; the book is, as public citizen and Christian writer David Dark says, “a profound gift.”

Mintor is a Tennessee troublemaker at least insofar as he names our alienation caused by the go-go-go of our hyper capitalist culture, the harm done by what Saint Dorothy Day called “this filthy rotten system.” He dares to explore how capitalistic pressures to bootstrap and succeed and brand oneself are savaging us. This stuff, written with grace and great kindness, and some nice stories, carries the ring of truth.

(There are hundreds of Christian social ethicists, economists, and public theologians who bring a strong critique of capitalism and our materialistic idols these days, and the harm these idols bring, of course. Just for three fairly recent ones, see Rodney Clapp’s Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, Bob Goudzwaard’s Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture, or the spectacularly interesting Disarming Romans: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice by Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh.)

Nearly anyone doing serious cultural analysis these days needs to grapple with both the personal and the public forces arrayed against our flourishing. Almost anyone doing Christian thinking about anything, in fact, or so it seems to me – considering church ministry, say, or child rearing or evangelism or taking in the news or our worlds of leisure and entertainment or how to undergird our frazzled family lives – has to consider how our personal lives and the mediating social networks and the civic fabric we are woven into, and the larger social architecture of our cultural landscape in which we are situated, are deformed and ill-shaped by forces akin to what the Bible might call “principalities and powers.” To ask, as Minton does, how economic and social forces and the pressures of this post-Christian, late-modern, competitive culture chips away at our joy, our meaning, the wholeness of our lives, eroding what might be more stable in less trying times, should not be controversial. If he quotes some pretty serious social critics and a bunch of medical and psychological studies to help him help us, so be it. Everything solid, after all, does seem to melt into air these days.

And so, this is one provocative, incisive, wide-angled and yet somehow intimately soothing, self-help book. It’s not all big picture lament; he draws nicely on Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle and the fabulous David Dark (especially his Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious.) He quotes artists and shows from pop culture (including a funny story about MC Hammer in the acknowledgments, which certainly dates his coming of age.) He has a few Cracker Barrel mentions and there’s that lovely story about the luminous night with fireflies. He obviously has Mr. Rogers at the ready, all right alongside Cornel West and James Baldwin.  With the skills of a pastoral counselor and the training of a rather radical social critic and the colorful storytelling chops of a good ol’ boy, counselor Minton brings it all together in a book unlike any I’ve read in a while. And who doesn’t need a bit of help just trying to make sense of, well, all of this. You know.

I like how author Bruce Rogers-Vaughn (who wrote a book called Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age) observes that Minton “challenges us to turn our anxiety and depression back out into the world.” Rogers-Valughn continues, saying how the book “illuminates a path beyond the hypercapitalist morass in which we find ourselves today.”

As I’ve said, it isn’t exactly rocket science to admit that our society is somewhat to blame for our weirdness these days, although knowing how to adjudicate that and what to do about it takes the gifts of the Spirit and a good bit of genius. I think Minter has a lot of both.

Here are the key chapters, framed by lovely stories of his youth, from being afraid of swimming and the rural American pastime of catching fireflies (or what recalled lightening bugs) in a jar:

  • Why Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? How Children Became Investments
  • Why Is Everyone Yelling on the Internet? How People Became Brands
  • Why Does Heaven Seem So Out of Reach? How Capitalism Became Religion
  • Why Does God Seem So Depressed? How Christianity Became Anesthetic
  • What If We Can’t Keep Doing This? How to Survive the Death of Your God
  • What If We Weren’t Afraid of Our Feelings? How to Listen to Our Pain as an Act of Resistance
  • What If We Weren’t Afraid of God? How to Reparent Ourselves
  • What If We Weren’t Afraid of Dying? How to Do More Than Live Forever
  • What If We Weren’t Afraid of Each Other? How to Be Complicated 

Here is what others have said about It’s Not You, It’s Everything.

With It’s Not You, It’s Everything, Eric Minton gives us a profound gift, inviting us into a genuinely therapeutic space where we can regard our own stretched-to-the-limit bandwidth with care, compassion, and good humor. There is difficult work to be done, but we can meet the task of seeing ourselves clearly and candidly. It can even be a joy. — David Dark, author of Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious

In It’s Not You, It’s Everything, Eric Minton presents a compassionate and uncompromising assessment of the forces driving our spiritual anxiety and guides us toward questions that peel back the source of our discontent. In this book for people who can’t take much more, Minton offers us a hope with weight –hope we can hold on to. — Melissa Florer-Bixler, pastor and author of How to Have an Enemy and Fire by Night

In It’s Not You, It’s Everything, Eric Minton sets out to delineate the ways the modern life does not support our thriving as spiritual, emotional, and embodied human beings, and to offer us a bold alternative way of being. He succeeds on both counts. With humor, vulnerability, and reference to a multitude of writers, activists, and scholars, Minton digs deep into what it would take for all of us to actually be okay. — Jessica Kantrowitz, author of The Long NightBlessings for the Long Night, and, 365 Days of Peace

The Lord is My Courage: Stepping Through the Shadows of Fear Toward the Voice of Light K.J. Ramsey (Zondervan) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39  RELEASING JUNE 14, 2020

Some of you may know the extraordinary book that we promoted a year or so ago by K.J Ramsey on her life and faith with chronic pain entitled This Too Shall Pass: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers. It was very well-written, honest and raw, and oddly inspiring as she learned to name the hardships of her painful life, With a brokenness that in one way or another we all have experienced she tells of learning to trust the God of covenant and grace known in the person of Jesus. It was a book I needed and that we still recommend for those facing chronic illnesses or other ongoing hardships.

This brand new one – due out next week, so you can pre-order it now, at our secure order form by clicking on the “order” link below – is, I might say, farther along and deeper in. It is not a sequel, really, although it, too, is written in the style of a memoir in order to help us all grow in our capacity to trust God, knowing we are held, accepted, loved.  This powerful book, The Lord Is My Courage, is truly useful for anyone, but I’ll say three things about it that might help you know if it is one you need, now, at least.

Firstly, Ramsey is a trauma-informed, licensed professional counselor. As a person of deep faith she describes herself not only as a therapist but “a writer whose work offers space to see every part of our souls and stories as sacred.” She holds degrees from Covenant College and Denver Seminary and she is gifted at sharing stories in a way that invites us into their mysteries, encourages us, helps. She seems to have the heart of a poet and is a bit of a visionary, it seems, but she knows what she’s doing. Believe me.

Secondly, this book is connected to and perhaps grounded in her own story of experiencing a dysfunctional congregation and a bullying pastor, going through what now some name as spiritual abuse. If Charles Marsh in his literary memoir, above, narrates his anxiety produced by growing up in an era of racial trauma and a restrictive fundamentalism, Ramsey and her husband experienced (more recently) a toxic religious culture and a harsh faith style in a church that, as she describes it, was complicit with cruel, crushing leaders. As she stepped away from that wilderness of religious trauma, she “discovered that courage is not the absence of anxiety but the practice of trusting we will be held and loved no matter what.” This book, arranged around but not fixated upon her experience of religious abuse, is about helping readers cultivate courage, especially when fear overshadows our lives. As the back cover asks, “How do we hear the Voice of Love when hate and harm shout loud?”

How, indeed? Well, part of the answer for K.J. is to search the Scriptures and to find oneself within their redemptive arc, learning to not only embrace the hope of the Kingdom but to encounter the God of the story. One way to do that, a time-honored way, is to dig deep into one text. For her, in this marvelous new book, it is the beloved 23rd Psalm. The Lord is My Courage is a play on the first famous line of Psalm 23 and her book explores much about the contemporary application of God’s heart as a shepherd.

Perhaps you have read a few books on this famous text (although, curiously, it is so well-loved and familiar that not many actually study it.) We were quite happy when Dallas Willard’s book (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23) came out, notable for bringing very deep truths in a readable way from this almost too-common Psalm. Similarly – but with a whole lot more psychological drama and edgy application – Ramsey’s The Lord is My Courage brings fresh insight from the Hebrew poem, helping us who have great fears and great needs learn to be brave as we trust God the good shepherd.

And, wow, K.J. does offer some fresh insights. (Her comments about “the rod” that the Psalms says is to be a comfort is worth the price of the book even if she is not the first to explain it so helpfully.) She’s got other good interpretations and creative applications, too. Fresh as her take on much of all this is, and as contemporary as her style (and story) are, Ramsey is drawing on good, good stuff. She knows the irreplaceable Ken Bailey’s work, she draws on N.T Wright and Eugene Peterson and Kathleen Norris, one of her favorites.  It’s lovely to see how she uses Julian of Norwich and contemporary Calvin scholar Julie Canlis and the amazing Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann, not to mention her mentor Kelly M. Kapic (whose 2017 book, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering informed Ramsey’s first, and whose recent You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News is really worth reading.) It’s not every book that is so Biblically astute, so deeply spiritual, aware of contemporary neuroscience and psychology (she quotes a book about the Vegus nerve and ruminates on polyvagal theory, for Pete’s sake) and yet is a page turner, in part because of her own heavy story. All this makes for quite a read. The foreword is by Curt Thompson (author, most recently, of The Soul of Desire) which is quite an honor for any author and indicates the book’s wisdom and value. We are very glad to get to recommend it, now. 

We are not alone in trusting this author and commending her work. Here are just two of many that we invite you to read carefully. Just these blurbs are inspiring!

The message those who suffer hear most often is self-heal, self-love, and self-help, which only adds shame, guilt, and a suffocating sense of powerlessness. When we are desperate, we need not advice to act on, but a promise from God that he will be with us no matter what. If you have ever felt like darkness is your only companion, you won’t find yourself blamed in this book. You’ll find yourself pursued and embraced by the patient and compassionate love of a God who meets you in your pain. God does not command, ‘Heal thyself!’ but declares, ‘You will be healed!”– Justin S. Holcomb, minister; seminary professor; author, God with Us: 365 Devotions on the Person and Work of Christ

I trust people who have suffered to speak the deepest wisdom. K.J. Ramsey is such a person. In The Lord Is My Courage, Ramsey comes to us as a therapist with acute pastoral sensibilities who does not mince words about the destruction self-centered, power-hungry undershepherds unleash on individual parishioners and the wider church. But she does not stop there. She gently leads us through Psalm 23 and showcases God’s love for and delight in us — our belovedness — as revealed throughout the psalm. As we wind our way through Psalm 23, Ramsey offers us grace and direction as we seek to become whole, especially when we are dealing with pain and shame related to abusive shepherds and churches. Ramsey deftly demonstrates that God is our good and beautiful shepherd seeking our flourishing, and not some tyrant feigning godliness who merely uses and abuses people for personal gain. Listen to her. — Marlena Graves, author, The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself

Good Morning Monster: A Therapist Shares Five Heroic Stories of Emotional Recovery Catherine Gildiner (St. Martin’s Press) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Although this recent volume has gotten rave, big-time reviews and is a fabulous chronicle of the life of a therapist, narrating the life situations of a handful of her clients over the course of a few years, we were first attracted to this merely because the author is such a great, great writer. Her own several memoirs of her eccentric girlhood, her coming of age and young adult years (Too Close to the Falls, After the Falls, and Coming Ashore) were New York Times bestsellers and among the favorite books Beth and I read a few years ago. If we ever got talking about memoirs – from James Carroll’s An American Requiem to The Liars Club, Cherry, and Lit, to Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me, to Just Mercy, Uneducated, and When Breath Becomes Air to Heavy, Hollywood Boulevard and Kin – surely Catherine Gildiner’s odd and entertaining tales would be on our lips. We loved this girl and her feisty stories.  In fact, I think I have to pick up those memoirs again — they are that good.

Here she is less outrageously upbeat (these are not her stories, really, but her story of working with these patience as a real life therapist in Toronto) but her wit and eye for clever observation remains. What prose!  She is generous and gracious as she invites us to see, really see and care about, the people’s lives she is telling us about in all their need and painful glory. As Paula McLain (herself a skilled and admired memoirist) says, the real topic here is, “heroism – writ large and with poignant specificity in five unforgettable patient’s lives. Good Morning Monster,” she continues, “will bolster your faith in human endurance, and make you root more fiercely for us all.”

At least that is the hope. There is some heavy stuff here, and, frankly, may not be for everyone.

This book really is captivating for those willing to sit through these sessions with Dr. Gildiner. She’s an expert therapist, apparently, and there are moments that shine (although I know some think she is off base on occasion; that may be.) I do admit, though, I kept wondering what she’d do with the evangelical anxiety of Charles Marsh or the spiritual abuse and physical pain of K.J. Ramsey, and what she would do differently if she took Eric Minton’s “it’s everything” cultural critique seriously.

Valerie Hemingway (speaking of powerful, well-written memoirs, she wrote Running with the Bulls: My Year with the Hemingways) calls it “a brilliant piece of work, both heart rending and chilling. I was moved to tears.”   I see that.

Here is how the publisher explained this book:

In this fascinating narrative, therapist Catherine Gildiner’s presents five of what she calls her most heroic and memorable patients. Among them: a successful, first generation Chinese immigrant musician suffering sexual dysfunction; a young woman whose father abandoned her at age nine with her younger siblings in an isolated cottage in the depth of winter; and a glamorous workaholic whose narcissistic, negligent mother greeted her each morning of her childhood with ‘Good morning, Monster.’

Each patient presents a mystery, one that will only be unpacked over years. They seek Gildiner’s help to overcome an immediate challenge in their lives, but discover that the source of their suffering has been long buried.

Seeing into the lives of others is why we read memoirs, and why the sorts of books named above are so very valuable. We learn more, I think, from observing and leaning in to the human condition, messy as it may be, than by just learning information in our heads about self-improvement. We are what we love, as Jamie Smith says (channeling Saint Augustine) in his marvelous book by the same name, and to grow as a person surely means to learn to love ourselves in our human condition, with our wounds and our needs and our desires. And, of course, to learn to love others as they, too, both mirror God’s image and stand broken and hurting. We’re all in this same boat, really, so reading widely into the healing journey can help.

Dr. Gildiner has given us a very great resource here, then, an exercise in learning to care, a book that unfolds like a collection of short stories, the sometimes gut-wrenching drama and real pain and hope of each, in each, culminating in insights gleaned. It reads like fiction, almost, as good memoir does (which into say it is not mere reporting or recounting notes for these sessions, although there is a touch of that.) Good Morning Monster is a gift and will be very valuable for some of us, entertaining for others. It, like the others above, is a very good read.

I am going to end this BookNotes with a bit of a bonus review, a quick announcement about a small book that might seem different that these about those going through often painful psychological traumas, from serious anxiety about faith to stressful restlessness in our hectic culture to emotional profound disorders. Our human hurts and foibles, our misplaced loves and complicated stories make for impressive reading in the hands of good writers. These memoirs and observations are interesting to read and we hope you enjoy them.  But if we who are Christians believe God came close to us in the person of Christ and that He was a truly human person, than Christ’s own identity and personhood is good to consider alongside these contemporary memoirs.  Check this out, a brand new contemporary edition of an old bit of writing from a century ago.

The Emotional Life of Our Lord B.B Warfield (Crossway) $8.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.19

B.B. Warfield, you may know (although I suppose many may not) was a exceptionally important, highly regarded professor at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1851-1921, before the modernist vs liberal debates that tore many old seminaries apart in the early 20th century. He was, as they say, old school, and Old Light, I guess, meaning he wasn’t fond of the emotionalism and sensationalism of the “new light” revivalism sweeping America in those years. By the way, he spoke out against racial discrimination while the Principal of the seminary and was known for his “emancipationist” views. It was B.B.Warfield’s large presence at Princeton that inspired Abraham Kuyper to visit there in 1898 and deliver his now famous “Stone Lectures” about Calvinism as a whole world-and-life perspective.

In any case, Warfield’s love for the Bible and his love for Christ and his role as a leading theologian known around the world, then, caused him to write a bit, to put it mildly. His “complete works” came to ten big hardback volumes, but, oddly this essay was not included. In the foreword to this new, very handsome, pocket sized edition Sinclair Ferguson calls it a “hidden jewel” — hidden, because it is not well known and a jewel because of the tender and vital topic, namely, the emotional life of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. It was first published (with tons of academic footnotes to then current books and obscure Hebrew and Greek resources, that were nicely omitted in this edition) in 1912.  This is the first time, as far as I know, that it has been available in a stand alone little volume. Kudos to Crossway (and this whole series of “Crossway Short Classics” that also include other jewels such as Spurgeon’s Encouragement for the Depressed, Thomas Chalmer’s The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, and one with two of Francis Schaeffer’s sermons from No Little People. See the whole list here. Naturally, we stock them all.

I hope this little Warfield volume — which I first heard of years ago from my friend Steve Garber who has found it helpful in many ways and cites it sometimes — will remind us all that Jesus, our brother, felt things. As a man in broken times, he knew, what these above authors know: that it’s not you, it’s everything. That to love well and live well, we must somehow attend to our deepest feelings, including our sense of our grief for the wounds of the world, and, as we say nowadays, feel the feels. Jesus did so. Warfield, in a time and place and culture very different than ours, noticed it in a way many do not. His part on Jesus’s compassion and tears is remarkable to to this day even though written with a sober reverence that may sound a little formal to modern ears. Still, we recommend The Emotional Life of Our Lord, from 1912. Who knew? Enjoy.

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For many of us on these warmer summer evenings, some hard-earned bucks on a couple of good books ends up being pretty darn good entertainment value, too. These are captivating and fabulous books, complex and wise, mostly, as they explore human and heart-rending topics. From religious anxiety through healing and finding new courage, It’s not just you, it’s everything. Grab a couple of books at our discounted prices and dive in. There’s a lot to learn.

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“The Gift of Disillusionment” (Peter Greer & Chris Horst), “A Non-Anxious Presence” (Mark Sayers), “The Resilient Pastor” (Glen Packiam), “Stuck” (Todd Ferguson & Josh Packard), and more – ON SALE

It happened again.  Two good conversations with pastors and another with a leader in a para-church organization. Good leaders, sharp thinkers, energetic voices for a good and beautiful vision of the Kingdom of God.  Each in their own way expressed serious concerns about not just their energy level (down) and stress levels (up) but their mental and spiritual health. One said he was re-reading Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good for an eloquent and rich reminder of the weight many of us carry and how to somehow learn to love as God loves, knowing what we know about the deep brokenness of the world.

