MORE NEW TITLES — FASCINATING, IMPORTANT, ON SALE – order easily from Hearts & Minds at 20% off.

The increase in Covid rates around here is tragic and presents complications for many, including us. It has become evident we’re not opening the store for in-store browsing this month. We’re very sad about that and are glad for those local customers — and some who made road trips here from farther away — who allow us to serve them in our back yard and parking area. We are making “curb side service” a thing, believe me.

We’re glad our staff enjoy getting outside a bit to show customers items in the safer outdoor setting.

We appreciate those who understand our righteous zeal for public health. We cannot fathom why some, like some of our local elected officials, put an ideology of personal freedom above the Biblically-demanded commitment to the common good; we invite those who are frustrated with our decision about our in-store situation to talk to me. The unsigned notes and letters are demoralizing, but we are always up for friendly conversations about our convictions. In any case, we’re still here, working hard to adapt in helpful ways.

Our hearts go out to those who have experienced grieve and loss this past year or so. We are praying for a few friends and customers who we know are sick. And we are glad for those who support us in these complicated days.

On a glad note, despite polarization and the spread of danger, people continue to buy books. Reading as a pastime is making a comeback. Maybe now more than ever, we need the printed page and the conversation partners we find in good literature.

As we said on Facebook the other day while celebrating our store’s 39th anniversary last week, we are honored to be your bookseller, to get to suggest titles, to have your ear and some of your money. We’re grateful for your support of this retail biz and we hope to stay afloat (with your help) through this crisis. We’re not going anywhere — we love books too much and love saving you energy and time by curating and suggesting good ones. We take great encouragement from those who send us orders and those who share their own favorite reads.

To wit: here are some more new ones — some you’ve heard of, some maybe not. That BookNotes collection of important recent releases we did last week necessarily couldn’t list all I wanted to, so this is Part Two. Here are some we just had to list so you know we have ‘em. Enjoy.


The Upper Room Disciplines 2022  (Upper Room Books) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I was surprised a few years back when I heard that every Christian bookstore didn’t carry this annual chestnut. We love the gentle and quiet prose so often found in Upper Room books and appreciate their doing this annual volume. Each year it is written by 52 different writers, mostly United Methodist (but not exclusively), mostly not well known, each giving us a week of thoughtful, easy to read, clear-headed, basic devotional writing. It’s handsome, trim size is perfect and it is always a delight to see which writers and which weeks most resonate. Actually, we hear that many of them regularly do. Thanks be to God.

This year it seems that the 2022 Upper Room Disciplines has some new features. Besides the focal Scripture passage for each day and the readings and prayers, there is a weekly Scripture overview section and a “guide to daily prayer.” I do indeed recognize more of the contributors this year and it is perhaps drawing from a wider range of denominations. There’s a week done by Kathy Khang,  Lynn Baab, Steve Harper, Will Willimon, Amy Oden, Brandan Robertson, Daniel Wolpert, Patricia Raybon, Lydia Wylie-Kellerman, Oshetta Moore, and so many more.

Jesus Listens: Daily Devotional Prayers of Peace, Joy, and Hope Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

It is well known that one of the biggest selling religious books of recent years has been Jesus Calling (and four others) that offers imagined letters from Jesus to us. No, Sarah Young does not say that these are real, channeled voices from God, they are an exercise of sanctified imagination. They offer tender, caring, intimate words from Jesus that are pretty faithful to Biblical themes and conventional evangelical piety and theology. They are out in several editions from journalling versions to very handsome larger ones to the classic, small sized ones with padded covers. They are well loved and very nice.

This is her brand new one and it is a reversal in style: these are her (our?) prayers to Jesus. These are “devotional” prayers, lush and well written and earnest. It invites us to, as the back cover says, “experience a delightful relationship with a Savior who loves to hear your prayers.”
It takes you on a “365-day journey of Scripture-based prayers to draw you closer to ht e One who loves you perfectly.” There are Scripture references at the ned of each prayer.

I am not sure this is the most mature or sophisticated book on prayer you will read, nor the most eloquent, elegant prayerbook. It is really religious-sounding with all kinds of pious lingo. Who knows if she knows what she’s doing, really?  But Jesus invited children and sinners and the broken and other surprising folks to come to Him and in Sarah Young we have at least one nice example of a person giving voice to her deepest longings and fears and hopes. I am sure it will help many. Nice slightly padded cover, heavy paper, a ribbon marker, it’s a handsome hardback.

DVD Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers DVD+Study Guide Dane Ortlund (Crossway) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear a testimony about this book, 90% of which are wildly passionate, praising how it helped them come to understand Christ and His grace better, a handful who mostly liked it because it explored how Christ’s work (and the Puritan’s classic teaching about that) could be applied today, and another handful who thought that is fine, but a bit abstract and tedious and deeper than it needed to be. I get it. It is marvelous and draws on the Puritans and that leads to what some might call a Reformed Protestant mysticism. It’s deep stuff, about one aspect of our faith and discipleship.

Happily, the content of this deeper life stuff based on knowing intimately the kindness of Christ has been made into a well-produced, clear-headed, 10-session teaching video.

I’ll let the publisher describe it:

In his best-selling book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund takes readers into the depths of Christ’s very heart for sinners. Focusing on Jesus’s words that he is “gentle and lowly in heart,” Ortlund dives deep into Bible passages that speak of who he is, encouraging readers with the affections of Christ for his people.

This supplemental video series features ten videos, including ten teaching sessions as well as an introduction and conclusion from author Dane Ortlund. Each session covers 2-3 chapters from the book and can be used with the book, the Gentle and Lowly Study Guide, or both. It is ideal for serious small groups to work through together or for reflective, personal study.

The Making of C.S. Lewis: From Atheist to Apologist (1918-1945) Harry Lee Poe (Crossway) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

This is the second very handsome volume of a major projected three volume biography. A number of significant reviewers last year said that the first volume was the absolute best work on Lewis’s young life. This may be the best on his key years before and during his conversion.

There are rave reviews on the back: for instance, Joseph Pearce says, “There are few more-erudite scholars of Lewis alive today than Harry Lee Poe.” Malcolm Guite, Colin Duriez and others recommend it. This really is a major work and wonderfully made. I bet you know somebody who would love it for Christmas — get ’em volume 1, too, if they are really serious…

Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World Michaela O’Donnell (Baker Books) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Many know that we’ve featured many books on vocation and calling, work and labor, finding the connection (as Tom Nelson puts it in the subtitle of Work Matters) between Sunday worship and Monday work. We all want a “seamless life” (as Steve Garber puts in the book by that title, with the subtitle “a tapestry of love & learning, worship and work.”) Well, there are a lot of books these days on a faithfully Biblical vision for marketplace ministry and meaningful work and the need is there — not enough churches talk about this major aspect of our lives and a lot of the book are starting to sound a bit redundant. We’re glad for that, but this one, you should know, is fresh and timely and takes into consideration the ways in which the work world has changed in recent years.

Give the extreme shifts in work in this last year or so, a book like this is very urgent. Make Work Matter invites us to discover how God might want us to contribute, to define “where you are in this season of work” and embrace what God says (and doesn’t say) about calling, which will enable us to develop a  “mindset and habits suited for the new world of work.” Michaela O’Donnell helps us “reflect on and work out ways that sustain you on the journey.”  That’s a lot of promise in a nicely written paperback, but Dr. O’Donnell knows what she’s doing. She is the executive director of Fuller Seminary’s famous De Pree Center for Leadership.

Dave Evans, who cofounded the Stanford Life Design Lab and co-wrote the amazing Designing Your Work Life volume says:

The pursuit of work takes work — and this book is a powerful tool to focus your labors and easy the challenge of that worthy pursuit. I recommend it heartily.

The Loneliness Epidemic: Why So Many of Us Feel Alone and How Leaders Can Respond Susan Mettes (Brazos Press) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Once again, Brazos Press offers us a remarkable, serious, but not overly academic resource to help leaders and others come to understand our culture. In this can, as the title explains, this offers data and insight and proposals to ameliorate the loneness so many folks report these days. This features original research from the Barna Group and David Kinnaman offers for foreword.

(The book is truly excellent but David’s opening is raw and riveting and the next few summarizing pages are worth the price of the book.) Mettes in this book asks what makes people lonely, what it is and isn’t and how we (especially in the faith community) can better minister to those who are lonely. This is more important than some of us may realize. I really recommend you consider this.

As Kinnaman says,

If you are experiencing loneliness or know someone who is… you should know what ideas are circulating about the crush of loneliness and the buffering of healthy relationships. Susan helps us close these gaps.

Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms Justin Whitmel Earley (Zondervan) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Justin’s 2019 book The Common Rule was a game changer for many and has been a consistent big seller. It is rooted in a solid vision of the good life in God’s world and a profound awareness of the temptations in the high-tech, fast-paced digital culture. Justin understands, as Jamie Smith puts it, “the things we do, do things to us.” So his first book was a guided set of plans and proposals and priorities (with colorful graphs and cool charts) of how to set new habits; he helps us resist the chaos and disorder by affirming things we do daily and weekly and monthly, and things we say no to in similar patterns, It’s the best blend of visionary thinking storytelling and practical self-improvement guidance of any recent book we know. Kudos to IVP for that good one.

And now there is this brand new sequel where Justin offers ways to establish new habits based on healthy values in our homes, with our children. He offers bedtime liturgies and a better framework for discipline as discipleship. He invites us to examine screen time and ways to help children understand the Biblical rhythms of work, play, and rest. He even has a custom age-chart for “your family to plan for shared years under the same roof.”

There are hundreds of great parenting and family books and dozens we love, This is surely one of the best, what Andy Crouch calls “gold.” Ann Voskamp calls “a gem of a book that I want to give to absolutely every family I know.”  She continues,

Earley hands us transformational hope for every family with these practical and gospel-saturated pages. I couldn’t put it down.

Take Back Your Family from the Tyrants of Burnout, Busyness, Individualism, and the Nuclear Ideal Jefferson Bethke (Thomas Nelson) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Bethke burst on to the scene a decade ago as a very young dude with a viral video extolling the goodness of the gospel, the passion we can have in dedication to the way of God’s Kingdom, how grace and grace alone is the heart of radical Christian faith. His book Jesus > Religion sold millions, I think. He keeps maturing and writing — I adore This Thing Called Christianity: A Dance of Mystery, Grace, and Beauty. He has one coming out in January called Love is: How Messy Stores Can Meet in the Heart of God. He seems to really be in touch with what folks a yearning for — his To Hell with the Hustle captured a lot about a truly Christian view of “reclaiming your life in an overworked, overspent, and overcorrected world” and paired nicely with John Mark Comer’s popular The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Jefferson Bethke gets a lot abouto our culture, about true spirituality, and about being church folks together living out God’s redemptive story. He is a great voice of a certain sort of youthful, serious, but very accesible gocple-centered discipleship.

Which is just to say that this new one is ideal, needed, powerful and fun. Just look at that cover. It isn’t funny, but it sort of is. Many really are needing to “take back your family” from these cultural tyrants.

Isn’t it interesting that this punchy gospel preacher names as one of the tyrants “the nuclear ideal”? That is, our families are not our own and we need broader networks of communities to thrive. He has a chapter about how we learned to think about our families the way we do from the Sears department store and their wish books. He says it leads to toxic hyper-individualism (and widespread brokennes.) America’s family model isn’t working. Maybe we need a more radically Christian framework for what he calls “family teams” which help us do life multi-generationally with other families on mission together. Wow. 

John Mark Comer says: “This book is a road map for the weary family soul.”

 You just might no somebody who would appreciate it.

The Intentional Father: A Practical Guide to Raise Sons of Courage and Character Jon Tyson (Baker) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Speaking of John Mark Comer (who most recently wrote the amazing Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace which is a hip and contemporary study of the old formulation of “the world, the flesh, and the devil”) this author, Jon Tyson, has a tone somewhat like Comer’s. Jon Tyson is an Australian church planter who came to New York City and founded a remarkable church in Manhattan. He’s culturally aware, relevant but deeply Biblical, perhaps somewhat like a young, hip, Tim Keller; his latest book is Beautiful Resistance. It is this reputation and my respect for him and his work that makes me want to read whatever he writes. And, my goodness, we need this new compact and punchy guide to fathering boys. I would read anything Comer writes, and that this draws on recent research from Barna — and bears a moving forward by David Kinnaman — makes it all the more appealing. It’s smart, casual, insightful, solid stuff. 

As Tyson says, “It’s not good enough to hope our sons will become good men. We need them to be good at being men.” This book shows fathers, grandfathers, and other male mentors how to lead the way.

Rewilding Motherhood: Your Path to an Empowered Feminine Spirituality Shannon K. Evans (Brazos) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

If you’ve read Calvin University history professor Kirstin Du Mez’s much-discussed Jesus and John Wayne or the much-loved (and unfairly maligned) The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr, you know there is afoot a move to reconfigure the nature of being a Godly man or woman, and that there is a fresh diversity of recent books that are not just the sorts on the evangelical best-seller list or “Focus on the Family.” In that context, it makes sense to learn of amazing new books such as Rewilding Motherhood by a justice-seeking, Catholic-contemplative mom with five kids who offers a new understanding of faithful feminine spirituality — for motherhood, no less. Kudos to Brazos and their healthy ecumenical publishing agenda to bring to the world this expansive spirituality which necessarily leads to a proper understanding of God and self and life lived with virtue and compassion.

Arranged with some profound structure and insight, but with friendly and upbeat writing, Rewilding Motherhood offers chapters under the unit “Growing Inward” and then several on “Flowing Outward” which look spectacular, deeply intertwined in a wholistic vision of spirituality and real life.

If you are a mother who longs to feel at home in motherhood–or a seeker who wrestles with finding a home in faith–Shannon Evans offers a new way to encounter the divine within the ordinary.  — Laura Kelly Fanucci, author of Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting

Evans takes us on a journey to explore the fullness of our identities as women. This book surprised me, taught me, and held me, reminding me not only of the gift of being a mother but also the gift of coming home to myself in every way possible. — Kaitlin B. Curtice, author of Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God

In a culture that has long minimized the full humanity of women, Evans invites us to a more expansive view of motherhood and ultimately femininity. Rewilding Motherhood is both a fierce encouragement and a deep exhale. I’m grateful for this book. — Aundi Kolber, therapist; author of Try Softer and The Try Softer Guided Journey

The Sandbox Revolution: Raising Kids for a Just World edited by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann (Broadleaf) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Perhaps the above-mentioned Justin Earley and his Habits of the Household is a bit too practical for you. (Don’t fear it — believe me, it’s good, interesting, life-giving stuff.) And perhaps cool Jefferson Bethke is a bit too evangelical (don’t fear it — believe me, it’s good stuff from that faith tradition.) Okay, though; they aren’t for everybody. Here, then, is a parenting book unlike any you’ve seen. I can count on one hand parenting books like this, as challenging as and as important as this. The Sandbox Revolution is a report from seriously radical, faith-based social activist about how they’ve raised their kids consistent with their lifestyles and visions and convictions that often put them at odds with the mainstream values of their friends, families, and neighbors, and, often, their church families. I suppose some of our good customers aren’t going to see themselves as part of this energetic movement of public theology and social resistance. But for those who want some important conversations that you might not get in your own family or church, this could be stretching and helpful.

Endorsements on the back are weighty, from Liz Theoharis (co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign), Cindy Wang Brandt (who wrote the very nice Parenting Foreword: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness) and the wise Quaker, Parker Palmer.

Lydia Wylie-Kellerman was raised in a family of deeply Christian, radical discipleship. Her parents wrote for Sojourners at what might be considered the height of their agitating, doing civil disobedience, and leading local campaigns of fighting the principalities and powers in nonviolent and transformative ways. I am glad that Lydia emerged from that with faith and new creation visions intact; some kids of parents of those movements have scars and resentments that their parents conscripted them to such activism.

Wylie-Kellermann is a good writer like her parents, and she is the editor of Geez magazine. She has curated the Radical Discipleship blog and writes for various Catholic Worker papers. 

I’m dating myself but the main book for parents like this in the 1980s about this sort of thing was Parenting for Peace and Justice by Jim and Kathy McGinnis published by Orbis. The Sandbox Revolution is a larger collection of inviting stories for parents who want to raise children to work for justice and who see their parenting as part of their whole-life spiritually-based activism. You will find here pieces by folks of various Christian faith traditions, interviews and conversations with people in different places within the broader networks of social change projects. Some are scholars (Laurel Dykstra) and some are long-standing faith leaders (Dee Dee Risher) and some are themselves from legendary activist families (Frida Berrigan.)  Some of the contributors you may know from recent books such as Jennifer Harvey (on anti-racism work among white parents) and Randy Woodley bringing his Native insights.

Lydia is a good writer, an imaginative organizer, and here she has brought together a remarkable collection for those wanting to ponder and learn about parenting for peace and justice. The alternative, lefty bibliography is amazing, too… wow.

Aging Faithfully: The Holy Invitation of Growing Older Alice Frying (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This small sized hardback just arrived and I can’t say much other than to say that Alice Flying has done remarkable work for her entire career as an editor of thoughtful religious books, Bible study guides, and several books of her own on spiritual formation and discipleship. She is a moderate, thoughtful, reliable evangelical woman with a lot of kindness and a lot of awareness of the whole movement towards spirituality and contemplative formation. She was using the enneagram back before only a few of us knew what it was. 

That Richard Foster and Ruth Haley Barton are the two endorsements on the back — both rave recommendations about the author and the book —is an indication that this isn’t a typical self help book or a oddly mystical new plan to find new faith in our last seasons. Nope, I am sure this is just deeply Christian, warmly spiritual, helpfully wise, solid stuff, inviting us to live with hope as we age faithfully. I think this will go in our store right next to the famous Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old by Parker Palmer, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister, and (for those growing even older) the many wise books by Missy Buchanan. 

The back cover asks “Would you like to grow as you age? Do you have the courage to receive God’s love and life in new ways?” This book is going to help. Nice!

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and The Language of Human Experience Bene Brown (Random House) $30.00  OUR SALE PRCE = $24.00

Most Hearts & Minds customers and BookNotes readers will surely have heard of Brene Brown. Maybe you’ve read one or two of her New York Times bestselling books like Daring Greatly or watched her viewed-by-zillions TED talk. Maybe you’ve noticed the very wise ways the Biblically-rooted psychotherapist and neuroscientist Curt Thompson uses her work in books like The Soul of Shame and The Soul of Desire. Anyway, a new book by Dr. Brown is a big deal in the publishing world.

And this, Atlas of the Heart, is amazing. It is a slightly oversized book with heavy, glossy paper. There is artwork, pull quotes enlarged in cool designs, there is edgy illustration and some sophisticated, graphic-novel type cartooning. It is a very cool book, artful and enticing. For anybody who might think a conventional book is a bit daunting or boring, this is a gift. What a presentation!

And, yes, it continues her large theories and visions about “mapping meaningful connections.” “We are the mapmakers and the travelers” she says. Let that sink in.  Atlas of the Heart is a book worth savoring, enjoying, pondering.  She highlights (get this) eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that she claims define us as human.

As it says boldly on the back,

“As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she give us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances.” 

Ms Brown invites us to “a universe where we can share and steward our stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.”  This is one of the most interesting and, hopefully, helpful books of this year. What a joy.

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

Any time Square Halo Books does a new volume, we want to kick up our heels and celebrate. I don’t think I know of any boutique-sized, small, indie press within Christian publishing that is a classy or interesting, doing good books, well made, and utterly delightful in so many ways. So, yay!

Speaking Code is a bit of a departure for their oeuvre, as this is a fairly technical book for Christian therapists, pastoral counselors, serious caregivers, and those who want a deep dive into the techniques and practices of careful, biblically-infused communication. We all “speak code” and here, Diana DiPasquale, a seasoned counselor, offers keys to speak the truth in love, to be heard, to hear and understand. She has scripts and case studies offered in a slightly oversized format making this a handsome but workbook sort of resource.

As it says on the back, “This book helps decipher a cryptic conversations, allowing us to see where God’s specific goodness enters our lives.” Yep — she believes God’s goodness is central and Christ’s own grace can shape our own conversations and patterns and impulses.

I’ve read Speaking Code in manuscript form and am delighted to hold the bigger, better, real book. It is very useful, wise, biblically-based, and — I might admit — a bit daunting. This is not a casual read through a few quick techniques about listening skills or being honest and vulnerable. Weighting in at 350 well designed pages, this is a major work, slightly oversized and a notable volume.

And here is my own quick option, a reflection that ought to be teased out more fully in another review: it is a perfect companion to the above-mentioned Atlas of the Heart. If Brene Brown is a bit too inspiration with her humanistic values of connection and joy and meaning and resisting shame, Diana brings a Calvinist’s realism about the human condition and a pastor’s wife’s care for real, ordinary folks in desperate need of concrete help. Granted, not everyone can take in Brene Brown’s elite workshops and spiffy TED talks or even the hip appeal of her beautiful new book. Diana offers Biblical grit and Christian educational counseling services, a nice supplement to the new age idealism of Brown.

I might say that the energetic and zestful Brene Brown is also a nice supplement to the workmanlike handbook of Speaking Code. Both are very useful books, each in their own way, but, truly, I suspect they’d each be a good counterbalance and supplement to the other. In any case Speaking Code is a major contribution to seriously Christian consideration of communication and honest relationships.

The Journey Toward Wholeness: Enneagram Wisdom for Stress, Balance, and Transformation Suzanne Stabile (IVP) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Let it be said: I do not know what enneagram number I am, although friends and customers have had betting games trying to figure it out. You know who you are. I don’t know my Meyers-Briggs letters, either, but whichever mysterious batch of numbers or letters it is, it’s the one that loves this stuff (for others, but not for me.) Ha.

We’ve carried E stuff since before it caught on, and we’re happy to stock all the good ones these days. The 40 Days of Being whatever number yours is, the Whitaker House devotionals, the heavy, complex ones, the best of ‘em all (maybe) called The Enneagram of Discernment by Drew Moser and published by Falls City Press. We’ve got Alice Fryling’s and A.J. Sherrill’s and we’re taking pre-orders for the forthcoming Ian Cron one (The Story of You due the end of December.) But off all of those, the most popular and the best for most readers is the Suzanne Stabile one co-authored with Cron called The Road Back to You. And the best one showing how the enneagram insights relate to relationships, her The Path Between U is excellent. I’m not sure I believe in all these numbers and wings but it’s a great, helpful book that we happily recommend. I liked it a lot.

Which brings us to this recent one, The Journey Toward Wholeness.There is no doubt that Stabile is one of the leading lights in this movement and if she can help us towards wholeness, we should give her a listen. The subtitle helps place this one in the enneagram universe: “enneagram wisdom for stress, balance, and transformation.” Oh yeah, we need some deep insights for that, don’t we?

The Journey Toward Wholeness is timely and wise. In these pages, you’ll find language that will guide you through the lifelong process of becoming who you were made to be. You’ll find hope and next steps so you can keep traveling these liminal times at a graceful pace. This book caused me to feel seen and understood, and also challenged me to go deeper, right here where I am. Suzanne Stabile really spoke to me with this book, and I will be returning to it often. — Morgan Harper Nichols, author of Forty Days on Being a Five

During a time when the popularity of the Enneagram is unprecedented and sound bites are plentiful, the depth of this ancient wisdom is often overlooked. Suzanne Stabile, using her uncommon understanding of the Enneagram, coupled with her gift of synchronicity and a deep appreciation for storytelling, offers The Journey Toward Wholeness. It will be a treasured companion for those who seek the kind of spiritual transformation that will add both peace and goodness to their own lives and to the world around them.  — Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

Holy Vulnerability: Spiritual Practices for the Broken, Ashamed, Anxious & Afraid Kelley Fabian (NavPress) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59 

Oh man, some of us need this. We’re grateful for this thoughtful woman who cares deeply about good questions and good, Biblical answer (she wrote the fabulous and fairly in-depth daily devotional called Sacred Questions: A Transformative Journey Through the Bible.) But she knows (as she says in that earlier year-long devotional) that seeking solid doctrine and intellectual answers only gets us so far — we have to bring our whole (hurting) selves to God, we have to be, as she puts it here, vulnerable. If that book was a honest search for real answers and a Biblical imagination, this is about meeting God even if we’re not okay “Our brokennes,” she says, “is an invitation to a deeper kind of wholeness.”

The forward to Holy Vulnerability is by Scot McKnight, a very successful New Testament scholar and ecumenically-minded pastor. He has named this is favorite book this year about spirituality. He’s right, this is remarkable stuff as we offer our wounds to God, who will love us at those places. 

I like that she not only cites Cornelius Plantinga’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin but the wonderful Daniel Taylor book The Myth of Certainty. This is good stuff.

All the Things: A 30-Day Guide to Experiencing God’s Presence in the Prayer of the Examen Katie Haseltine (Morgan James) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

Perhaps you will recall our previous BookNotes rave review as we explained about this very nifty little book serving as a great introduction to the famous “prayer of the examen” that is often used in spiritual direction programs. Katie Haseltine is not one who was raised using the language or practices of Benediction or monastic spirituality, so this book is ideal for those who want to join her on a journey into some lovely and practical and transformational habits to discover faith, hope, and love.

Whether you are seeking spiritual intimacy or needing to deepen the art of discernment, whether you are hoping to practice greater Godly mindfulness or if you just need rest, or generosity, or curiosity even, this book brings all sorts of short readings about the Christ-like virtues of those wanting to inhabit the Kingdom of God. One day at a time, they say. This can help. Fresh with hopeful energy to make a difference in this hurting world, it is based on ancient important wisdom made practical for ordinary folk. 

As excellent author and mentor to many Steve Garber (author of A Seamless Life) writes,

Katie has worked hard to form her heart after the heart of God, and I have watched with affection and respect as she gives herself away to others, for others. I pray that this new book will bring her commitments and love to a wider world.

On Love & Mercy: A Social Justice Devotional Stephen Mattson (Herald Press) $21.99 Our SALE PRICE = $17.59

I’m not a Mennonite but sometimes I sort of wish I was. I know that we stock nearly every new book done by their publishing house, MennoMedia and their long-standing publishing imprint Herald Press. Many of their books have a edgy, young feel, bringing together the yearnings of younger Christians these days, a gospel-centered focus that isn’t right wing, a thoughtfulness about culture that isn’t part of the culture wars, a evangelical spirit without any of the tradition’s baggage. This book is a perfect example, a fiery, Christ=centered daily devotional that is a pious and spiritual as any you may want, but loaded with teaching about the Biblical basis for social justice and peacemaking ministries. On Love and Mercy has 60 substantial reflections complete with Bible, thoughtful reflections, and a closing prayer and a small black and white illustration or contemporary woodcut. Classic.

The first reading is “Removing the Stigma from Social Justice” by which he means the false divide between those who feel drawn to social change ministry and activism and who are sometimes made to feel — heck there is a whole cottage industry of books aimed against them these days —  that this isn’t fully Biblical, isn’t really connected to discipleship, is mere trendy cultural stuff, not Biblical or gospel. This book puts that ridiculous claim to rest and invites devout followers of Christ as Lord to dig into the works of mercy, public justice, social transformation and reconciliation. As Karen Gonzalez — another Herald Press author — put it, Mattson challenges us to do the work of justice and “reminds us o fits divine importance.”

Some of the readings are almost straight Bible teaching and spiritual formation. Others are more thematic with reflections on Christian thinking about topics from the idolatry of nationalism to the need for prison reform to sexual and gender prejudice.

We are glad for these kinds of resources — we have before celebrated Rest for the Justice Seeking Soul by long-standing and respected civil rights activist Susan K. Williams Smith (Whitaker House; $14.99) and the great Bread for the Resistance: 40 Devotions for Justice People Donna Barber (IVP; $16.00) and the brand new, hefty, We Cry Justice: reading the Bible with the Poor People’s Campaign edited by Liz Theoharis (Broadleaf; $19.99) with 53 provocative entries. Stephen Mattson (who graduated from Moody Bible College, by the way) has written one of the best in this genre and we are really glad for On Love and Mercy: A Social Justice Devotional.

Wanderlost: Falling from Grace and Finding Mercy in All the Wrong Places Natalie Toon Patton (Paraclete Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Speaking of publishers that we enjoy carrying all their new books — this is going to be a great read because Paraclete always does lovely, thoughtful, intentionally well-crafted titles. If they say it is fun or inspiring or profound or artful, we believe them. And this one is said to be beautifully written and the story of a woman hurt by toxic fundamentalism and on the road — literally — to recovery.

As Paraclete tells us, Natalie Toon Patton’s journey is more than pilgrimage: it’s a one-way ticket to the palace of her own resurrection.

Secondly, we love travel books and there is a growing collection of books at the intersection of travel and faith. Some are fun or funny, others heavy and complicated. With this title — Wanderlost — I gather the author is witty and likes to chuckle. But we realize that this isa s one reviewer put it, a “summons to a place many of have long forgotten: the spiritual home within.” That she departs from the American south to the passions of the Middle East and on to Europe is fascinating…

Another reason I am going to read this myself for my own pleasure is that the excellent writer Steve Wiens says her prose is “elegant and easy, like falling into a conversation you don’t want to end. A trusted guide for anyone willing to take the long way home.”  I like that. Maybe you will, too.

I’m grateful to Natalie Toon Patton for showing us how richly God’s mercy dwells in all the corners of this big earth. This memoir is a moving account of a life on the run and a faith on the mend, but it is also much more. Watching Patton find pieces of herself through her travels, we learn an enduring truth: wandering is a deeply formative part of the Christian life, one that can bring us home again.” — Lisa Deam, author of 3,000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers

The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos Sohrab Ahmari (Convergent) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Well, if Wonderlost is a fun, moving, travelogue, literally, about a woman taking some detours to find meaning and faith, this major work is a search of a similar kind, written in a different style and format. This is, I might say, a learned defense of the meaning of tradition, the significance of knowing the grand traditions of the past — intellectual and practical — and offers a serious apologetic about some of the deepest questions we need to be asking now. Those on the progressive let (who says “progress” is a good thing, anyway?) and the alt-right with their fake conservatism (remember how Bill Buckley nearly excised the ugly John Bircher’s and their racism from the conservatism movement decades ago?) all need to grapple with this weighty question. Archbishop Cardinal Dolan of New York, calls it a “vivid and learned defense” and assures us that he recovers important truths about the nature of ad the potential for authentic human flourishing. 

Read carefully this summary of the book that, if you are like me, will thrill you with curiosity to know more:

As a young father and a self-proclaimed “radically assimilated immigrant,” opinion editor Sohrab Ahmari realized that when it comes to shaping his young son’s moral fiber, today’s America comes up short. For millennia, the world’s great ethical and religious traditions taught that true happiness lies in pursuing virtue and accepting limits. But now, unbound from these stubborn traditions, we are free to choose whichever way of life we think is most optimal-or, more often than not, merely the easiest. All that remains are the fickle desires that a wealthy, technologically advanced society is equipped to fulfill. The result is a society riven by deep conflict and individual lives that, for all their apparent freedom, are marked by alienation and stark unhappiness. In response to this crisis, Ahmari offers twelve questions for us to grapple with-twelve timeless, fundamental queries that challenge our modern certainties. Among them: Is God reasonable? What is freedom for? What do we owe our parents, our bodies, one another? Exploring each question through the life and ideas of great thinkers, from Saint Augustine to Howard Thurman and from Abraham Joshua Heschel to Andrea Dworkin, Ahmari invites us to examine the hidden assumptions that drive our behavior and, in so doing, recapture a more humane way of living in a world that has lost its way”–

Listen to these weighty recommendations:

Ahmari’s tour de force makes tradition astonishingly vivid and relevant for the here and now. Only a writer with Ahmari’s intellect, his audacious commitment to faith and reason, and a journalistic gift for storytelling could have pulled this off.    Rod Dreher, author of How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem

In this fascinating book, Sohrab Ahmari eloquently articulates what many American founders understood and the French Revolutionaries forgot: that faith is essential for freedom to truly flourish, and that we abandon the wisdom of the past as great peril to our future. Traditional Jews, Christians, and all who care about the future of the West are in his debt.  — Rabbi Meir Soloveichi, director, the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Truth and Western Thought, Yeshiva University

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside Nick Offerman (Dutton) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Okay, this is one of these books that (a) we love stocking in our religious bookstore because it surprises folks to see a seemingly secular comic actor’s book on offer and (b) because it is funny, and, (c) because it is wise and (d) because it reminds me of another of our all-time favorite authors, the essayist and fiction writer (see the hilarious Jesus Cow) Minnesota blue collar philosopher Michael Perry. Oh, and he’s smart: Offerman is, in fact, one of the most astute observers and fans of Saint Wendell Berry. I loved it when Mr. Berry won some big-wig award for literature and Nick gave a about a half hour speech about Berry that was eloquent and funny and insightful while Berry read a pretty boring and perfunctory acceptance speech.

Anyway, Offerman offers his “pastoral observations” here that shows how he “loves to walk outside.” Which is code for thinking well about land use, outdoor adventure, agriculture, ecology, religion, and more. He quotes Wendell Berry, Aldo Leopald and John Muir. Enough said.

I love the back cover quotes, too, those endorsement blurbs that always matter. One is from Henry David Thoreau, which is hilarious. Another is from Aldo Leopald (“Mildly interesing, anyway, but a bit heavy on the Muir? Was he really so great? I mean, who wouldn’t look at Yosemite and think it was amazing. Duh.”) A badger weighs in about George Saunders and Jeff Tweedy, Sara Vowell disapproves, and John Muir says, “Yes, I heard that Mr. Leopald is portrayed favorably by this author, to whom I say, if you like prairie grass so much, why don’t you marry it?”

You’ve got to read what “Mother Nature” says. She mocks Offerman’s choices and his “too-thick treatise (begging the question: Where does he think paper comes from?)” Reader, she says, “You do the math.”  Ha.

Feed the Wolf: Befriending Our fears in the Way of Saint Francis Jon M. Sweeney (Broadleaf) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I’m immediately attracted to this book for a bunch of reasons. Sweeney is an important spiritual writer who has earned the respect of all who have followed his work. (By the way, he did the wonderful biography of his friend, the late Phyllis Tickle.) Somewhat like Phyllis, Sweeney has traversed various fields of the Lord, from conservative evangelical Protestant to a sacramental Episcopalian, to his home, now, in the Catholic Church. He has long been attracted to the mystics and saints and has written a number of books about Saint Francis, particularly.

I wish I could say more but I am holding this to savor at just the right time — it is one of those very special books, I think, that deserves special attention. (One review says, “this is not just something you read; it is something you put into practice.”) As the best books about the saints will tell us, in their lives and foibles and courage and virtue we might find healing for our own disoriented and disordered lives. Their truths could heal us and equip us to be agents of transformation in the world. And who better than Saint Francis to lead us to new hope?

Sweeney is a good storyteller, and this book he focuses on these exceptional stories of what Sweeney calls his “ordinary miracles.” Francis’s relationship with creation is part of that and there is at least one chapter which includes the legend of his relationship with the wolf. But this is not a mushy book about being one with nature or mostly about animals. Each “ordinary miracles” discloses something wise and vulnerable and healing from a story from the saint from Assisi and from it he offers fifteen spiritual practices to explore.

Jon Sweeney has written several remarkable books about Saint Francis, but this one seems especially appropriate for these troubling times. Read this book, then read it again, and a few more times, and tell every open-hearted soul you know to buy a copy. It’s that good. — Claudia Love Mair, author of Zora & Nicky and Don’t You Fall Now

Kudos to Broadleaf and artist/designer Sonny Ross for such a striking cover.

You Are the Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience: An Anthology  edited by Tarana Burke and Brent Brown (Random House) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

When we heard that Brene Brown had helped curate an anthology of black authors, storytellers, activists, artists, and writers to tell their stories of “shame resilience” I was a bit surprised and grateful for her collaboration with people of color and leaders like ‘me too’ founder Tarana Burke.

Yes, this is huge. What do those historically oppressed and who have been traumatized be ongoing racism have to say to Brown’s upscale TED talks on vulnerability and shame and resilience? Do her teachings even apply? Might folks whose stories are told in powerful books like My Grandmother’s Hands (by Resmaa Menakem) have something to inform Brene Brown and how might this collaboration offer not only insight about the black experience but about shame, resilience, and “shame resilience” for us all?

There are a lot of great writers in this collection (although some you may not know; I didn’t.) But some are important and all are splendid. From Jason Reynolds to Austin Channing, from Keise Laymon to Marc Lamont Hill, from Lavern Cox to Luvvie Ajayi Jones, to Imani Perry to Sonya Renee Taylor, this is a rich and interesting gathering of authors. You Are the Best Thing is an amazing; highly recommended.

Kudos, too, for the powerful cover, with just a bit of texture and remarkable art.

Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation: Thirtieth Anniversary Expanded Edition Cain Hope Felder, editor (Fortress) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

I can hardly believe that this book is 30 years old but we rejoice that the publisher has reissued it in this slightly expanded well-made hardback. (There is an important new introduction by Brian Blount and three other new scholarly chapters.)

Dr. Cain Hope Felder is one of the great leaders of our time and this book paved the way for many other resources on reading the Bible from angles of vision that are not the mainstream of conventional white culture. It has been considered a landmark volume, representing “a major shift.” Surely it is as vital today as it was thirty years ago.

Stony the Road We Trod works out of the powerful interfacing of the heritage of African American Christianity and the presence of African American scholars in theological academies of the US. I want to read it as both challenge to and expression of theologies of prophetic pragmatism. — Rebecca S. Chopp, Emory University

God Gets Everything God Wants Katie Hays (Eerdmans) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

Oh my. Oh my. I’m wishing I had time and energy to describe this is great detail, weigh in on my appreciate and criticisms, offer a mature and gracious evaluation. No time for that, and maybe it isn’t necessary, but those who want their theology upright and precise and conventional and the sort of systematic theology taught in Bible colleges and evangelical seminaries, or practices in most conservative churches, this isn’t going to be appealing to them, anyway.

If you like nuance and edgy sarcasm, a positive move within the movement deconstructing evangelical cliches and hurtful practices, if you like the colorful language and creative theologizing of the likes of Nadia Bolz-Weber and Sara Miles and Lenny Duncan and Heidi Neumark, this book has your name on it.

If you rolled your eyes, or nearly wiped tears of sadness when you saw vicious attacks on twitter last week on thoughtful, balanced, legitimate post-evangelical contributions to theology like David Gushee’s After Evangelicalism or even Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch, than this freshly written, clever, and very interesting new exploration of theology by edgy church planter Katie Hays will be a must for you. It makes them look at bit tame, and it invites us into her church’s practices of thinking stuff through together in conversation with the Bible in all it’s honest weirdness.

If you wonder what deconstruction might look like — the good, the bad, and the ugly (and funny as hell) — then God Gets Everything God Wants is a fine place to start. I like David Gushee’s more professorial and systematic text, myself — I’m an older and whiter guy than he is, for crying out loud — but Katie Hays is a piece of work, and her wild and wide-ranging explorations of “a gospel of hope, inclusions, and defiance.” are a blast. It is, you should know, her creative, colorful telling of how they do theology at Galileo Church and it’s candid.

Even after reading the remarkable We Were Spiritual Refugees: A Story to Help You Believe in Church (which I highly recommend, but put your seat belt on, first, gentle readers) I still don’t know if the church name — Galileo Church — was inspired by the fabulous Indigo Girls song. I suppose not, but I sort of hope so.

Here is what some others are saying about God Gets Everything God Wants and the open-source, communal, theologic project down there among the spiritual refugees in Texas where Katie is doing simply remarkable stuff, that thrills my evangelistic heart:

Katie’s book is for anyone who has felt unheard and unwelcome in church and those who are still shaking off the dusty remnants of a loveless, controlling faith in cahoots with systemic injustices. She invites the reader on a tour through personal and scriptural witness toward a reimagined, loving community where real, no-holds-barred relationship reigns — with God and with others. She writes with humor and insight while baring her own faith struggles and wonderings. To quote the author herself–you are likely to find yourself saying, ‘Thank you for telling me that. Tell me more. — Heidi B. Neumark author of Sanctuary: Being Christian in the Wake of Trump

This book is for Christians who’ve been there and done that but now would like to take a second look at the religion of Jesus. It’s also for people who haven’t been there yet but are waiting for an invitation. Hays covers a lot of ground in theology and the life of faith, always with good cheer, conversational style, and plenty of energy. This is a good read in the church–or just outside the front door. — Richard Lischer, author of Just Tell the Truth: A Call to Faith, Hope, and Courage

Spirituality is best explored in community, and in God Gets Everything God Wants, Katie Hays invites us to bring all of our beautiful, broken, burdened selves to the conversation. Do not be fooled by Katie’s light-hearted language and easy way with words. This book is a serious theological rehabilitation of the core message of the gospel, with the kind of clarity and insight that puts you in mind of Richard Rohr or Brian McLaren. We’ve needed this book.  — Paula Stone Williams author of As a Woman: What I Learned about Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy after I Transitioned

Practically Divine Becca Stevens $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

In our Zoom Bible study at church this week we were digging into the heavy and at times pretty odd (and wonderful) book of 2 Peter. It’s sort of Advent-ish, we were sure of it, as it invites us to live right as we anticipate the future coming of Christ in judgement and healing power. There’s a line about participating in the Divine and, wearing the conservative evangelical hat that often I don, I admired that this is pretty unusual language. Maybe Orthodox monks talks without heresy about “divination” but it’s not something that I quite can wrap my creaturely head around.  And so, I don’t like the title of Becca’s new book.

But, man, it’s a good one. She is, as you should know, a major leader of social justice ministry and restorative business as a key to rehabilitating broken lives. She founded the fabulous Thistle Farms and spin-off businesses offering dignity and jobs to women who have been abused, trafficked, hooked. It is one of the great Christian ministries in North America and her many books about love, faith, hope are all very nice, clear, inspiring. She’s an ordained minister and super smart, but her books are not rocket science. They are about loving others well with the love we get from God. We respect her a lot, as do people who know her well (“she’s the real deal” a good friend told me, as we learned soon enough upon meeting her at a conference a few years ago.) This new book is just out and I can only say it surely includes moving stories, inclusive, caring theology, and a call to both “participate in the Divine” and to live it out with kindness and grace in everyday life. As she puts it, “There is no secret formula to experiencing the sacred in our lives — it just takes practice and practicality.”

As the back cover puts it, “No matter where we are — on a walk in the woods, in a sacred building, or in a dusty refugee camp — signs of love abound. You’re invited to join Becca Stevens as she explores what it means to be “practically divine.”

Here is how one of the great literature figures of our time, activist and best-selling and highly awarded novelist Isabel Allende, puts it in her admiration of Becca and her recommendation of this book:

These are the moving stories of broken women and wounded communities healed by the immense power of practical love. No one knows more about redemption than author, pastor, activist and speaker, Becca Stevens. Having herself experienced the trauma of sexual abuse, poverty and death, Becca has spent decades working for and with women survivors. It’s a life spent in unconditional service, and joyful faith. Practically Divine is a prayer book, a manual for living with an open heart. — Isabel Allende, activist and bestselling author

This extraordinary book just might be Becca Stevens’ best…and that is saying a lot! Like the healing oils from her famous Thistle Farms, Practically Divine is gentle, powerful and, yes, very practical indeed. Open these pages and prepare to experience the practice of love, a balm for your soul. —The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and author of Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times

Connections Worship Companion Year C Volume 1 – Advent throughout Pentecost edited by David Gambrell (WJK) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

We have quite a number of older classic and newer edgy liturgical resources (see, for instance, for the former, see, and for an example of the later, see the recent Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the End of the World by Claudio Carvalhaes.) The great Connections Worship Companion is the first in a new series to supplement (or at least be in the spirit of) the WJK multi-volume series of lectionary-based preaching and worship planning volumes Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship.

As the publisher describes it: “This book offers complete liturgies for all worshiping occasions between Advent and Pentecost of Year C, from the call to worship to the closing charge, with prayers and litanies for every need in between. Part of the Connections commentary series, these worship resources help congregations illuminate the connections between Scripture and liturgical rhythms. A “Making Connections” essay precedes each liturgical season’s resources, providing context for worship within the themes and purpose of the season.”

The Connections Worship Companion is an indispensable aid for worship planners and preachers. With liturgies from a diverse range of voices and attention to both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary, these volumes provide creative, faithful, and lyrical words for worship. Editor David Gambrell’s wisdom and eloquence grace the introductions to each liturgical season, offering concise and compelling insights into the Christian year. These volumes are a gift to the church and a guide to worship that is beautifully embodied, spiritually alive, and theologically rich. ―Kimberly Bracken Long, editor, Call to Worship: Liturgy, Music, Preaching, and the Arts

What an inspiring array of weekly liturgical resources and reflections on the theological themes of the seasons of the church year are offered in this new resource! All are beautifully crafted and thoughtfully prepared with the worshiping people of God in mind. A must-have resource for pastors, lay leaders, and worship planning teams. ―Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Clement-Muehl Professor Emerita of Divinity, Yale Divinity School

Why Can’t Church Be More Like an AA Meeting? And Other Questions Christians Ask about Recovery Stephen Haynes (Eerdmans) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This is truly fascinating book that almost defies categorization. It is a  new book about congregational life and what the church could and should be. It is, more obviously, a book about the recovery movement, about AA and addiction ministry and pastoral counseling. It has some history, some inspiration, some theology, and some sociology.

I like the clear questions of the chapter titles and the spunky little answers:

1. Why Can’t Sunday Be More Like Saturday? (it’s not what you think)
2. What Can the Church Learn from AA? (quite a bit)
3. Do Christians Need Recovery? (not until they do)
4. Are AA and the Church Allies or Competitors? (maybe both)
5. What Is Recovery Anyway? (it’s complicated)
6. Is Recovery Anti-Christian? (nope)
7. Is Recovery Biblical? (sort of)
8. Can Christians Embrace Recovery? (apparently)
9. How Are Christians Reclaiming What the Church Gave AA? (let us count the ways)
10. What Does the Church Bring to Recovery? (in a word, theology)
11. Does Twelve-Step Recovery Work? (define work)
12. What about Sex Addiction? (is that even a thing?)
Epilogue: When Is Recovery Finished? (when you are)

Here is how Sonia Waters describes it. She wrote an excellent book called Addiction and Pastoral Care (and is a prof of pastoral theology at Princeton Theological Seminary) she is well-equipped to understand this book and it’s value. Listen to her:

Stephen Haynes’s book is both an introduction to Twelve-Step culture and to the influence that Twelve-Step wisdom has had on Christian communities, including recovery programs, recovery ministries, self-help groups, and even recovery churches. For those Christians who are curious or suspicious about the Twelve-Step model, this book offers a balanced introduction to Twelve-Step recovery, including the Christian influence behind Alcoholics Anonymous and the many ways contemporary Christian groups have critiqued, adapted, or embraced Twelve-Step recovery. Haynes also reviews theologies of addiction, providing a primer for students to develop their own theologies of addiction and recovery. Informed and thoughtful, Haynes views the whole landscape of Twelve-Step and Christian recovery but also challenges Christians to consider how we might reclaim the humility, honesty, and mutual caring that rests at the center of the Twelve-Step culture.

Here is Seth Haines, whose amazing book Coming Clean is a striking memoir about his own alcoholism…

If you’ve attended a Twelve-Step recovery meeting, you’ve likely come to a simple conclusion: If church were more like this, no one would ever leave. In this book, Stephen Haynes highlights the hallmarks of programs like AA–the nonjudgmental curiosity, unmitigated acceptance, and unfailing support of the members–and casts a new vision for the church, one that sees brokenness as the first step in a miraculous healing journey. This book is a must for every pastor, priest, deacon, or lay leader. Do not pick it up lightly. — Seth Haines author of The Book of Waking Up: Experiencing the Divine Love That Reorders a Life

Renegades Born in the USA – Dreams, Myths, Music Barack Obama & Bruce Springsteen (Crown) $50.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $40.00

Alllll riiight!!!! I’m saving this for last, like a big, loud encore. But yet, some of it is gentle and quiet and almost whispered as these two thoughtful guys talk about literature and faith and family, their visions of America, their past, its future. And, yes, about rock and roll and race and justice and fame and glory days. True fans know the backstory of the conversations these aging baby boomers had and the extraordinary podcast and films made as they chat and laugh and ponder some of the things that matter much to them both. And to us all, really.