Whether it is the demoralizing daily grind of slogging through paperwork and bureaucracy or carrying the weight of hurting friends or lamenting the grave injustices of our fallen world, any caring Christian is sure to have seasons of frustration. For some pastors and leaders, these frustrations and aches are becoming worse and acute. As we’ve heard from many news stories telling about more and more research and reports, we are facing — especially in the faith communities — a crisis among leaders.

We’ve got four great new books that can help leaders and pastors and we think that they could be helpful.  Maybe if you are a leader, you should make time for these. Maybe start a collegial study group with colleagues who would understand the benefit of chatting about these kinds of resources. If you are not in professional ministry yourself, it is very likely that you care for someone who is. Why not gift them with one or two of these? You know we love to tuck in nice little notes when we send books as gifts.  Can we help you do that?

And then, after the four new ones, I tag on a couple recent ones that I’ve mentioned before because it seemed wise and good to remind readers of those as well. All, of course, are 20% off.

Each of these books deserves a more thorough review. I don’t have my best critical chops out today and I’m not going to wax long about them, as much as I wish I could and as much as they deserve the best accolades.  “Time’s a-wasting” as my dad used to say.  Let’s get to it.

The Gift of Disillusionment : Enduring Hope for Leaders After Idealism Fades Peter Greer & Chris Horst (Bethany House) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

I know both of these authors and respect them immensely. Both are lively and thoughtful young men moving, soon enough, I gather, into their mid-life years. Peter is the President and CEO and Chris a chief advancement director for Hope International, a very impressive Christian organization that offers mici-financing loans and helps set up savings collectives and alternative banks throughout the two-thirds world. From East Asia to central Africa to South America to Eastern Europe — yes, they have team members working in Ukraine —they serve the poor with structural assistance and systemic reforms that enable ordinary folks to thrive and flourish. We really respect them a lot.

Peter has travelled the world overseeing these life-changing financial innovations and also has this vocation of being a writer; he’s done books on leadership, on “mission drift”, and on mid-life issues for faith leaders. He and Chris have collaborated before, even on a striking one called Rooting for Rivals which is about collaboration and generosity between “rival” organizations. Pretty idealistic. 

What happens when such idealism fades? How do energetic leaders cope when disappointment hits, when burn-out approaches? When discouragement erodes not just the joy of the leader but when it erodes the vitality of organizations? “Visionaries often succumb to cynicism,” they note, and “zealous advocates give up. Leaders coast as their passion for the cause grows cold.”

The Gift of Disillusionment is a book found very inspiring and I found myself exclaiming on what a page-turner it was. That says something about my own crisis of these sorts, I’m sure, but I’ve read any number of books that have not been particularly interesting, let alone helpful. This one hit the spot.

The book includes good psychological and organizational insights and is grounded in a mature Christian perspective. Not only is there good teaching and much hard-earned wisdom from these two leaders, two others — Brianna Lapp and Jill Heisey — have helped them process research and interviews they did, telling the stories of key leaders from around the world who found their sweet spot again, so to speak, after significant discouragement.

The first few chapters are really good as they explore what they call false hope, faint hope, and forgotten hope. Then they process with us the stories from remarkable folks and arrange them around themes or units called upward, outward, and onward.  Finding hope, according to research they’ve done and the stories they’ve heard, is not simple nor is it merely a matter of buckling down or just trusting God more. We need to remember some stuff about spiritual formation, about ordering our loves and desires, about community, about faithful endurance and hopeful perseverance. These fascinating stories will inspire any reader — especially if you get energized by hearing about good global projects doing innovative work for justice — and the testimonies of the leaders who share about their own journeys through disillusionment will help anyone who feels their own hope waning, Highly recommended.

This wise and beautiful book draws on insights from Christ-followers with decades in the trenches of a mystery: the strange place where we know it’s God’s job to save the world, and yet we are called to be His instruments. Greer and Horst reveal how this is the place where the gift of disillusionment awaits; the gift that strips away self-confidence and pivots our gaze upward so we can find the courage to keep moving forward. I was deeply encouraged by these saints’ steadfast reliance on King Jesus and the persevering joy that emerged from that. Highly recommended for all those needing a fresh injection of realistic, informed, God-centered hope that can shrink the shadows cast by brokenness and suffering.  —  Amy L. Sherman, author of Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society

A Non-Anxious Presence: How a Changing and Complex World Will Create a Remnant Renewed Christian Leaders Mark Sayers (Moody Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

I love this author and recommend all of his previous popularizations of remarkable social scientists and thought leaders. Sayers is a thinker and speaker (and Aussie pastor) who has a seemingly endless capacity for reading philosophy and cultural studies and applying those formative thinkers and critics to the life of the church. He may not have a penchant for witticisms like the formidable futurist Len Sweet or the case-study storytelling of the great Tom Sine but he’s in that league, if a bit more hip, offering updates on the signs of the times and showing how God’s Kingdom might advance by appreciating the keenest cultural observers and applying Christian thinking to their forecasting.

From books like Strange Days to his excellent (if brief) leadership volume Facing Leviathan, Sayers is an author you should know. (I still rave about his first, a study of postmodern consumerism called The Trouble with Paris and his clever study of the implications of Jack Kerouac called The Road Trip That Changed the World.)  Perhaps you know him from his popular podcast “This Cultural Moment” co-hosted with John Mark Comer.

Having said that, it might be helpful to know that this is not a warmed over introduction to family systems thinking or the enduring work of Rabbi/counselor Edwin Freidman, even though he cites A Failure Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. 

I don’t know if Sayers is right all the time, as when he says, here, that, “crisis always precedes renewal.” (See his brief and fiesty Disappearing Church and Reappearing Church for more of that especially applied to congregations.) But as it says on the back cover,

For much of recent history individuals and institutions could plan, execute, and flourish with their visions of a better world. Volatile, complex forces could be addressed and confronted with planning and management. But, crisis is a great revealer. It knocks us off our thrones. It uncovers the weaknesses in our strategies and brings to light our myths and idols. Our past strategies run aground, smashed by unpredictable and chaotic waves. Yet in the midst of the chaos of a crisis comes opportunity.

This can be a quick read with its bullet point summaries and highlighted “takeaways.” But don’t let the little diagrams and chapter reviews fool you. This is big-picture stuff that will drive serious leaders to rely on, as Sayers putsit, “the Presence amidst the pressures.” As he remind us, the power of God’s Kingdom sometimes best emerges in the wilderness. 

The Resilient Pastor: Leading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World Glenn Packiam (Baker Books) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

When Rich Villodas (of The Deeply Formed Life and the forthcoming Good and Beautiful and Kind) recommends a book and when Skye Jethani says it is “required reading” I take notice.

Listen to Pastor Villodas:

It’s not hyperbole to say that this moment in history is one of the most difficult times to be a pastor. Ever. Yet, this moment has given us the opportunity to reimagine pastoral ministry for a new generation. This book could not have come at a better time.

I picked this up after a quick skim, wanting to read just a bit more and I found myself captivated, wiping away tears, re-reading parts, exclaiming to Beth how I knew pastors and ministry leaders who needed this book. And I sure wished, I said throughout, that church-members who are not clergy would also read this to get a glimpse into the data and stories of what embattled and discouraged pastors are going through these days. I’m not a pastor, of course, but I know the exhaustion some pastors face.

While The Resilient Pastor is based on fascinating and helpful research done by The Barna Group and is at first about how to build resiliency among discouraged pastors (the first step, by the way, is embracing, perhaps with the help of Eugene Peterson who helped Packiam considerably, the very notion of pastoring which, as the data shows, has fallen on hard times) there is plenty in here about the nature of beleaguered churches and insights about how to think about church in fresh and faithful ways. Which is to say the book is not just for the reverends.

The Barna research is presented clearly and colorfully in blue ink, with a few extra design touches giving the book a very attractive look and feel in the hand. (Thanks for the swirly blue endpapers, guys! Very impressive in this day of rising manufacturing costs.) Baker has partnered with Barna before and this trademark look is not just pleasing to the eye but communicates the data well. And the data they’ve unearthed really is worth knowing.

The Resilient Pastor is part narrative; Packiam has a fabulous story having come to faith in his homeland in Malaysia and having been a music guy/contemporary worship leader before earning a PhD at Durham and those transformative three days with Eugene and Jan Peterson in their Montana home. Packiam’s doctoral work, by the way, seems to have been about the interface of contemporary worship an older, classic liturgies — it isn’t every CCM recording artist who quotes Saint Cuthbert and has been to Lindisfarne, who tells of his visceral reaction reading Under the Unpredictable Plant, and who has navigated pastoring well an urban campus of a US megachurch. From Barna Prez David Kinnaman’s introduction, we hear of how he and his team wanted Glen to author the book around the ongoing research they were doing in pastoral integrity and resilience, and from chapter one we hear Glen’s telling of the invite from Kinnaman, back before Covid. I was moved by the whole set-up, I really was.

I like that Packiam reviews the big picture stuff of our changing context — by which I mean the cross pressures of our “God-haunted” post-Christian culture as described by Charles Taylor and his interpreters such as James K.A. Smith or Andrew Root. As a person of color, Packiam knows something about the complexity of the American church and the “color of compromise”, too, even though he is not foregrounding that. He knows that in our “secular age” the credibility of religious leaders is no longer assumed and that the very vocation (and notions of calling) of pastors is in the wind. He gets the cultural context these days and helps pastors and those who care about the church understand.

In good prose surrounding fabulously important data and research tidbits, Packiam offers four main challenges for pastors, dealing with the meaning and stresses of calling, spirituality, relationships, and credibility. After each chapter there is a several page entry of original insight from other voices as well, good folks such as Ruth Haley Barton, Marlena Graves, and Tara Beth Leach.  Ruminating on the section on vocation, Ken Shigematsu tells just a bit about his pastoring context:

When I first came to Tenth Church in Vancouver, BC, in the summer of 1996, the challenge of pastoring a historic church whose attendance had dwindled from over one thousand to one thunder and something intimidated me. Tenth had cycled through twenty pastors in twenty years…

In part two of The Resident Pastor, Packiam explores four challenges facing the church and, again, explains the Barna research findings about these four topics. These are, likewise, combined with short sidebar testimonials of other leaders (from Bishop Todd Hunter to Dr. Derwin Gray to global activist Christine Caine.) The challenges the church must entertain that he ponders include matters of worship, formation, unity, and mission. Again, while oriented towards church leaders, this is up-to-date stuff that any active congregant should be thinking about. I cannot recommend this book enough for its clarity, concise style, even as Packiam is a warm and endearing writer. Did I mention I had to fight back tears?

Part three is brief (just two chapters) but they, again, are packed with insight and inspiration for pastors, leaders, and congregants. Those closing portions are on “The Collaborative Church” and “The Presence and the Power.” You can imagine the content and I can assure you they are worth reading.

Packiam is a spiritually lively evangelical at a megachurch. Yet, I think that any mainline devotee or small church reader will be impressed with his down-to-Earth sense and the remarkable convergence of the data with what some of our best thinkers have been saying over the last decades. From Eugene Peterson to Jamie Smith to Alan Kreider to N.T. Wright, Packiam and his co-writers, women and men from various settings and dispositions, agree that pastoring is hard, that the church has some serious re-thinking to do, and that now in this Covid-era is the time to urgently consider how companions in faith can help us along the journey. Time and again, Packiam shows himself not as a self-proclaimed expert (or a social forecaster making predictions about the future) but a friendly colleague. You dear reader — especially if you are a pastor or leader who feels rather alone — are not alone. Even if you are feeling the fray.

“It is possible,” Glen reminds us, “to last, to be faithful, to be resilient — not by might, not by power, but by the same Holy Spirit who sustained the church throughout the centuries.”

You can “steward your season” as he puts it, even if you are discouraged or exhausted. “You don’t have to make your mark or leave a legacy. No labor in the Lord is ever in vain. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” 

Stuck: Why Clergy Are Alienated from Their Calling, Congregation, and Career… and What to Do About It Todd W. Ferguson & Josh Packard (Fortress Press) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Wow, what a book this is. While Stuck may not be written with the same evangelical zeal or hopeful warmth of Resilient Pastor by Glen Packiam, it does offer some remarkable insight and amazing stories by the research these two authors did around the themes of the job dissatisfaction and alienation many religious leaders feel. There is some overlap, naturally, but Stuck is in some ways a deeper dive into the topic, authored in a caring and understanding way, but, significantly, by two professional sociologists. And while Pastor Packiam explores the secularizing age in light of, say, Charles Taylor and the missional vision of an engaged church (informed by good thinkers from Leslie Newbigin to Andrew Root) Ferguson & Packard are clear that their shaping influences (for this project, at least) are less theologians and more the likes of Max Weber, C. Wright Mills and, yep, good golly Miss Molly, good old Karl Marx. The book is about why clergy are alienated from their labor, so, well, they go there. And it rings very, very true.

This is an utterly fascinating book, even if drawing on scholars of sociology and the best researchers (of a mainline denominational bent) of congregational life such as Nancy Ammerman, Mark Chaves, and the under appreciated magisterial work by Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization ofHuman Feeling published by the University of California Press all sounds a bit dusty.  It mostly isn’t dry and at some points is exceedingly poignant.  Besides hearing so many excerpts of so many interviews with disillusioned pastors, there is plenty of the big picture stuff. They even pull up the old chestnut Why Conservative Churches Are Growing: A Study in the Sociology of Religion by Dean Kelly, published in 1972.

But there are forces at play here that are more recent, as well, and they explore with great vigor this new understanding of the social forces that shape modern ministry.  And, yes, their Marxian insights about the “means of production” and worker’s alienation is an interpretive lens that is generative. If you have ever had a conversation with a pastor who is unhappy in his or her assigned church but cannot leave, perhaps for financial reasons, you know what I mean. If you’ve had the heartbreaking discussion with a leader who does not believe what their church or mission agency expects them to and they can’t be honest because they will lose their needed health insurance for, oh, say, their sick child, well, you can imagine. In the real world of complicated institutions and denominations, clergy really often do feel stuck. 

Listen to Sharon Hodde Miller of Bright City Church in Durham, as one leader who bears witness to the importance of this study; she says:

I have never felt so understood. I am deeply grateful for the insights contained in these pages, which were personally illuminating and filled me with hope.

Here is how the publisher describes the benefits of this striking book:

Stuck is a guide for understanding how and why a traditional approach to ministry does not align with the modern realities facing pastors, congregations, and seminaries. More than simply describing findings from their firsthand research, however, Todd W. Ferguson and Josh Packard offer a new understanding of why professional ministry can be so alienating today.

Stuck shifts the dominant narrative around calling, vocation, and ministry away from a focus on individual traits and characteristics of pastors and congregational leaders and toward a more structural understanding of the social forces that impact modern ministry. The authors focus on the nature of calling; the need for modern, flexible congregational supports; and a different approach to training professional clergy.

Stuck lets pastors who feel stuck know that they’re not alone, they’re not crazy, and it’s not their fault. It helps congregations be more supportive of their clergy. And it participates in the conversation for reshaping seminary training and professional development.

There are two chapters in each of three sections, the sections exploring themes of being “Stuck in Calling”, “Stuck in the Congregation,” and “Stuck in the Career.”  Ferguson and Packard report on the stories and statistics about pastors who have doubted their callings, the expectations pastors have going into their callings contrasted to the reality of the duties and workload of most pastors, the way in which the business side of things impinges on fulfilling ministry, and how ill-prepared many pastors are for the mundane work that takes up most of their time.

Naturally, one of the good chapters is on one question that comes to mind —  “Why Don’t They Just Leave the Ministry?” Another is provocatively called “Leaving the Ministry to Follow the Call.” You should read it and wonder…

(For what it is worth, one of the facts on the ground — or in the carpeted sanctuary, I might say — is that there is not a huge about of faith deconstruction happening among hurting clergy. In both the Barna research and the studies done by Ferguson &  Packard, there are those who may feel in exile from their religious institutions and some who may have to “leave the ministry in order to follow their call” but this isn’t so much a faith crisis or spiritual disillusionment but a wearing down of the pastor, an eroding of their zeal by the culture of the church and denomination and institutions they serve.

I very much appreciate the United Methodist scholar and leader and writer, L. Gregory Jones (now at Belmont University, but previously at Duke) who insists that this alienation of clergy from their callings is a crisis for all of us. Jones says it “cries out for the kind of urgent attention and action reflected in Ferguson and Packard’s analysis.” And endorsement from him means a lot.

Stuck: Why Clergy Are Alienated from Their Calling, Congregation, and Career… and What to Do About It by Ferguson &  Packard is a book I’ve been thinking about for days and days since I read it. I hope to talk to church folks and pastors about it. It would certainly be interesting to bring The Resilient Pastor and Stuck into conversation as they are both driven by a deep love for pastors, and realization of the complexity of their jobs and the burn-out many are facing and what the nature of ministry these days seems to entail.

Todd W. Ferguson is a sociologist whose research focuses on congregations and their clergy. He earned his Ph.D. from Baylor University and a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School. Josh Packard is the Executive Director of Springtide Research Institute and professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado. Their good work is obviously committed to offering fresh ways to think about church, clergy health, and their sense of calling and vocation. 

The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership Tom Nelson (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Here is how the publisher reminds us of the urgency of this book:

With the risk of burnout at an all-time high, pastors need a new framework for ministry that will help them move from survival to flourishing. Drawing on the image of the shepherd leader, Tom Nelson offers pastors wisdom and timely vision for leadership that integrates in-depth biblical teaching and whole-life discipleship, providing a roadmap for ministry resilience and longevity.

When I awarded this as one of the Best Books of 2021, here is what I wrote about it. Thought it would be helpful to share it again, here, with these other stellar titles.

We have a lot of books about the vocation of being a pastor, the meaning of the role of the clergy, being a minister or priest. I read a good number of them, thinking of the men and women who I know who serve often under difficult conditions in the local church. I suppose you know the data showing how unhappy many, many clergy are, and I know you know the reports that in the last years, more and more have walked away from the calling and their churches. In many cases, it was a healthy thing to do. I do wish more read more books about the qualities of a good pastor and the characteristics of those that flourish. There’s a lot of good ones from many different angles.