After the last years, it may be surprising to remember that Mr. Obama was a reader and thinker; he developed a friendships with writers and artists — for instance with writer Marilyn Robinson, with whom, he tells Bruce, he was corresponding when the horrific shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston happened. As she wrote to him about a theology of grace, he was inspired to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral. Bruce is very interested in that story and invites him to tell. It’s a very moving episode in the podcast and, of course, is in the book.

Renegades is an incredible, large, lavish text to serve as further proof that these exquisite and utterly remarkable conversations — a rock star and US President! — actually happened. It is incredibly designed with lots of interesting art and vivid photographic history with a cool edge. And it includes the transcripts of the conversations which, on their own, are amazing. It is a souvenir, a keepsake, a testimony. Like either man and his work that much or not, this is simply extraordinary, and if you are a fan of either, or both, it is a must-have keepsake. 




It is helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders. The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.49.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.60 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places.


HELPFUL HINT: If you want US Mail, please say which sort — Media Mail or Priority Mail — so we know how to serve you best. If you say “regular” we left scratching our noggins.


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Call it an omnibus column, a miscellany, a grab bag full of goodies. After a couple of good BookNotes columns that were thematic — books on the arts, a list of Advent devotionals, two posts about memoirs — I’ve got to give a good shout out to about two dozen random, recent books that we just have to let you know we have. A few of these are very, very good —all are worth your consideration. Agree with them all or not, these are worth reading, edifying and enjoyable for educated people. A few I hope to review at greater depth later, but we just have to get the word out now. Glad to help you narrow things down a bit by recommending these.

ALL ARE 20% OFF at our BOOKNOTES SPECIAL. YOU CAN ORDER easily by clicking on the order tab at the end of this column. If you have questions, just click “inquire” and ask away, whatever you want to know. We’re not automated or faceless, so it’ll be real humans writing back. We’d like to think we’re humanizing or reforming the practice of on-line shopping. 

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

This is, I must say, one of my favorite books of the fall and will be one of the Hearts & Minds Best Books of 2021, if and when we get around to making that list. Daniel is a pastor of a large, evangelical church in Colorado Springs and, perhaps surprisingly, was mentored by Eugene Peterson. (His previous book which we exclaimed about, now in paperback, is Chasing Wisdom and it is dedicated to Peterson. And it showed. It was, dare I say, a wise book, and a fun read.)

The Power of Place stand among a very few books on a sense of place written out of a Biblical vision and which inspires ordinary folks. He may be informed by the likes of the high-end Where Mortals Dwell by Craig Bartholomew, or the spirit of Wendell Berry, or the Benedictine notions of stability, but this is so appealing for ordinary readers. It is a wonderful study of place, caring for your locale, staying put. Yes, he draws on quality writes from mystic Thomas Merton to lively, Duke Bible scholar Ellen Davis, but this shows a pastors heart, and, yep, the hands of a small time farmer, living in community with some other stewards of their homestead.  This exposes our go-go-go mentality and the “grass-is-greener” attitude that drives us to move on, move up, move away. But Grothe applies the ancient vow of stability to our 21st century, typical American lifestyle and church style, inviting us to say no. Peterson might have said it with a deep growl (even with a twinkle in his eye) but Daniel says it with an upbeat confidence that this really is God’s best life now. With so many of us uprooted and displaced, The Power of Place is a balm.

This book is really, really good.

I love this quote by Rich Villodas, who writes:

Daniel Grothe is one of my favorite pastors. He carries in him a spirit of deep wisdom, helping us pay attention to the reality of God’s presence right where we are. In this much-needed book, Daniel offers a vision of stability for world increasingly marked by distraction, transience, and rootless technological omnipresence. We were made to be present — to God, to each other, and to the rest of creation — and Daneil shows us how to do his through is life and a beautiful exploration of the Scriptures.

The Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God J. Richard Middleton (Baker Academic) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

If we give out an award this year for Best Biblical Studies book focusing on the Old Testament, this will win that award hands down. Richard is truly one of our favorite Biblical scholars, and I would say anyone who deeply loves the Word of God should just read anything Richard writes. It’s that good, that informed, that important. It shakes you up. Thanks be to God.

You may know that he co-wrote (with Brian Walsh) two of most important books in my life, The Transforming Vision and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be (that I still recommend, regularly, and lament that not enough people buy them these days.) He has a chapter in our oft-recommended The Advent of Justice devotional. He also has the distinction of writing the two best books (in my opinion, anyway) in two categories: the very best book on what it means to be made in the image of God (The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1) and the very best serious book on eschatology, A New Heavens and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology. In both cases, he brings fresh, important insight that is at once deeply faithful and ancient, and yet fresh and utterly contemporary. Those books are worth their weight in gold, packed full of scholarly insight and practical wisdom. For those who work through them, they could be life-changing.

And now, here is this, a stunning study of Genesis 22, a passage that simply has never sat well with me. God is God and we are not, and God can do what God wants. But God has gone out of His way to show us, in Scripture and in the person and teaching of Jesus, what God is like. And the God of the Bible simply doesn’t ask us to kill our children. God does not. Jesus proves it, and to think that God asks Abraham to do this as some kind of test has always been something I’ve been skeptical of. There just has to be another explanation, another interpretation.  The standard evangelical sermons, the critical liberal scholarly studies, even their gut-wrenching Kierkegaardian approach leaves me ill-at ease. Into this mess of inadequate interpretations Richard Middleton says what few have said. God expected Abraham to say no.

Holy smokes, could this be the answer? Well — hold on a minute, because one cannot dismiss centuries of nearly uniform consensus of interpretation without good, good reason and without some deeply Biblical reasons. This is going to take some doing, and Richard gives us 250 pages in three major parts. Some is fairly academic, but he livens everything up with lines from movies like The Princess Bride, pop music and the like. Maybe even Burning Spears and Bruce Cockburn…

As the subtitle explains, to get at this daring interpretation, we have to first set aside any qualms about “talking back to God.” In Scripture this is called lament, and in Abraham’s Silence Middleton adds very good Biblical teaching and explanation to the growing body of literature (scholarly articles in his footnotes and popular books, right here on the shelf at Hearts & Minds) saying that lament is a central part of the Biblical witness and a vital part of our own faith formation and a habit of Christian discipleship. (There is nearer the end of the book an amazing chapter called “The Gritty Spirituality of Lament.”) We must sing those Psalms in the Bible, we must cry out, we must protest. The God of the Bible not only can take it, but seems to expect it. God does not want our passive acceptance of suffering and injustice.There are deep reasons for this, and Middleton helps us get at it a bit. We need, as he notes, to understand “the suffering of Job.” 

So, after great chapters offering models of Biblical prayer that include “voices from the ragged edge” and invites us to sometimes boldly stand as “God’s loyal opposition” Professor Middleton moves to help us make sense of the equally troubling book of Job. (You know, the one where God plays a deadly, cruel gave with the Satan by killing Job’s loved ones.) Richard’s chapter “The Question of Appropriate Speech” is worth the price of the book. Using the line from Brutus, he asks “Does God Come to Praise Job or Bury Him?” Whoah! 

And so, from the question of lament thru the study of Job, we get to this question of “talking back to God.” I hope you get the gist. These serious parts of the book are evocative and generative and transformational, in and of themselves. But you also get to see where this is going — Abraham’s silence is the problem in this Genesis text, called by older Jews as the Aqedah.  With help from Jewish friends and centuries of Jewish interpretation (which he seems to know well) Middleton asks how to “unbind the Aqedah” from tradition. (Clever use of words, there, eh, unbinding the text.) I can’t over-simplifying this careful, even dense, study, and it is a joy and blessing to follow his argument, but it starts with this question of whether or not we have misread and misapplied the story of the binding of Isaac and explains that “God desires more than silent obedience in difficult times.”

I am not alone in insisting that this is a magisterial, extraordinary and daring volume. 

This is interpretation at its most daring and at its best. Middleton sees the urgency of speaking up to God, a ‘speaking up’ in which God delights (see Job 42:7)! Middleton’s conclusion matters among us now in a time of authoritarian silencing all around us. — Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, emeritus

This book is an extraordinary commentary on the meaning of the Aqedah (Genesis 22). I consider this to be a masterpiece of once-in-a-generation quality. Abraham’s Silence respectfully reverses millennia of traditions (Jewish and Christian) that praise Abraham’s unquestioning obedience to the instruction to sacrifice Isaac while taking them seriously and honoring them. As a Jew, I deeply appreciate the theological humility with which the whole book is written. The result is a fair-minded, 360-degree scan of all the available wisdom on a theological conundrum that has baffled the wise for centuries. This book deserves to reach the widest possible audience of Bible readers. — Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, President, J. J. Greenberg Institute for the Advancement of Jewish Life, Hadar Institute

In this groundbreaking work, Middleton dares to question Abraham’s unquestioning obedience in Genesis 22. His approach is robustly biblical-theological, but his outside-the-box thinking offers an intriguing new solution to two interpretive puzzles: the binding of Isaac and the testing of Job. The pastoral implications of this book make it a must-read for pastors and biblical scholars alike. — Carmen Joy Imes, Biola University

I have been learning from Middleton for over twenty-five years. From him I learned that, in the Bible itself, God invites our questions and doubts. He showed me–through the Psalms and Job–that lament is faithful. This marvelous book exhibits the singular combination that is Richard Middleton: a deep and broad attunement to the Scriptures and a keen philosophical sensibility, both wed to a profoundly pastoral concern. A gift for both church and academy. — James K. A. Smith, Calvin University

Here is an interview with Richard about the book from a special Publisher’s Weekly article released for the AAR-SBL academic meetings this past week. At Richard’s blog he notes one typo — the journalist who interviewed him said he’s been pondering this for six years. It should read thirty-six years!

Delivered into Covenant: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Exodus Part Two Walter Brueggemann (Westminster/John Knox) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

Careful readers of BookNotes might recall our review earlier this year of Part One of this small set, Delivered Out of Empire. We noted with enthusiasm that the two volumes (the second one just out last week) were part of a new, anticipated commentary series that are designed to be brief and useful for Bible study groups. Called “Pivotal Moments in the Old Testament” and under the editorial leadership of Brent Strawn, this ongoing series will hopefully offer more of what these two by Brueggemann on Exodus do. Literally, the reflections examine hinge points, pivotal moments, stuff that happens in the text that (either notably or maybe subtly) change things. 

In Delivered into Covenant, Brueggemann offers a guide to the second half of Exodus (from Israel’s journey through the wilderness to Mount Sinai to the establishment of the tabernacle) drawing out the pivotal moments in the text. Throughout, he helps us see how Exodus “consistently reveals a God who is in radical solidarity with the powerless and who is dedicated to cultivating a covenant people who act to repudiate the powers of empire.”

Again, there are questions for reflection or discussion at the end of each chapter (there are fourteen, although the previous volume, Delivered Out of Empire, only has ten chapters) making it great for a small home group, a Zoom Bible study, or an adult Sunday school class. 

The Sacred Pulse: Holy Rhythms for Overwhelmed Souls April Fiet (Broadleaf) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This is a brand new book from the recent Broadleaf imprint, a publisher releasing very interesting and nicely done titles. As it says on the back cover, Fiet here is offering insight into how “in a world of hustle and bravado, silencing the noise takes practice.” For those feeling “frazzled, overwhelmed, and out of sorts” from our contemporary life,  this book might help us
“examine the frantic pattern of perfection and production” so we might “reclaim deeper, sacred pulses.” Actually, she lays out twelve practices to help us do that. She says they are “sustainable and sustaining.” Who doesn’t want a more joyful and holy sense of things, a rhyme, even?

April Fiet is a pastor, writer, and blogger, She co-pastors First Presbyterian Church in Scottsblurff Nebraska and is on the editorial board of In All Things. She is a graduate of Western Seminary and has written in places like The Reformed Journal. And she has chickens, so what’s not to love?

Here are others suggesting this book to you.

April Fiet welcomes readers into a space that is both contemplative and practical. The book draws on a wealth of spiritual insight to help readers retreat from the busyness of life and recenter their lives around rhythms that heal, restore, and sustain. — Kristin Kobes DuMez, New York Times bestselling author of Jesus and John Wayne

I felt seen by this book, in a way that was uncomfortable at first. The unsettling insight into my frenetic performance for God was the opening I needed to hear April Fiet’s invitation: to learn to dance with God again, finding rhythms that are, paradoxically, like rest in motion. —James K. A. Smith, author of You Are What You Love and On the Road with Saint Augustine

Filled with clever observations and thoughtful ideas both large and small, this book is a wonderful companion for those of us who want to reorient ourselves to healthy Kingdom rhythms, but are unsure of where to start. — Chandra Crane, author of Mixed Blessing and National Mixed Ministry Coordinator for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

April Fiet shows us how to find our way to wholeness through intention, community, creativity, and a life-giving embrace of sacred time. The rhythm of this book can be heard as a joyous dance to which we are all invited. — Sophfronia Scott, author of The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton

We have plenty of books on methods, but April Fiet shows how to grow in your awareness of the sacred in the simple, unexpected areas of your life. — Ed Cyzewski, author of Reconnect and Flee, Be Silent, Pray

Centering Prayer: Sitting Quietly in God’s Presence Can Change Your Life Brian D. Russell (Paraclete Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

If the above title was an invitation to a whole life spirituality, a “dance” as one reviewer put it, and about including in our lives habitual practices that feel like rhythms, this new one is part of that, a component, if you will, but a vital one. It is about sitting in quiet, about Christian meditation, about silence and the tradition of “centering” prayer.

Much has been written about this mystical form of silent praying, and there are masters in it. Many are Catholic monks or folks with unique gifts and callings to explore this process of centering and mindfulness. This Brian Russell book is, I think, a bit different than most with the “centering prayer” phrase on the cover, in part because it is not overly mystical or esoteric. It is written by an evangelical, a United Methodist pastor who also teaches Biblical studies (and has earned awards as a beloved, respected prof) at Asbury Theological Seminary. His specializes in this deeper sort of spirituality and calls his coaching and direction ministry “Deep Dive Spirituality.” Yes, he stands on the shoulders of the likes of Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault. He cites Richard Rohr. But, like them, he also quotes the patristics and medieval scholars in a way that seems normal. He invites us to pray in ways the older saints understood, drawing on Julian of Norwich and Roberta Bondi’s nice books on the church fathers. And then he applies it nicely for our modern lives. 

Despite the deep roots and mystical colleagues, this really is centering prayer demystified. It would be, I think, I perfect follow up to Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Solitude and SIlence, a routine seller for us here at Hearts & Minds. Centering PrayerL Sitting Quietly… has great endorsements from the likes of Dr. Winfield Bevins, A.J. Swaboda, and the Director of the School of Kingdom Living at Dallas Willard Ministries, John Carroll. Even the always energetic Leonard Sweet suggests that “this book could change your life.” 

When Brian Russell discovered centering prayer, he reports, he became calmer, less reactive, freed of past wounds and became a better listener. This is a helpful book, then, that can bear good, practical fruit. It is clear as can be. But more than helping us calm down and find peace and healing relationships, it helps us “discover the depth’s of God’s love.” If this book can help with that, maybe it can change us for the better, in the very best way. Highly recommended.

Community Henri Nouwen (Orbis Press) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Wow, you read that right — a new book by Henri Nouwen. And compiled and lovingly edited by our friend Stephen Lazarus. (Stephen used to work for the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) in Washington DC and now lives in Toronto, serving as Director for Research and Special Projects act the Henri Nouwen Society.) This book draws together transcripts of talks and messages that have never been published before, together with excerpts of books and articles (again, some that have not been widely seen.) Together, with this new material and nicely woven together previously published content, we have what surely can her called a new book. Even if all of it was previously widely known, pulling his stuff on community together would be a service and make a lovely book. That some of this is from notes from retreats and transcripts of public addresses that have never been published makes this truly an extraordinary publication. What a gift to the world and how very needed it is now. 

The good forward is by the senior editor at Orbis, Robert Ellsberg (who knew Henri, not to mention many colorful characters of the last half a century, from Dorothy Day on.) He tells of first trying to get Henri to submit articles for the Catholic Worker, the famous paper founded by Dorothy that he was editing at the time. It’s a good story, and one of those early pieces is chapter four of this new book. The longer introduction is by Stephen and it soars. What a lovely introduction to this longing for community in are lonelier age and what a great introduction to this core theme of so much of Nouwen’s body of work, written and lived.

For many of us, it is hard to believe that this past year marked the 25th anniversary of Henri Nouwen’s journey to Daybreak, his final return to the loving Father. How sad we were upon hearing about his death in Holland, on the way to film a talk in front of the famous Rembrandt painting(“Return of the Prodigal Son”) that graced the cover of one of his most popular books. 

But his life and ministry live on, especially in L’Arche communities that continue with wounded healers of all kinds sharing life with the mentally and physically disabled. (One of Nouwen’s last full books was Adam, which told the story of a person he came to know at the Daybreak L’Arch.) Deep community, in other words, is one of the great legacies of the spirituality of Henri Nouwen.

Community, edited by Stephen Lazarus, has 10 solid chapters, in about 140 pages. Very, very nicely done, and a great grace for us all.  I don’t want to seem pushy or crass, but you know, this really would make a lovely gift to somebody you know who loves Nouwen. Lots of people have many of his books and would be thrilled to hear about a new collection like this. It is an urgent topic, compiled with great love and care.

A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community Adam Russell Taylor (Broadleaf Books) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

We have been siting on a big stack of these for a while and I’ve been eager to tell you about it. With other themes and topics, I’ve just to found the right time, but we do want it to be known that we are eager to promote this, sharing far and wide about why it is important to read, to discuss, to debate, to apply. It is a bold and “actionable” call to unite our fractured country (on one hand) but to do so by invoking the things we should all care about. By exploring deep and profound matters of public morality that include caring for the hurting, the lost and the least, as they say. It is a deep social vision of empowerment of the poor by evoking old Judeo-Christian values of justice and care. Yep, it is a mighty reiver flowing down from a modern day Amos, so, despite the call to unity, this is a not another gracious call to civility. This is, as the subtitle puts it, a call to build a beloved community.

Who coined that term, so loved by Martin Luther King, Jr? What is behind it? What does it demand of us? Rev. Adam Taylor has worked on this stuff for decades — although he is now the new president of Sojourners, an ecumenical Christian organization that works to advance justice and peace, he previously led the Faith Initiative at the World Bank Group, served as Vice President of Advocacy at World Vision, was cofounder and executive director of Global Justice, and was selected as a White House Fellow under the Obama administration. A graduate of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government,

He also graduated from  the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology and is ordained in the American Baptist Church and the Progressive National Baptist Convention and serves at the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, Taylor is ordained in the American Baptist Church and the Progressive National Baptist Convention and serves at the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

So, yes, he’s been studying the interface of faith and social development for years. From the World Bank and World Vision, his passion for and knowledge about the poor and the economic systems that effect them, is commendable. That he, to put it baldly, took Jim Wallis’s place at Sojo is pretty remarkable, so anybody who has followed Jim over the years will want to read this book.

Wallis himself often writes perceptively of “an old and deep vision that needs to be rediscovered to make our union more perfect.” Jim has long been committed to mentoring younger activist and taking cues from newer generations of ecumenical Christian leaders. As Jim puts it, regarding the moral revival needed for a vision of peace and justice,  “Adam Russell Taylor is one of the leaders who will help us restore and rekindle it. This essential book reframes and renews the vision.”

That the late John Lewis wrote the forward to this (perhaps one of the last things he wrote before he passed to glory) is notable, isn’t it? There are other nationally-known leaders who have shining endorsements on the back of A More Perfect Union. Rev. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Rev. Dr. William Barber of the renewed Poor People’s Campaign. Black history scholar Eddie Glaude. The Rev. Traci Blackman, associate general minister of the United Church of Christ. The great Soong-Chan Rah, now at Fuller. Wes Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church of America (and an early editor at Sojourners.) Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner (co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network and the President of the Tom Skinner Leadership Institute.) On and on, from black leaders like Otis Moss, interfaith leaders like Eboo Patel, Jews and Muslims and evangelicals, all agreeing that there is something about this book that is going to help us “be together differently” (as Eddie Glaude put it.)

In July 2020 United States Representative John Lewis wrote this passionate foreword to this book, closing his sermon about hope and the beloved community and redeeming the soul of American with the rousing line, “I still believe we shall overcome.”

And then Representative Lewis said:

“With great urgency, clarity, and hope, this book provides a moral road map showing us how.”


Entertaining Race: Performing Blackness in America Michael Eric Dyson (St, Martin’s Press) $32.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.00

We have long, long been a fan of the amazing Michael Dyson. He has been an icon in black church and black academic circles (in Philly, especially) for decades. We have stocked most of his books and recommend them all. In the last few years he has been prolific and passionate in small sized manifestos such as Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America and Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America, and What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation about Race in America.

What is so interesting about this pastor, scholar, public intellectual, is that, like, say, Cornell West, he has drawn much from black popular culture. I think the first book I ever read by Dyson was Holler if You Hear Me which was about Tupac. He has written about Jay Z, he has written about Marvin Gaye. 

And here, he brings much of his scholarly and prophetic and religious and artistic interests together by exploring this double or triple entrees about entreating race.

One public leader has said Dyson is “one of the most remarkable thinkers in America today” and another review says he is “a true gift to our culture.” Indeed.

In a way, Entertaining Race is a greatest hits performance of Mr. Dyson, as most of these pieces (starting as early as 1991) have been published (or were delivered) elsewhere. Some of this showcases him at his prophetic best, preaching and speaking and writing; there are reviews and op-ed piece, stuff about the entertainment business, interviews with black leaders such as Abraham X. Kendi and Ta-Nihisi Coates, as well as public thinkers such as Alicia Garza and Jordan Peterson. Most of it hasn’t been widely circulated so for most, it is a new, deep, expansive collection — over 500 pages of his passion, insight, bombast, rumination. 

And he is confident of much. Here are the first lines of “The King of Pop and the Queen of Everything” in which he explains his well known love for Beyonce.

Beyonce symbolically snatched from Michael Jackson the crown of best entertainer on the globe, ever, when, ironically enough, the curls atop her glorious crown got snatched into the blades of an electric fan. While that event had hardly anything to do with her ascent, it certainly had a lot to do with the performance of a Black and female identity that could meet any challenge on any stage at any time as she maintained her dignity and cool.

If you want a very entertaining summary of the meaning of the title, and then, more, a hilarious schtick about Beyonce being the Best Ever, you’ve got to watch this clip of Michael Eric Dyson from a few weeks ago on Late Night With Stephen Colbert. You bet I stayed up to watch it. Really, it’s good.

I like that in Entertaining Race there is a sidebar introduction in a little gray box that tells you, sometimes at great length and eloquence, the setting for the given chapter — a concert review, a speech, a class, a protest, a scholarly essay, a sermon, an interview, a Divinity School lecture, a debate. It makes this even better than a compilation or anthology, allowing it invite us into his career(s) and work and life. I’m a fan of those introductions, so don’t skip them.

And, wow, there are good lines here! In one speech given as he presented a journalism award to Nikole Hannah-Jones, he writes of “short declarative sentences in service of expansive truth” and thus describes “the epic sweep of her beautiful prose” as “like Hemingway being mugged by Morrison.” In a clever title to a piece about the famous Pittsburgh playwright, he notes “The Blues of August Wilson.” In a section called “God in the Public Square” he has a chapter called “Abraham Isaac, and Us (and Hagar and Ishmael and Trayvon and Michael Brown, too.)” His 2008 Harvard Black Commencement Celebration speech is here, entitled “The Weltanschauung of Lil Wayne, or, What You Can Do With a Harvard Degree.”  His piece, originally published in Newsweek, about reparations, is called “King’s Dream, Rihanna’s Demand.”

You get the picture. It is a book to spend years with, perhaps, laughing and crying and maybe scratching your head a bit. He is hard-hitting about racism and injustice, but is not only in the key of lament. He truly enjoys pop culture, film, music, theatre.  Some of these chapters are about sports, which he obviously enjoys.  Some about politics and some are pretty weighty. He knows the West’s intellectual history well and is schooled in philosophy and intellectual history and can also bring in hip hop and Hollywood references in his discussions of Descartes or Abraham Lincoln or in discussion with, say, Jean Bethke Elshtain. And did I mention he adores Beyonce?

But that doesn’t mean he’s always seen as cool, let alone beloved — he got death threats and called out by his chancellor, with demands that he be fired from the University of North Carolina in 1996 when he defended pop culture, citing Kurt Cobain to Snoop Dogg in a notorious, big commencement speech. He includes it here, saying, “you can read for yourself whether the criticism was warranted.”

Renovation of the Heart:  Putting on the Character of Christ 20th Anniversary Edition Dallas Willard (NavPress) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

We only met Dallas Willard once and it was fascinating and an honor. Only later, though, did we realize his outsized significance as a philosopher and guide to the deeper spiritual life, rooted in the contemplative disciplines of classic spiritual formation and a disciple-making passion rooted in solid evangelical theology. That he was one of the early voices to mentor Richard Foster (and encourage him to write Celebration of Discipline) itself shows his importance. That he encouraged formational practices that actually yielded inner transformation and in-depth Christ-like character, that itself yielded honest-to-goodness Jesus-following discipleship, makes him simply one of the most important voices in religious publishing in the last 50 years. I do not think that is an overstatement nor is it uncommon to note that he brings together these various features of whole-life discipleship in a way that is nearly rare. Heart. Mind. Body. Soul. He’s all about that kind of Kingdom living from the inside-out, in balanced and wholistic ways. He has influenced authors like Ruth Haley Barton, Jan Johnson, John Ortberg, Mindy Caliguire, J.P. Moreland, Curt Thompson, Esther Meek, Jim Wilder, and Jamie Smith shows his impact.

It isn’t every day that contemplatives like Richard Foster and sociologists and cultural thinkers like Os Guinness and hip young pastor like John Mark Comer all grace the back cover of a classy book like this. 

Spirit of the Disciplines may be his breakout book that was seriously noticed and Hearing God may be the best book on that subject and his Divine Conspiracy (book one and book two) are his most famous. But this, Renovation of the Heart, is my favorite, his most accesible, and the one I tell those new to Willard to start with. And then, when folks read his work — even the lesser known ones like The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship and Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge and The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus — they circle back and re-read this. Many folks say it was among the most transforming books they’ve read and many say it is their most beloved Dallas Willard book.

That Renovation of the Heart came out 20 years ago is remarkable to me. That it has now come out in a nice hardback with a formal looking cover is special. There is a new Forward by John Mark Comer which is excellent. There is a fascinating new Afterword by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson (you may recall our review of her amazing memoir as a woman of color called A Sojourner’s Truth) and there is a bonus chapter never before in print called “Dallas Willard Discusses Renovation of the Heart.” It is very good.

Making Faith Magnetic: Five Hidden Themes Our Culture Can’t Stop Talking about…And How to Connect Them to Christ Daniel Strange with a Foreword by Timothy Keller  (The Good Book Company) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is a remarkable book and I’m so glad we discovered it. It works on several levels and my quick skim made me want to go back and study it with care. For anyone wanting to understand cultures and “social imaginaries” and worldview and how these frameworks shape our visions of life (and the good life) this is fascinating. For anyone wanting to share the gospel with people in meaningful ways, showing how Christian faith is relevant and significant for their real lives as they see them, again, this is a major tool — a hack, a work-around, maybe — for doing evangelism in what Charles Taylor, now famously, has called our “secular age.” It really is a vital new book — Keller calls it “terrific.” Nola Leach says it will”empower you to engage with people and culture” and William Edgar (a master of cultural apologetics himself) says it is “Superb. This book,” Edgar continues, “is as magnetic as its title.” A UK evangelist, J. John, says it is “profound, perceptive and wonderfully fresh.” The author, after all, is pretty pop-culture savvy (having written a great little book about living well in the world called Plugged In: Connecting Your Faith with What You Watch, Read, and Play.)

But here’s a fun and nearly funny thing. These endorsing blurb by those who wisely recommend Making Faith Magnetic for its fresh and “down to Earth” approach, its insights about culture, its ability to help us “engage” (because it is “wonderfully fresh”) also know that this book has emerged from the author’s curious discovery of a teaching from a Dutch missiologist from a hundred years ago, J.H. Bavinck. (He was a great writer, by the way, an innovative thinker, related to the more famous Herman Bavinck of the era of the renewal in Holland under the leadership of Abraham Kuyper.)  Daneil Stranger tells us that Bavinck, in his interest in comparing and contrasting and making the Christian faith understandable and attractive to other world religions, found five themes that, in one way or another, every world religion tries to answer. These are sort of what Walsh and Middleton in Transforming Vision (or, cribbing from them, what N.T. Wright in The New Testament and the People of God) call “worldview questions.”

If you want to have fruitful conversations with your friends or co-workers or relatives about the things that matter most, about deeper matters of concern to everybody, of how our stories have to answer or give an account for certain human longings and needs, then Making Faith Magnetic will be worth reading. Just like Daniel Strange invited (in Plugged In) to enter other’s worlds, other’s stories, appreciating their “frame of reference” and (in that case) entertainment choices, we can more generally find these “themes” folks think about and build bridges to the gospel

As Keller points out in the good foreword to Making Faith Magnetic, by backing up and recalling the role of stories in Plugged In, he notes that we can both affirm the big questions and expose as inadequate the answers offered by the distorted narratives and false gods of our culture. (Simply, I’d say, we can say, yes, work is good, but, not, it isn’t a key to identify. Yes, money can help in some ways, but it isn’t a key to good life. Etc.)

Keller says this approach is called ‘subversive fulfillment’ and “is the essence of good apologetics in a post-Christian, post-modern society.”

Enter this new book which (again, happily drawing on five topics clarified by Bavinck years ago) shows us “hidden themes our culture can’t stop talking about.” They aren’t just simple talking points or hot topics, so you’ll have to dig in to understand this language (of words like totality and norms and deliverance and destiny and higher power.) It’s extraordinary.

Strange then, after chapters on the five magnetic points, in the second part (called “The Magnetic Person”) he shows how Jesus  fulfills those very longings. He connects the dots and shows us how to do it. What an amazing little book this is, helping us be effective in our conversations, offering a fresh (old?) paradigm for meaningful, contextualized evangelism.

There is, by the way, an appendix called “Magnetic Preaching” by which he means, of course, doing this strategic process inspired by Bavinck’s missiology. Trust me, this is good stuff. Enjoy!

Mere Evangelism: 10 Insights from C.S. Lewis to Help You Share Your Faith Randy Newman (The Good Book Company) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I hope you recall a review we did three years ago of a book called Unlikely Converts:  Improbable Stories of Faith and What They Teach Us about Evangelism by Randy Newman. In that book, Randy presents the results of intriguing research he did a couple of years ago. He got in touch with recent converts to Christ and asked them how they came to faith, what drew them to Jesus and His church and how they heard the gospel as good news. Each chapter explores a lesson learned by recent converts, letting us learn from them how best to help the good news sound and become persuasive. Just for instance, nearly every person said they heard the invitation to know God, to find salvation, to accept Christ, to join the community of faith — worded differently, perhaps, each time — several times before it sunk in and took root. That is, like Jesus said, there’s a lot of seed sowing that has to go on and we should realize that there is a bit of a chain of influence among those who see or hear our witness. Interestingly, almost every single person reported some sort of supernatural episode, too; at the very least, and always, they came to know that people were praying for them. And so on — lessons learned as we listen to the stories of those recently adopted into the family of faith.

That book of stories from “unlikely converts” is only one of several good books Mr. Newman has written. (Many love his book Questioning Evangelism, which we also recommend.) He is, as much as anyone I know, an expert on these things. And he’s had his ups and downs, too. He’s shifted and grown, learned much and refined his insights and strategies. Which leads us to this brand new book.

If Unlikely Converts developed principles for sharing one’s faith drawn from the real stories of real seekers and skeptics who came to faith, Mere Evangelism —the very title a play on the famous book Mere Christianity of course — draws principles for sharing one’s faith drawn from the life and the writings and the stories of none other than C.S. Lewis.

Randy works for the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington DC and is admired for his kindness, humor, sharp mind, and his ability to listen well and speak well to those who may or may not be interested in the Christian faith. He admits to be reluctant, himself, which means he really did have a lot to learn with Lewis. Lewis called himself the least likely convert in all of England, and then, it seems, as much as he corresponding and talked with people and spoke and wrote about an apologetic for reasonable, imaginative faith, he didn’t fancy himself an evangelist. Oh my, heaven forbid. 

Randy came to Christian faith (he was raised in a colorful family of liberal New York Jews) by reading Mere Christianity. It seems he must have been thinking about writing a book like this for most of his adult life. In it he draws on Lewis’s life and work (and the Biblical theology that shaped it) to give us ten key insights “which will both prepare and inspire us to share our faith today.”

We have gotten a number of new books in recent months and years about C.S. Lewis. This one by Newman on learning from Lewis surely deserves to be on the list of anyone who likes reading about Lewis and his world, Lewis and his faith, Lewis and his writing. This belongs in the library of anyone who collects books about the most famous Inkling.

But then, also, this is a must-read book for anyone who wants to be more honorable and faithful (and hopefully effective) in talking about one’s faith journey, about sharing God’s love, about doing evangelism in a wise and interesting way. Mere Evangelism gives you 10 good points, from Newman, cribbing from Lewis, drawing (among other things) on both reason and imagination. What a great idea for a book. And the imaginative and interesting Randy Newman is just the person to write this book. Enjoy!

Reading Evangelicals: How Christian Fiction Shaped a Culture and a Faith Daniel Siliman (Eerdmans) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

This is another one of those fascinating and tremendous books that deserves a much longer review than I have time for here. I hope to revisit this for a number of reasons but here I can entice you by summarizing it’s simple project and spilling the beans on just a basic point or two. The subtitle tells you the too-great-of-an-idea to be true and the main titles tells you part of the point. It’s a play on words: we are reading evangelicals, studying them, trying to see who and what shaped the last 50 years of this movement of conservative (but not quite fundamentalist)  mostly white American Protestants. And we realize they are a “reading” people. At the popular level they may be reading some unique inspirational fiction, but read it they have. The five books highlighted in this major work not only shows who the authors are and what their books were like but also a bit about how those book both influenced and gave voice to a certain sort of attitude about life, faith and the culture among conservative evangelicals.

We can study the much-discussed evangelical faith movement (not to mention their voting patterns, insofar as there are any) by — yep — talking a look at mega-selling books from This Present Darkness to Amish fiction to the huge-selling “Left Behind” series. 

As historian and evangelical scholar (and keen observers of evangelicals) Mark Noll writes, 

Siliman’s patient account of million-selling evangelical novels is full of unusual wisdom about the authors of these books, but also their publishers, the bookstores that sold them, and (not least) the multitudes who have read them. Silliman’s depiction of American evangelicalism as an ‘imagined community’ defined in large part by these best sellers is thought-provoking in the best way possible.

It has long fascinating us, as a store somewhat in the thick of all this, what sort of currents and beliefs and pressures and teachings create a desire for books like the ones studied in Reading Evangelicals? From Jeanette One to Beverly Lewis (who was fabulous, by the way, when we had here in the store on two occasions) and from Peretti to LaHaye — who reads these kinds of books and why? (The only other book that comes close to this, more focused and a tad academic, is the wonderfully fascinating Johns Hopkins University Press book by Valerie Weaver-Zercher, The Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels.)

Kristin Kobes Du Mez says that Reading Evangelicals by Silliman is:

Beautifully crafted and deftly argued, Reading Evangelicals offers a deeply perceptive analysis of modern evangelicalism through the lens of popular Christian fiction. Carefully researched and laden with keen insights, the book will stand as an essential contribution to the study of American evangelicalism.

So, yes, there is some literary criticism here, so to speak. Siliman looks directly at the texts like Love Comes Softly and The Shack — the first and last chapter, actually, and we learn about the writing and publishing and marketing and reception of the books. But, as we’ve noted, there is more going on here as Siliman moves from these books to what they stand for, how they shaped generations, and how evangelicalism as a movement and theological force within the country, has been in many ways influenced by the family-owned bookstores and religious publishing chains that push these kinds of stories. By. The. Millions.

(Or, as in the case of The Shack, how many didn’t, with some store’s and chains life LifeWay banning it.)

Love these books or not, this is an amazing thesis, a great project, and a thrilling read. And, by the way, if you are one of the few in American religious circles who don’t know these authors — as I’ve already heard one book loving evangelical reviewer say, and as I can nearly hear dozens of my mainline Protestant clergy friends saying even now — then you just aren’t paying attention. These are novels you should know because they have, in one way or another, influenced the religious landscape of our times and the faith of neighbors, friends, and fellow church folks. 

Reading Evangelicals is a very valuable book which will bring you up to speed on this tributary of the best sellers lists and it will give you a balanced and insightful look at this much-discussed religious movement. It’s worth every penny and, as Althea Butler puts it, is “a winsome yet incisive study” that is “a worthy and essential read for anyone who wants an in-depth, compassionate look at the evangelical culture of reading.”

I love how sociologist Grant Wacker (and recent biographer of Billy Graham) puts it:

Though evangelicals have never produced a Graham Greene or a Flannery O’Connor, their fiction writers have sold millions of copies and influenced millions of readers. Silliman explores this sprawling yet curiously understudied subculture with a golden pen, genuine empathy, and keen insight. He not only carefully summarizes the narrative of a dozen or so key texts but also draws on social scientists such as Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas to show how they addressed the spiritual needs of their time. In Silliman’s hands the topic receives the sophisticated yet accessible treatment it richly deserves.

Struggling With Evangelicalism: Why I Want to Leave and What It Takes to Stay Dan Stringer  with a Foreword by Richard Mouw (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

They had me with the Richard Mouw foreword, and then the clever hint on the cover of a barn-burning match and a building nail. Which will it be, burn down the house or fix it up? Isn’t that the question?

And Mr. Stringer, I’m happy to report (I think) finds his way to pick up — as the old Indigo Girls song puts it — a “Hammer and a Nail.” Although he, too, sings with the passions of a revolutionary, at the end of the day he has the wisdom of a reformer.  Not surprising for somebody influenced by the prophetic and irenic Dr. Mouw.

This is not the first of the many books about this, and, as I’ve said before, these sorts of books are good for mainline Protestants, and others, too. (I’d invite you to read read my lengthy review of the excellent Still Evangelical?) Nearly anyone can benefit from the mostly in-house discussions about what makes a religious tradition acceptable or not, worth saving or not, whether renewal is plausible or not or whether emerging expressions and “new things” (Isaiah 43:19 ) are warranted. This should be of interest to anyone that has any interest about religion in our society.

If you are mostly proud and comfortable with evangelicalism, from, say, The Gospel Coalition to CT to the Passion conferences to the CCCU to Acts 29 to ECPA to K-Love radio to your neighbor community church (not to mention the neo-fundamentalism of the religious right) you really need to see what the more thoughtful (if frustrated) children of the movement have to say. If you are not comfortable calling yourself an evangelical any more, it still is quite helpful, I’m positive, to see how this conversation is developing. In other words, I hope Struggling with Evangelicalism is very widely read and seriously considered. In fact, if you’re an ex-Christian or non-Christian or (as I’ve said above) from a mainline Protestant or Catholic tradition, I’d invite you to consider this book just to see how some believers are working through these issues. It might give you insight and maybe admiration for the open-minded and honest among them.

Read these two carefully written and very illuminating endorsements of this important book:

Part memoir, part sociological study, and part theological reflection, this honest and winsome book is for any Christian who uneasily identifies with historical evangelicalism. Reframing it beyond the brand that has become increasingly problematic, Dan Stringer uses his own life experience, which has stretched beyond North American contexts and assumptions, to both call and equip those of us who inhabit evangelicalism to the shared task of attending to — and renewing— our own space. As one who has been uneasy with the evangelical moniker, even while being firmly part of its institutions and community, I am grateful for perspective he brings in this timely book. I believe many others will be too.  — Tod Bolsinger, Fuller Seminary Church Leadership Institute, author of Canoeing the Mountains

The ambivalence of what it means to be evangelical is addressed honestly and courageously through Dan Stringer’s prescient reflections on the present and future of evangelicalism in the world today. Through the background of his own cultural hybridity, Dan weaves his struggle with evangelicalism by reformulating traditional theological approaches with a refreshing model of awareness, appreciation, repentance, and renewal. In this process he offers us his greatest gift — his authenticity. With remarkable and compelling words, this book captured my imagination and inspired within me generative ideas that challenged my own thinking with gutsy realism. It is not just a narrative of his own journey. It is about ours as well. With a firm and gentle invitation, Dan craftily ushers us into the struggles and hopes we all face. In doing so, we will discover who we are and by doing so, begin to embrace the space in which we belong.   — Randy Furushima, president emeritus of Pacific Rim Christian University

Wholehearted Faith Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu (HarperOne) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

We were glad to highlight this a bit before it came out and we took a good number of pre-orders. Now that it has been here a few weeks and we’re starting to hear some feedback and there are reviews and opinions (pro and con) all over social media, I’m not sure what more I can add in this quick space. We want you to know, as we said in our invitation to pre-order it, that we cared for Rachel even though we were only together twice. I even argued a bit with her about something — I don’t know what. We were early fans of her first memoir, and then that wild second one about taking Bible commandments about womanhood literally for a year. Other than the great A.J. Jacobs who does something like that?

Many know that RHE had started a conference (with her good friend Sarah Bessey) for those who were in faith struggles, ex-evangelicals, doubters, skeptics, seekers, maybe those involved in what now some now call deconstruction. (It was and still is called Evolving Faith, which is funny since she lives still in Dayton TN, the town known for the historic anti-evolution Scopes trials.)

We’ve always said that doubt and change and growth is a good thing (some folks actually believe that old Reformed slogan, Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformandam don’t ya know) so we appreciated her probing and questions and making a case for fresh interpretations and new expressions of faith. We’ve always had a heart for those on the fringes of the faith community, too — Beth and I used to work in campus ministry in the ’70s, after all, and spent countless hours with young people who had not found church to be meaningful for them. If we had somebody like Rachel writing in those days, I am sure her books would have been useful tools, a blessing, even, to help the bored or skeptical or hurt. In these more vivid, postmodern and polarized days, her critique of customary faith, especially of a Southern fundamentalist sort, and of the idols of rationalism and white privilege are amped up as has been the backlash against her.

She died very suddenly in 2019, leaving behind a husband a little children. Her absence among them and her many friends is what is worst, but she is missed as a public voice, too.  She passed even as she was rising, becoming an increasingly known voice, almost an icon, of young, questioning, ex-evangelicals who maybe still loved the Bible and Jesus and church — so much so that she was being reviewed in The New Yorker and Vox and HuffPost, and was even on The Today Show (ahh, she could be charming and was a very lovely spokesperson for an evolving faith, searching for Sunday, as one book put it.) Who knows what God would have done through and in and for her? It is a sad, sad thing for many of us in religious publishing to feel her loss; I cannot imagine what her family and friends and most loyal fans have been enduring these past few years. We still want to offer condolences for the loss.

Maybe this new book will bring some solace, knowing that more of her work is offered up, out there, available, still. With 15 chapters, the lovely, inviting title, and nice look, Wholehearted Faith is a good book, not weird or hard. She was starting to write about this notion of wholeheartedness, and the book was in the works when she passed. Rachel’s husband, Dan, invited her Evolving Faith colleague, the journalist and author Jeff Chu, to finish it up for her.

Here is how the publisher describes how it came into it’s final shape: “With the help of her close friend and author Jeff Chu, that work-in-progress has been woven together with some of her other unpublished writings into a rich collection of essays that ask candid questions about the stories we’ve been told–and the stories we tell–about our faith, our selves, and our world.”

As the always observant (and excellent writer) Barbara Brown Taylor says, we “owe Jeff Chu a deep bow.”  Right!  As she writes,

A voice like Rachel’s endures in the time machine of her writing. All who love the sound of it owe Jeff Chu a deep bow. A vision like hers outlives a single lifetime. What she discovered, she made available to us; now it’s our turn to carry on. — Barbara Brown Taylor, author of An Altar in the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark

Here are some friends of hers who are recommending it, and they tell you why.

If you feel even a shred of internal division, Wholehearted Faith will help you put the pieces back together. This book is a special gift — I’ve already gone back for a second and third read. Each page invites you toward an honest and humane wholeness. – Brian D. McLaren, author of Faith After Doubt

Gorgeous, heartfelt and bittersweet. Rachel Held Evans spent her beautiful life trying to convince us that, all along, God’s love was for absolutely everyone. At last, we must believe her. — Kate Bowler, author of No Cure for Being Human and Everything Happens for a Reason

Wholehearted Faith speaks equally well to all; book groups will find rich fodder for discussions, parents will find support for raising tender-hearted Christian children and pastors will find that perfect illustration for Sunday’s sermon.– The Presbyterian Outlook
I love everything Rachel Held Evans wrote, and I love her profound, warm-hearted, brilliant storytelling. Her books have always thrown the theological lights on for me, charmed the pants off me, entertained and enlightened me. — Anne Lamott, author of Dusk, Night, Dawn and Help, Thanks, Wow
Long admired (and vilified) for her openness to question the Bible, God, and the practice of white evangelical Christianity, Evans takes issue with assertions that ‘a bulletproof belief system’ is a hallmark of Christianity. . . . Even readers unfamiliar with Evans’ previous work will find much to appreciate. — Library Journal
Like all of her work, Wholehearted Faith is warm, wise, and intimate. . . . Evans doesn’t shame the ignorant. She delights us into knowledge on the way to wisdom. . . . One can see why Evans’s critics pounce. She likes to draw out their poison to bring healing.– The Christian Century

There is also a fabulous afterword/epilogue by Nadia Bolz-Weber at the end. She is such a good storyteller and wordsmith, I read it first and cried. I liked how she noted that she and Rachel were culturally pretty different (“her, a short, pretty, Southern young woman in a cardigan, me a tall, tattooed, city gal in jeans and a black tank top. Rachel always delighted in telling audiences “I’m so lad Nadia and I became friends as adults because if we had known each other in high school she would have scared the bejeezus out of me.” No, they didn’t look like they’d be friend. In her afterward, Nadia says hey they were and shares her own grief.

I don’t know who wrote this (Jeff?) but it seems right to me:

This book is for the doubter and the dreamer, the seeker and the sojourner, those who long for a sense of spiritual wholeness as well as those who have been hurt by the Church but can’t seem to let go of the story of Jesus. Through theological reflection and personal recollection, Rachel wrestles with God’s grace and love, looks unsparingly at what the Church is and does, and explores universal human questions about becoming and belonging. An unforgettable, moving, and intimate book.

When Everything’s On Fire: Faith Formed from the Ashes Brian Zahnd (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

Brian Zahnd is one of our most intriguing writers and church leaders that we are always glad to be able to celebrate his curious (if sometimes controversial) books. Let me just say it, whether I agree or not with all of his views, I dig this guy. From one of his early books — on a charismatic publishing house, on aesthetics, called (cribbing from Dostoevsky) Beauty Will Save the World — I knew he was a live wire and well worth reading. A Dylan-quoting Pentecostal? A guy who reads more widely and deeply than many of our best pastors and who writes vibrantly, maybe inspired by his own extraordinary experiences with the Holy Spirit? Wow.

And then he wrote a couple of very powerful books on forgiveness. Which lead to yet another surprise, a stellar book called A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace which prophetically challenges the God-and-country nationalism of war and invites us to consider an evangelically-rooted, Biblical vision of nonviolence.

He wrote a few books about being disgruntled with conventional church (see his short memoir, Postcards from Babylon: The Church In American Exile) making overtures towards new understandings of the cross, the atonement, the nature of hell and the like. In conversation with everyone from Rob Bell to Michael Hardin to Bradley Jersak to Sharon Baker he is both innovative as a thinker and committed to Christ and His Kingdom above all. Whether he is precisely right in all this is a matter of some conversation but I will highly recommend his inspiring Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God for a good example of the roots and branches of this gracious and Christ-like approach.  As admired and reliable evangelicals like Rich Villodas has said, “Time and again, Brian Zahnd has demonstrated an uncanny ability to help us navigate this present age…” And as stalwart pastor-preacher-theologian Fleming Rutledge has put it, “Brian Zahnd’s unique voice is neither ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.”

As Fleming Rutledge continues, regarding his voice and approach,

It is both cheekily irreverent and profoundly faithful. Above all, it is Christ-centered. I just wish the church would listen to him more.