For several reasons, it is my judgement that this is one of the very best books of this kind quite some time. I admire Tom, and I so respect his big picture of the Kingdom of God, networking church leaders for making a difference in the community. His “Made to Flourish” organization emerged out of his passion for thinking about work, Christianly, and realizing that much good that happens outside of the church doors as congregants are encouraged to relate Sunday worship to Monday work, so to speak.

Given that this is his expertise, helping people reflect on calling and career, vocation and work, what, then, might this have to say to those whose job is to be a minister, a preacher, a leader of the local Body? The Flourishing Pastor really is wise and emerges not only from Tom’s acute insight into the Bible and the theology of the shepherd leader, but also from his passion for thinking about sustainable and meaningful work stewarding our callings well.

Here are just three of the many positive recommendations by people we trust:

Traditionally there are three parts to the ordained ministry―preaching, pastoring, and leading. In our religious world today, preaching and leading are the most highly valued. But while it is not so visible and attention grabbing, skillful knowledge of and pastoring of the human soul is perhaps the most fundamental of the three. Talented preachers and leaders who are not mature and wise pastors may draw a crowd, but they will not help believers ‘grow in grace’ (2 Peter 3:18) and Christlikeness in both their private and public lives. Tom Nelson’s fine book will help rehabilitate the importance of the work of shepherding in our churches — Timothy Keller, Redeemer City to City

The Flourishing Pastor overflows with practical wisdom from the frontlines of a pastoral ministry that has been both faithful and innovative. Tom Nelson understands the contemporary cultural challenges of pastoral ministry as well as its timeless woes, from the discouragement of grumpy parishioners to the heady lure of celebrity and the loneliness of leadership. This book makes clear the irreducible foundation of the ministerial vocation: intimacy with God that roots one for integrity and resilience over time. Simultaneously, it coaches pastors in a vital, practical skill: discipling congregants in connecting their work and worship. While unpacking it all, Nelson writes with a pastor’s heart, and it’s easy to see why he has been a beloved mentor to many a young pastor.  — Amy L. Sherman, author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good and Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society

It is no secret that pastoral ministry is in crisis. And into that crisis Tom Nelson has unflinchingly walked with humility and authority to provide just what our weary shepherds need―restoration and guidance: restoration that is deep and comprehensive; guidance that is wise and convicting. Grounded and beautiful, The Flourishing Pastor brings necessary healing and hope not only to pastors but also to those of us in their care.  — Curt Thompson, author of Anatomy of the Soul, The Soul of Shame, and The Soul of Desire

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

When this book came out month ago I listed it with some other titles about books and reading (such as, for instance, the Square Halo title Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children edited by Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard & Thea Rosenburg ($29.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99.) Anybody who really loves books and wants to nurture the reading life, I figured, would so appreciate Carty’s tribute to the role of books in one’s spiritual life. As I said, even though it is for pastors, I think most of our bookish customers would love it — or might want their pastor to have it.  It fit perfectly I that list about books about books.

Yet, here we are in a list of books about clergy and pastors and Christian leaders. And this, really, is where this book most obviously belongs. And it is urgent that I list it here. Reading The Pastor’s Bookshelf is a veritable therapy session with a pastoral counselor, a conversation partner with a ministry leader, it is a good long drink with a trusted fellow colleague, guiding you to life-sustaining, ministry enhancing, soul-deepening resources.

Here is more or less what I wrote about it before, happily shared again in this list for tired pastors. I’m convinced that The Pastor’s Bookshelf and the habits it will inspire and the particular resources it will recommend, could be the best twenty bucks you’ll spend all year.

I wish I had time here to tell you more, but I can at least share a few of the topics in the three main sections.

  • “All The Reading We Don’t Remember” looks at reading for formation, on developing wisdom, how books can help us learn to love. Clearly, we read not just for “information but for formation.”
  • “Not Just a Luxury” is a section with chapters on reading for pastoral care, for preaching, for vision casting, for leadership.
  • “For Whatever Reason” is a unit of chapters on reading “as” a pastoral visit, a spiritual discipline, and good pieces on reading with a proper spirit, choosing what to read, marking and filing our reading, and the like.

As he explains, six months into his first senior pastorate, Austin Carty sat in his office reading—not the Bible, not a commentary, not a theological tract, but a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. As the minutes turned to hours, while he sat engrossed in this book, he noticed something: he began feeling uneasy. And then anxious. And then guilty. What would someone think if they opened the door and caught him reading fiction?

You may recall some of the explicit teaching about this by Eugene Peterson. Or even the very inspiring book by Cornelius Plantinga called Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (which I also recommend widely, even, again, to those who are not preachers.) This new one by Carty, The Pastor’s Bookshelf, is in that great company. Solidly so, even if Carty is the sort of guy who was once — yep, it’s really wildly true! — a reality TV star on the show Survivor. 

There is a fabulous forward by Rev. Thomas Long, in which he says: “One remarkable feature of Carty’s writing in this volume is how much of it is done in conversation with others, particularly parishioners and others who are on the receiving end of ministry. Carty hopes to encourage pastors who read, but not merely as a form of gratuitous self-improvement, but reading done among, with, and for the people of God.” Nice, eh? Perfect for anyone interested in books, reading, and conversations stimulated by the printed page. But especially for pastors who need to renew or deepen their own interior resources to face the complexities of doing ministry these days.

Check out these other great endorsements:

Christians are a people of the Word, yet we are formed more and more today by wanton, careless words. Those who will lead the church well will be those who are formed by good words—those who know the power words have over our hearts and minds. Those who read good books well will be such leaders. Pastors who read and live by the wisdom in this book will be changed, as will their ministries and the people to whom they minister. This book belongs on every pastor’s shelf. — Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

Reading is crucial for ministry, not as a mine for anecdotes and illustrations, but as an apprenticeship of the imagination. In this warm and wise book, Austin Carty invites pastors to develop capacious reading habits, as wide and curious and wonderful as the world in which they serve. I hope this book is an occasion for many pastors to build new shelves of poetry and fiction, biography and memoir, all of them adventures in understanding humanity. — James K. A. Smith editor in chief of Image journal, author of You Are What You Love

I am gobsmacked by this book’s threefold beauty: its writing, its erudition, and the author’s deep commitment to what true reading can give not only pastors, but us all.
— Maryanne Wolf, author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

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

This is another book that I had previously announced that I thought I’d mention again in this list for the tired or disillusioned among us. Although it is not written for clergy and there is nothing precisely for pastors here, it is such a good and vital book, about a topic that, obviously relates to the questions of professional burnout or being “stuck” and alienated, that I wanted to give it a quick shout out again, here.

Let’s face it, if we are, as the lovely and helpful work by Glen Packiam, above, puts it, seeking resilience, then having some tools and resources and practice for “transforming loneliness into true belonging” could be helpful.

Other titles lately have reminded us, loneliness is nearly epidemic. As the back cover of The Great Belonging puts it, “In an age of mobility and fraying civic life, we are all susceptible to its power.” Even those who work in faith communities?  Maybe especially those who get to talk about community for a living?  Could it be…

Charlotte Dolon is an energetic and interesting writer. (That Lauren Winner was an editor and wrote the forward gives an early clue that this is going to be a very good book.) She hosts the “Hope for the Lonely” podcast and has written for The Washington Post, Millions, and the always fascinating Mockingbird. Indeed, David Zahl, the director of Mockingbird Ministries and author of the brilliant Secularity, has a blurb on the back, again, giving us a hint that the book is full of grace and seriously human. Zahl writes,

Charlotte Donlon covers her twin subjects of isolation and alienation in ways that help the reader not only get through them but hold them and learn from them graciously. Somehow both timely and timeless — highly recommended.

I really like this book and find in Zahl’s comment an insight about it — Ms Donlon isn’t just teaching us to cope with our loneliness (or to, well, you know, just get some friends for Pete’s sake.) No, her ruminations give voice to our own pain and thereby offer us a way to “hold” it. “Linger and listen”, she says. She reframes our loneliness and restlessness — I think of Jamie Smith’s good work on Augustine in his On the Road with Saint Augustine, for instance — and shows how our disquiet within might be a key, or perhaps a doorway, to greater belonging. What she poetically terms the Great Belonging.  

These short enjoyable reflections tell stories and give examples of belonging to our own selves; belonging to each other; belonging to God, and how we can enter that Great Belonging even through the arts and literature. It’s the sort of short but profound read that anyone can enjoy. I commend it here, now, to leaders of the disillusioned sort, to burned out pastors, to those who are stuck. This beautiful little book — that Marlena Graves has called, rightly, “brooding” — may be just what the doctor ordered as one part of your journey to resilience and health.  Enjoy.

 

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Make College Count and other books for High School Graduates – ON SALE

 I know you know what re-runs are.  Although with 24-hour streaming services, kids today may not recall the old-school TV phrase.

Or maybe you know them as “encore performances” as they are sometimes called, at least on SNL. Sometimes, we are really glad to see one — the first showing was so good that you want to see it again;  or, maybe, the encore/re-run allows folks to see something they missed previously.

With our mention in the last BookNotes or two of my little book designed for those young adults who are transitioning out of college or trade school, or finishing up graduate work, and taking up vocations in the work world (Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life published by Square Halo Books) we have not forgotten that many readers give books to their high school graduates this season, too.

Churches, youth ministries, private schools, moms and dads, godparents, confirmation sponsors, uncles and aunts, older sibs, even — who doesn’t want to honor the twelfth graders who survived senioritis and made it to graduation day?

Our absolute favorite book to give to high school grads who are going off to college is the fine, fine book by Derek Melleby, Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning (Baker Publishing; $12.99 – OUR 20% OFF BOOKNOTES DISCOUNT SALE PRICE = $10.39.) I’ve mentioned it a bunch of times over the last few years, and I even reprised my first review of it once; this is so good it deserves another re-run.

So, without further ado, with only minor editing, here is the “encore performance” of a review I wrote when this book released more than a decade ago. I still stand by every word. Since then, I’ve only deepened my appreciate for Derek as a leader — his involvement in the  OneLife gap year program has been extraordinary. And I am as convinced of the usefulness of this book, now more than ever, and know the impact it has made. The publisher has been happy to keep it in print, and it has developed a fantastic reputation. So it deserves this re-run of a review. Enjoy.

And, then, I’ll follow it with a quick review of Mr. Melleby’s other book for collegiates, co-written by another of my best friends, Rev. Donald Opitz, called Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness (Brazos Press; $17.00 – OUR 20% OFF BOOKNOTES DISCOUNTED SALE PRICE = $13.60.) There is nothing like it in print; that it is dedicated to me is a great honor but isn’t the reason to buy it. Okay, it was for my mom, but for most, they should buy the book because it is so interesting, so important, so helpful. I’ll discuss that below.

And then, a good handful of other interesting books for those that don’t need a book about going to college but might appreciate an honoring gift of some good reading.

 CHURCH KIDS GROWING UP

It is always a joy to be standing around the church hallway and see some teens sauntering up the stairs to their Sunday school class. Many medium-sized mainline churches don’t have many youth, and it is a blessing that we have a good handful.  It was a joy this morning as I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary, noticing a few seniors, students that I have nearly watched grow up.  A few I played with in the nursery 15 years ago; my own youngest daughter’s cohort will soon be graduating from high school. Last year this time — well, most every spring for the last dozen years or so, since my oldest was first active in youth group and I knew many of those kids with senioritis—I was in a serious funk about what might become of these older teens.

These were kids I knew and cared about, mostly all heading off to some kind of higher education.  Would they get involved in some campus fellowship group when they went off to college?  Would they find themselves being followers of Christ in their new places?  Would a local church reach out to them?  Would they develop good new friends that would wisely assist them in discerning the big questions about their future, their major, their callings and careers, their boy or girlfriends? Would they, like most young adults in what is now called the “critical years”, take up the materialistic and secular values of the American way of life or would they choose God’s Kingdom’s ways — upside down values of service and justice and a deeper purpose better than upward mobility? Would they merely assume the “moralistic, therapeutic Deism” that youth researcher from Princeton Seminary, Kenya Creasy Dean, so compellingly documented? Oh, how we fret about these very young adults.

WHAT MESSAGE DO WE SEND?

Of course, the fretting comes to a head for me when we pray over them (if we do at all) or recognize them in some churchly ceremony.  Does your church do something for students graduating from high school?  And does it sound something like God’s radical call to them and a profound blessing upon them, or just a religious veneer over the same kind of stuff they hear at their mawkish high school commencements? Do we commission them to a new phase of Kingdom living, with fear and trembling, or do we just sprinkle a little civil religion over the hope they’ll be happy and successful? I hope it is the former.

That is, I hope our churches really inspire our young adults to take their faith seriously, and to move into the next stage of their lives with gusto, intentional discipleship, and a desire to have their lives count. I’m sure many of our churches do.

This concern of what message we send to our graduates really comes to a head for me when we give them some sort of graduation gift.  We are asked this in the store each year, too — what do we recommend?  In our experience some well-intended folks get students a plaque or pen or gifty type knick-knack. (A Christian tie tack, you ask? How do you ask a customer nicely if they are out of their cotton-pickin’ minds?) Most students find these remembrances pretty boring, I’ve heard, reinforcing their hunch that church is about as relevant to their lives as their great grandma’s gift of a monogrammed hanky.

Sometimes folks want to offer something a bit better, so they give them a book, like a faux leather compilation of Bible promises, as if some 18-year old is just dying to do a concordance type study of every listing of every Bible verse around a certain theme.  Anxious about leaving home?  Wondering what major might make sense or what classes to choose?  Sad about leaving your BFF from elementary school? I am not so sure they will turn to that handsome little pocket guide, even if they do deep down want to know what God might say to them.  I’ll never forget one kid one June trying to sell such a book back to us; you had to admire not only his ingenuity but his honesty.  “I just wouldn’t use a book like that,” he said.

GREAT NEWS: THE BEST BOOK TO GIVE

I am here to announce, as urgently and as plainly as I can, that we have found the best book to give to college-bound high-school seniors and graduates.

Those in the throes of a transition to college or trade school will enjoy this book which is upbeat, substantive, interesting, important, and — and this is important, too — cool looking. It is called Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning by Derek Melleby (Baker; $12.99 — OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.39.) As Steve Garber (one who has studied, and studied with, college students as intentionally as anyone I know) writes of it,

Make College Count is just right!  What Derek Melleby has done is find a way to come alongside someone on the way to college and offer guidance about things that matter most.”   — Steven Garber, author, The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship & Work

THINGS THAT MATTER MOST

There are several very nice books for college-bound students and they have useful stuff about getting along with room-mates, doing laundry, avoiding the college party scene.  A couple warn about the atheism of their secular professors which I think is less common and less damaging than some worry about. They almost all admonish youngsters to not have sex, to stay in touch with mom, to study hard. They are mostly fine. And they are almost all cleverly written and still some are pretty inane.  This 17 or 18 year old has just completed the first major phase of his or her educational life; it feels (at that age, at that transition point) like one of the most important moments in their whole life, and they are off to one of the most challenging (and expensive) and life-changing, formative episodes of the rest of their life, and we give them a whimsical guide to doing laundry, and one last warning not to have sex? This is the best God’s people can do??  This is all we have to say? I’m sorry to be a tad cranky about this, but, really?

(If you do want to give a seriously interesting and Biblically robust vision of being a Christian on campus — for those who are ready for such a call to whole-life discipleship and formation — I’d recommend Steve Lutz’s King of the Campus, (House Studio; $14.99) a book that has no peer in this genre of honoring the Lordship of Christ in college.) Lutz did campus ministry with the CCO at Penn State University — yep, what we call “Happy Valley — and knows a lot about mentoring students into “in but not of” lifestyles. He cites Melleby (and me) and even has a chapter on “academic faithfulness” as in Melleby’s second book. Nice!)

Mr. Melleby, in Make College Count, thinks more foundationally; basic, I might say. Without seeming at all high-minded or overly serious, he winsomely invites students to think about, as Garber says, the things that matter most of all. It is not preachy, but is written like a pleasant conversation around a late night fire pit or a chat while sipping lattes at a coffeeshop. There are seven questions that Melleby has discovered to be important for students to ask themselves, most usefully, before they get to college. This book is an invitation to ponder these key questions.

There are seven questions that Melleby has discovered to be important for students to ask themselves, most usefully, before they get to college. This book is an invitation to ponder these key questions.

Derek is increasingly known as a national leader on the psychology and spirituality of the college transition and he affirms the research that has shown that college is a time where emerging adults will become the person they most likely will be for the rest of their life.  How can they make the most of that time?  What might we ask them to consider, to set them in the right direction?  What are the things they should wrestle with a bit before they jump into the pace of the collegiate experience this fall?

Melleby is a fine and at times funny writer, and after each chapter, where he takes up one of these basic questions, he does an illuminating interview with a young woman or man who has recently been out of college. He invites them to look back over their shoulder and tell their story, how their identity and sense of calling was shaped by their university years. These are not composites — they are real interviews. I actually know almost all of these recently graduated young adults. Derek is a very good friend and his campus ministry work where he met these students occurred at a campus near here. I can say that nearly all of these students who are now young alum, have bought books from us, have shared some of their stories with Beth and me, and we can vouch for their thoughtfulness and integrity. The interviews in Make College Count are like little sidebars, and they are upbeat and very interesting.  And really helpful, helping your high school grad realize they are not alone in their worries and that it isn’t weird to ask “Why are you in college, anyway?” or “What kind of person are you going to be?” 

We are confident that this little book offers a way to discover a path to true success at college and beyond (as it says on the back cover.) It is the best thing we’ve seen like this in nearly 40 years of book selling. There is simply no other book that asks these very basic sorts of fascinating questions with such charm and offers such solid counsel about such good stuff in such a brief, colorful, format.

Here is a part of the table of contents:

  • What Kind of Person Do You Want to Become?  Following Jesus During the Critical Years
  • Why Are You Going to College?  Finding Your Place in the Story of God
  • What Do You Believe? Taking Ownership of Your Faith
  • Who Are You?  Securing your Identity in Christ
  • With Whom Shall You Surround Yourself?  Connecting with the Christian Community
  • How Will You Choose a Major? Putting Your Faith into Action
  • How Do You Want Your Life to Influence Others?  Leaving a Legacy

And, happily, Melleby selected a few key books and websites that he suggests as “resources for the road ahead.”  He names that great college conference that we help with, the CCOs annual Jubilee Conference, and, yes, he mentions Hearts & Minds BookNotes.  How cool is that?