Which brings us to this brand new one that I have not read yet, but that seems to be exceptionally solid intellectually, pastorally gracious, theologically robust, and, I suspect, surprising on many fronts. He cites scholars as diverse as Jacques Derrida and Sergius Bulgakov, Karl Rahner and David Bentley Hart, James Cone and (yes!) Bruce Cockburn. That our friends at IVP released this is a good sign that they do not deem his manifesto to be less than orthodox and that it may be — please God! — a balm for many who are hurting, even devastated by the weird confluence these days of a too-often shallow and corrupted faith community and the cross-pressured weight of secularism. 

As it says on the back cover of this important work:

In an age of secularism, skepticism, and cynicism, our worldviews have been shaken. Various solutions exist — some double down on certainty, while others deconstruct their faith until there is nothing left. But Brian Zahn offers a third way: what is needed is not a demotion but instead a renovation of faith.

I hope to weigh in later, but for now, I trust Rich Villodas who says about When Everything’s on Fire,

Whether you are losing your faith or want to help others hold on to it, we would do well to have Zahnd take our hand and be our guide.

Or, consider the words of the colorful Jonathan Martin, 

But I believe the book you are holding now is one that truly only Brian Zahnd could write, and the precise book we needed him to write in this particular moment. His gift is clarity, and the way he focuses his prophetic vision here is so lucid, singular, and laser focused, it is almost blinding. Zahnd does not offer us certainty in uncertain times, which is always just a bad magic trick, anyway–he offers something much better: beauty. This is a flaming, scorchingly beautiful vision of faith in a world where faith has left many of us in the cold. 

Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence and Place in the Digital Age Felicia Wu Song (IVP Academic) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

We have been delighted over the years to receive orders and get to send boxes of books to various Christian study centers that are often located near major colleges and universities. (There is even a network of these Christian think-tanks and discipleship communities situated at our best research universities; our friend Charles Cotherman told the fabulous story of their formation over the years in his impressive To Think Christianly: A History of L’Abri, Regent College, and the Christian Study Center Movement.) Some of our friends in that movement, including the good folks at Chesterton House at Cornell, have told us about Felicia Wu Song (with her PhD from UVA) as a astute cultural sociologist and woman of deep faith who has brought her Christian perspective to bear on her scholarship on media and digital technologies. (She current teaches at Westmont College in California.) She is known in the growing field, having published scholarly pieces in journals such as Gender & Society and the prestigious Information, Communication & Society. Part of her impressive work has be around what it means to create “virtual communities” in this “bowling alone” ear.

There are lots of good books that explore the social and cultural impact of digital media. There are lots about habits and practices in our own life as we navigate being disciples in this digital age. However, there are few books that bring together such serious socio-cultural analysis, important philosophical considerations about technology, vibrant faith and a hopeful Christian imagination as does this new Restless Devices.

As one reviewer noted, “In our current digital ecologies, small behavior shifts are not enough to give us freedom. We need a sober and motivating vision of our prospects to help us imagine what kind of life we hope to live — and how we can get there.”

And isn’t that a huge, elephant in the room whenever we are setting ground rules about our use of technology — what kind of people are we becoming and what kind of people do we want to be?

Listen to these excellent recommendations, suggesting this book for your consideration:

I have been looking for this book for years. Dr. Song brings the top scholarship and the deepest Christian reflection to bear on the important spiritual topic of how we faithfully engage our devices. In this digital age, which requires new forms of moral and spiritual reflection, there are few topics that could be more relevant or more needed. This is a book I will read again and again.  — Elaine Ecklund, professor of sociology at Rice University and author of Why Science and Faith Need Each Other: Eight Shared Values That Move Us Beyond Fear

Digital media has shaped our spiritual lives and churches in profound ways, yet we have few guides to navigate this new terrain. I have longed for a book like Restless Devices to be written. Felicia Wu Song compellingly examines the addictive qualities of digital media–its ubiquity and totalizing power. But her depth of expertise and profound Christian imagination allow her to go further than mere critique. She offers us practical hope in the ‘counter-liturgies’ of the Christian faith. I highly recommend this powerful work of spiritual formation to all who seek to live humanely and faithfully in our digital age — Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

Dr. Song unpacks a modern digital landscape that is cracked and parched–but she doesn’t leave us in our thirst. Instead, she extends her hand and guides us back to the source of living water by way of a well-trodden path she has traveled with her students throughout her professorship. It is a true gift to journey with Dr. Song toward a reimagined relationship with our devices–one where we’re transformed less by them, and more by Christ. — Krista Boan, cofounder of START: Stand Together And Rethink Technology

Good sociology spurs relevant theological inquiry. Sound theology has powerful sociological implications. Restless Devices has both good sociology and sound theology, making it a prophetic book for our times. I am grateful for Dr. Song’s work, which shares how we can move from permanent connectivity with our devices to abiding with Jesus in an attuned, embodied, and collective manner.  — Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American studies and author of At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus Among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors

You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World Alan Noble (IVP) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

This is a substantial book that deserves a careful consideration. I cannot even begin to do it justice in a quick announcement here. I’m a very big fan of the clever and brilliant Dr. Noble and appreciate the light touch in his writing, even though we know he has dug deeply and pondered much. He got his PhD from Baylor and is now a lit prof and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He’s an advisor for The AND Campaign. He’s a good guy and this is all very good work.

His first book was Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a a Distracted Age was spectacular (and is more urgently needed now as it was then.) We named it a Best Book of 2019 — this new one will be awarded widely as well, I’m sure, as many are coming to appreciate Doc Noble’s insight and good, good writing. You Are Not Your Own could also be called You Are Not Alone, but, here, he plumbs our human condition, drawing from that key New Testament text (and that lovely question from Heidelberg Catechism.) Our distracted loneliness is only one symptom of a deeper malaise, caused by a deeper belief. And that is that we think we are our own. We are not.

That we belong to ourselves — ‘you’re not the boss of me’ is how some teen-targeted TV show sang it a few years back –is “the fundamental assumption of modern life.”

As it says on the back cover, hinting at the theme of the book,

“If we are our own, then it’s up to us to forge our own identities and make our lives significant. But while that may sound empowering, it turns out to be a crushing responsibility.”

And so, the Biblical notion that we belong to God, that we are not our own, that we are bought with a price, even, is, finally, very liberating news. Up against the zeitgeist and idols of both modernity and postmodernity, the secular age and fever-pitched religiosity, too, this calm and radical insight is worth exploring.

And explore it, he does. Noble offers this counter-cultural, subversive truth in detail, in wise and helpful ways. He shows that this whole autonomy business is damaging and disordered. How he illustrates all this, looking at the very structures of society, is enlightening. (Two good chapters on how society shapes and fails us, are worth the price of the book.) Again, he is a scholar who is a good teacher, a deep thinker with his feet on the ground. As Karen Swallow Prior puts it, You Are Not Your Own is “astonishing in its breadth and its depth, but even more remarkable for ints compassionate and practical wisdom. ”

Listen to every word written here by Duke Kwon (a Biblical scholar and pastor and co-author of Reparations), who sums up the strengths and value of this great book:

Alan Noble has given us a gift. Using one of the most beautifully articulated truths in creedal history as its guide, You Are Not Your Own examines one of the great sicknesses of our age — the soul-crushing malady of self-belonging. With the learnedness of a professor, the meticulousness of a tutor, and the empathy of a friend, Noble guides the reader through crucial questions around personhood, identity, and meaning. And he does so in a manner that is at once exposing and healing for those exhausted (and seduced) by modern life. Importantly, this book offers more than cultural insight and a Christian anthropology; it offers much needed hope, not by commending religious techniques that only add to the burdens of self-optimization, but by commending Christ — the one to whom alone we must belong. Here is a book that is penetrating, accessible, convicting, and in the end, hopeful.

You know that Anglican priest, Tish Harrison Warren, is one of our very favorite writers these days, from her two must-read books and her recent columns, amazingly, in The New York Times. She is astute, always, and a fine writer, so if she says something is worth reading, it is. Tish says:

In You Are Not Your Own, Alan Noble offers a deep diagnosis of the dysfunction and disease in our contemporary culture. And he shows that the challenging hope offered in the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism — that I belong not to myself but to Jesus Christ — is the only cure to this sickness. This is a rich book, eloquently and perceptively exploring the damage inflicted by the myth of autonomy and offering the healing resources of the Christian faith. Anyone hoping for a deeper understanding of our contemporary malaise or wanting to explore what it might mean to belong to Christ should read this timely, well-written, and wise book.

Another little thing — this is a well made book, with handsome end papers and some heft to it. Kudos IVP. This is a book to enjoy and re-read, I’m sure.

The God of the Garden: Thoughts on Creation, Culture, and the Kingdom Andrew Peterson (B+H) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Perhaps you saw this when we offered our big sale on books on the arts that we posted last week. Most of those were very much about a  Christian engagement with the arts, books about aesthetics, beauty, and those several grand IVP books like God In the Modern Wing. This was a sleeper in that list, a quiet little memoir by a singer-songwriter and publishing great (he started Rabbit Room Press and has done the great Wingfeather Saga kids books, now out in a great boxed set, btw.) Because we were so fond of Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, we really wanted to celebrate this new companion volume which is part memoir but also “an attempt to wake up the reader to the glory of God shining through his creation.” 

As it says nicely on the back cover:

…being as honest as possible, Andrew Peterson shares a story of childhood, grief, redemption, and peace, by walking through a forest of memories: “I trust that by telling my story, you’ll encounter yours. Hopefully, like me, you’ll see that the God of the Garden is and has always been present, working and keeping what he loves.” Sometimes he plants, sometimes he prunes, but in his goodness he intends to reap a harvest of righteousness.

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

This arrived a bit early and we couldn’t be more thrilled to get to announce this brand new title by our friend Tom Nelson. He’s a fine pastor and founder of Made to Flourish, the brilliant networking ministry which helps churches engage culture, specially around a good perspective on developing a Christian view of vocations in the work world. Tom, you may know, wrote Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work which told of his own journey as a leader of a local church and what happened as he unlocked for his flock the visions of vocation that lead to a high calling of serving God in the work-a-day world. That book remains a favorite and is a fabulous introduction to thinking faithfully about work. His Made to Flourish organization has offered fabulous resources along these lines (like the little Discipleship with Monday in Mind which is a must-read for church leaders of all sorts) and his book about investing in local economics and community development projects, The Economics of Neighborly Love. I mention this to assure you that he is a reliable, Biblical leader with not only a missional, Kingdom mindset but who has nurtured a growing network of folks dreaming of ways to be salt and light in their local communities. I really, really respect that.

And now, a bit surprisingly, perhaps, Tom has circled back to his own earlier calling, and is considering the vocation of pastoring. Drawn from his own years in the pulpit and pastoral office, inspired, it seems, by what he has learned about work and service, leadership and integrity, vocation and calling, with his focus in recent years on ordinary folks in the work world, he has fresh stuff to say about pastoral leadership, about the job of being a minister in a ordinary congregational setting.

There are those writing about the task of the clergy-person who have perhaps unwittingly (or, wittingly, for that matter) taken their cues from the modern business world and the leadership theories of the professional class and applied them to church life, which, in ends up, is not particularly faithful or, we have found, helpful. A church, of course, is not a business or a corporation. Others, of course, askew all “worldly” knowledge about leadership studies and corporate cultures, and — inspired as we have been by the likes of Eugene Peterson, Winn Collier, Art Boers and the like — we get that. (Perhaps you might see Wisdom from Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age by the deeply spiritual Gordon Smith for an excellent and balanced adjudication of all that in these days.)

In any case, it seems that pastoral leadership studies are in flux and in many cases, many pastors are nearly burned out and giving up, hardly able to find time or energy to consider the first principles of their own callings. (We only have to look at the latest Barna research floating around the internet this very week to see the pain and anxiety plaguing pastors these days.)

With a very helpful study guide in the back of The Flourishing Pastor, it would be ideal for a clergy support group, or for any minister to read through him or herself. It is not the only such book, but I trust Nelson a lot, and appreciate his wide research and his passion to rehabilitate the calling of shephard, so that pastors and their flocks might flourish.

When authors and friends I admire offered eloquent endorsements, as they have here, I knew this would be a book I’d love to tell you about. Please read these recommendations. Maybe they will inspire you to buy this for your pastor.

The deepest, truest learning is always over the shoulder and through the heart. In The Flourishing Pastor we are drawn into Tom Nelson’s long labor of love–a vocation born of commitments to biblical theology and missional practice that have formed his work as a pastor among a particular people in a particular place, a vision for his congregation and his city. With surprising candor and humility rooted in an honest spirituality that seriously wrestles with the Word and the world together, this is a window into the mind and heart of someone who longs for the reality of an integral life for himself and for all of us. Every pastor I know would be graced by this apprenticeship in print, a book where words become flesh in the life of a good man who is also a good pastor.                       — Steven Garber, author of The Seamless Life and senior fellow for vocation and the common good with the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust

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

In an age of increasing complexity and ambiguity, Tom Nelson invites his readers to consider an ancient model for leadership. Drawing from a deep well of scriptural insight, trusted voices from the past and present, and his own wealth of pastoral experience, Nelson reveals a pathway that leads to flourishing leadership, both personally and organizationally. Pastoral leaders of the present and future would be wise to heed his words. —Terry Timm, lead pastor of Christ Community Church of the South Hills, Pittsburgh, author of A Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days

At the Blue Hole: Elegy for a Church on the Edge Jack R. Reese with a foreword by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (Eerdmans) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

Not long ago I was doing a Zoom book announcement about new titles for a clergy gathering. My hawking new titles with vigor was an appreciated part of their pre-Covid conferences, so they tried this on-line approach. I raved about this, which maybe was odd, since it is the story of the decline of a particular (Southern, no-less) denomination. But yet, I thought they’d benefit from it and I maintain my commitment to tell folks about this remarkable volume.

I came first to believe in this book for one simply reason: my friend Wes Granberg-Michaelson has the foreword. Wes has written his own life stories in a couple of big memoirs, and a fabulous recent title about his shift to a deeper, contemplative spirituality, inspired by his hiking the El Camino trail. You’ve got to read Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage including its insightful foreword by Diana Butler Bass. But what is significant here about Wes is that he has not only worked with the World Council of Churches and knows various sorts of believers, churches, denominations and para-church ministry the world over, he has served as the President of the Reformed Church in America. The RCA, by the way, is itself a fascinating case study, founded mostly by immigrants, rooted in a conservative sort of Calvinist theology, but willing to be part of the NCC and other associations of mainline Protestantism, they remain viably robust, yet in decline. If you are part of nearly any sort of mainline church, you can relate, right?

Michaelson has been a wise leader through a heck of a lot, and has written books about spiritual leadership and congregational renewal. I say all that only to point out that if he says a book about an obscure denomination that started long before the Civil War in the 19th century is somehow emblematic of where most of us find ourselves here in the secularizing 21st century, then we should take his advise and read whatever he says.

Such was my first intriguing (if I’ll admit, a tad reluctant) dip into this survey of the decline of the Churches of Christ in America. While any of us who have spent any number of decades in the church world will find it poignant to read a pastors elegy of remembrance and will be glad, somehow, for his promise of hope, some will be provoked by his thesis that, to live, we simply must die. (Yes, he is drawing on a key principle taught by the Master; they are, churches of Christ, after all.) As it says on the back, about the calls to claim their own death, “this once-thriving fellowship may yet emerge from the grave into the light of resurrection.”

I simply know of no other book that has a rave review and good blurbs on the back from popular preacher and author Max Lucado and progressive, prophetic, Brian McLaren and Methodist Bible scholar Dr. Elaine Heath. I say that not only because it is a heckuva lot of fun to link Lucado and McLaren, but because it shows that no matter where you find yourself in the denomination landscape, At the Blue Hole has something for you. It is a tale of church life in the 20th century, of changing visions of meaning (and metrics) and renewed expressions of faith. It is a call to missional action and a call to seek a better future. As civility-oriented peacemaker, historian, and scholar Richard Hughes puts it,  “At the Blue Hole is a book as wise and refreshing as it is compelling.”  In fact, he calls it “riveting.”

As Max Lucado puts it, “Equal parts theologian, pastor, and historian, Jack Reese has written a personal and prophetic book…and a description of what must change.”

There is humility here in this memoir and story of a denomination in decline. And there is energetic hope, a call to return to Jesus. I wonder if you and your church leadership needs this study? I wonder if even in Advent we might consider repenting and waiting and longing and hoping? At the Blue Hole might be an odd read this time of year, but I think its paradox — to live we must die — may be just what makes it so apropos.

In this artful and honest story of his own tribe, Churches of Christ, Jack Reese offers wisdom for all congregations and wider fellowships living with present American society. The pathways for us all m ay not hold the certainties we crave, but they are marked by the sustaining grace we need. The stories on these pages are a gift to illumine our journey.  — Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, author of Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century

Home: 100 Poems edited by Christian Wiman (Yale University Press) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

Of the list of books we did a while ago in the genre of memoirs, in the Advent devotional post, in the great list of books about the arts, and even in some of the ones above, here, there is a reoccurring theme: we must be attentive to our lives, slowing down, even, paying attention in ways that perhaps allow us to enter a space of wonder. We must cultivate a habit of attentiveness, even as we are aware of the culture at-large pulling us in other ways, towards speed and efficiency and pragmatism. Could it be that poetry could help us? Ancient writers and the wisest modern pundits say yes. Poetry is an art form, perhaps as much as any, that requires a certain imaginative playfulness the first requires slowing down. 

We needn’t review in great detail here (as we did in the previous post where we mentioned Wiman’s He Held Radical Light, the fame of the poet, his now-legendary bout with brain cancer, his refreshed faith (described in My Bright Abyss) and his working with Miroslav Volf at Yale Divinity School. His last collection of new poems came out earlier this year and is called Survival is a Style. He is a poet we appreciate and esteem.

For what it is worth, a few years ago he edited an anthology of poems with the simple, inviting, title, Joy: 100 Poems. Yep, he pulled together rich and serious poems that inspire joy. (I digress, but it is just fun to note that the Wall Street Journal review of Joy was written by the thoughtful attorney and Christian legal scholar, David Skeel.)

With this new one, Home, he is back at the project, compiling a stunning anthology of 100 poems (or, in some cases, excerpts) about home. Considered poignant and timely, this is a very important occasion, I think. 

The following lines from the publisher may make it seem more heady than it needs to be, but it makes for interesting reading itself, helping us see that Home’s collected poems are:

…exploring home’s deep theological, literary, philosophical, historical, political, and social dimensions. Wiman calls home “a house, a country, a language, a love, a longing, a grief, a god.” It’s “a word that disperses into more definitions than one book can contain.”

The tensions between diffusion and concentration, roaming and rootedness, precarity and security are everywhere in this book, often in the same poem. Ranging from early modernism to the current moment, and from southern Africa to the Arctic Circle, the selections are as diverse as the poets included. Collectively they envision an imaginative home for even the most homeless of modern readers. Completed entirely during quarantine, amid the miseries of separation and isolation, the collection offers a powerful vision of home as both a place and a way.

Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church Bridget Eileen Rivera (Brazos Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

A few weeks ago I told of two memoirs I had read, one by an evangelical praise and worship leader mom who came to accept that her daughter was gay, and the other by a Churches of Christ gal who had written a book disapproving of her own same-sex attractions, only to change her mind, and tell of that story called Affirming.) In both cases I invited readers to slightly bracket out their own theological impulses or Biblical convictions in order to hear the story of these sisters in Christ. Agree or not, I said, just at least try to understand and feel some empathy about their journey.

I was criticized for that on facebook. I get that — we have been criticized for affirming women’s ordination, for taking Jesus literally when he said we dare not kill, for naming Mammon as an idol as the Bible does, for being pro-life and for writing about books that take climate change seriously. On one hand it comes with the territory (we may have quirky tastes, maybe even quirky convictions) but it also made me sad. Again: a recent batch of memoirs of told the stories that have long been inadequately heard or honored among many churches. Gay and lesbian and trans folks, especially younger folks, have been treated poorly in many churches. They’ve been yelled at, harshly prayed over, sent away, told to kill themselves. I think you all know this and if you do not oppose crass mistreatment of siblings in Christ (or outsiders to the faith community, for that matter) you ought to ask why.

Maybe this book will help explain why this continues to be a pressing concern. Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church is written by a movement among mostly conservative (mostly Reformed, even) evangelicals who are willing to say that same sex erotic attraction is disordered and acting on it us not Biblically permitted, but who at the same time want to offer care and dignity and kindness and acceptance of members of the queer community.

Endorsements from this remarkable work are from (among others) Eve Tushnet (who has written about being gay and Catholic and celibate) and Wes Hill (who has written about being gay and an evangelical and celibate.) Bridget Rivera is herself of that “Position B” view within the recent church debates, a view that is neither fully affirming nor excluding. She has worked with, for instance, the PCA Revoice conference and Preston Sprinkle’s Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender. His still negative but at least kind view is captured in the title of his book People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue and in his chapter arguing for a gracious application of the conventional view in back-and-forth “Counterpoint” book Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church.)

I say that to note that this book inviting church folks of all sorts to consider the burdens placed on gay brothers and sisters; that Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 3-4 is on the back cover is a powerful reminder of how even well-intended legalism falls unto Christ’s seven-fold “woes” in that prophetic chapter. Most of us, I wager, who have strong convictions about Biblical faith need help from time to time discerning if our righteousness is turning harmful, maybe even toxic. We need a straight-shooting report from the field, hearing about this stuff. Heavy Burdens is essential for those wanting some thoughtful assessment.  It is not a book trying to argue for one side or another in the ongoing debates about sexuality and gender. It is surveying harm done and asking us to own up to that, one way or another.

Fair enough?

As Wes Hill puts it:

In spite of–or just as often because of–my position as a ‘conservative’ on marriage and sexuality, I have seen firsthand the ways the evangelical movement has devastated the faith of many of its LGBTQ members. Not everyone will agree with every argument in this account of that devastation (I don’t), but every Christian who reads this book will no longer be able to ignore the real harm that has been done in the name of the gospel — or to avoid grappling with the repentance and justice-seeking that the gospel continues to ask of us all.” — Wesley Hill, associate professor, Western Theological Seminary; author of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian

Here are just a few quick things to know about this book. I wish I had time and energy for a longer review; like others listed above I hope to revisit this another time. For now, just know that Heavy Burdens is not, really, a listing of obvious grievances.  Yes, there is horrid testimonial after hurtful story after reports of nothing short of brutality among so-called believing Christians that are poisonous and abusive. But although those stories are real and less than gracious treatment in church is not uncommon, Bridget Eileen Rivera is a keen sociologist and has been studying the broader impact of religion (for good, in some cases) and ill in contemporary churches and — interestingly — in church history. For some, this book may be a bit too historical and philosophical, moving beyond bad testimonies and a plea for being more kind, to places many of our deepest assumptions about selfhood, identity, sexuality, gender, marriage, views of normalcy, changing mores and standards on various issues (like contraception and divorce, say), morality, social ethics within broader contexts of culture wars and politics in this secularizing and fragmented age.

Yes, she shows how Christians have wounded LGBTQ people (including youngsters) in our congregations and para-church ministries, but she is digging a bit deeper. This is a rich and thoughtful book of expose but also of analysis. She offers two chapters for each of 7 “burdens”, with a crisp and punchy summary of each at the end of that section. There are then three closing chapters under the heading “A Better Way.”

Gregory Coles is an honest gay evangelical committed to the idea that the Bible teaches that his same-sex attractions are wrong and that he is thereby committed to sexual celibacy; he has two very well-written books about his own experiences as a gay young adult with lively evangelical faith — Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity and the amazing No Longer Strangers: Finding Belonging in a World of Alienation. Coles writes of this new Heavy Burdens book:

Rivera’s dauntless and nuanced voice fills a signifiant void in the Christian debate over sexual identify. This book challenged me to think more deeply about the logics that underlie my own convictions. I have a hunch that, no matter where you fall along the spectrum of belief, these provocative pages will challenge you, too.

And that is what this book will help with, offering critique, for instance, of the logic of the views held by well-intended traditionalist (like Rosaria Butterfield and Denny Burke, say) about how the LGTBQ community tends to frame questions of identity. Or in the inconsistency of some church leaders giving a pass to some sorts of sin, but refusing that same sort of understanding to those with what they assume to be sexual sin. One of her big projects (and this comes, I am sure, from some of her deeply solid, Reformed, upbringing) is to be clear about being gospel-centered, not substituting moralism or legalism (of a liberal or a conservative sort) for a robust foundation in grace, the rescuing power of Christ’s atonement, His transforming power, and the freedom of conscience that every serious church tradition has honored down through the centuries. We must keep first things first, and that is not the polarizing matters of gender or culture or politics, but Jesus, the gospel, God’s grace, faith in His work, his “Yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20) and all who trust Him being equal heirs to the Kingdom of God.

Kristyn Komarnicki of Christians for Social Action has for years directed their “Oriented to Love” dialogue program and knows as much as just about anyone about how painfully poignant honesty in candid, caring conversations can be transforming and healing, but also about how some hurt is hard to heal. She says that this book is a “game changer” and that means a lot to me. If she recommends it, that’s good.

As she suggestions Heavy Burdens is not designed necessarily to change our theological convictions, exactly, but it could, if read with an open mind, change our hearts.


On Living Well: Brief Reflections on Wisdom for Walking in the Way of Jesus Eugene Peterson (Waterbrook) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

In a weekly Bible study I help lead I’ve been consulting The Message more than I used to and am again enjoying its helpfulness and clever creativity. Peterson’s love for words comes through, as always, not to mention his passion for getting the clear-headed point of Scripture made plain as day. As we have often said, we loved Eugene and Jan and respected them both immensely. I’ve read nearly all of his many books and often find myself going for them, I’ll admit, rather than The Message. But, man, could he turn a phrase, and I am trying, even now, to determine if I think he is different in his formal writing and his talks and his sermons and his Bible translations. There are a few different voices, I think — this becomes understandable, I suppose, when reading Winn Collier’s extraordinary A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson.(HERE is our early review of it; the 20% off BookNotes discount still stands.) He was a unique person, both country boy and urban scholar, small church pastor and significant professor, poet, jokester, preacher. 

Well, On Living Well is yet another sort of genre, and I’m glad for this, very glad, It is, we might say, his “shorter writings.” Years ago Rich Mouw, when serving as President of Fuller Theological Seminary, published a little book of very short entries, drawn from what he called a rather unique genre— a collection of bits written from when he had been asked to make “brief remarks.” This really is tricky and can be thoroughly enticing when done well. On some days, Peterson was a man of few words, and he seemed to choose them carefully. Maybe the “brief remarks” or “shorter writings” genre is one that suited him well.

And, actually, these 200 entries in On Living Well are excerpted from the Amen! newsletter columns that Pastor Pete wrote when he served Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, MD, mostly in the 1970 and ‘80s. As the editor of this collection says about Peterson’s work in these pieces in the Amen! church newsletter:

It is a remarkable testament to his craft as a writer and his commitment to excellence in even the smallest opportunities.

“The wisdom in this book,” he avers, “represents Eugene at the height of his pastoral work, speaking with candor, warmth, and directness to those under his care.”

There are several major themes and the short pieces are grouped accordingly. It is a virtual handbook of living the Christian life, even if Peterson might not like the notion of a manual or checklist. But it does offer Biblically-shaped wisdom on a lot of topics. Wow.

Considered a “feast for the soul” this new volume contains never-before-published short pieces ranging from two pages to only a few paragraphs. While a couple are half a page in length, most are about one page. They can be read devotionally, they can be pondered and discussed, they could be read out loud as “opening remarks” before a meeting. That these have been compiled into topics and arranged around the theme of “living well” makes the short essays in On Living Well exceptionally useful. As always, it includes such about finding God in the down-to-earth, about living out the message of the Kingdom, of discovering an “extraordinary spirituality of ordinary life.” An ordinary life consecrated by living for and in Jesus. This is the sort of stuff you’d hear if you were in Peterson’s congregation in those years.

Here is the epigram in the front of the book, Peterson’s rendering of Proverbs 1:7 (from The Message) which maybe might invite you to take up this very book, on living well.

Start with God — the first step in learning is blowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom. 

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

I have occasionally mentioned that I once wrote to Peterson, and maybe to a guy from NavPress — a key player in the adventure that led to the publishing of The Message lived near us here in Red Lion, PA — about how the introductions to each book of The Message (omitted from some editions, btw) are so very, very interesting and captures the key points of each book in their place within salvation history. I thought they’d make a great paperback to hand out, even to youth, as an accessible and even hip handbook. Why not take those well-written introductions and put ’em out in one small volume.

They publisher did just that, but as a boring looking hardback that was in those years a bit more expensive than I would have wished. The book went out of print for a decade or so.

And now, here it is again, in a very cool edition, a smallish paperback, at a great price. Hooray! The Invitation is exactly that: an invitation to study the Bible by giving you an inspiring overview, a book-by-book reflection on the point of it all. 

I hope you, like me, have enjoyed and benefited from those helpful introductions before each book of the Bible. They are so spot on, engaging and informative and inspiring. I hope that you might want to see them in one nice volume, easy to consult, easy to read as a devotional, easy to give away. Why not use this book called The Invitation as an invitation. Buy a few at our sale price and give them out. It’s a gem. You can say your bookseller foisted it upon you. You’re welcome.

Symphony of Salvation: A 60-Day Devotional Journey Through the Books of the Bible Eugene Peterson (NavPress) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I don’t know if you’ve seen advertisements about this but if so, I’m sure you’ll agree that this looks just stunning. It has full color artwork, lots of nature photography that seems suited to the rugged stories of Scripture, with a contemporary typography and modern design layout. I like this book a lot, with its memory verses and pull quotes. It is colorful, handsome, sturdy, and would make a fabulous gift for a man or a woman, even a youth or a teenager.

Just know, though, that Symphony of Salvation is The Invitation (see above) arranged in a nicer way, with heavier, matte paper, illuminated with photography. It isn’t clear, I don’t think, that it is really nothing more than the same introductions to each book of the Bible that Peterson crafted so well for The Message and does not include any other new material. Once your expectations are no longer honed by the impression that this is something in addition to The Invitation, I think you’ll love Symphony of Salvation. I just wished they’d have called it The Invitation Deluxe Edition or A Simple Guide to the Bible from The Message: Full Color Version. Because that it is. It’s a feast for the eyes and a fine way to reflect on the gist of every book of the Bible, with a key verse highlighted. We recommend it heartily.




It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders. The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.49.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.60 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places.


HELPFUL HINT: If you want US Mail, please say which sort — Media Mail or Priority Mail — so we know how to serve you best. If you say “regular” we left scratching our noggins.


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We are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health and the common good (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the positivity rate is going up. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful. Please, wherever you are, do your best to stop this awful sickness going around.

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4 DAY FLASH SALE — 30% OFF BOOKS ON THE ARTS, FAITH and CREATIVITY while supplies last. AND 3 NEW SQUARE HALO BOOKS TITLES, a new Malcolm Guite, a study of Lewis’s “Space Triology” a new book on the art of JRR Tolkien

One of our great joys, we often say, is setting up book displays for organizations who value our curating and service in providing resources as intregal to their educational events at conferences and gatherings. We were treated so well as we shipped stuff to the Christian Legal Society for their national event a few weeks ago and it was an honor to serve them — their conference is one of our yearly highlights and it was sad not to be there with them. CCO, the campus ministry out of Pittsburgh, continues to partner with us to resource their staff and students. What fun it was doing a couple of video workshops about books for a UCC pastor’s event last month. Maintaining these networks of friends and colleagues in so many places has been sustaining for us. Thanks to so many who have prayed and partnered with us in so many encouraging ways.

We have especially enjoyed serving culture creatives and artists over the years at national events like IAM (the International Arts Movement) and CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts.) CIVA just had their biannual national gathering and by all accounts it was spectacular. Although we were not there, we had a person on site in Austin helping us out by selling books for them — we are not only grateful for the opportunity but glad for all the good feedback from participants. Thanks to those who wrote encouraging notes and inquired about our small role in this big event. We love CIVA.

Due to snafu upon snafu, not all of the books we intended to show and sell at the event made it to the book display in Texas.

Their loss is your gain, though, as we are now having a 4-Day FLASH SALE with EXTRA DISCOUNTS on some wonderful books about faith and the arts. These are not all we have (of course) nor are they dogs we’re trying to get rid of. As you can see below, these are top quality, often quite remarkable volumes that we just have a too many copies of right now due to the book table fiasco.

We’re going to try to get some great books to you (especially if you, like us, didn’t feel safe travelling to Covid-dangerous Texas.) For the next four days (ending November 18, 2021 at midnight EST) we have these books on sale, while supplies last, at 30% off.

After Thursday the 18th they will revert to our more customary BookNotes 20% off, which is still an excellent bargain. But this quickie flash sale is the best price you’re going to find on some of these specialized titles.

You better order right away, though, as the 30% OFF deal is only good on these while supplies last. And in any event, is over soon. Let’s do this!



30% OFF GOOD                                    UNTIL NOVEMBER 18, 2021.

As always, you an order by using the oder link at the bottom of this column that takes you to the Heats & Minds Bookstore secure webpage order form. Or, give us all at the number shown at the end. We are grateful for a chance to serve you. 

Art + Faith: A Theology of Making Makoto Fujimura (Yale University Press) $26.00                                  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $18.20

We have reviewed this at BookNotes and it is one of the more significant books in this field in recent years. A must-read from Yale University Press, it has endorsements from art critics and important reviewers as well as thoughtful blurbs by Rowan Williams, Miroslav Golf, Christian Wiman and Martin Scorsese.  There’s a nice foreword by N.T. Wright, too.

We have been eager to promote this far and wide.


Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture Makoto Fujimura (NavPress) $24.99                       OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $17.49

This was Mr Fujimura’s first book, expertly designed as a very handsome paperback and nicely illustrated, composed of his reflective essays — refractions, Fujumura calls them — many from his experiences in New York after 9-11. Some of it is exquisitely moving.

If you don’t have this, it is a wonderful collection and makes a very nice gift.


Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $17.00         OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $11.90

This may be the most general and wide-ranging Mako has written, certainly about the arts and why we need a network and movement of culture-shaping, arts appreciating folks who steward well the possibilities of God’s creation — for the sake of our neighbors and the flourishing of our society. Yes, the subtitle says it really well — this invites us to cultivate a culture that cares about beauty for the common good.  I think this is a wonderful, lovely read, inspiring for anyone, necessary, even, for the building of a good society. Can we celebrate, as Steve Garber sometimes put it, “common grace for the common good”?

Listen to this from Cherie Harder, the President of The Trinity Forum:

In his generous and inspiring work Culture Care, artist Mako Fujimura suggests that our common culture is not a territory to be captured, but a garden to be cultivated, needing the nourishment of creativity, community, connection, and the generation of beauty. It is a grace-filled call to beat swords into plowshares and take up the work of tilling our common garden.

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts edited by W. David O. Taylor with a foreword by Luci Shaw (Baker Books) $20.00            OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $14.00

A great introduction to this whole conversation, especially for why church folk should care. Unlike most of the book listed on sale here, this is mostly not by artists as such. There are artful and passionate pieces here by Eugene Peterson, Andy Crouch, Lauren Winner, John Witvliet, Barbara Nicholas and more. A must-have, fun and hopeful book, which Marva Dawn called “urgently needed” and William Dyrness called “explosive.”

It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $17.49

This is regularly sold at nearly every conference we attend as we usually take it to show — it is such a rich anthology of all sorts of writers, pastors (for instance,Tim Keller), artists of various sorts (it included Mako Fujimura’s first published piece, by the way and a great piece by Mary McCleary), theologians, critics, collectors, patrons… It Was Good: Making Art looks at artmaking and aesthetics and creativity and offers all sorts of good reflective stuff on tone and color and light and practice and truthfulness and craftsmanship and collaboration and  more. (For the record, I think Adrienne Chaplin’s chapter on “beauty” is one of the more important essays about this vexing topic, and James Romaine of the notion of “creativity” is very important as well.) Not for young beginners, maybe, but it is not heavy or academic, either. Pitch perfect, full of great stuff, an edifying book for nearly anyone. If you are interested in the arts as a non-artist, I’d highly recommend this. If you are just getting into this whole filed, it’s a must. If you want to encourage artists actually doing art making, give them this. 

Rainbows for the Fallen World Calvin Seerveld (Toronto Tuppence Press) $35.00                            OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $24.50

We have gone on record for years now saying that this is one of the most important books in this field and it is routinely cited and footnoted, by scholars in the disciplines of art history or those striving to think Christianly in the heady field of philosophical aesthetics. And it is often nearly venerated by working artists who have found deep inspiration in it’s read and re-read pages. Rainbows… is written with Cal’s deep and prophetic Biblical insight and spiritual verve; he is a tad eccentric (he makes up words, I think) and offers some of the most electrifying prose about this topic — heck, about any topic — I have read in my life. We’ve been proud to know him a bit and glad to regularly promote his many books. This is one of those books that, agree or not — like it or not, even — you simply must have if you are developing a library in this whole field. We’re happy to have this, and would love to talk further about Seerveld’s allusive, imaginative, suggestion-rich insights about aesthetic life and redemptive art in a broken world. 

(I must say, there is a chapter in a book described below, from a CIVA conference a few years ago, Contemporary Art and the Church: A Conversation Between Two Worlds where Cal and his friend, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, are in conversation, and it is a joy to listen in to that important conversation. Seerveld, by the way, has a short “letter to a modern artist” in the back of Michael Card’s lovely IVP book, Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity.)

Here is an older BookNotes post that describes other significant Seerveld books.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art Madeleine L’Engle (Convergent Books) $16.00        OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $11.20

Originally published by Luci and Harold Shaw in 1980, this book has been esteemed and treasured by thousands of artists and art connoisseurs, and many who just love the beautiful and thoughtful prose of the great writer and advocate for a deeply ecumenical but Biblically Christian vision. Unlike many books in this space that are written by systematic theologians or philosophers or visual arts, Madeleine was a poet, writer, librarian, Episcopal lay woman and outspoken advocate for an open-minded and big hearted view of the universe and God’s wonder to be seen all around; it remains a classic, mixing memoir and reflection making a gentle for a very intentional effort, but with a light touch, to allow deep spiritual truths to inform her allusive and creative writing. In telling us how inspiration works for her as a writer, we all can take new courage, rooted well in the past and yet current, without being trendy or faddish. This book is another that is in the top handful of must-have resources for anyone reading in this field of faith and the artful life. This recent edition has a very nice preface by YA novelist Sara Zarr. 

Art & Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts Hilary Brand & Adrienne Chaplin (Piquant / IVP Academic) $38.00                                            OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $26.60

For many years I highlighted this as one of the top three or four must-read books for those serious about a uniquely Christian approach to this creative field. More and more have come out in recent years — at CIVA this year, one of the speakers in celebrating the headway we are making in helping church folks appreciate the arts and artist, said, “Did you see that book table in the lobby?”  Still, this is a classic because it not only is delightfully written and so very interesting and substantial, but because it offers a very healthy blend of what we might call theory and practice. Dr. Adrienne Chaplin (who studied in Amsterdam) took over for a while Calvin Seerveld’s legendary chair in aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto and knows in her bones a deeply Christian theoretical framework. Hilary Brand is a working artist and free lance photographer and writer. Together, they have made this book, first done in the UK, a master class in at least one school of thought about Christian thinking and practice. 

Calvin Seerveld writes in a rare foreword, “Everything about this book by Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin rings true.” He says it is written with verve and “sparkles with inside artistic knowledge and simultaneously breaths a generous love for the reader.”  

Discovering God Through the Arts: How We Can Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty & Creativity Terry Glaspey  (Moody Press) $16.99   OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $11.89

What a great, easy-to-read, well-informed and very inspiring book! It is deal for those who need to be invited into this spiritual practice of gazing at creation, or visual art, or listening to music or reading poems (etc.) as an avenue to transformational spiritual formation and whole-life discipleship. From nurturing wonder to cultivating empathy to learning to pray, good art can be helpful as we attend and receive. This colorful book is a treasure and reasonably priced before our discount. Written by a friend and Hearts & Minds fan, we are so happy to recommend Terry Glaspey’s Discovering God Through the Arts. We will be naming this as one of our favorite books of the year. 

Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity Stephen Roach with Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $11.99   OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $8.39

Did you see our earlier review of this fabulous, recent, compact sized book? We raved about how it is so readable and intersting, offering a solid and reliable theological basis for seeing our human calling made in God’s image.  Of being creative. Naturally, this is good for young artists — or older ones for that matter — but I think it is a key idea for anyone’s Christian worldview, knowing the implications of this key human task.  We happily recommend to one and all.


Van Gogh’s Second Gift: A Spiritual Path to Deeper Creativity Cliff Edwards (Broadleaf Books) $19.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $13.99

Again, this is one we’ve highlighted at a previous BookNotes. It is a very handsome compact sized paperback — Broadleaf Books does these compact sized paperbacks as well as anybody in the business — and this wonderfully explores his little-used letters as a key to understanding our own creative processes. This is a treasure, very nicely done and very sweetly interesting.


The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God Jonathan Jackson (Ancient Faith) $16.95  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $11.87

Have you watched the TV series Nashville? Jonathan Jackson plays the charming and ethical Avery and, yes, he is an Orthodox Christian (in Nashville, encouraged there by Charlie Peacock & And Ashworth’s ArtHouse ministry.) This is one of the best short and readable books on faith and the arts I’ve read in a while and highly recommend it. For those not familiar with the riches of the Orthodox theology and spirituality as catalyst for creative, this will be a great and holy initiation.  He is a cultural creative, visual artist and yet is mostly known as an actor. Nice.

Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway) $6.99                    OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $4.89

This is a standard contemporary book from an evangelical and Reformed leader (now the President of Wheaton College) who has long encouraged artists and the calling to be cultural caretakers. This is short, sweet, solid, and inspiring. A prefect starter book for aspiring artists or anyone who needs a Bible-based perspective on why the church should care about the arts.



Art Needs No Justification Hans R, Rookmaaker (Regent College Press) $9.95                                    OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $6.97

Half a century ago, Dutch philosopher, art historian, and jazz music collector Hans Rookmaaker influenced — through long walks and talks— the youth-oriented, missionary-minded lay philosopher and Reformed thinker Francis Schaeffer. Schaffer inspired a generation of aspiring artists and cultural critics to relate evangelical faith to philosophical and cultural trends, watching foreign films and avant-garde music and studying art history before it was acceptable (let alone understood as helpful) in most conservative American church circles. This little volume, Art Needs No Justification was one of Hans Rookmaaker’s famous manifestos, as applicable to day as then. 

The God of the Garden: Thoughts on Creation, Culture, and the Kingdom Andrew Peterson (B+H) $17.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $12.59

I hope you know Andrew Peterson’s important work as founder of Rabbit Room and Rabbit Room Press, his great singer-songwriter music recordings, his fiction, and (lately, beekeeping.) You should know of his very nice Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making which is a lovely and accesible reflection on discerning ones calling, particularly as an artist. This new one, The God of the Garden continues that conversation with Peterson sharing more of his own story, his sense of calling to point to God’s Kingdom ways by working in the creative arts. Does God’s glory shine through creation and can art help us stand in great wonder? 

The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty Martin Schleske, translated by Janet Gesme, with photographs by Donata Wenders (Eerdmans) $24.99                      OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $17.49

Had we not had the Covid quarantining and pandemic disasters last year, this would have surely been listed as one of our Best Books of 2020 and even now, in 2021, it feels new and important. Done on heavy stock paper in a solid hardback, its heft somehow feels right in the hand, revealing that this is a very weighty books, beautiful. It is nicely crafted with especially good writing and artful black and white photos enhancing the moving prose, but the substance of the story is what makes this a thoroughly unique book. As I have explained in detail at previous BookNotes, Mr. Schleske is a renowned German luthier and this is about his craft of selecting and working with wood, wood he selects with his eye and ear for beauty. What creative and artful craftsmanship it takes to create a beautiful violin or viola! What insight it takes to write about it so it might inspire believer and nonbeliever alike, showing how his Biblical faith illuminates his work with the wood, his exploration into unspeakable beauty. This book is nothing short of a gift, a treasure, a guide to the goodness of aesthetic life opened up for human service.

Art and Theology in Ecumenical Perspective edited by Timothy Verdon (Mount Tabor Books/Paraclete Press) $34.99                              OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $24.49

We were honored to tell people about this several years ago at BookNotes when we explain that it is scholarly and ecumenical, mostly drawing on European Roman Catholic scholars of art and theological aesthetics. This is a big, hefty volume, a great gift for those who value these kinds of major works. There are serious essays and lavish art. We are grateful for the Mount Tabor imprint of art books that Parcelete Press sells, and we have them all!


A Wounded Innocence: Sketches for a Theology of Art Alejandro Garcia-Rivera (Liturgical Press) $14.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $10.49  

We have long appreciated this Latino Catholic scholar, himself a gracious wounded healer, asking the big questions (as the publisher puts it), “What is the theological significance of art? Why has the Church always encouraged the arts? What is so profoundly human about the arts? The answer to these questions involves a series of “sketches,” a mixed spiritual/theological reflection on various works of art written in a poetic style that should appeal to the professional theologian but is aimed at the informed public. The reflections explore the relationship between the spiritual and the arts in its many dimensions.”

Alejandro García-Rivera is more systematic than most theologians because he includes unifying appreciation of imagery and symbols in the living system of a whole faith as well as analysis of textual parts which preoccupy and divide many theologies. His approach promises insightful reconciliation by viewing art works like the Vietnam Memorial while attending to the aesthetics of doctrines like justification rather than by arguing from previous linguistic misunderstandings which separate Christians. His theology of art invites confessing, forgiving, and living with wounded innocence as creative presence in mystery more than memory.  — Doug Adams, Professor of Christianity and Arts, Pacific School of Religion and Graduate Theological Union 

By the way, get this: Dr. Garcias-Rivera received his doctorate in theology from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and holds degrees in physics from Ohio State University and Miami University. The author of numerous articles and winner of a Catholic Press Association award, he is assistant professor of systematic theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. Bueno chico.

God in the Modern Wing: Viewing Art with Eyes of Faith edited by G. Walter Hansen and Cameron J. Anderson (IVP Academic) $30.00                           OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $21.00

This brand new book is a personal favorite and incredible in its accesible insight about modern art viewed through he lens of Christian faith. This book emerged from a CIVA-inspired lecture series at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago that sits within walking distance of the famous Art Institute of Chicago and its fabled Modern Wing. These lectures are each by Christian experts in various schools of thought and the very artists whose work is shown there in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing. What a great example of interesting and relevant Christian education, and what a fine example of modern artists, historians, and critics serving God’s people in the local church. Some of the chapters here are by Mako Fujimura (on Marc Rothko, by the way) Steve Prince, Joel Sheesley, Linda Stratford, Lean Samuelson, Tim Lowly and Bruce Herman, to whom, with his wife Meg, the book is dedicated.

The cover, by the way, is by the modernist Piet Mondrian, a composition from 1931.

The foreword to this book by pastor Shannon Johnson Kershner and Fourth Presbyterian member Walter Hansen’s preface making a case for all of this is truly inspiring. Cam Anderson’s meaty introductory chapter putting modern art in social, cultural, religious, and philosophical context is truly worth the price of the whole book. Kudos to CIVA, IVP Academic, and First Presbyterian for this superb collaboration. Love to you all!

Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life Jennifer Allen Craft (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $21.00

I have appreciated this book and recommended it often — how artists can enhance our sense of place and how a sense of place might inform localist artwork. Serious and highly recommended. One of the best in the “Studies in Theology and the Arts” series.

The endorsements have been fabulous, reminding you, I hope, that this isn’t just a quirky interest of us here at the bookstore. This really is fantastic and important.

Jeremy Begbie, in fact, says,

“Jennifer Allen Craft is one of the most important emerging voices in theology and the arts today… Lucid and lively, Placemaking and the Arts deserves to be very widely read.”
And then there is this from Eric Jacobsen who has written several relating to our embodiment in places, such as a nice faith-based introduction to new urbanism, Sidewalks of the Kingdom, and the glorious The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment. Jacobsen, a Presbyterian pastor, writes:

After a couple of generations of neglect and disinvestment, I’m delighted to see that place is being rediscovered within the Christian community as an important aspect of human flourishing. Placemaking and the Arts makes a significant contribution to this movement. In this book Craft develops a comprehensive theological framework for thinking about how the arts can help place us in time, space, and community. And she makes a convincing case for how art must play a critical role in any recovery of place. Many have expressed concern about the place of art in contemporary life; Craft helpfully extends this conversation to consider the role of art in place (and placemaking). Highly recommended.