Derek has worked in athletic ministry, was on staff with the CCO and used to work with Walt Mueller at the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding.  He loves students, he has expert gifts in coming along them as they discern their own sense of meaning and purpose, faith and vocation. And while he writes and speaks with a light touch, he really gets the life-changing trajectory of both spiritual formation and a Kingdom vision of “all of life redeemed.”

Importantly, before moving to OneLife, he co-wrote (with Donald Optiz) my favorite book for college students [that I mentioned above] about taking a faith perspective into the classroom. It is under-appreciated and should be widely read — I’m sure of it.

Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness Donald Optiz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $17.00 – OUR 20% OFF BOOKNOTES DISCOUNTED SALE PRICE = $13.60.)

This is a must-have resource for serious students, although even though it’s got tons of stories and is pretty funny, it may presume a somewhat more intentional reader who wouldn’t be put off by this project of integrating faith and learning. Why should we be in college and what’s the point of learning? Does God care about the arts and sciences, computer studies and health care, business and engineering?  Can the Bible really shed light on the stuff we study at college?

The book illustrates the broadly evangelical perspective that the authors hold as it is embodied in a worldview that sees no dualism between the so-called sacred and the seemingly secular. We can find God in the study, on sports teams, in the library, in the workplace. God sends young people to study well and Learning for the Love of God delightfully invites young collegiates into this missional perspective concerning the use of their minds and the influence of ideas and habits of learning as young scholars.

What does discipleship have to do with learning? How do I follow Jesus as a student? What does the Lord require of me at university? This marvelous book answers just these sorts of questions. It’s one of a kind, an expansive vision of Christian learning written not for professors but for students. Best of all, this is a book that can profit students in any educational context, secular or religious. Buy a box of these and give them to every high school senior you know. —James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; author of Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

Learning… is a book that means a lot to us and we recommend it for any bright student heading off to university and to any second or third year student with a year of reading under her belt. It is an exceptionally thoughtful approach Melleby and Optiz brings —all offered with an upbeat tone, alongside funny stories, great interviews, not unlike Make College Count. Some energetic parents have gifted both to their ambitious young ones. Like Jamie Smith said, “give them to every high school senior you know.”

As much as I love Learning for the Love of God, Derek’s first, Make College Count, is a book you can give to any college-bound student with great confidence, knowing that it will be appreciated. And I doubt they’ll try to sell it back to us, disinterested.

You know the old story of Goldilocks’ bears?  Some books for graduates are too this, some are too that; some too long, some too short, some too heady, some not heady enough.  I can hardly name any that are truly “just right.”  Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning is the prime example, perfect in tone, fabulous in content, great in appearance and price. We cannot recommend it any more highly; we think it will be used in the lives of emerging adults at this key transition point in their lives.

Here is a simple video clip of Derek talking about the book, noting some initial feedback he has gotten from young readers, explaining just what he was hoping he would accomplish by providing a resource like this. It is low-key and a great illustration of Derek’s clear, kind, and insightful style. I love that short clip and hope you enjoy it.  And then I hope you buy a boat-load of the book. From us, of course, at our discounted price.  We told the publisher we would get behind this, and we look forward to promoting it anywhere we can. Won’t you help us?

If this impresses you as it does us, if you are eager for the high school grads that you know who are heading off to college or trade school to have an opportunity to reflect on these basic matters — who they want to be, what they feel called to do, with whom they will be involved and the like —  why not forward this review to whoever it is at your church who buys the gifts for the graduating seniors?  If you have a relative or friend heading off to college, buy the book yourself.

Thanks for helping us spread the word. We think it can make a difference. We are glad for those that get the importance of this, honoring our grads in ways that are meaningful and have the possibility of really being helpful.  We are very glad for any orders you send our way — but if you don’t know any senior high kids heading off to college, just say a quick prayer for the next generation of the college-bound, their unique time in history, and the call for them to ponder deeply “the things that matter most.”  That, with God’s help, and the help of others, they learn to make college count.

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BOOKS FOR GRADS NOT GOING TO COLLEGE

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World Bob Goff (Nelson) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

This is one of the most upbeat and fun books we know and it works even for those who aren’t big readers. If they will give it a try, it is terrific, engaging readers with stories of whimsy and courage, some almost unbelievable, about Goff sharing God’s love with others.  It is light hearted with great, great stories, but it is a very substantial, gospel-driven message. He inspires people to get out there and do something, with God’s help, loving others. He’s tired of “Bible studies” and wants some “Bible do-ings.” Ha! And boy can he tell a tale, waving his hands — you can see it in your mind — as he narrates funny, crazy stuff that he does with abandon and whimsy and joy. He’s truly one of the most amazing people I know, clearly following Jesus. This book is showcases lives of caring, risking all sorts of stuff just to love others in Jesus name. The sequel, by the way, is just as good with more stories of this “secretly incredible life.” It’s called Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People (Thomas Nelson; $19.99.) Either would make a great gift to a young person.

Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do About It  Bob Goff (ThomasNelson) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

I love this book about ambition and going after your biggest dreams. As with his best-selling Love Does, Goff knows how to tell a story and invites people to do it!  The sequel just came out not long ago and it is Undistracted: Capture Your Purpose. Rediscover Your Joy. Good inspiring but pratical stuff from an amazing life coach.

 

Navigate Your Stars Jesmyn Ward (Simon & Schuster) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

Many years astute publisher reprint in a handsome gift book style a commencement speech from the previous year. (Yeah, kind of like what I did with Serious Dreams.) This small hardback is loaded with full color, swirly graphics and hip design, but the heart of it is the great speech given by novelist Jesmyn Ward. Her novel Sing, Unburied Sing won the 2017 National Book Award and she is known as a powerful African American voice, also having edited nonfiction work. We appreciate her very much and this commencement address, while given for college grads at Tulane, still would be nice for high-schoolers. It is about hard work and self respect and other standard themes, delivered in a lovely, inspiring cadence. She honors the blue-collar labor of her parents on whose shoulders she stands. Nice.

Say Yes: Discover the Surprising Life Beyond the Death of a Dream Scott Erickson (Zondervan) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

I realize that the subtitle and theme of this is a bit of a “downer” to give as a gift celebrating a graduate, but hear me out: there are some who wanted to go to, oh, some college or training program or had some job lined up or intended to Do Big Things and for whatever reason (perhaps the pandemic) it just fell through.They were going to join the service or start a band or move someplace crazy with some pals. This amazing book — really edgy in tone and with the hip art illustrations — offers reflections about this exact thing. It is raw and honest and not simplistic. Perhaps you know Scott the Artist and his work with Justin McRoberts in Prayer: Forty Days of Practice and May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer (either of which would be fabulous gifts, by the way) and Say Yes has his signature graphic design. He tells more of his own story, here, and he wants to invite folks to live into this space where dreams seemed to have died, but offee new hope.  Say yes, indeed!

Say Yes is inspiring, but the kind that offers freedom, not fluff. If your life’s purpose needs a metaphorical kick in the pants, this book will do it in the kindest ways.  — Kendra Adachi, author of The Lazy Genius Way.

One.Life: Jesus Calls We Follow Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

There are lots of sides to and aspects of the life that Jesus calls us into — work, wisdom, peace, church, justice, relationships, etc. There is in this very readable paperback a good emphasis on the Kingdom of God and living an integrated life in the real world. I think it is excellent — Scot McKnight is an upbeat writer and a highly regarded NT scholar. There’s a foreword by Gabe Lyons from Q.

Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot Max Lucado (Nelson) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79
Have you considered this easy to read prolific author? This one, for instance, has lovely, inspiring chapters in three main units, “Use Your Uniqueness” to “Make a Big Deal out of God” “Every Day of Your Life.” It isn’t exactly about discerning God’s call on your life, but it does elevate ordinary people serving God in the “sweet spot” of your own life and gifts. I don’t know if typical high school grads would read something like this, but it’s not bad. Who knows, maybe you need it!
Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
I am positive that Comer is one of the most interesting, accessible, ideal authors for younger adults — the crisp format, the cool style, the remarkable substance, the big picture — the Bible starts in a garden, you know, and ends in a renewed city. I really like this guy and respect him a lot. And this –a book about God’s design for work and rest, for a fully alive faith that makes us better humans. Love it. Very hghly recommended.
Work Worth Doing: Finding God’s Direction and Purpose in Your Career Tom Keetderks (Harvest House) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79
As you know, we have bunches of books about faith in the work-world. This is one that is interesting, upbeat, helpful and would be a great gift for a young person heading into the workforce who wants a big Christian framework for understanding how God can use them in whatever job they take up. What a blessing it would be for a church or Christian leader to cultivate a sense of vocation for those taking up jobs.
 
How Far You Have Come: Musings on Beauty and Courage Morgan Harper Nichols (Zondervan) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20
This is colorful, edgy, scribbling looking graphics, way cool for younger adults, especially maybe for young women. It says on the back “Beauty in the brokenness – hope makes way for healing.” The author is an artist and dreamer and has lovely stories of real life, inviting people to reconcile their past and the goodness of God’s story in their lives. It’s sort of like quotes and sayings and conclusions she came up with in a journal while doing a road trip. She says, “This is a book of pressing on and pressing in, of transformation and surrender, of meaning in the losses and wild anticipation for the splendor still to come.”
We Go On: Finding Purpose in All of Life’s Sorrows and Joys John Onwuchekwa (Zondervan) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
Oh my, this is a very edgy-cool hardback with glossy paper and fabulous design — some tan color touches, black and white photos, pull quotes and sidebars, all very handsomely arranged. Onwuchekwa is a former SBC church planter who is known for his passionate care about racial justice and a thoughtful faith. He pastors a inter-racial church in Atlanta. Christian leaders as diverse as hip hop artists Tripp Lee and writer Beth Moore and global activist Christine Caine endorse his “raw and captivating” message. As sportscaster Chris Broussard says, “After reading his words you’ll never be the same.”  In a time when there is much sorrow in the lives of our anxious youth, this reminder of God’s hope could be a true blessing.
Mark Yaconnelli (Zondervan) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

Mark was the Presbyterian youth pastor of Sam, Anne Lamott’s son, if you happen to know her books. This is a very moving, evocative book of meditations and reflections, with lots of daily poetry, verse, inspiration, prayers. 10 good chapters. Pretty powerful stuff.

 

Devotion: A Raw-Truth Journal on Following Jesus Mike Yaconnelli (invert) $10.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $8.79

This slim book is enhanced with black and white graphics, a bit of grainy photography and very cool prayers and meditations. A daily devotional written by the late, great Yaconnelli, a free-spirited evangelical known for founding The Wittenberg Door, it does invite people to personal faith and a wild obedience. The moving cover that has wooden crosses on a clay wall, might seem resonant with the images of a more liturgical faith, and I’ve sold this well at Episcopal and other such events. This is about following Jesus, and I respect it a lot.

Living Unafraid: Lessons on Hope from 31 of the Bible’s Most Loved Stories Adam Hamilton (Convergent) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Who doesn’t need real hope? This is a month’s long daily reader that goes along with a bigger book that Rev. Hamilton (a United Methodist pastor of a huge church in Kansas City who writes for Sojo sometimes.) called Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times. It’s gentle and honest and visionary for any who are discouraged and disheartened. Not preachy but he is Biblical, in a generous way. He is fluent in everything from neuroscience to psychology and allows these Bible characters to speak about real, honest, wisdom for modern times. It’s very reassuring and wise, maybe espeically appropriate for these hard days in many student’s memory.
Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39
One of our favorite writers, who I think you know about, always upbeat and courageous and full of grace and kindness and joy. He wrote Love Does and Everybody Always about loving others and having whimsical adventures to pour God’s love onto others. What a creative, fun and faithful guy. Each devotional focuses on a Biblical verse but has a real story or crazy sort of thing that happened or observation and it is so worth reading — and he always brings it home with real application to “do it.”  What fun, and what a challenge, to live in light of mercy and goodness and grace and love. Yay. I highly recommend this.
God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs Tim & Kathy Keller (Viking/Random House) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
This makes a very impressive gift as it is a compact sized hardback, very classy, with a ribbon marker, and would be fantastic for those that want to get into God’s Word without a lot of sentimental or flamboyant stories. Keller and his wife are fairly well known, somewhat intellectual and thoughtful Presbyterian leaders (PCA.) The New York Times suggested he was today’s C.S. Lewis with a credible witness among skeptics in NYC. If you follow BookNotes you most likely know we’ve recommend all of his many books.

The Invitation : A Simple Guide to the Bible Eugene Peterson $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

I reviewed this at BookNotes before and a lot of folks resonated with it. What a delight. The Invitation is a handsome looking, square-sized paperback which has each introduction of Peterson’s to each book of the Bible from The Message. It’s really fun and wise and a fine invitation to life with God by engaging the story of the Bible. I’m not kidding — I love this book!  If you want a somewhat nicer edition, they did the same thing with full color photography and graphic design and issued it in hardback, naming it Symphony of Salvation: A 60-Day Devotional Journey Through the Books of the Bible ($19.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99)

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the new variant is now spreading. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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Books (old and some brand new) about discerning God’s guidance, about calling and vocation – ALL ON SALE

In our last BookNotes newsletter I listed a few books that might make nice gifts for college graduates. Naturally, I promoted my own book, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; $13.99 // our sale price = $11.19) I and my fellow authors may not get any royalties from it, but I believe in it. 

Last year somebody bought a bunch for high school graduation, saying that he was going to tell his students going off to college or technical schools that the college commencement inspiration in the book was the “end game.” He wanted them to read it before going to college so they could imagine being the kind of people taking their faith seriously enough in these critical years so that, a few years later, they would be reading to serve God in their careers and vocations. I was honored, of course, and inspired that a church would be having these kinds of conversations with their rising young adults, including offering guidance on living faithfully in the future in their jobs and civic lives.

In David Kinnaman’s book Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon (Baker; $21.99//our sale price = $17.59) he and his co-author, Mark Matlock explore some data gleaned from young adults who have remained active in church and ways churches that retain their young adults do so.  One of the chapters— that mentions our bookstore work helping folks think well about their life in the work-world, by the way — notes that high-school and college-age young adults are not likely to stick around a church that doesn’t address their most passionate concerns, including finding meaningful work, discerning a calling, leaning into the language of vocation.

I circle back to this line of thinking from time to time here at BookNotes and observe that too few bookstores (and, frankly, too few churches) help people think Christianly about work by offering books about this topic. We are glad you care and invite you to learn about more resources than can inspire you and yours.

We hardly use the word calling well these days except, of course, for pastors or those going into para-church ministry or missionary work. Or the equally religious-sounding word, vocation.  Media study majors? Future English teachers? Engineering students? Those going into the trades — electricians and mechanics and landscapers? Chefs, coaches, truckers? Yes, these careers are all avenues of rewarding and fulfilling service as God calls ordinary people to be salt and light and leaven in each sphere of society. These “offices” and stations and workplaces are all holy spaces to which God sends us. They can be more than mere jobs, but holy vocations. Churches that don’t offers this missional vision routinely as part of their worship, preaching, and education, will — Kinnaman pretty much documents it — lose their young adults and, I think, hamper their other adults as well, who, also, are called to work (as unto the Lord) in these complicated places in these hard economics times. Does the church not care?

In his fabulous read, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work Tom Nelson (Crossway; $17.99 // our sale price = $14.39) explains how he missed much of this when he pastored, calling his own blind spots “professional malpractice.” Eventually he learned to come alongside his people in their various vocations — teachers, architects, nurses, parents — and bless them, empowering them to see themselves as God’s workers in the world. There are so many other great books on this topic (see here for a list of many of my BookNotes lists announcing lots of good books on work.)

 

Discipleship with Monday in Mind by Skye Jethani & Luke Bobo (Made to Flourish; $9.99 // our sale price = $7.99) is a one-of-a-kind, fabulous little volume that shows some of the broad reflections (and practical ideas) of what many churches are doing to reject the “sacred vs secular” dualism and “privatization” of faith while helping mentor people towards Monday faithfulness. That is, these are ideas congregational leaders can apply immediately to re-imagine a whole-life sort of discipleship and an intrinsic relation between congregational life and public life. Buy a handful and start a little study group among your leadership team and see how you might amplify your own ministry to equip folks to live out their faith in their work lives.

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy by Matthew Kaemingk & Cory Willson  (Baker Academic; $29.99 // our sale price = $23.99) comes with a great forward by Nicholas Wolterstorff. who has written deeply about liturgy and worship and holds a great concern for Christian fidelity in the workplace. (He has an excellent chapter in Serious Dreams, by the way, a great message delivered as a graduation speech at his own Calvin University.) Work and Worship is considerably thicker than many of the titles shown here and is a significant, rich, resource that a church can draw on for years to come. I am sure you know how we have promoted it in the past, naming it as one of the Best Books of the Year a couple of years ago. It remains a one-of-a-kind, magisterial volume, offering both theory and practice, so to speak, essays about the relationship of labor and liturgy and plenty of actual worship aids — prayers, hymns, litanies and the like — for creatively raising up work in our worship services..

Reintegrate: Your Vocation with God’s Mission by Bob Robinson (Good Place Publishing; $14.00 // our sale price = $11.20) is my favorite small group Bible study on these themes — it is ideal for those new to this “all of life redeemed” worldview and excellent for those already in the work-world. There is simply nothing like it and I’m always happy when folks discover it and take the plunge into forming small groups being intentional about this common-place but often ignored ministry arena. 

There are bunches of books these days developing Christian perspectives on work (I listed a few recent ones here.) We’ve got more books on this than you can imagine.

However, all of this — circling back to that list I did for college grads — sort of assumes that God might be calling some people to certain careers. That we have been gifted by God with certain abilities and talents that equip us to serve in places God has appointed for us (as it says in Ephesians 2:10.) Yet, how does one know? Isn’t it a little late to give a college graduate a book on discerning one’s vocation after she has spent years preparing to be a nurse or journalist or chemist?  Indeed.

AND SO…

To wit: here, then, are some books on thinking about calling and vocation, about discerning God’s will, about hearing and being guided by God’s Spirit. This is tricky business, actually, and I don’t want to overstate this — clearly God doesn’t whisper into everybody’s ear just what we are supposed to do in life. It doesn’t work that way, usually. I do not want to create what singer-songwriter Mark Heard once called “another good lie.” But having some theological notions and some spiritual practices in our tool kit, so to speak, under our feet and in our bones, can help. I’ll list a bunch — some simple, some more complex, some rather theoretical and some quite practical. I hope they are helpful.