Contemporary Art and the Church: A Conversation Between Two Worlds edited by W. David O. Taylor & Taylor Worley (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $21.00

This was the book that came out of the legendary CIVA 2015 conference and brilliant as was the event at Bethel College that year. For anyone wanting to be fluent in this urgent conversation (or understand CIVA’s recent past) no single book is more important. Kudos to those involved in that rousing CIVA event and the IVP “Studies in Theology and the Arts” series of which this a part.

Just to be fully clear, the “church” in the title means the Christian community at large, not necessarily the local congregation. That is, this is mostly not about the worship arts or liturgical use of art.

I like the sly cleverness of this great endorsement, riffing on images of a “cold war” between modern art and the faith community.

in the art world, it’s always October (October being the name of the Marxist journal that has long dominated the field). This essay collection shows that many are ready to flip the calendar to see what a new season will bring. Contemporary Art and the Church affords further evidence that glasnost (‘openness’) and perestroika (‘restructuring’) are challenging the enduring Cold War between art and religion, which requires rethinking from both sides of the divide. The authors shout in unison, ‘Tear down this wall,’ and it finally feels like 1989.          – —  Matthew J. Milliner, associate professor of art history, Wheaton College

The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts Cameron Anderson (IVP Academic) $28.00                                                                  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $19.60

Mr. Anderson was for a while the beloved director of CIVA and this is his extraordinary manifesto, a very thorough book emerging from his life long ministry of creativity and within the arts community.  A standard foundational read whether one is part of evangelicalism or not, it is a must-read. Thanks the IVP Academic doing this “Studies in Theology and the Art” set of books.


Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism Jonathan Anderson & William Dyrness (IVP Academic) $35.00   OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $24.50

Another key release which is part of the IVP Studies in Theology of the Arts series, this one offers a fresh alternative to the much-discussed and dour Modern Art and the Death of a Culture.

You should read the classic Rookmaaker book, too, and then, this. What a conversation!



The Art of New Creation: Trajectories in Theology and the Arts edited by Jeremy Begbie, Daniel Train, W. David O. Taylor (IVP Academic) $30.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $21.00  FORTHCOMING – DUE MARCH 2022                    pre-order now

This forthcoming volume is going to offer great chapters from the breathtaking DITA10 Conference held at Duke Divinity School exploring how our understanding of the relationship between creation and new creation is informed by and reflected in the arts. I have not read any of it yet, but can’t wait. I know the great African American Pennsylvania artist Steven Prince has a chapter as does the aforementioned Jennifer Allen Craft, here paired with Norman Wirzba and loads of what look like breath-taking pieces by dancers and poets and visual artists and musicians.

“From music to painting to film, this volume brings theologians and practicing artists together to imagine God’s new creation that, as Begbie highlights, is ‘before us’ but not yet realized. This mind-bending idea begs for embodied expression, and our cultural moment—rife with fear and injustice—needs those who can transform our imaginations for a new world to come. This collection is an enlivening contribution to the theology and arts conversation, which can often be abstract in its conclusions and outcomes. Instead, we are offered perspectives revealing that the integration of theology and the arts can be a vital nexus from which to imagine God’s new creation in our broken world.”  —  Shannon Steed Sigler, executive director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Seminary

The Human Work of Art: A Theological Appraisal of Creativity and the Death of the Artist Davor Dealt (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) $16.00            OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $11.20

The esteemed Russian Orthodox publishing house, St. Vladimir’s never ceases to surprise us with remarkable books out of their unique tradition, offering robust theology and spirituality applied to various aspects of modern life.  We have stocked this for years, but never promoted it as much as we should — Dzalto is a professor of art history, religious studies, and iconography at the American University of Rome. Aristotle Papanikoulaou of Fordham University says he is “unequivocally one of the most important thinkers today in the Orthodox world.”

The Art of God: Reflections on Music, Diversity, and the Beauty in You Jimi Calhoun with a foreword by Paul Louis Metzger (Cascade Books) $21.00      OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $14.70

Calhoun is an edgy artist, intercultural activist, and pastor from Austin and write vibrant, missional stuff about why art is important at the local level. Lively and even a bit provocative, this is a great read. I loved his earlier book, A Story of Rhythm and Grace about his years as a travelling bluesman, a black rocker who has played alongside music icons from Etta James to Mick Jagger, Elton John to Funkadelic, and how in many ways he experienced more grace in the music scene than in the conventional church.

Calhoun’s Art of God emerges from his years not only as a creative worker but in his leadership in the community. He is co-chair of Community Dreams, an Austin-based nonprofit serving urban youth, and a member of the Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network, which serves people living with disabilities. He is on the boards of the Interfaith Arts Council, Humanitarians for the Arts, and the Exnihilo Art Center in Deadman’s Cay, the Bahamas.

Sanctifying Art: Inviting Conversation Between Artists, Theologians, and the Church Deborah Sokolove with a foreword by Bruce Birch (Cascade Books) $24.00                                                      OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $16.80

Read this wonderful description of this book we’ve stocked routinely and are happy to tell you about:  

As an artist, Deborah Sokolove has often been surprised and dismayed by the unexamined attitudes and assumptions that the church holds about how artists think and how art functions in human life. By investigating these attitudes and tying them to concrete examples, Sokolove hopes to demystify art–to bring art down to earth, where theologians, pastors, and ordinary Christians can wrestle with its meanings, participate in its processes, and understand its uses. In showing the commonalities and distinctions among the various ways that artists themselves approach their work, Sanctifying Art can help the church talk about the arts in ways that artists will recognize.

Fashion Theology Robert Covolo (Baylor University Press) $39.99                                                        OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $27.99

Dr. Covolo’s book is doubtlessly the most consistently Christian, deeply thoughtful, serious scholarship in the field of fashion studies that has ever been done. It is academic and rigorous but a heck of a lot of fun for those inclined to this sort of scholarly aesthetics. We know there are those deep into this field who have been waiting for Christianly conceived insights about aesthetics and adornment that is utterly engaged with contemporary theory.

Blurbs on the back of Covolo’s amazing book include a rave from the legendary Fiona Dieffenbacher of the Parsons School of Design. Wow.

Reluctant Partners: Art and Religion in Dialogue edited by Ena Giurscu Heller (The Gallery at the American Bible Society) $35.00                              OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $24.50

This elegant collection of important essays was curated as part of a show at the short-lived gallery when the American Bible Society was still in New York City. That this isn’t better known is a shame, and we’re glad to have a few left.  




Bezalel’s Body: The Death of God and the Birth of Art Katie Kresser with a foreword by Bruce Herman (Cascade Books) $28.00                                        OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $19.60

As I’ve said before, don’t let the odd title about the death of God (or the cover picture which isn’t the most appealing for my eyes, at least) throw you off This is an amazing read. CIVA elder and esteemed painter Bruce Herman wrote the wonderful forward and there are endorsing blurbs from James K. A.  Smith, Matthew Milliner, Ben Quash. Whew.


A Redemptive Theology of Art: Restoring Godly Aesthetics to Doctrine and Culture David Covington (Zondervan Academic) $24.99                OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $17.49

This book is one that is rooted in the world of conservative Reformed systematic theology — think Westminster Seminary, maybe — but yet has blurbs by the likes of Noel Paul Stookey and the very edgy, indie folkie due Lowland Hum. (Covington is himself a working musician, so that’s quite cool.) Some readers (I’ll admit) find it tedious while others have declared it essential and beautiful. The fabulous Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman says that Covington’s reflections are “revelatory and insightful. I strongly recommend this book not only to artists, for whom this book should be mandatory reading, but to everyone who wants Christian answers to these important questions.”

Creative Practice for Visual Artists: Time, Space, Process Kenneth Steinbach (Routledge) $44.95    OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $31.47

This book on an academic publishing house is the sort that aspiring CIVA-type authors love, written, as it is, by a faith-based art prof who has interviewed bunch of working artist to discern exactly what sort of practice enhance their work. Even if this wasn’t done to God’s glory infused with a Christian imaginary, it would be a great tool for any sort of aspiring author. I know artists at CIVA were looking for it, and we’re sorry it never made it to the event. We’ve got it here at the best price anywhere.

Active Sights: Art as Social Interaction Timothy Van Laar & Leonard Diepeveen (Mayfield Publishing Company) $37.95                       OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $26.55

Originally designed as a thin but slightly oversized paperback supplemental text for a college course, this now out of print volume has taken on a legendary life of its own and is often talked about. Here is how the publisher describes some of what is going on in this multi-faceted study:

It explores the purposes of contemporary art and the complex interactions between art, artist, and viewer. Active Sights looks especially at how artist and viewer belief systems and the social functions of art affect the ways in which contemporary art is seen. The text includes 31 full-page illustrations of contemporary art…

Putting Art (Back) In Its Place John E. Skillen (Hendrickson Publisher) $24.95                             OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $17.47

I did a more extended review of this at BookNotes when it came out and it remains a key title. Notable is that the book came out of years of reflection and teaching in Orvieto Italy, as a Gordon College-related study-abroad professor and mentor.

What was the “place” of Medieval and Renaissance art? What is the relationship of the faith community and the art world, of liturgy and aesthetics? What sort of network of patrons and civic society supported the arts? What does it mean to bring art back to esteemed place within the church but also within the culture at large, from business to government? This is truly a fascinating read.

Redeeming Transcendence in the Arts: Bearing Witness to the Triune God Jeremy Begbie (Eerdmans) $18.00                                                 OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $12.60

The topic of transcendence was part of the CIVA theme this year, and this book is central to that project. Here is what the publisher says. (I reviewed it at greater length at BookNotes when it first came out.)

Many people believe that there is something transcendent about the arts, that they can awaken a profound sense of awe, wonder, and mystery, of something “beyond” this world–even for those who may have no use for conventional forms of Christianity. In this book Jeremy Begbie–a leading voice on theology and the arts–employs a biblical, Trinitarian imagination to show how Christian involvement in the arts can be shaped by the distinctive vision of God’s transcendence opened up in and through Jesus Christ.

A Peculiar Orthodoxy: Reflections on Theology and the Arts Jeremy Begbie (Baker Academic) $28.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $19.60

This is overly simplistic to say, but in a previous review at BookNotes I suggested that Redeeming Transcendence (above) is perhaps about the arts, through the lens of theology, and this one, A Peculiar Orthodoxy, is a bit more about theology, through the lens of the arts. If that’s muddled, as it may be, I’d say just get ‘em both. You can’t go wrong with the exquisite and brilliant Professor JB. As you can see, below, Nic Wolterstorff raves about this saying it is “state of the art.”

“Any work by Jeremy Begbie is bound to bear instruction and delight, and this one is no exception. Thinkers and writers who give equally serious consideration to theology and the arts are rare birds indeed, so it is a pleasure to see Begbie take flight once more.” — Alan Jacobs, Honors College, Baylor University

“Orthodoxy, yes, but not at all peculiar–unless it is peculiar for a person so steeped in orthodox trinitarian theology to be so richly acquainted with the arts, or peculiar for a person so richly acquainted with the arts to be so steeped in orthodox trinitarian theology. Only a person as learned and immersed as Begbie in both of these areas of human endeavor could spy the wide range of connections that he brings to light between theology and the arts, especially music, many of them connections I had never noticed, connections that I will want to think about for quite some time. Extraordinarily perceptive. And the range of reading brought into the discussion, with never-failing generosity of spirit, is amazing. This is state of the art!” — Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University; Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia

“Jeremy Begbie sets a high standard for a theological engagement with the arts. In this book, he gives an eloquent account of that standard and formulates questions that anyone working in this field must confront.” — Judith Wolfe, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews

Global Arts and Christian Witness: Exegeting Culture, Translating the Message and Communicating Christ Roberta R. King (Baker Academic) $26.99                                                  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $18.89

Part of the Mission in Global Community edited by Scott Sunquist and Amos Young, and with a great foreword by Mark Labberton, this is a fabulous scholarly resource for anyone thinking about aesthetics, indigenous culture, and the role of the arts in global mission.

By the way, if you are looking for more in this field, you should consider The Arts as Witness in Multifaith Societies edited by Roberta R. King and William Dyrness (IVP Academics; $35.00) in their excellent Missiological Engagements series.

The Art of Christian Reflection Heidi J. Hornik (Baylor University Press) $49.99                             OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $34.99

Professor Hornik is an art historian teaching at Baylor University in Texas. She could have easily been speaking at CIVA this year and her book is a testimony to how great art can help shape us, help us reflect, even think about contemporary issues in refreshing, ethical ways. LI truly love this well made, heavy volume. I’m not alone:

In this work, Heidi Hornik shows us how art can transform our sensitivities to contemporary moral issues and attune us to beauty and virtue that brings us closer to God. To walk with her through the visuals assembled here is to embark on what she aptly describes as a ‘pilgrimage’ – without doubt our journey will lead us far beyond the trifling.  — Samuel E. Balentine, Professor of Old Testament and Director of Graduate Studies, Union Presbyterian Seminary

This stunning book by Heidi Hornik is a rich resource for Christian reflection and action. The formal and iconographic analyses of eighty carefully-chosen works of visual art are skillfully integrated with interpretations of biblical texts, important Christian habits and virtues, contemporary moral issues, and formative and liturgical practices of the church. These discussions begin with explorations of what these works of visual art mean, how they are crafted, and how they dialogue with biblical texts and other Christian contexts. But the true focus and most enduring aspects of Hornik’s book are the enlightening insights about what these works of visual art want from us, how they challenge us to respond in our daily lives as Christians.  — David B. Gowler, The Chair of Religion, Oxford College of Emory University

Heidi Hornik’s book is remarkable. Both a respected scholar of Renaissance art history and an avowed Christian, she uses her historical understanding to illuminate great works of art and her religious perspective to bring these works to bear on moral, ethical, and devotional issues facing contemporary people of faith. The book is at once accessible to the layperson–both religious and art historical–and fully grounded in scholarship, and its structure allows for brief-but-focused meditations on the beautiful objects chosen, the questions they raise, and even the answers they may provide.       — James Clifton, Director, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, and Curator, Renaissance and Baroque Painting, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

In this innovative volume, art historian Heidi Hornik highlights the rich potential visual art offers Christians as they seek to engage with contemporary ethical issues. Over eighty images are brought into fascinating dialogue with a vast array of contrasting subjects, such as forgiveness, virtual reality, vocation and pornography. Professor Hornik’s thought-provoking approach is to be warmly welcomed, opening up unexplored and fruitful territory.    Christine E. Joynes, Director, Centre for Reception History of the Bible at the University of Oxford

He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art Christian Wiman (FSG) $23.00                     OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $18.40

I’m sure you know something of the story of world-renowned poet Christian Wiman — a Texan, by the way, now at Yale —perhaps through his moving, well-written memoir My Beautiful Abyss. He has a recent poetry volume we stock, a great new collection he edited, but this is his rather dense study of art, aesthetics, the power of language and his stab at relating faith and his works as an arts educator and writer. A very impressive, slender hardback. 


Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith, and Mystery Gregory Wolfe (Square Halo Books) $22.99                                                      OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $16.09

The former editor of Image and legendary pioneer of late 20th-century thinking about aesthetics, the arts, literature, criticism, poetry, and more, offers here his best short essays that appeared in Image. Brilliant at times, vital, historic, even, it has a rave on the back from Annie Dillard.

As Dillard puts it, in one of the great endorsing blurbs of all time:

Intruding Upon the Timeless takes its title from a phrase of Flannery O’Connor. That’s apt, because not since O’Conner’s Mystery and Manners has there been such bracing insight on the pile-up where art and faith collide. This book will rev your engines and propel you down the same road.

It is, by the, nicely enhanced by designer Ned Bustard making it a very, very nice second edition.

Christian Art Michelle P. Brown (Lion Scholar) $36.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $25.89

A rich edition of the lavish edition previously released as The Lion Companion to Christian Art (without the visual artwork) makes this compact compendium, featuring articles by invited experts and authorities on various aspects of the traditions of faith-infused Christian art.

Dr. Brown is the Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London and previously the Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library. She is also a lay Canon of St. Pauls Cathedral in London. 

Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity Robin Margaret Jensen (Fortress Press) $34.00                                                   OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $23.80

Robin Jensen is a prolific and important Lutheran scholar, an expert on the art of the early church (she even has a book on how early Christian art reflected the tensions with the Roman Empire) and we had hoped this would have made it’s way to the CIVA book table. Have I mentioned the snafus? But here it is, and you can get it now, on sale. Yay.

Here’s the simple description of this lavish and utterly fascinating volume which include over 100 photographs of ancient, Christian (mostly) Roman era art:

Examining how God and eventually Christ are portrayed in early Christian art, Jensen explores questions of the relationship between art and theology, conflicts over idolatry and iconography, and how the Christological controversies affected the portrayals of Christ. Since much of this art comes from ancient Rome, she places her analysis in the context of the history of Roman portraiture.

The Art of Faith: A Guide to Understanding Christian Images Judith Couchman (Paraclete Press) $27.99  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $19.59

Have you ever stood in front of a painting and thought What does this mean? Of course only certain sorts of visual art have specific symbols or overt metaphors and only some of those are distinctively Christian. Still, for viewing or thinking about or anyone doing this sort of sacred work, The Art of Faith is a remarkable study of interpretation and very, very interesting. Rave reviews on the back are from Jeremy Begbie, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Ed Knippers, and Gary Bradley, a gallery owner and IAM leader which should illustrate it’s great integrity and usefulness.

Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue William Dyrness (Baker Academic) $22.00  OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $15.40

Visual Faith was of the early books in the esteemed and essential “Engaging Culture” series published by Baker Academic. We have pointed to many of the books in this series as examples of how Christian faith can relate to everything from video games to film to TV to hip hop culture to theatre. But this is a stand-out, a must-read chestnut.

Dyrness advocates ‘careful historical and theological reflection’ and puts this into practice in ways that satisfy the academic mind. Most of all, however, he emerges as a theologian of the arts with a message for the churches. He offers a well-founded critique of traditional Protestant prejudice against matters visual and artistic, and he issues an inspiring challenge to follow the Spirit into richer modes of praise and worship. — Graham Birtwistle, Free University, Amsterdam

A refreshing and welcome addition to the growing discourse on a Protestant recovery of visual imagination and the need for Christians of all stripes to engage and exploit the visual arts-both in the secular marketplace and within the worshiping life of the church. —E. John Walford, Wheaton College

God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art  Daniel A. Siedell (Baker Academic) $26.00                                                                    OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $18.20

Until the two recent books about very modern art in the IVP Studies in Theology and the Arts (see above — Contemporary Art and the Church and the brand new God in the Modern Wing) there has been no other truly essential book which navigated appreciatively and knowingly the worlds of modern art than this classic by Dan Siedell. Dan is an amazing art curator, museum scholar and a heck of a nice guy. Get this book! 

None other than the esteemed and thoughtful scholar James Elkins (Chair of the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) has written about this book, saying:

Dan Siedell is an exceptionally thoughtful and articulate observer of the very difficult intersection of religious belief and contemporary art. The book is full of unexpected and promising confluences. Here a reader will find the principal secular theorists of modernism, but this book is also ‘nourished by Nicene Christianity’ and informed by a wonderful range of authors, from Florensky, Levinas, and Wyschogrod to Seerveld, Wolterstorff, Walford, and Dyrness. This is a tremendous book, a genuine effort at dialogue in an arena marked by the near-complete absence of open exchange.


Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God Malcolm Guite (Square Halo Books) $18.99          OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $13.29

What a fabulous delight — nearly a publishing event in this space of faith and the arts — to have this lovely little book by the Hobbit-like, genius of a lit lover, poet, hymnist, liturgist, priest, historian, scholar, raconteur, essayist, and lecturer. (And Blake loving, motorcycle-riding, rock and roller, but I digress.) We could wax wild about the lovely reputation and colorful character Mr. Guite is, but we mostly need to say this. Besides a scholar of Coleridge (his book Mariner: A Theological Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge is without parallel), he is a religious poet, perhaps even, at times a liturgical poet. He has championed the role of the arts in the church. We stock most of his volumes of poetry and have for quite some time. We are taking pre-orders for the eagerly awaited formatting book on poetry coming from Fortress this winter in their new “My Theology” series, called he Word Within the Words

But this, this, THIS is remarkable. Kudos (as always) to Ned Bustard and the Square Halo team who did such a job getting this collection of essays which were originally delivered at Regent College in British Columbia into a handsome, affordable paperback. The lectures are nicely enhanced and illustrated with all sorts of black and white art — wood cuts, linocuts, old prints, the sorts of stuff Ned does in his much appreciated illustrations in the two Every Moment Holy prayer books or the gleaning of art that became his curiously gruesome and yet popular Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown Ups. Yes, Ned added not only the requisite William Blake reproductions that Guite was alluding to but stunning pieces by contemporary artists like Tanja Butler and Ernst Barlach next to etches by Rembrandt and Durer. He makes very effective use of the heavily inked sketches of Edward Knippers. It is a lovely, visionary book in itself.

But the substance of Guite’s content, marvelously delivered, written only as a poet/scholar preacher can, is so good. In the opinion of one leader who has been thick in this movement of cultivating a faithful involvement in the arts, this really does sort of move the conversation into needed, fresh territory — not “integrating faith and art” but nurturing the imagination. As the back cover of Lifting the Veil promises: Transfigure Your Imagination. 

The lectures delivered in Vancouver were made into chapters with titles like this:

  1. Imagination and the Kingdom of God
  2. Christ and the Artistic Imagination
  3. Christ and the Moral Imagination
  4. Christ and the Prophetic Imagine

The Epilogue starts with a line from Blake, words given to the Christians embedded in his epic poem Jerusalem. 

It may be said that there is more to be said, not only about this stimulating little book but about the topic. Rev. Dr. Guite is a great person, a lively, clever speaker and a scholar of immense capacities. And he’s a poet. He has worked in this field a long time and — as this book shows in its dedication to Jeremy Begbie — he has been intentional in thinking well, informed by good colleagues. But that is no to say that he is fully right or fully righteous in this manifesto of sorts. Let’s buy this book, get it passed around, allow this poet to have this role, too, as teacher and preacher, as we all seek to do the hard thinking which might enable God to redeem our imaginations, including how we imagine the imagination. No, I’m sure Guite wouldn’t mind me inviting us to engage him well, to critique and debate. It’s that kind of books too — Ned making it so aesthetically enjoyable shouldn’t lull us into thinking that this rhyme of a not-too-ancient mariner today offers a final word. But he does offer a very good work. We commend him to you and we honor Square Halo for doing just an amazing book, so needed at just the right time.

I think this book could be a truly major release, except that indie presses from Lancaster PA — let alone a Christian ones that mostly specialize on the arts like Square Halo — aren’t as well known as they should be and simply don’t have the resources for a huge marketing campaign.

So it is us up to us, friends and lovers of the arts, caretakers of the imagination. Guite himself tips his hat to CIVA and Rabbit Room and Square Halo and others who are forming a recent renewing network of folks that he calls an “imaginative resistance who are “lifting the veil.” “The divided worlds of reason and imagination are beginning to be knit back together as C.S. Lewis long that they should be.”  And buying this very book can help in that resistance to the false formulations and impoverished ways of being in God’s world of wonder. Hallelujah!

J.R.R. Tolkien and the Arts: A Theology of Subcreation edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99                                                      OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $13.29

Well, after my raving (maybe even to the tune of “Rave on John Donne” by Van Morrison) for UK poet Malcolm Guite, what more can I say to build enthusiasm for this other brand new Square Halo release, about another British storyteller? Yes, Tolkien is more famous that Guite and his Catholicism has shaped his visions of literature, storytelling, and aesthetics — not to mention helped create an amazingly generative bond with fellow Inklings as so vividly described in Diana Pavlac Glyer’s Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings. But in some ways he and Guite are simpatico. To see this book next to Lifting the Veil: Imagination the Kingdom of God just is a blast. 

I’ll tell you this bit of goodness, too — I’m not kidding. It’s a blast to see Ned’s good linocut of JRR gracing this volume right next to his 2013 release with his lovely illustration of C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands. What a pair of books, right? 

As with the Lewis volume, Square Halo commissioned a handful of great Christian scholars and lovers of Middle Earth to write pieces about the great Tolkien’s view of the creativity and the arts (and his own work as visual artist!)