BOOKS ON DISCERNING THE GUIDANCE AND WILL OF GOD 

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will Kevin DeYoung (Moody Press) $11.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $9.56

Simple, edgy, cool, solid, non-nonsense advice from a young, conservative, Reformed preacher who sets us free from hyper-spirituality and hocus-pocus. This has sold like a zillion copies and yet too many people still haven’t heard that it just isn’t that complicated. As Oswald Chambers wrote a century ago, “Trust God and do the next thing.”

I like the long subtitle on the cover: “Or: How To Make a Decision Without Dreams,Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.” This is a nifty little book for those that need it.

Reimagine the Ignition Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day Mark Thibodeaux (Loyola Press) $12.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $10.36

This is a powerful, delightful, and very useful little guide to the old “examen” spiritual practice from Saint Ignatius. Fr. Thibodeaux is a Jesuit and a great writer who offers us a flexible bit of prayerfulness to cultivate the art of spiritual discernment of God’s hand in the ordinary things of our lives. I really appreciated this a lot and recommend for nearly anyone. Thibodeaux has explored the topic of discovering God’s will in greater detail in his bigger book,  God’s Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God’s Will which we also have.  

The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and Confidence Jerry Sittser with a foreword by Eugene Peterson (Zondervan) $15.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $12.79

This is one of the very best books on this broader, less sensational way to live with purpose and peace, seeking God’s Kingdom as a way of life. Gerald Sittser has gone through much (including tragic loss, explored in A Grace Disguised) so he is an experienced and mature guide.  In Peterson’s foreword he notes that Sittser’s writing is fresh and good but that he isn’t saying anything all that novel — which, for Eugene, is a big compliment. He notes, though, that we live in a time when the air is full of careless comment and commentary on the will of God.” Peterson continues, “Unfortunately too many of these comments have neither biblical footage nor theological integrity.” He applauds Sitter for his “unassuming modesty” and the “unpretentious conversational style that never descends to banality.” I call Sittser winsome; Peterson calls him companionable.  Peterson says such time with such a companion is so valuable that we should read The Will of God as a Way of Life twice. 

How to Hear God: A Simple Guide for Normal People Pete Greig (Zondervan) $18.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $15.19

This is very new, a follow-up to his greatly appreciated How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People and it looks very clear and very helpful. It is quite new and I haven’t read it yet,but wanted to announce it here.

Here is what John Mark Comer says about it:

Pete has simply written the best book I have ever read on the most important thing you will ever do: learning how to hear God. Pete calls this book ‘a simple guide for normal people.’ It is, but ‘simple’ is not the same thing as simplistic. This book is disarmingly wise, deep, insightful. With his extraordinary grasp of the church down through history and across the globe, Pete transcends the Christian tribalism of our day. He is rooting us in something far more ancient, unchanging, timeless. And hearing God’s voice is the key to everything.

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God  Dallas Willard (IVP) $22.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $17.60

I hope BookNotes readers know of our affection for Dallas Willard and our respect for his many books of philosophy, spirituality, discipleship. This book first came out decades ago as In Search of Guidance and was ahead of its time. Once he became better known (and evangelicals, especially, learned to embrace more historic, contemplative spirituality through the words of Willard’s colleagues such as Richard Foster and Ruth Haley Barton) it was reissued with this succinct title. It is an exceptionally penetrating book, wise, challenging, highly recommended.

Now, it has been reissued again as part of IVP stellar “Signature Classics” series of some of their best books that have stood the test of time. It has an impressive new foreword by James Bryan Smith.

Richard Foster calls Hearing God, “The best book on divine guidance I have ever read.” 

The Discerning Life: An Invitation to Notice God in Everything Stephen A. Macchia (Zondervan Reflective) $22.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $18.39

This is a very new book, released last month on the recent “Reflective” imprint of Zondervan books and two of my favorite evangelical mystics have nice endorsements on the back. Gary Thomas calls it a “new spiritual classics” and Ken Shigematsu, author of God In My Everything, says it is “wise, winsome, and worship-evoking,” and will “awaken you to the wonder of God’s presence.” Indeed. This book makes clear the idea that spiritual discernment is more than a “how-to guide” for making good decisions, but a posture and habit of attentiveness to God’s presence. It is not only for churches seeking to call a new pastor (when the lingo is often invoked) or some super spiritual way to discover God’s will for every little choice we make. This offers a biblically based vision for a lifestyle of “practicing a preference for God.”

There is, also, an appendix of 40 days worth of reflections by Reuben Jobs (with a few others) offering practices and exercises. 

Rhythms for Life: Spiritual Practices for Who God Made You to Be Alastair Sterne (IVP) $16.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $12.80

Oh my, friends, I’ve been wanting to mention this for a while — it is a perfect book to highlight here as it is a very nicely done reflection, inspiring and formational, offering an astute combination of two major trends in Christian writing — the contemplative stream of those wanting spiritual disciplines to help train them in the reflective life and questions about our identity and calling in Christ. In a way, this is a very practical book, but it is noticeably grounded in a sense of God’s work in the world and our call to follow Jesus in all areas of life. This is not about the spirituality of work, as such, but it invites us into habits and lifestyles which allow us to take up habits that give space for God as we discern how we serve God in the world. 

It doesn’t do justice to this rich study, but to summarize it offers four aspects of our spirituality — I’d call them vibes that make up the rhythms — that point us upward to God, inward to self, with-ward in community, and outward in mission. It makes sense as Sterne is a church planting Anglican, his heart strangely warmed, I suppose, at Asbury, but now studying intercultural missions at Fuller. He lives in Vancouver, BC and is passionate about helping people flourish by living in community for the sake of missional engagement in the marketplaces of the world.

My friend Steve Garber knew him at Regent College in Vancouver, and writes this thoughtful recommendation to take up the book:

All theology should be applied theology, at least that was the argument of one of the best teachers I know, and the insight is ancient. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, ‘The reason you don’t understand is that you don’t do the truth.’ That disconnect is a perennial problem, even when we yearn for more integrity. Alastair Sterne has written a book for all of us, but specially so for those who want to understand the integral relationship of what they believe with the way that they live. In Rhythms for Life he has woven together theology and experience with a rare wisdom born of his years of loving people who long for more flourishing in their lives for the sake of their cities.

The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making  Elizabeth Liebert (WJK) $20.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $16.00

Dr. Elizabeth Liebert has been a professor of the spiritual life at San Francisco Theological Seminary, a PC(USA) seminary, so she is rooted in a broad and generous theological movement and writes seriously with nothing cheesy or sentimental. This book (along with the sequel, for church use, The Soul of Discernment: A Spiritual Practice for Communities and Institutions) has been very well received and is a staple in many spiritual direction programs. 

As one reviewer put it, speaking of the profundity of The Way of Discernment:

Unlike ordinary decision making, it requires prayer and the accountability of a faith community to help us know which way to go. Drawing on Christian thinkers through the ages, from Ignatius of Loyola and Jonathan Edwards to Frederick Buechner and Thomas Merton, Liebert teaches that discernment is both a spiritual gift and an acquired habit that can be honed through regular practice. To that end, she provides extensive exercises to help readers identify and work through discernment issues in their own lives. Readers should plan to take time with this book, because the exercises yield their richest rewards through careful and slow implementation—ideally over a period of 11 weeks. While the author cautions that absolute certainty is rarely possible, a diligent practice of discernment can lead to confirmation. Liebert’s wise spiritual counsel will aid many seekers as they determine their next step.

BOOKS ON A THEOLOGY OF CALLING & VOCATION

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life Os Guinness (Thomas Nelson) $17.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $14.39

When I celebrated the updated anniversary edition of this a few years ago I wrote — after a whole bunch of setting the stage about the role of Dr. Guinness’s work on my own life and thinking, and how much I value this book, I wrote some of the following. 

I want to remind you that The Call was one of the first contemporary, popular level books that developed the implications of this most important (but routinely misunderstood) theological doctrine, that of “calling” (and its related theme, “vocation.”) There is a huge renaissance of books on faith, calling, discernment, vocation, work, and serving God in varying spheres of society these days, and nearly all owe their moment to a series of talks Guinness did in the 1990s (including at First Presbyterian Church of York where we hosted him before the book came out) and the celebrated release of this seminal book in 1998. I do not think I am alone and I do not think I am wrong to suggest that the faith and work movement, the rise of marketplace ministry courses, the popular spread of conferences and workshops using the language of vocation and Christian views of work-a-day routines owe their existence in our time to how God was pleased to use this book as it was embraced by key leaders within the thoughtful end of the evangelical world.

The chapters are fairly short, though eloquent. They cover all sorts of ways in which a quest for a purposeful life is part of what we do as humans and how searching for some meaning, listening to a Voice, is essential. He tells amazing stories from literature, art, history, politics, and his own extraordinary life and offers a simple prayer at the end of each moving, informative chapter.

I love the core chapters where Guiness explains how the Protestant reformation blew apart the sacred/secular dualism of the medieval world. Monks and nuns were the only ones, in those dark ages, who were allowed to say they were “called.” Indeed, Martin Luther said “the men making the beer barrels and the women milking the cows are as important to the Kingdom God as the priests and the nuns.” They wanted to arrest him for such talk! William Tyndale, years earlier, was burned at the stake and one of the reasons was because he dared to say ordinary folks could use the language of vocation, that their work mattered to God. Guinness’s chapter about a Dutch monk that locked the doors of the church so folks wouldn’t obsess with liturgy, but take faith into daily life, called “Locked Out and Staying Out”, is worth the price of the book.

His central chapters “Everyone, Everywhere, Everything” and the follow-up “By Him, To Him, For Him” and the often-cited “The Audience of One” chapter are all simply unforgettable.

For anyone guiding others in vocational discernment, this solid teaching about calling (both our primary calling to follow Christ and our secondary callings to various offices and tasks) is crucial. “Be What You Are” is the sort of eloquent wisdom that will clarify much – and there is much to be clarified these days, with everybody from MBA programs and edgy entrepreneurs and church preachers insisting everyone must make a difference and find zeal in doing all kinds of spiffy stuff, finding your bliss and whatnot. This is sturdy, level-headed ballast, and exceedingly helpful as we think through things like jobs and happiness and occupations and retirement and such. That is, he reminds us not to overly identify our callings with our jobs. In a world as fallen as ours, in a culture arranged as ours, we may not find that our callings and careers are the same. If we’re lucky, it might be somewhat so.

For those in mid-life or beyond there is much assistance here, too; there is even a chapter on “Fighting the Noonday Demon” which is profound for those struggling with depression or what the ancients called sloth, or despair.

His bit about time is excellent, and, for those with curiosity about such things, his reflections will make you wise about the pressures of the modern world. It is, as I said, a remarkable book, learned and inspiring, insightful and enjoyable.

The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work. Lee Hardy (Eerdmans) $26.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $21.59

This is a philosophical, historical, theological, and practical exploration of work from an evangelical perspective, highlighting the Christian concept of vocation as articulated by Luther and Calvin, and making relevant applications for today. Written in the late 1980s, it was one of the early books helping kick off the avalanche of books on this topic over the last decades and has remained in print for these many years for good reason. It still is one of the best.

As one of the publicity description put it years ago, Dr. Hardy, who teaches in the philosophy department at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI, “looks creatively at the meaning of work according to Greek, medieval, Renaissance, Marxian, and Freudian perspectives, then at Luther’s view and subsequent Calvinist development and modification, concluding with contemporary Roman Catholic convergence. The second half of the book applies the theory to personal career choice and social job design; it then reviews seven management theories and ends with perceptive remarks about combining people-oriented choices and profit choices.”

Interestingly, at least to me, is that Dr. Hardy lived in Pittsburgh during PhD work when we did and came under some of the same (Kuyperian, among other) influences. Now he writes good books and we try to sell them. Thanks be to God! The Fabric of This World is highly recommended for those wanting some of the best “inquiries” into this topic.

Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation edited by William Placher (Eerdmans) $32.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $25.60

This is a big volume, a remarkable compendium of many of the great writings that have influenced the church through the ages. For better or worse, ancient leaders preached and taught and wrote about calling as they understood it, sometimes, for instance, exclusively for those called to monastic life or priesthood. (And from this we can learn how not to think about this stuff, but, yes, also, some good principles that might be applied more wholesale to others of us as well.) From the church fathers to Augustine, from the high middle ages to Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Baxter and others, to modern era writers as diverse as Bonhoeffer, Simon Weil, Howard Thurman, and Dorothy Sayers, this volume is extraordinary.

Here is how the publisher once described it:  

What am I going to do with my life?” is a question that young people commonly face, while many not-so-young people continue to wonder about finding direction and purpose in their lives. Whether such purpose has to do with what job to take, whether to get married, or how to incorporate religious faith into the texture of their lives, Christians down the centuries have believed that God has plans for them.

This unprecedented anthology gathers select passages on work and vocation from the greatest writers in Christian history. William Placher has written insightful introductions to accompany the selections — an introduction to each of the four main historical sections and a brief introduction to each reading. While the vocational questions faced by Christians have changed through the centuries, this book demonstrates how the distilled wisdom of these saints, preachers, theologians, and teachers remains relevant to Christians today.

Vocation: The Setting for Human Flourishing Michael Berg (1517 Publishing) $12.95                     OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $10.36

I have written a bit about this before and a few knowing friends complimented the book with great enthusiasm. It explores the deepest questions behind and underneath the “vocation” question — namely, what does it mean to be human and what is the nature of the good life? As Luther often explained, once we are free from the burden of self-justification we can take on our various callings — masks, he called them, although perhaps these days we’d talk about wearing different “hats.” These are ways God equips us to love others, to care for the world God has placed us in. Ordinary life takes on a new hue. God frees us, then uses us to help craft a social order in society that reflects God’s great grace. Work and other cultural obligations become deeply spiritual avenues of worship and service.  This is a great little book, clear and inspiring. Who knows, it might even make a Lutheran out of you! 

Mission: Rethinking Vocation John Stott; edited and with a foreword by Steven Garber (Regent College Press) $9.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $7.99

You know that I often cite the remarkable, profound, beautifully written volumes of Steve Garber. A few years ago when Steve was teaching a grad course in leadership and marketplace theology at the great Regent College in British Columbia he put together this small booklet excerpts from Stott’s historic Oxford lectures, published in the mid 1970s as Christian Mission in the Modern World. It includes the seminal portion where he so vividly reminds us that we all have a mission and, in the modern world, especially, this must include a sense of holy vocation in the work we do. To be salt and light with a whole gospel for the whole person in the whole world is an extraordinary calling, and Steve’s lovely introduction offers this small bit of Stott’s wisdom for us all. 

What Is My Calling? A Biblical and Theological Exploration of Christian Identity William W. Klein and Daniel Steiner (Baker Academic) $21.99                     OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $17.59

This is an amazing new book, important and helpful. It is firm in its critique of many books about calling, showing how we’ve not been clear about what the New Testament teaches regarding our calling unto Christ, using the word so widely that it can mean nearly anything. The pair are hard on everybody from Os Guinness to Frederick Buechner, and I get it. I wish they’d have lightened up a bit, but they are convinced that this appropriation of call language to one’s own passions or convictions or interests in jobs (call it “vocation, if you must” they begrudgingly say) bears less than helpful fruit. Anybody who teaches or writes or speaks about this simply must grapple with this book and heed at least most of its warnings. Those searching for guidance about one’s vocation might read other good books first, get the vision and the earnest help other’s provide, and then pick up this to have our lingo fine-tuned. It’s serious, uncompromising and an important contribution, especially for those of us offering leadership in this arena.

Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential  Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $20.00                  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $16.00

I have reviewed this before, highlighted it at conferences, and we keep it on hand here at the shop as a staple on our shelves about vocation and calling. It’s nearly a classic, mature but not overly heady. I thought I would just share with you what the publisher says about it, cribbing from them so you hear how they pitch it:

God calls us first to himself, to know and follow him, and also to a specific life purpose, a particular reason for being. This second call or “vocation” has implications not only for our work or occupation, but also includes our giftedness, our weaknesses, our life in community and what we do day to day. In this book Gordon Smith invites you to discover your vocation by listening to God and becoming a coworker with him.

  • What is my calling?
  • How do I live it out in the midst of difficult relationships or moral challenges?
  • Will my vocation change as I enter a new stage of life?
  • With competing needs and demands, how can I craft a balanced way of living?

Smith addresses these questions and many more. This new edition has been revised and updated throughout with two expanded chapters and a new chapter on four specific areas of calling. Here is rich insight for all who long for the ears to hear and the courage to follow God’s call.

Your Calling Here and Now: Making Sense of Vocation Gordon T. Smith (IVP) $18.00                  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $14.40

Wow. This is a brand new book and I wondered if Smith, who has written two books on this already, had anything more to say. His other two are great — he has a tremendous, important paperback volume (see above) called Courage and Calling and a short, practical one on praying about vocation (see below) called Consider Your Calling. Does anybody, really, need to write more about this? Well, he sure does have more to say and it is excellent. 

Gordon T. Smith is President of Ambrose College and Seminary in Calgary, Alberta, and he has been praying and pondering and studying and talking with young students and older faculty for years, now. He has written about “thinking institutionally” (see his 2020 masterpiece, Institutional Intelligence: How to Build an Effective Organization) and about contemporary leadership (Wisdom from Babylon) and he has written a fairly big book about the Holy Spirit, a small one about giving spiritual direction, a major one about Christian formation into Christ-like character (see his hefty, helpful Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity.) Over and over he has shown himself to be a life-long learner and a life-time teacher. Here he comes back to his theme of helping us (as one of the chapters puts it) being “stewards of our lives.” Nice, eh?

In this brand new one, Your Calling Here and Now, Smith comes back to a common refrain in nearly every section. He asks us to ask a simple question:”At this time and place, who am I meant to be, and what am I call to do.” Yes, it is exceptionally grounded theologically and biblically, but he offers reflections and practices to help us discern all this. Over and over he asks what we are called to be and do.

I like his groundedness — the “in this time and place, what…?” question. Such an approach, you will discover, includes a sense of place and the community God has put you in. He tells stories of the complexity of this (especially as a leader of an institution of higher learning) and how we are sometimes called to do certain things that simply must be done. If we do not do them, they will not be done. Is God speaking to us to do these things? Perhaps they are just in front of us, and we simply have to step up.

Our vocation, he notes, helpfully, is “the outworking of how God has made us.” That is, “it is not a goal on the horizon but a present reality that we are called to discern.”  He is deeply spiritual in insight, but his writing is often upbeat. One reviewer called him “felicitous.”

This process need not be as elusive as it sometimes feels. This book can help. As Mark Buchanan — a wordsmith I love (his last one was about walking, called God Walk, but his classic is on the sabbath, called The Rest of God) — puts it, Your Calling Here and Now “is both primer and compendium.”

I absolutely loved Your Calling Here and Now. Full of brilliant insights and poignant vignettes, this book will give you the courage to show up for your life and inspire you to fulfill the purpose for which you were made.  — Ken Shigematsu, pastor of Tenth Church, Vancouver, BC, and author of Survival Guide for the Soul

What’s Your Call: What Are You Doing Here? Gary Barkalow (Cook) $14.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $11.99

I like this upbeat book, a broad examination of all sorts of senses of calling. It is pretty inspiring, energetic, inviting us to “discover God’s destiny and design” and live alerted to the “choreography of God.”  It talks about story, about the assaults against our sense of calling, and ponders if call is a “job or a role.” The author works with men and women through The Noble Heart, and this carries an enthusiastic endorsement from Len Sweet, who says that, “Gary believes your calling makes you an artist. Read this book to discover the beauty of your art.” Fun!

I think it may be useful for beginners to serious Christian reading or for graduating high school kids, even. They’ll enjoy it.

The Preaching Life Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley) $17.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $14.36

In a previous list that I did years ago at BookNotes — more than one person liked the clip of James Taylor singing “Millworker”, I wrote about this, and wanted to share about it again, here. The first half of this is a beautifully rendered memoir of Taylor’s conversion to faith, her sense of calling to ministry, and her eventual vocation as an Episcopal priest, preacher and writer.  There are a few extended passages from which I sometimes read out-loud in workshops and talks — beautiful prose about God speaking to her through creation, the role of sacraments, the significance of the ordinary (themes she unpacks wondrously years later in her beloved An Altar in This World.) Her beautifully told reminder of how everyone’s workplace can be a place for sacramental experience of God’s goodness and grace is worth the price of the book!  A few of these pages mean the world to me, and I had to list it.

God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life  Gene Vieth, Jr (Crossway) $14.99                  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $11.99

I like this a lot – Veith, who has written vividly about everything from postmodernism (he’s agin it) to country music (he’s for it) to the spirituality of the cross (he’s Lutheran, so he gets it) and and he brings a git of his conservative Lutheran flavor to this study of all the ways God uses humans to do the work God wants done in the world.  You may know Vieth (he writes for World magazine) as a writer that teaches how Christ’s Lordship affects all of life. I like his insistence that we are not called to just one thing, but have various callings and offices — “masks” as Luther called them. Vieth even calls them “God’s hiding places.”  Very clear, comprehensive.

Calling in Context: Social Location and Vocational Formation Susan Maros (IVP) $24.00 OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $19.20

In some ways, this is the book I’ve been waiting for, that many of us who have been inspired and energized to help people discern vocations and think Christians about their careers and public lives have realized was necessary. It invites those thinking about spiritual formation and whole-life discipleship to consider notions of calling as shaped by the mental maps we assume to be true, to realize our “coming from” view colors and shapes how we see and think and live into our faith. The author is conscientious and explicate about her terms, about how (as a cisgender white conservative evangelical — perhaps with some Pentecostal experience, in seams) has had to learn from her BICOP students and international students and what some call “nontraditional” students, often from less privileged backgrounds, under resourced, as they say. Yes, Calling in Context clearly and helpfully  guides us to see the many ways gender and class and ethnicity and nationality and so forth influences our worldviews (a word she doesn’t use) and thereby informs our attitudes about notions of God’s call on our lives.

I am not alone in celebrating this new contribution to our important, evolving theology of calling.  Jane Lancaster Patterson, professor emerita of New Testament at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, and director of the “Communities of Calling Initiative” at the Collegeville Institute, calls it “creatively critical.”  She continues: 

Calling in Context, fills a much-needed space in the literature on Christian vocation, engaging ways in which gender, racial and ethnic identity, economic status, and social class shape people’s vocational possibilities and practices of discernment. The book challenges individualist and idealist assumptions present in dominant North American understandings of vocation, inviting readers into richer conversation and vocational practice that is more attuned to the variety of ways in which vocation is experienced globally, more faithful to the range of biblical narratives of vocation, and more attentive to God’s interaction with human beings over time.”

There are several very important things going on here, including Dr. Maros’s narrative about her own work in caring for college students and preparing people to flourish by helping them learn how to join God’s work in the world. She has been significantly influenced by global mission leaders (hence, some of the amazing insights from cross-cultural anthropologists and missiologists) and by leadership development scholars, most notably, the excellent work of Robert Clinton, formerly of Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies. Anybody interested in what the critical scholars call “intersectionality” applied to Christian mentoring, leadership development, and spiritual direction, would do well to spend considerable time with Marks and her amazing summaries of data, her great footnotes, book suggestions, discussion questions, and the like. It is handsomely designed by IVP and is a book worth having. 

I may say more later about this fascinating book, but even though I want to give this unique volume two large thumbs up, alas, there are just a few small things that might annoy some discerning readers. She has lots of sidebars that offer call stories — making the good point that for most of us, there is no one-time, burning bush moment, but that we grow into our sense of our purpose or call and how that may or may not line up with given vocations and jobs. This is good. And, most of those voices are themselves from women and men of color, some from poor or marginalized backgrounds. Again, this is very good.  But too many are about the call to ministry; even those not called to conventional pastoral work are a bit removed from the ordinary work-places of most ordinary people. For instance, in a great story about a soundboard engineer, she affirms her technical craft, but she is working the board in her church. A professor is a professor “in the practice of ministry” as a seminary. A CPA didn’t mention at all how she balances the books, but how she is a marketplace “minister.” A Latina photographer had very moving story, but didn’t mention photography; not once. An impressive lawyer is doing vital political advocacy but his narrative was about his struggle not with his challenging job but with his journey as an Asian American. I’m bringing my own presuppositions and social location to bear in even saying this, of course, but, golly, I’d have appreciated a few butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers to fill out her otherwise very moving testimonials.

Rarely do experts on calling urge people to consider how God’s action in our lives is shaped by race, gender, class, and much more. In honest, profound, and biblically informed prose, Susan Maros opens up a whole new horizon on calling, revealing its complexity and brilliantly translating complicated concepts into everyday language so that all of us can grapple with vocation in more culturally sensitive and faithful ways. An invaluable addition to literature on calling!  — Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair and Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture, emerita, Vanderbilt University, and coeditor of Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation Throughout Life’s Seasons

Before the end of the introduction you will discover why Dr. Susan Maros is one of Fuller Seminary’s most respected and popular professors. By the end of the book, you will realize that almost all your assumptions about how God calls a person will be challenged. Filled with biblical reflections that will cause you to reconsider what you think you know, and stories and studies that will encourage you to rethink what you believe to be settled about the way vocation is formed, this book disturbs and deconstructs, and then provides wisdom and a way for reconstructing perhaps the most personal moments in a Christian’s life. I heartily recommend it.  — Tod Bolsinger, Fuller Seminary and the De Pree Center for Leadership, author of Canoeing the Mountains

Roots & Routes: Calling, Ministry and the Power of Place Randy Litchfield (Abingdon) $29.99          OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $23.99

This is a book that seems to be motivated by some of the same concerns about social location — “place” as Litchfield puts — as the above title, Calling in Context.Yet, Litchfield’s story is different and he tells it as a mainline denominational seminary educator. He was an engineer and team manager at a GM plant and eventually studied Christian education at a seminary; he is the Browning Professor of Christian Education at Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio. As one who has been in various denominations — Nazarene, Disciples, almost a Roman Catholic, United Methodist — he has quite a story. He has studied and been shaped by the influential pedagogies of the last 20th century, citing liberationist critical scholars and process theologians and faith development thinkers like James Fowler (who he says, rather oddly, I think, influential in conversations about vocation, which I frankly don’t observe.) 

Not every book on discerning a sense of calling — and reflecting on all that that may mean, theologically, Biblically, and existential — is so attuned to these fluid and intersectional considerations and few engage place theologically as he does. (He draws considerably on Mary McClintock Fulkerson’s Oxford University Press text Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldly Church.)

I like that he uses the phrase “vocational imagination” and, as the publisher puts it:

“Failed vocational imagination obstructs the effectiveness of individuals and the church as a whole in fulfilling their mission of partnership with God’s creating, redeeming, and sustaining work in the world.”

And, as Litchfield himself puts it, ”Place is the fabric of the drama itself.”

The Power of Place: Choosing Stability in a Rootless Age Daniel Grothe (Thomas Nelson) $25.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $20.79

This is not directly a book about discerning God’s call on our lives or stepping into our various vocations, yet, as Litchfield shows in the rather dense read above, Roots & Routes, our sense of place is key to who we become, our own sense of purpose, and the stage on which our discernment of God’s guidance unfolds. (Heck, I say this in the introduction to Serious Dreams, I’m proud to say.) And so, I invite you to this recent work, one of the most delightfully interesting, challenging, helpful books on this topic in recent years. Like others these days, he uses the Benedictine notion of stability to help us resist the restlessness of mobility. (See, for a new discussion of this, Stability: How an Ancient Monastic Practice Can Restore Our Relationships, Churches, and Communities [Paraclete Press; $16.99] or the older Paraclete Press gem Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture by the important author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove [$17.99.])

There are so many important writers on this topic, from Simone Weil to Wendell Berry to Kathleen Norris.  Start with The Power of Place by Daniel Grothe. It will offer solid ground below your feet (tee-hee) as you lean into this earthy topic of vocation. And I’m sure you’ll have a blast reading it. Hoooray.

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $20.00        OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $16.00

You may tire of me recommending this, although I’m sure you don’t grow tired of seeing that wonderful Van Gogh piece of the cover with its gloriously honoring illustration of the dignity of (dare I say?) the glory of, hard labor.  The book deserves this artful cover as it is profound and melancholy, like the painter, even as it beams goodness. I cannot do justice to Steve’s big vision and serious scholarship and mature assessment of things and I ought not summarize it so simply, but one way to explain some of this book is to say it is about keeping on. About enduring setbacks, making peace with what is, even as we can be inspired by what can be, and what, someday in God’s timing, will be. 

Visions of Vocation reminds us through real life stories, reflection on great novels and contemporary films, how some have found the grace to endure, knowing well how broken the world is and learning to love it anyway, as God so does. Can we appreciate what some Reformed thinkers called “common grace”? Can we give ourselves to engage in workplaces and families, governments and businesses, institutions of all sorts for the sake of love? From Dickens to Bono to Les Miserable, Steve points us to common goodness, graces, really, to give us the stamina and hope we need to continue to pursue our vocations and live into our calling. It isn’t a systematic teaching about the doctrine of vocation, but it is one of the most evocative and lasting books unpacking the implications of it all. 

Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons edited by Kathleen A. Catalan & Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Eerdmans) $20.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $16.00

What a unique and interesting book this is. The short version is that it asks and plumbs the question of what notions of vocation means in various ages and stages of life? What is the vocation of a child? A student? The seriously aged? 

Dorothy C. Bass has been a leader of the conversations around topics of vocation (and co editor of the amazing book Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be) through her work at the Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith. That she appreciates this volume should come as no surprise. Listen to this, an endorsement that also explains the book quite nicely:

Calling All Years Good brings a genuinely new and remarkably helpful set of perspectives to today’s lively conversation about vocation. By focusing on the distinctive character of vocation in different seasons of life, the authors help us to understand and appreciate the gifts and challenges of each. Their work will inform and inspire those who minister with a specific age group, such as children, youth, or the elderly. Further, it will encourage intergenerational communities of faith—especially congregations—to cultivate relationships across age-group lines, strengthening the capacity of all to respond to God’s call.”

Listen also to Douglas J. Schuurman, of St. Olaf College and author of Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life. He writes:

Calling All Years Good develops an insightful and theologically rich understanding of vocation, a nuanced and textured interpretation of the stages of the life cycle, and a brilliant fusion of the two. Cahalan, Miller-McLemore, and other leading scholars combine the best social-science research on the stages of life with cutting-edge practical theology focusing on vocation to create a volume that is must reading for pastors, church leaders, and thoughtful Christians. There is no other book that treats this subject with such excellence, clarity, and insight.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work Kathleen Norris (Paulist Press) $9.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $7.96

Not sure why I wanted to list this here, now, except that Kathleen Norris is a stunning memoirist and renowned, ecumenically-minded spiritual writer who here invites us to think about the ordinary stuff, the relationship between liturgy and life, and “the sanctifying possibilities” of everyday work. Given as the Madeleva Lectures at a Catholic women’s college, in the mid 1990s while famous for books like Dakota and The Cloister Walk, this little volume is esteemed by many who seek a spirituality of the commonplace and who are in the faith-in-the-work-world movement.

BOOKS ON DISCERNING ONE’S CALLING(S) AND VOCATION(S)

The Person Called You: Why You’re Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life  Bill Hendricks (Moody Press) $15.99                       OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $12.79

We have a number of very plain spoken, easy to understand, helpful guides to doing some self-assessment, helping readers become more reflective about who they are and what they are to be about. This book will help you or a young person you know realize who and what and why they are here. Hendricks has written about faith and work before so knows that world well, and he knows the Scriptures. I’m very big on this nice little book.

Listen to Cherie Harder who is President of the fantastic, thoughtful, significant organization The Trinity Forum:

The Person Called You is a deeply insightful, conversational, and welcoming guide to discovering one’s giftedness, identity, and vocation. Hendricks distills his practical wisdom from years of counseling and coaching to help readers not only identify and realize their own God-given giftedness, but in understanding its significance, impact, and obligations. A wonderful help for those struggling with their own sense of calling and purpose.

You On Purpose: Discovering Your Calling and Create the Life You Were Meant to Live Dr. Stephanie Shackelford & Bill Denzel (Baker Books) $19.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $15.99

As you know, we have long desired to help people of faith live out their convictions in every area of life, particularly with a sense of calling as God’s agent of change in the world, including in their professional or vocational lives. That is, we want people to say, “Thank God It’s Monday!” instead of the dismissive TGIF.  As some of these good books are quick point out, though, our offices or responsibilities or vocations (what some might call callings) include more than our jobs. Having helpful theological language about all this and a Christian world-and-life view broad enough to be a foundation for thinking Christian about the relationship of worship and work, Sunday and Monday, is so very important.

I say all this to suggest two things about You On Purpose. Firstly, this is by two authors who have had their feet in this stream and their ears to the ground about this conversation for a long time. Ms Shackelford and Mr Denzel are, it seems to me, very astute observers and interpreters of this big passion of ours —and yours, I trust —to empower ordinary Christians to integrate their faith and their work (or avocations, as they say) living for God’s glory in all things. This very well-designed book gets this big insight that we are here for a purpose and that our calling to follow Christ must be  embodied in the real world. They know that people need to ask (that some cannot help but ask) what David Kinnaman in the foreword calls “Life’s Big Questions.”

However, secondly, and most importantly as I commend this fantastic read about living with purpose, Shackelford and Denzel have done the research, offering new data (from Barna) on this quest for meaning, for discovering calling. The subtitle explains the book’s value and even if it sounds a bit grandiose, it delivers.

You on Purpose is a simple, practical guide to helping you discover your God-given calling and gifts. This book enables you to redefine what you want your life to be about to help you live a purposeful life.  — Rebekah Lyons, author of Rhythms of Renewal and You Are Free

Stephanie Shackelford and Bill Denzel have done a fantastic job outlining a clear, faithful decision-making framework that will help a generation get out of career paralysis and the angst that comes with not knowing what to do with your life.  — Carey Nieuwhof, speaker, podcaster, author of Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences 

Another vey nice feature of this helpful and inspiring guide are the tools and “field guide” questions. There are journaling exercises to help apply what they present from research they’ve done. Step by step they walked readers through the work. It’s jam-packed with great info, some of it presented in a creative and colorful infographic style.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation Parker Palmer (Jossey-Bass) $18.95  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $15.16

If the above book is conversational and instructive with good stories and lots of data and a plan of application, this book is meditative, reflective, and offers beautiful rumination on one central notion: listen to your heart. Let your life speak. I suppose you know the wise and gracious Quaker writer Parker Palmer who is known not only for being a bit of a spiritual master but a social and civic activist — people who read Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen or Howard Thurman or Joan Chittister or Richard Rohr, say, like him.  But many know that he worked as a young man in higher education (I have some rare documents rewrote up about the relevance of faith in higher education in the turbulent late 1960s!) One of his best selling books is the beautiful Courage to Teach that emerged from his philosophical reflection on the spiritual meaning of knowing and teaching (To Know as We Are Known.) Parker has said that he was seriously inspired by the sense of calling so many passionate teachers had (as he was writing his Courage to Teach books) that he was led to write about this notion of calling, or what he nicely calls “the voice of vocation.” 

Written with an economy of style that is clean and calm, Palmer plainly tells about his own journey towards the Quaker adage that makes up the title, showing that this notion that vocation is “a gift, not a goal.” There is something very, very impressive about this which is why this tender book is a favorite of many. I wonder if it is useful for younger readers? Perhaps it isn’t for most happy-go-lucky 18-year olds, but it might be a book they will revisit a decade later. In any case it is a lovely, lovely, little book. 

The Enneagram of Discernment: The Way of Vocation, Wisdom, & Practice Drew Moser (Falls City Press) $18.99  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $15.19

I have endorsed this book before, written with enthusiasm about how I wish it was more widely known. And I’m not even that interested in the enneagram, which, as the author admits, has become a bit faddish. Dr. Moser is a certified enneagram teacher and a beloved college professor at Taylor University, so is surrounded by young adults trying to figure out their lives, their majors, their careers, their callings. He knows these conversations well.

One of the big themes of The Enneagram of Discernment is that he believes the enneagram-talk in many circles is mostly about telling you who you are. (Or, they might say, giving you the tools to help you discover who you are.) Not unlike Myers-Briggs, say, it has been seen largely as a personality type test but in this fine book it becomes a map towards a discerning life. It is wise and helpful, not satisfied with reducing a person to a type but using the enneagram as a resource for a journey into a more discerning life.

For what it’s worth, enneagram rock stars like Suzzanne Stabile and AJ Sherrill Clare Loughrige have given rave reviews (calling it “essential” and “brilliant.” 

Here’s one of our best pastoral care guys, a counselor from Western Theological Seminary, Dr. Chuck DeGroat:

Drew resists the faddish enneagram-talk that tells people who they are, instead inviting each of us on a journey of discernment, exploring every obstacle to becoming our true selves, uncovering our unlived lives, and discovering our hidden vocation. This immensely practical gift holds the possibility of transformation, for yourself and for a hungry and hurting world. Savor it!

Consider Your Calling: Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation Gordon Smith (IVP) $17.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $13.60

I will say this: you should read the books of Gordon Smith who is one of our great thinkers and writers about the spiritual life. I trust him and appreciate him — some compare his work to Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson, a no-nonsense evangelical who cares about our interior lives and has written thoughtful stuff about the classic spiritual disciplines, about deeper Christian growth, about seeking God’s guidance, about the Holy Spirit. In recent years he has written about leadership, about institutional change, about higher education. I like him a lot.  Perhaps you have noticed, above, his very important book Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential which I think is one of the top few in this whole genre.

Consider Your Calling: Six Questions is a short, compact-sized book that clarifies six things to pray about as you discern your own vocation. It is rich and thoughtful, mature and thoughtful, somewhere between Os Guinness and Parker Palmer, if you will. Rooted in a robust, evangelical vision of vocation, he here gives pastoral guidance for how to be reflective, self-aware, intentional, and prayerful in seeking God’s guidance. There is nothing so wise or clear on the market. Short and rather serious, really good for those who might want such an approach.

Your Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose Deborah Koehn Loyd (IVP) $16.00 OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $12.80

This. This is the one. This is the one I most often recommend to younger adults — college students, say —about how to enter into a season of discernment about one’s vocation. It has all the zippy stuff I want in a book about vocation and calling and making a difference by finding your sweet spot of purpose and so forth. It invites us to consider our story, to live into God’s story. I love it. However, it gets very, very practical (and, at times, pretty funny, even while at other times powerfully poignant.) I recommend this because of ho engaging Deborah Loyd is as she shows how to develop a “vocational credo.”

As with the other books in this list, it is not primarily about finding a job. A job emerges, hopefully, out of one’s deepest sense of calling that, in turn, has come from one’s sense of vocation and the “credo”one develops. In her hands this statement she helps us craft is more than a mission statement, not quite a full-throated manifesto, not as boring as a rule of life. I happen to think the cover art does not capture the joy and energy of this transformative work, although it tries. It is energetic and colorful, like the book.

The book is hopeful and yet honest. It includes a section about one’s griefs and sorrows because those laments and hardships also play a role as we form our vocational credos. There are a handful of great “self-help” books that are both visionary and compelling and very, very practical. This is a favorite and I highly recommend it if you or anyone you know wants to take up her invitation. 

How do we make sense of our stories―that odd collection of puzzles and pain, risks and dreams, gifts and passions that make up our lives? In Your Vocational Credo, Dr. Loyd leads readers through a series of questions to craft their own vocational credos. Readers will not only be able to articulate their own why, but also who on earth they are here for. This book is a sure guide to anyone wanting to live with meaning.— Loren Kerns, associate dean, director, doctor of ministry program, George Fox Evangelical Seminary

In a world and church where many men and women of all ages and experiences settle for less and go through the motions of a job or ministry and doubt their passions and gifts, we are in desperate need of guides, mentors and encouragers who will help us get unstuck and find our way forward to live out who God made us to be. Dr. Deborah Koehn Loyd is exactly the right companion and catalyst for this journey. Packed with wisdom, real stories, biblical grounding and practical exercises, Your Vocational Credo is a much-needed tool for individuals, groups, churches and organizations. I know it will call many to life. — Kathy Escobar, co-pastor of The Refuge, spiritual director and author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart and Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World.

A Sacred Voice Is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience John Neafsey (Orbis Books) $24.00  OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $19.20 

I wonder how many here know the famous and lovely line by Frederick Buechner who, in )))) describes vocation as “where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”? And I wonder how many of us actually get to live that. (And, further, how, finally, this may not be an adequate view calling, anyway.) Still, I mention this well-known aphorism, because it does hold up the notion that what we chose to do with our lives, what work we do in the world, ought to somehow meet some real need, contribute in some way to bettering the world, loving our neighbors as it were.

Neafsey ratchets this up a bit and I am grateful. Both eloquent and spiritually enriching, this exploration of what it means to find and follow our personal calling given this obligation to “social conscience” as he puts tin the title. I wish more of the books on vocation and the faith-work conversations included a bit more of this prophetic edge.  How do we distinguish between the “still, small voice” of our authentic vocation and all of the other competing counterfeit voices in our hearts and the needs of our world?

I admire Sharon Daloz Parks whose work on higher education and “the critical years” I studied in graduate school; she later wrote an impressive, scholarly book on mentoring young adults in their search for meaning called Big Questions, Worthy Dreams. That she endorses this Sacred Voice Is Calling should matter to some of our BookNotes readers. Perhaps you, too, need this book about “personal vocation and social conscience.” 

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Suggestions for Gifts for College Graduates 2022 – ON SALE NOW

I can hardly believe it is May. We have been getting a few requests for ideas to give as gifts for college students. Many of our customers know of young adults graduating and a very special book would be a great sign of care and encouragement. Some churches give gifts to honor their graduates and these are some great ideas. (Let us know if you have grad students or PhDs you are honoring; perhaps we could find a book to offer Christian insight into their particular field.)

For ordinary undergrads, any of these sorts of titles would be great for a church to share, helping honor college grads for their special accomplishment. It’s a big time in the life of a graduate: the church should somehow say that God cares and that they are there in this important transition.

We will suggest some high school gift ideas, soon.

Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life  edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19

Most years I announce this, always with a little trepidation, since, well, yes, it is my book. I pulled this together a few years ago and got it very handsomely designed by Ned Bustard of Square Halo Books because we just didn’t have anything to recommend that was ideal for Christian graduates that amplified visions of vocation, the dream to make a difference, the call to take callings seriously, to be faithful in all of life. There just weren’t many books like that, written for the post-college transition. These are a handful of very lively commencement addresses (one by me, but even better ones from the likes of Amy Sherman, Richard Mouw, John Perkins, and more) so it is perfect as a gift for a college grad. There are some reflection questions and a pretty powerful introductory chapter. Frankly, there is nothing like it on the market. I could autograph them for you, too, even personalizing them if you thought that would make it extra special.

Read a longer review and the backstory of this little volume here. Read the introduction here.

After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

We are so, so glad to recommend this stellar book by our good friend Erica Young Reitz. (Erica has a very nicely written, quite practical afterword in Serious Dreams by the way.) When she did full time campus ministry with CCO at Penn State University she ran a semester-long mentoring program to help zealous Christian students prepare for their transition out of college. It was exceptionally well put together and important in the lives of young adults coming out of the college experience with their faith intact. Word got out and she was asked to write a book sharing some of her good content and telling some of the stories and lessons learned. It is very good, especially for evangelical students who have been involved in some kind of religious programing on campus… Again, there is nothing like it in print. 

Dream Big:  Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do About It $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I hope you know the incredibly energetic and visionary speaker and author Bob Goff. Maybe you gave his zillion-selling Love Does out as a high school graduation gift. If so, you know about his winsome style, his outlandish capers, his poignant stories.  This book is fabulous, inspiring and helpful guidance that emerged from the popular “Dream Big” workshops he does. It is both fun, engaging, inspiring, and yet very practical. Highly recommended.

 

Undistracted: Capture Your Purpose. Rediscover Your Joy.  Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

Yes, yes, this also would make a terrific gift for a young adult in this post-college time of transition and new beginnings. In a way, Undistracted is a sequel to Dream Big, exploring the obstacles that are often in the way as we are distracted from our ambitions and goals. Naturally, he gives us great stories and examples and principles for overcoming these distractions and recovering a sense of purpose. 

 

Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365 Day Journey Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I often list this when customers ask for suggestions for a daily devotional — especially if the reader is not one who is used to the holy habit of reading a bit each day like this.  Goff is fun and funny and yet this is overtly Biblical, with solid Scriptural storytelling and lots of modern-day application. This works as a good gift for all sorts of recipients.  It’s a solid hardback without a dust jacket — very nicely done.

 

Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions  Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Rev. Dr. Rutledge writes in a different style than the whimsical Goff (above) as she is a no-nonsense, elegant and eloquent Episcopalian pastor, theologian and legendary preacher. This beautiful hardback includes 52 exquisite, thoughtful sermons so a reader can work through one a week for a year. Or gulp them down, and then revisit them over and over. This makes for a very classy gift.

 

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

I have a blurb on the inside of this, insisting that it is one of my favorite collections of short essays I’ve ever read. I stand by that — Garber has a way with words unlike any writer I know and he weaves together stories and profound insights, examples of people living well, doing good, embodying the vision of what he has called “common grace for the common good.” Who doesn’t want a life of inner and outer cohesion, of integrity, of seamlessness? These captivating, thoughtful, wise ruminations are accompanied by full color photos, offering in a handsome, compact sized hardback. Even the dusk jacket is a bit textured. Perfect.

This modern life often feels fragmented. Steve Garber’s new collection of words and writings, The Seamless Life, gently weaves coherence and grace from the far corners of vocation, friendship, and spirituality. A skillful storyteller, Garber puts himself forward effortlessly. The Seamless Life is like good conversation, and it reads as if you are sitting with an old friend across the table. These chapters can be savored daily, as each page is filled with sacred questioning, wisdom, and hope. —Sandra McCracken, singer-songwriter and recording artist

The Merton Prayer: An Exercise in Authenticity  Steven Denny (ACTA Publications) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

It isn’t every day that a conversation I share with somebody ends as a footnote, but it’s fun to see here my story of an older friend who knew Tom Merton. Much more importantly, this book is a groundbreaking work, reflecting on how the famous “Merton Prayer” influenced the author in his own struggles and complex journey in life. Somewhat like the more famous “Serenity Prayer” many people know the basic gist, but not the full prayer and backstory. Steve Denny explains the spirituality of Father Merton when he prayed for the grace to desire to follow God’s will, even though it isn’t fully revealed. This “unknowing” can be a comfort, as Steven explains, and forms us in the deep art of listening and trusting.

In each chapter of The Merton Prayer Mr. Denny offers the Biblical basis for and some personal stories about each phrase of the prayer. I hope to write about it more but wanted to suggest it here, now. Let’s face it —many college grads, especially these days, have no idea what is coming next. This could help.

Congrats to my friend Steve Denny for getting this book published and to ACTA for doing such a nice job — glossy paper and all. Kudos.

Here is the prayer itself, taken from Merton’s book Thoughts in Solitude.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

By the way, for real fans or those wanting to give a somewhat nicer edition, we can order this also in hardback. It goes for $24.95.

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

If the literary and mystical Thomas Merton, above, isn’t quite your style, how about this? Gentle and Lowly is an exquisitely produced hardback that has become one of the top selling religious books of the last two years. If you know The Gospel Coalition or Crossway books you have heard the remarkable testimonies of those who have been blessed by this gentle study of the mercy of Jesus and his heart for those weighted down. It is fairly intense, a bit deep, and draws almost exclusively on the God-drenched piety of the Puritan intellectuals and preachers. Crossway has published a little journal to go with it and even released a leather-bound edition of the book. It means a lot to a lot of folks although, granted, it may not be the sort of thing most young adults are used to.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society Eugene Peterson (IVP) $18.00                                OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Not as intense and spiritually pious as Gentle and Lowly and not as raw about personal brokenness as The Merton Prayer and, although lively, not written with quite as much joie de vivre as Goff, Eugene Peterson is, yet, some unique combo of the best of these kinds of contemporary authors. He is deeply Biblical, authentically spiritual, full of missional energy for down-to-Earth, long-haul, real-world discipleship. Nothing is simple, things take time, we are on a joyous journey with others moving along the way, awake and aware of this stuff God is up to.

A Long Obedience, now part of the classy “Signature Classic”series of IVP, is truly one of the great books of its kind, a classic reflection on the Psalms of Ascent by one of our all-time favorite writers. This is always a richly literate and thoughtful gift and the title seems perfect for such a time in one’s life. Even if Eugene swiped it from Nietzsche.

Waymaker: Finding the Way to the Life You’ve Always Dreamed Of Ann Voskamp (Thomas Nelson) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

This is brand new and, again, the title speaks volumes to a nervous graduate wondering if God will make a way. Voskamp is a moving, gushy writer — she’s written a lot and her beautiful One Thousand Gifts remains a go-to gift book for many, younger women, especially — and this handsome hardback (with a die-cut design on the cover) would make a great gift. It is for those who may be discouraged, facing what seems like insurmountable odds. A great, passionate, tender reminder of God’s great love.

Young, Gifted, and Black: A Journey of Lament and Celebration Sheila Wise Rowe (IVP) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I fully believe that any of these books listed would be fabulous for anyone of any race or ethnicity. Still, sometimes it is helpful to know of something designed specifically for the unique experiences of people of color. We have promoted this excellent book before (and have often recommended the author’s previous work Healing Racial Trauma.) Rowe is a sharp, Christian, black therapist and knows the research on resilience and success. This book is highly recommended for any reader, but it is, as the line from Nina Simone’s popular 1960s anthem that has become the title for this, it is ideal for those young, gifted black leaders looking to make their way in the world.  There is some hard, honest talk here, good suggestions that, in the blurb from Juanita Rasmus, offer “embodied practices that become like lief preservers on uncharted waters”  Rowe is a trauma-informed leader, as they say, but this offers stories, reflections and tools. for moving on and through towards celebration.

The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction Justin Whitmel Earley (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We have promoted this among college students and in other young adult groups and, believe me, Justin is a hero among many who have heard him. Other churches have given this out and formed study groups around it (and, also, the sequel, written for families, called Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms.) It is a winner.

The Common Rule invites us to be intentional about our habits and use time. It uses some colorful charts and lists, also with online applications, almost like a hip and fresh application of the old monastic vows of stability and “a rule of life.” This book is user-friendly and helpful for anyone, but certainly when a recent graduate is going off to a new job, a new place, perhaps finding new friends and a new set of life rhythms, it is an ideal time to be purposeful about lifestyle habits. There are things we should monitor and do less of (using devices, for instance) and some things we need to embody more — daily, weekly, monthly. It’s a fun and wise book, very cool and could even be, as the author’s own dramatic story explains, life saving. 

The Great Quest: Invitation to an Examined Life and a Sure Path to Meaning Os Guinness (IVP) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

Perhaps your college graduate isn’t the sort of person who would appreciate an overtly religious book, cool as they may be these days. Perhaps you still do not want to let this moment pass without offering some friendly advice and encouragement to live well. This book is a systematic, thoughtful, step by step riff on that phrase by Socrates about how “the unexamined life” is hardly worth living. Guiness knows that not everyone these days wants to live the examined life but he makes a case that a good life is considered, reflective, honest about seeking satisfying answers to the deepest questions. If your recipient longs for a more intentional life asking the classic questions about why we are here and now we know, this invites readers on the quest. It is not pushy; it is not apologetics, it is an earnest call to be serious about universal questions and the pursuit of meaning and purpose. It is a fairly thin paperback but has some gold embossing making it a very suitable gift.

Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times  Os Guinness (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

I have reviewed this before and applauded it loudly; in many ways, it is a long-awaited sequel to one of my all-time favorite books, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life. It uses the popular language of “carpe diem” and asks what it exactly means — from a Christian perspective, framed by the eternal truths of Scripture and a Biblically-informed view of calling, purpose, time, and historical relevance — to actually do that in this harried, modern world. How do we faithfully live with robust gusto, relevant and timely, but not fall prey to passing trends or shallow analysis? Life is short and there is much to consider.

I like how the publisher puts it when they say that Dr. Guinness “calls readers to consequential living, reorienting their notion of history not as cyclical nor as meaningless, but as linear and purposeful. Christians can seek to serve God’s purpose for their generation, read the times, and discern their call for this moment in history.” 

Oozing wisdom, this is a book that I suspect will get deep under the skin of readers, inspiring them for years. Os Guinness helps us amid our busy-bored culture to think hard about the time we have. If we do that, he shows the rewards are immense: we can live meaningfully and with unassailable hope.  — Michael Reeves, author, Delighting in the Trinity

Every Moment Holy  Douglas McElvey, illustrated by Ned Bustard  (Rabbit Room)      leather-bound hardback; $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00                                      compact-sized, flexible leather; $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

I sure hope you know that we carry these rare, remarkable prayer books. They include prayers for all sorts of moments and activities, allowing for a prayerful liturgical moment through the day. There are striking linocut illustrations, two-color ink, ribbon markers. Both the very handsome leather-bound hardback (which is just a tad larger than  9″ x 7″) and the compact sized soft leather one are exquisite gifts and send a vital message — that there is no moment in which God is not present and that we can honor that reality with these prayers. There are prayers before morning coffee, for before viewing movies, before shopping. There are many that are for two or more readers (some for husbands and wives.) Some are about hard stuff, sickness, death, lament. The prayers are curiously down to Earth and yet lyrical — Douglas McElvey is himself an artist and song-writer so has a gift. (We also have, by the way, Every Moment Holy Volume 2 which includes liturgies and prayers of grief, lament, and hope, also in a larger leather-bound hardback and a flexible, soft leather version in a compact size.)

Angels Everywhere: Poems  Luci Shaw (Iron Pen/Paraclete) $19.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20

I’ll admit that not every college graduate would appreciate a volume of poetry as a gift. But some would, so do consider that as a way to honor their academic achievements and their new season of life. Luci Shaw has been an admired writer and acquaintance and we so appreciate her wise, good words. This new one was written during the pandemic so is especially timely. The theme of God’s sacred presence in all times and places — well, who doesn’t need an allusive reminder of that! Angels Everywhere is arranged in three main sections, “Out of Darkness”, “Through Shadow”, and “Into Light.” Sounds like how many graduates may feel, finally. 

Call Us What We Carry: Poems  Amanda Gorman (Viking) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Many young adults (and many older ones, too) were mesmerized by Amanda Gorman’s moving recital of her poem “The Hill We Climb” during the inauguration of the new President in 2021. She became a bit of a sensation — a young, black woman, a rising poet, a new voice.  This first major book of her collected work came out this fall and it is a solid, potent collection of socially relevant verses, poems for our time. Much is about the grief of the losses during the time of Covid; as one reviewer put it, “At once heartbreaking and deeply healing, Gorman’s collection calls readers to their best selves…”

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It is complicated for us, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the hospitals are still crowded. We have concerns about this new variant appearing in some places in April 2022. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful.

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MORE BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS: “Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children” (Bustard, Bustard, & Rosenburg) // “Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before” (Wooten & Stratton) // “Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just” (Atcho) //  “The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry” (Party)

Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before edited by Jessica Hooten Wilson & Jacob Stratton (Zondervan Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Thanks to those who commented on or ordered books from that BookNotes post a few weeks ago highlighting four wonderful new books on reading and appreciating the arts. We truly loved The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints by Jessica Hooten Wilson with the great forward by Lauren Winner (and published by the always impressive Brazos Press, still 20% off) — how could we not, a book about books? Like a car buff going to an auto show or a sports fan at a playoff game, this is the sort of book that book lovers adore. That it showed ways to grow in spiritual maturity through reading what she creatively called “literary saints” makes it all the better. Spread the word about this tremendous read.

Since that BookNotes review and the excitement around the release of Scandal of Holiness, Dr. Hooten has yet another new book with her name on it — Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before which she co-edited with Jacob Stratton, a poet and Dean of Humanities, Bible and Arts at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  It just came out this week!

Scandal is a wondrous work making a case that we can grow by reading mostly contemporary novelists. Learning the Good Life is in that same sort of genre — a book about authors — but is (a) an edited collection of primary source stuff and (b) about the virtues we can develop as we study history’s grandest teachers whether they are Biblical or not. Yes, some in this book are novelists and some are poets or playwrights. Others, though, are nonfiction scholars, philosophers, public intellectuals, statesmen and women of note, journalists and essayists. This really is a dip into some of the great thinkers down through the ages.

Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before invites us into this classic conversation, deepening our own questions (and answers) about the meaning of the good life. Good pieces are offered by authors such as Confucius, Augustine, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, Flannery O’Connor, Simone Weil, Marilynne Robinson, Wendell Berry and more. They explore topics as diverse as vocation and calling, the quest for meaning, suffering, beauty, wonder, community, critical thinking, virtue, reflection and more. What a book this is! Where else can you see excerpts of David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” and Jonathan Edwards “Personal Narrative” and Gregory of Nazianzus “On My Own Verses” and selections from Confucius, right next to Bonhoeffer and Edmund Burke? Kudos to Zondervan for including the likes of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and the mystical prose of Margery Kempe and a personal favorite —an excerpt from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

It seems to be designed for students — it would make a great graduation gift for a smart students heading off to university — and there is an appendix offering prayers and liturgies for learning. (In keeping with the nature of the book, the prayers are from all sorts of Christian sources down through the ages, from Irenaeus to Bonhoeffer to Howard Thurman, from the Orthodox Prayerbook to Every Moment Holy.

And here is what is also so helpful: each primary source excerpt is preceded by an overview and introduction by a contemporary scholar. For instance, you have Paul Pastor on Lao Tau, John Skillen on Gregory the Great, Beth Allison Barr on Margery Kempe, Louis Markos on John Milton, Gina Alfonzo on Dorothy Sayers, Jeffrey Bilbro on Thoreau — and, so fabulous for some of our readers, our very good friend Dr. Collin Messer sets the stage for a piece from Frederick Douglas. The insight of these authors into the pieces Wilson and Stratton selected helps us appreciate them. 

David I. Smith, professor of education and director of the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin University and author of several books on the intentional integration of faith and learning, has a fascinating foreword to Learning the Good Life. He reminds us that connecting our growth in discipleship and ongoing learning leads to fresh practices, about how we live in the world. “It is the gratitude and wonder we cultivate or neglect… such questions are more than academic. Enjoy the company as you look for answers.”  

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

Speaking of that previous post about the power of reading and “the narrative arts”, what a joy it was to help promote our friend Mary McCampbell’s new Fortress Press book Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy; we announced it a bit early, but last week on the release date, I got to join with a bunch other fans of Mary McCampbell on Facebook to celebrate and discuss the book. My bestie pal Ken Heffner and I kicked it off, and throughout the day she had guests from Mako Fujimura to Steve Garber to African American lit expert pastor Claude Atcho. You can watch them all here, in fact, to see what others were saying about the book and about their own sense of how the narrative arts can help us love our neighbors.

Speaking of Mary’s friend Claude Atcho, we have been taking a few pre-orders for his soon to be released Reading Black Books coming out on May 17, 2022. We very highly recommend it. In a way, although the aforementioned Learning the Good Life is socially, religiously, and ethnically diverse, and Atcho’s book is more focused on black literature, yet they both come to us with similar ideals — namely, that readers will want to expand their diet of reading habits and learn about authors they may have heard of but have not studied. Books that through what some call common grace have significant religious themes even if the authors are not necessarily theological or even Christian.

Atcho is a remarkable author for this volume and even those of us who may know a bit about African American literature and its glories and insights, will learn much. And, happily, from the perspective of and within the context of a thoughtfully Christian worldview. Atcho is a pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has taught African American literature at the collegiate level and is a regular writer and podcast contributor for Think Christian. He has written for Christ & Pop Culture, The Gospel Coalition, and The Witness: A Black Christian Collective.

I like very much how the publisher describes this, reminding us that we ought not merely listen to snippets or soundbites of African American voices. We should dive in, as they say. This book will help. Here is how they explain it:

Pastor and teacher Claude Atcho offers a theological approach to 10 seminal texts of 20th-century African American literature. Each chapter takes up a theological category for inquiry through a close literary reading and theological reflection on a primary literary text, from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Richard Wright’s Native Son to Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain. The book includes end-of-chapter discussion questions.

Reading Black Books helps readers of all backgrounds learn from the contours of Christian faith formed and forged by Black stories, and it spurs continued conversations about racial justice in the church. It demonstrates that reading about Black experience as shown in the literature of great African American writers can guide us toward sharper theological thinking and more faithful living.

I don’t know about you but I am familiar with most of the ten, but not all of them. And I have not read in earnest most of them. This guide will help.  I like that he gives a short theological phrase to frame the discussion of each; for instance, sin (Native Son by Richard Wright), salvation (Moses, Man of the Mountain by Hurston), lament (a piece by W.E.B. Du Bois called “The Litany of Atlanta.”) Atcho shows that Ellison’s Invisible Man is somewhat about “the image of God” and Margaret Walker’s “For My People” is about hope. His exploration of Jesus through two poems by Countee Cullen’s (“Christ Recrucified” and “The Black Christ”) was stunning.

It will not be a surprise to those who know a bit about some of these authors that most did not have a conventional religious faith or an explicit theological agenda. In the introduction, Atcho admits, “the theologizing emerges from my reading of their literary forms and themes as a literary-minded pastor-theologian. This means,” he continues, “that chapters are a blend of close reading, theological reflection, and a Christian proclamation and application.”

I’m sure you you will appreciate his interesting introduction, including his own hopes. He obviously loves stories, loves literature, and loves the gospel. He hopes…

…that as you generously give of your time to read and engage this work, you will find your own love enflamed and increased both for these texts and for the Word who became flesh to interpret all stories and embrace all peoples.  May we lean in together, listening by reading, and in the process may our faith be made more whole and just, to the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Do I hear an “Amen”!?

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

Here is another new book about books and reading, a fabulous book that I can hardly be more excited about. I highlighted this book in a Zoom book talk I gave the other day that wasn’t a gathering of clergy, but, as mainline denominational church leaders and Christian workers, I insisted that it was still ideal for them and both enjoyable and helpful. I wish I had time here to tell you more, but I can at least share a few of the topics in the three main sections.

“All The Reading We Don’t Remember” looks at reading for formation, on developing wisdom, how books can help us in learning to love. Clearly, we read not just for “information but for formation.”

“Not Just a Luxury” is a section with chapters on reading for pastoral care, for preaching, for vision casting, for leadership.

“For Whatever Reason” is a unit of chapters on reading “as” a pastoral visit, a spiritual discipline, and good pieces on reading with a proper spirit, choosing what to read, marking and filing our reading, and the like.

As he explains, six months into his first senior pastorate, Austin Carty sat in his office reading—not the Bible, not a commentary, not a theological tract, but a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. As the minutes turned to hours, while he sat engrossed in this book, he noticed something: he began feeling uneasy. And then anxious. And then guilty. What would someone think if they opened the door and caught him reading fiction?

You may recall some of the explicit teaching about this by Eugene Peterson. Or even the very inspiring book by Cornelius Plantinga called Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (which I also recommend widely, even to those who are not preachers.) This new one by Carty, The Pastor’s Bookshelf, is in that great company.

There is a fabulous forward by Rev. Thomas Long, in which he says: “One remarkable feature of Carty’s writing in this volume is how much of it is done in conversation with others, particularly parishioners and others who are on the receiving end of ministry. Carty hopes to encourage pastors who read, but not merely as a form of gratuitous self-improvement, but reading done among, with, and for the people of God.” Nice, eh? Perfect for anyone interesting in books, reading, and conversations stimulated by the printed page.

Check out these other great endorsements:

Christians are a people of the Word, yet we are formed more and more today by wanton, careless words. Those who will lead the church well will be those who are formed by good words—those who know the power words have over our hearts and minds. Those who read good books well will be such leaders. Pastors who read and live by the wisdom in this book will be changed, as will their ministries and the people to whom they minister. This book belongs on every pastor’s shelf.
— Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

Reading is crucial for ministry, not as a mine for anecdotes and illustrations, but as an apprenticeship of the imagination. In this warm and wise book, Austin Carty invites pastors to develop capacious reading habits, as wide and curious and wonderful as the world in which they serve. I hope this book is an occasion for many pastors to build new shelves of poetry and fiction, biography and memoir, all of them adventures in understanding humanity.
— James K. A. Smith editor in chief of Image journal, author of You Are What You Love

I am gobsmacked by this book’s threefold beauty: its writing, its erudition, and the author’s deep commitment to what true reading can give not only pastors, but us all.
— Maryanne Wolf author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children edited by Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard & Thea Rosenburg (Square Halo Books) $29.99                                     OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Beth and I have pondered how to best explain this rich, wonderful resource, sharing our enthusiasm and gratitude for its presence in the world. This book is a gift, a treasure, more than merely lovely, nearly glorious. It is needed and fills a great niche in the “books about books” shelf as well as in the parenting and teaching genre. So many of the entries are autobiographical that it nearly could be put with memoirs, offering inspiring glimpses into the lives of others who have cared for children well by reading the best books to them or with them. As with most titles published by our friends at Square Halo Books, it is exceptional, artful, valuable. It is a book we are honored to stock and eager to tell you about.

For starters, I should say that while I am convinced it does indeed fill a need in the genre of books about books — there really isn’t anything quite like it in the marketplace — there are others that are somewhat similar. Over the years we have consulted and recommended Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt and we are pleased that Zondervan has kept it in print, updating and expanding it (most recently last fall.) What a grand and helpful book!  And where would we be without the essential Read-Aloud Handbook by Saint Jim Trelease (now in its Eighth Edition.)

It’s a little eccentric with its romantic sort of worldview, but we were happy to order the updated re-issue of Pipers At the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children’s Literature by Rolling Stone and New Yorker writer Jonathan Cott as he tells of his encounters with children’s writers Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Astrid Lindgren, P. L. Travers and more; the new edition has a fascinating forward by the erudite and passionate Maria Popova (author of Figuring and A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.)

And, again and again, we must mention Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls by Mitali Perkins (Broadleaf; $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99.) We have loved this wise and moving study of “seven timeless children’s novels for adults living in uncertain times.” We were delighted to be sure that Leslie Bustard knew of this as she was working with her team putting together the eager-awaited Wild Things and Castles in the Sky and she was so taken with it that she got Mitali to offer a contribution to this new collection (“The Wells of Souls and Memory: Writing for Children.”)

The subtitle of the new Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children is important since this really is a user’s guide to what to read next, how to choose the “best books” sharing discernment and guidance and so forth. It is a resource replete with fabulously interesting annotated lists by experienced parents, teachers, curriculum developers, and writers, in each of nearly 50 categories. (Which leads me to say what we might as well acknowledge — this useful 300 page book is nearly underpriced; for all that you get it is a great bargain, offering a ton of content that will last you a lifetime.)

Allow me to also suggest this, however: even if one is less needful of the recommendations and the annotations and each author’s list of book suggestions, the book is still a treasure worth every penny. As I hinted earlier, Wild Things is not only a jam-packed resource of reading ideas but it is an engaging and captivating collection of pieces on why reading to children or giving books to children or teaching literature to children matters. Some of the introductory pieces, quite apart from each author’s own lists, make for spectacular reading. 

Kudos to Leslie, her daughter Carey, and co-editor Thea, for bringing together a diverse and curious roster of readers willing to tell their stories. We have a breathtaking, poignant piece by a father telling of reading to his son with Down’s Syndrome; we have a woman of color describing her experience with white literature; we get Matthew Dickerson offering insights about “sorrow and grace” in Tolkien’s works (and a list of other books that evoke healthy tears.) What good words from musician, artist, writer, and mom Katy Bowser Hutson offering a chapter called “Imagination Boot Camp” which explores the role of fairy tales. From Pahtyana Moore writing about virtue in her piece called “The Heartbeat of Humanity” to “Why Should Children Be Given Old Books” by Anne Kennedy who makes the case for antiquarian books to Junius Johnson’s reflection on fantasy in his chapter called “A Dragon in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush”, this collection offers hours of fun reading for any book loving adult, and deep wisdom for any person wanting to read widely for the sake of living well in the world.

To see chapters that are written by serious classical educators next to a chapter on graphic novels is a delightful surprise and shows the breadth and diversity Wild Things brings. To have a piece on “the transcendentals” (which is what fancy pants classical scholars, drawing on medieval scholasticism, call the Aristotelian virtues of truth, goodness, and beauty) in a lively chapter about picture books is a blast. To get to read several pieces by Latina writers — Araceli Cruz tells us about “mirror books” in her chapter called “Si Se Puede” and the respected homeschool blogger Erendira Ramirez-Ortega gives us a fine overview of Latino literature in “A Beautiful Word Beautifully Said” is a great gift. 

There is very helpful chapter called “In His Image” on valuing diverse characters in children’s books, written by children’s book authors of color, Dorene Williamson, Tina Cho, and Dorian Lazo Gilmore-Young. You have got to read a chapter on race called “Symbols on the Doorframe” by Shanika Churchville — a Sri Lankan woman from Lancaster Bible College who is married to an African American man and who knows black literature well.

There are some helpful, observant, instructive chapters about different genres and various age groups. There is one on toddler books which is excellent. We get a piece on “classic picture books” and another on “contemporary picture books.” There is one on “chapter books” and yet another on “chapter books with pictures.” Naturally there are ideas for middle school and high school readers.  There is a good chapter offering discernment on Newbery Books. Many will love the chapter on poetry, the one on music, and the one on allegory by Quantrilla Ard. There is a chapter on adapted and introductions to Shakespeare which I suspect will be a real assist for some.

Besides these marvelously interesting chapters serving as good guides to various ages and genres, there are topical pieces scattered throughout — I truly adored some of these and eagerly await dipping in to more, soon. For instance, these are essays and stories about what is going on when we read or invite children and youth to read. Rebecca Becker has a piece on “narration” called “Connecting with Stories” and there are remarkable entries on enchanted places, representation, telling stories, and a great one on “family reads” called “The Grandchildren’s Library” by Andi Ashworth.

Many Hearts & Minds customers and BookNotes fans will be delighted to see an essay called “Finding Joy in the Everyday” by the book-loving grandmother (and memoirist) Margie Haack on what she calls “quotidian books. Annie Nardone has a great chapter on books about art appreciation (“Ordering the Soul.”) Artist and musician Matthew Clark has a piece on “goodness” entitled “The Fragrance of the Blessed Realm.” 

So many of these authors are, I believe, shaped by the best sorts of values and perspectives, living into a faithful sense of common grace and the goodness of this broken world.  They do not only recommend overtly Christian books, of course; mostly not, actually. But they care about the deepest ways of God’s Kingdom anyhow books can be avenues for deepening our imaginations for abundant Kingdom living. Square Halo has done other such anthologies (in fact, one is in tribute to us here at Hearts & Minds called A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why where various friends and leaders offer writerly essays about the best books in various fields, sort of a world-class homage to BookNotes.) We trust this new anthology and while we may not know every author and his or her suggestions, the overall frame of the project is righteous and good.

For instance, in a chapter on cultivating the imagination through stories (“Enchanted Places”), Elizabeth Harwell cites our friend Jamie Smith, from his book Imagining the Kingdom with a nod to a line from Calvin Seerveld:

Christian worship needs to be an incubator for the imagination, inviting us into the “real world” by bringing us aesthetic olive leaves from the kingdom that is coming, helping us to envision what it would look like for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

Anyone who says that that is why they do what they do has my attention!

Finally, here is another helpful contribution in Wild Things and Castles in the Sky. There are several useful indices in the back. One lists all the books that the various contributors recommended in order by grade level which is a boon. Another is a fabulously fun and very useful list of holiday books by Carey Bustard. And, this: the three editors had to weigh in one last time naming some of their favorite reads for kids. You can imagine book lovers like them pouring over the hundreds of recommendations, the rich, short essays, the ardent annotations, and then thinking — wait, what? We have to at least name a few final titles and authors. What a joy. Thank you, Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard, Thea Rosenburg. You’ve inspired this old bookseller with renewed passions, some new ideas, and even more previously undiscovered authors.

Listen to poet Luci Shaw who wrote a wonderful introductory chapter:

For any parent or grandparent, any aunt or uncle, this generous guide for What to Read Next to your beloved is a heartwarming, mind enlarging, appetizing pathfinder to the wide range of available kid-lit.

And listen to this great reminder by singer-songwriter Sarah Groves: 

Children’s books are never just for children. They are also for anyone who remembers what it means to be childlike. Children’s stores return us to the heart of things as little else does, and gives us language to talk about the bigger things. Wild Things and Castles in the Sky is a sweet reminder of why literature for children is essential for us all. You will find friends here in these pages. 

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