Those that know even a bit about this know that Tolkien coined the phrase “sub-creation.” That is, we as humans made in God’s image are divinely inspired and tasked with being creative, but we (unlike God) do not create ex nihilism. So we are “sub” creators, under God, if you will. Little creators, if you will. It is a rich and provocative and allusive phrase, well worth exploring, as many of these contributors in J.R.R. Tolkien and the Arts: A Theology of Subcreation do. These good chapters are themselves acts of sub-creation, it seems, artful and creative and nuanced themselves. They are not oddly allusive or cryptic, and there is a certain charm and imaginative freedom here as they explore — many as theological conservative evangelicals — the nuts and bolts, and the visions and dreams, the robust mind and artistic talents of the greatest Inkling.

The book is arranged with a few chapters in each of three units or sections. As always with SHB books, even the table of contents is a nicely designed visual arrangement.

Part I is called “Art with Tolkien” and includes pieces by Charlie Starr (a well known figure among deep Lewis scholars) Bethany Ross — whose piece is worth the price of the book — the brilliant Matthew Dickerson (who gave the best lecture on Tolkien I’ve ever heard, and who here gives a shout out to Mark Heard, by the way) and the wonderful artist Matthew Clark.

Part II is called “Art By Tolkien” and moves into some directions that might be ground-breaking. “Art By Tolkien” has very impressive chapters by Christine Perrin, Billy Jarvis-Freeman, Ned Bustard, and Jennifer Trafton. How many know of the great writers visual art, his drawing and painting? This is, for many, I think, very new material and it should be celebrated.

Part III, “Art About Tolkien”, offers two pieces by Bryan Mead and John Hendrix.  Mead does a quite admirable job reflection on bringing Tolkien’s stories to the silver screen (and other ruminations on Tolkien-esque aspects of film) and John Hendrix offers what might be the most complex chapter in the book, “The Glyphic Tolkien: An Illustrated Legacy of Middle Earth.” You may. Have heard us cite Hendrix as we often talk about his excellent graphic novel about Bonhoeffer, The Faithful Spy.

We should all spread the word on this new book, too — again, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Arts deserves to be very well known, widely considered, and it could be that the boutique publisher that Square Halo Books is needs some help from us. Look: if you know anybody in any of the many Tolkien clubs and societies (playful or scholarly) they should know this. If you know people that are fans, they should know this.  We have to help get the word out as this is pioneering stuff, without being stuffy or arcane.

The short, ending epilogue explains a bit about how this book came about, and suggests more work that needs to be explored in what we might call Inkling studies. (She recommends digging more into the influence of George Macdonald and the eccentric Owen Barfield.) Just reading that final commission at the end reminds me how important all this is and how on-target Square Halo is to bring this to the world.

“Why did it take so long,” one scholar involved in this anthology is reported to have said, meaning that there simply hasn’t been an adequate accounting of Tolkien’s own art (other than his famous novels) and now, finally, we can see some of it and read about it. Yes, there are reflections on illustrations by JRR and for that alone some fans and aficionados will be thrilled. The chapter on his poetry (some within the LOTR) is wonderful. That thoughtful people of Christian conviction can wisely appreciate and explore and evaluate his work is such a gift. Again, this book is a vital little contribution to Tolkien studies and we have to help spread the word. Kudos and hat tipping and hoorahs to everybody involved.

Here is a line by the much cited little story of Tolkien, Leaf by Niggle:

It’s a gift!’ he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally.

A Compass for Deep Heaven: Navigating the C.S. Lewis Ransom Trilogy edited by Diana Pavlac Glyer and Julianne Johnson (Square Halo Books) $24.99 OUR SPECIAL 30% SALE PRICE = $17.49

Once again, like the remarkable book by Guite on the imagination and the study of Tolkien and the arts, Square Halo Books has made a contribution to religious publishing — it is not too audacious just to say publishing, Christian or otherwise — by offering a substantial (but playfully fun, mostly) anthology of pieces about one of the most popular science fiction volumes in the 20th century sci-fi canon, C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy (or, what is more popularly known as the Space Trilogy but perhaps ought to be called the Cosmic trilogy.)  Perhaps not as well known as Isaac Asimov or Philip Dick or Ursula K. Le Guin and other in the highest ranks of such work, Lewis’s trilogy is beloved and respected. As Louis Markos says in the forward to A Compass for Deep Heaven, it “deserves a place in any pantheon of influential novels in the genre. Lewis understood instinctively that the impulse behind much science fiction is not so different from that of Dante or Spenser, Swift or Coleridge.”

And so, Square Halo picked up the need for a book on this and found these essays that had previously been issued from an in-house source at the Honors College of Azuza Pacific University under the name Warnings from Outer Space: Backdrops and Building Blocks of C.S. Lewis’s Science Fiction Trilogy. With some fresh input and editing, under the expert leadership of Diana Pavlac Glyer (of The Company They Keep and Bandersnatch, two important books on the collaborative creativity of the Inklings) and Julianne Johnson, this excellent collection by top notch readers and writers was released. Yes, some could hold forth on Dante or Coleridge — but most writers here are less academic, but they know the trilogy like the back of their hands. There are not mostly authors who are in the Lewis guild, so to speak, but are accessible writers who have a passion to help guide others into the riches of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

A Compass for Deep Heaven is exceptionally rich and there is nothing like it in print. It will be a blast for anyone who likes the Ransom books and it will be a very good guide to anyone taking them up for the first time. (There is even a really useful glossary at the end, not to mention a great bibliography.) A few of the chapters set the stage (such as the excellent piece on myth by Julianne Johnson) but many are quite specific — who knew there was so much in these books? (Well, we all did, I suppose, but just never had anybody help us see what was hidden in plain sight.). And, naturally, there are illustrations for each chapter. Thanks to Will Kelly for enhancing our enjoying of this great and very cool paperback.

We will be telling you more in the new year, but get on your calendar now to plan (if the Covid dangers subside) a trip to Lancaster, PA, to be a part of Square Halo’s amazing INKLINGS CONFERENCE: CREATIVITY, COLLABORATION, AND COMMUNITY, February 11-12, 2022. What a line-up of amazing folks!




It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders. The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.49.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.60 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places.


HELPFUL HINT: If you want US Mail, please say which sort — Media Mail or Priority Mail — so we know how to serve you best. If you say “regular” we left scratching our noggins.


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ADVENT 2021 – Resources for groups & classes, families, and for personal use. ALL 20% OFF

Can you believe it is early November already, the time of turning back the calendar, and feeling that annoyance (okay, only some of are annoyed) when we see Christmas decorations and think it’s too soon. I’m not a fan of pushing the season too soon.

And yet, for those of you are need some time to ponder and plan, it is not at all too early to order Advent resources. We love Advent as a season in part because it resists that jumping to Christmas cheer too soon. Traditionally rooted in Old Testament promises of God’s second coming, we await — actively, passionately, sometimes through tears —for the renewal of all things. It’s a time to think about exile and those not-so-minor prophets who had a Godly imagination that allowed them to predict new things, new hope. I won’t preach as I sometimes do in this column about the importance of songs like “O Come, O Come Immanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” that are distinctively about longing for hope, yearning, repenting before that great shaking that we hear about, more often in Messiah than directly from Malachi.

We are glad for those who have asked for some recommendations about Advent resources and we apologize if we just couldn’t manage to say all this back in October, with their colors of orange and black rather than Advent’s purple and blue.

It is unfortunate, I think, that publishers have not done many new books that would serve as four-week or five (or six, if you stretch to Epiphany as you should) curriculum for adult Christian classes, Sunday school sessions or small home groups who want to do an Advent study. There just isn’t too much out there (although we have in recent years recommended several by Adam Hamilton, books that stand alone as well as DVDs — The Journey, Not a Silent Night, Faithful, The Incarnation.)

We’d like to suggest a few more below that are most suitable for small groups or classes. 

Then I’ll list some that are good for families or intergenerational groups. 

And thirdly, I’ll announce some new daily devotionals for ordinary daily use, followed by a short list of older favorites. There are a lot of those from a variety of perspectives and we are glad for these rich resources. I’d get a couple if I were you!  Enjoy this early glimpse of Advent.

ALSO: WE WOULD LOVE IT if you’d skim over some previously recommended from our yearly Advent recommendations in previous BookNotes. Even with Covid breathing hard down our necks last year, we did a pretty good one HERE. The year before that was great, HERE. I enjoyed browsing though these HERE and HERE, too.  Most of the titles listed are still in print and if any seem suitable, let us know asap. We can probably get them in soon if we don’t have them in stock and we will give you the 20% off discount, too. Let us know how we can help.

We will be doing a fun list of children’s books about the season soon (including a brand new Tomie dePaola on Christina Rossetti and the great new book on Saint Nicholas by Ned Bustard.) Hold on, kids! In the meantime this week, maybe this HERE or HERE will inspire you a bit. Thanks for your patience.


Great News of Great Joy: Advent Reflections on the Songs of Luke Max O. Vincent (Upper Room Books) $13.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19

This is actually a daily devotional but it is written with one theme each week and there is a leader’s guide for using it in a four-week group discussion. The book looks at Mary’s Song (The Magnificat), Zechariah’s Song (The Benedictus), The Angels’ Song (The Gloria in Excelsis), and Simeon’s Song (The Nice Dimittis.) The author is a United Methodist pastor in Atlanta, George. We liked the book he did with his wife, too, Another Bead, Another Prayer: Devotions to Use with Protestant Prayer Beads.


Advent in Plain Sight: A Devotion Through Ten Objects Jill J. Duffield (Westminister/John Knox) $14.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.20

We premiered last spring a similar one by this author, Lent in Plain Sigh and had so much good feedback on the Lenten one we were glad to see an Advent one as well. It has great possibilities for for a study group or book club. What an interesting way into the story, focusing on eight objects (and a bonus ninth, the water of Jesus’s baptism) — gates, tears, belts, trees, cloth, light, hearts, gold, water. There are discussion questions and a prayer after each chapter. You could do two chapters each week for four weeks and there would be plenty to ponder. Short, interesting, fresh.

All the Good: A Wesleyan Way of Christmas Laceye Warner, Amy Valdez Barker, Jung Choi, Sangoo Kim (Abingdon Press) $16.99                OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

DVD = $39.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

This compact sized paperback has four chapters making it an ideal study for a small group —whether you are Wesleyan or not!  This gathering of multi-ethnic men and women are all respected scholars working at theological schools such as Duke and Candler, all committed to Wesleyan formation and engagement. The four sessions each explore one of Wesley’s famous “means of grace” as they might be practiced during Advent. There is a DVD that we can order easily for you. They did a separate devotional guide, All the Good Devotions ($11.99) and there is a Leader’s Guide ($14.99.)

The titles of the four sessions are:

  • Practicing Advent: Preparing the Way
  • Praying in Advent: 
  • Practices of Mercy: Embodying God’s Love for Others
  • Christmas is Only the Beginning: God Sends the Church to the Word

Walking Backwards to Christmas Stephen Cottrell (Abingdon) $14.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

This was a popular study among one small group a few years ago and thought I might suggest it again. It is insightful, of course, but it is also rather clever: it literally starts with one of the last episodes in the Christmas narrative (Simeon and Anna being presented with Jesus at the temple) and works backwards to the well-loved Christmas stories and then backwards to see where it all began. Yes! 

As the publisher writes:

Congregations are often confused or uninspired by the emphasis on Old Testament themes during Advent and too “over” Christmas by December 26 to pay much attention to the gospel stories that follow Jesus’ birth. Walking Backwards to Christmas starts at the end of the story, with Jesus’ presentation to Anna and Simeon at the temple, and moves backwards through Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, the wise men’s visit, Jesus’ birth in a stable, Mary’s pregnancy, and finally to the much-earlier hopes and dreams of Isaiah and Moses.

It has been done by others, but teaching about the Christmas story through the eyes of both famous figures like King Herod and imagined characters like the innkeeper’s wife is fun and offers deeper attention to the harder themes (as one reviewer wrote, “…sorrow and anger and uncertainty, as well as hope and faith”) and ancient figures in the unfolding story.

Cottrell truly ‘gets inside’ the characters, including their sorrow and anger and uncertainty as well as their hope and faith. You’ll want to read this book again each Christmas (and other times of the year) as an insightful and moving portrayal of the familiar story. — Paul Stroble, author of Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament

LifeGuide Bible Study: Advent of the Savior Cindy Bunch (IVP) $10.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $8.00 

We sell a lot of LifeGuide Bible studies and they have them on nearly every book of the Bible and dozens and dozens of themes or topics, all offering nice discussion questions and some inductive explorations and some sort of application oriented reflections.

Easy to use and reliable, this one has 6 Bible studies from key texts (Isaiah’s Prophecy of Isaiah 9; Zechariah and the Angel from Luke 1; Mary and the Angel from Luke 1; Joseph and the Angel from Matthew 1; Jesus’s Birth from Luke 2; and the Magi story from Matthew 2.) We don’t know of any other small group Bible study as succinct the direct as this so it is highly recommended for anyone wanting to study together these key passages.

LifeGuide Bible Study: The Messiah: The Texts Behind Handel’s Masterpiece Douglas Connelly (IVP) $10.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $8.00

Here is another great small group Bible study (although you could do it on your own if you like inductive studies, looking up verses and pondering them.) Of course, you’re going to want to have a good copy of Handel’s Messiah available since this ingenious study offers 8 sessions-worth of key Scriptures that are the basis of the famous libretto. What a fun time a home group could have with this, or a homeschooling family. It might be a nifty little gift to a classical music buff or someone who wanted to sing or play it this year but couldn’t because of Covid. Buy a couple!

Come Peasant, King: An Advent Devotional Olivia Metcalf (Foundry Publishing) $11.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $9.59

I really like Foundry Publishing, the recent re-branding of the Nazarene Publishing House. Their resources are visually sharp, theologically substantive, often with a fairly radical, missional vibe. How amazing is this very title, a line, of course, from the popular carol We Three Kings. A peasant King? Wow. Think about that.

Ms. Metcalf offers here a daily devotional but it is arranged in four parts, seemingly with the notion that groups would use it together.

I suppose you know the rest of the phrase from the carol… “Come peasant King, to own us.” Perhaps you’ve read (or intend to read) the highly regarded new book by Alan Noble You Are Not Your Own. Maybe you have been thinking about true surrender. In Come Peasant, King Olivia Metcalf reminds us that, as we prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of Christ, we also engage in a willingness to fully surrender to the call of God on our lives, “…wherever that may lead us.” At the very least, one of the first readings suggests, Christ’s light call us to struggle with hope in a dark and broken world. That may be an audacious act of brave faith for some, but this peasant King can give it to us. Maybe this book will help.

Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study Walter Brueggemann (Westminster/John Knox) $13.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40

If you take our advise (above) and scroll back through the archived BookNotes from previous Advent lists you will see this a few times. It is Brueggemann holding forth in rich essays about the four names of the son who has been given to us as described in Isaiah 9:6. There is in the back a four-week study guide and discussion guide for group conversation complete with a closing prayer. This tackles some tough historical questions too — what would the Jews in exile have thought about this oracle from the prophet? Did Jesus fulfill this hopes; naturally, Christians believe Jesus was the royal Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.

(By the way, if you want a daily devotional of 25 readings by the always impressive Walt B, for you personal reading and pondering, his Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent [WJK; $13.00] is a great small choice for December.)

Making Room: Sharing the Love of Christmas Ed Robb (Abingdon Press) $16.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This four-chapter group study offers solid Bible teaching, standard sorts of Christmas insights (and some new ones), inspired conversational questions, and, yep, throughout reminds us of the very important theme of how we show hospitality in a way that God shows hospitality to us. What a huge question, eh?  This really is about being a better neighbor, about offering gracious hospitality, welcoming strangers and how we need each other. (Isn’t this urgent in a time of coronavirus and civic polarization?) Robb really invites us to show kindness to others unlike ourselves, even those (as we’ve often heard about the shepherds) the outcasts and marginalized.

(And, he notes, that we are all outcasts in a way, due to our sin, and God’s good grace that doesn’t leave us alone.)

Here is how the publisher described Making Room:

Often our Advent preparations have an inward focus as we prepare for the significance of God breaking into our world through the birth of the Christ child. But in a closer examination of the Advent story, we quickly learn that the focus of the coming of the newborn king is outward.

In this book and Advent study, Dr. Ed Robb explores the warmth of welcome at Christmas following interactions with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi. Just as Jesus made room in God’s kingdom for a host of people that society wanted to leave on the margins, beginning with the appearance of the shepherds, we too should be asking ourselves who we can make room for this Christmas.

Perhaps it is to the people in your community, or the newly immigrated family in town that doesn’t speak your language. Or maybe it’s the next-door neighbor who just settled in from yet another corporate move? The story of Christ’s birth encourages us to widen our borders and increase our sense of community–and make room for others.

Light of the World: A Beginner’s Guide to Advent Amy-Jill Levine (Abingdon Press) $16.99    OUR SALE PRICE =  $13.59

DVD  $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

Leader’s Guide $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

I hope you know the popular Professor Levine (New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School.) She has brought her Jewish faith and her academic scholarship of first century Judaism to the study of Jesus and the gospel in books like The Misunderstood Jew, Short Stories by Jesus, The Annotated Jewish New Testament and Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week. Just last summer Abingdon Press released a book, leader’s guide and DVD entitled The Difficult Words of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to His Most Perplexing Teachings which makes for a great study.  About a year ago HarperOne released her significant hardback (co-authored with another Jewish scholar) The Bible with and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently.  And, to supplement her Holy Week study, Abingdon will release her forthcoming adult study on Good Friday. Oh my…

Anyway, this one by Amy-Jill Levine was a big seller as many are intrigued with her look at the history of the birth of Christ, tracing the Christmas narrative through the stories of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and other standard seasonal texts. Of course, everyone knows these gospel stories have obvious and profound connections to Old Testament texts so a Jewish scholar just might come in handy as we plumb their depths;  certainly someone who knows a bit about first century Judaism and culture would be helpful. As one Lutheran scholar put it, “There’s no one I’d rather have guide me through Advent and the first chapters of Matthew and Luke than Amy-Jill Levine.” There are four good chapters to the book, four lively sessions in the DVD. The four-week Leader’s Guide includes session plans, activities, and discussion questions, as well as multiple format options.  Not for everyone, I suppose, but she is a lively speaker and writer and for those who want this fresh look, it could be a deeper realization of God’s promised comfort and joy.

Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ Timothy Keller (Penguin) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

I don’t know if many of our customers picked this up when it was out in hardback a few years ago but now that it is a fine, trim-sized paperback (and at our sale price) it is hard to beat. (Keller’s larger hardback that came out last spring, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter was so, so good, btw.)

Keller is known for thoughtful apologetics that are reasonable and relevant, compelling for many young adult skeptics and seekers or anyone who needs to hear a culturally aware, sophisticated pastor from Manhattan. (That he hales from Pennsylvania, though, is pretty cool.) I respect Tim a lot and this really is what one called “a profoundly moving and intellectually provocative” examination of the nativity story. That some of his fellow PCA brethren (and others of odd ideologies) have given spurious criticism of him, of all people, for speaking out (moderately) against injustice and racism suggests to me that he is on the right track, linking, as he often has, generous justice concerns with solid, historic doctrines about the core teachings of the gospel.

The goal of Hidden Christmas is to encourage us to engage the texts well, understand the context (Biblically and historically) of the reliable New Testament testimonies about the nativity and to grapple with this message of hope and salvation. As others have said, we cannot conjure up profound life, truth, joy, or hope on our own; God, the incarnate babe, indeed can and does. I really recommend this thoughtful book.

There are 8 relatively short chapters so an adult group or class could discuss two chapters a week for a month, with a week or two to spare.

All Earth Is Waiting: Good News for God’s Creation at Advent Katie Z. Dawson (Abingdon Press) $12.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

This is another we’ve reviewed before and it is ideal for a five-week study groups or Sunday school classes. As we gladly noted when I wrote about it before, it really does remind us that “heaven and nature sing” and other such lines from our popular carols are really, really true. This shows that the whole created world waits for and hopes for the coming of Christ. (Think of the simple profundity of Sally Lloyd Jones’s beloved children’s Christmas picture book Song of the Stars.) I would wax exuberantly about this, but here’s how the publisher explains the details:

All Earth Is Waiting invites readers to explore the familiar Advent themes of hope, preparation, joy, and peace with the heavens and earth in mind. Through her powerful and personal reflections, author Katie Z. Dawson calls us to consider how all creation longs for the coming of Christ, taking seriously the notion that the good news of Christ is good news for all the world. Anticipating in Christ’s birth the reconciliation of the heavens and the earth, Dawson highlights our responsibility to care for this earth in preparation for Christ’s return.

This thematic Bible study is designed to be used by individuals and small groups during Advent. Each chapter offers questions for reflection and discussion, a brief prayer, and a focus for the week that will encourage readers to engage a specific act of creation care that will help them apply the week’s lesson. Also included are Advent candle lighting liturgies, a Call to Worship, a Prayer of Confession that can be used throughout Advent, and hymn suggestions for each chapter. These can be used for small group worship opportunities or in corporate worship. The book’s chapters include: The Source of Hope, Clear the Way, Discovering Joy, The Peace of the World, and God Moves Into the Neighborhood.  

Hey: with the whole world watching what happens at the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference in Scotland (COP26) and with teens on a hunger fast in front of the Capitol, it doesn’t hurt us to take steps towards relating our deepest convictions about the gospel to our groaning creation. This isn’t a heavy eco-theology treatise but it is a nice Advent study that points us in the right direction to see our faith’s implications for this current crisis.


Wonders of His Love: Finding Jesus in Isaiah Family Advent Devotional Champ Thornton, illustrated by Jeremy Slagle (New Growth Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

The cover may not fully communicate it but this is a very full color, lively, contemporary looking for kids, creatively done thin hardback (with nice, glossy paper) full of gospel-centered good news about God’s grace and Christ’s fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises. Sweet, good stuff, theologically solid and yet playful asides, cookie recipes, conversations starters and some family fun ideas. The book’s four weeks of daily readings explore four images from Isaiah’s prophecies — the Light, the Branch, the Shepherd, and the Savior. 

Endorsements are from pastor and children’s ministry expert Marty Machowski (author of WonderFull, The Ology, Long Story Short and many other stellar kid’s theology books) and Barbara Reaoch, author of A Better Than Anything Christmas.

O Come, Emmanuel: Advent Reflections on the Jesse Tree for Families Kendra Tierney (Emmaus Road Publishing) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

Kendra Tieren is a Roman Catholic mother of ten who writes an award-winning blog Catholic All Year. She has spoken widely at ministry events, Eucharistic Congresses and other events, highlighting Catholic teaching a spirituality for families, especially.  These family devotions have large type and colorful artwork fo reach entry, making it a handsome, solid volume.

You may know that the rich Jesse Tree tradition offers specific symbols (for Jesse Tree decorations) for people and events and themes in the Old Testament that point to the coming of Jesus Christ. In O Come, Emmanuel you get a reading from Scripture, a family-friendly reflection, and a short prayer. I like that the back cover invites us to “experience the unfolding of God’s plan from Creation to the Patriarchs to the Prophets and beyond…”

I can’t think of a better way to prepare children—and their parents—for the birth of Our Lord. —Scott Hahn, Founder and President, St. Paul Center

 …A simple and beautiful way to live more fully the season of Advent so that we might receive Our Lord anew at Christmas. —Noelle Mering, Author of Theology of Home

Advent is a season of ‘too much’ for many of us, but these reflections offer a gentle antidote with a focus on Scripture and family prayer. —Danielle Bean, Manager of

The Way to the Manger: A Family Advent Devotional Jeff and Abbey Land (B+H) $12.99                           OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

B+H is a publishing house owned by the Southern Baptists, affiliated with LifeWay publishing which should give you a sense of the centrist sort of conservative evangelical piety expressed in this helpful, lovely book. I am a fan of the tone and love the artwork — paper collages and other watercolor art is interesting and engaging.

There is plenty of content in 25 upbeat and child-friendly reflections and activities and crafts organized around the conventional hope, love, joy, and peace of the Advent wreath. (And, yep, there is a wreath guide.)  Of course there is a short closing prayer. Also, they have what they call “memory maker” family journal spaces to fill with holiday memories.  This really is a great looking book with lots of options for family use. Yay.

The Adventures of Christmas: A Journey Through Advent for the Whole Family Ed Drew, illustrated by Alex Webb-Peploe (The Good Book Co.) $12.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.36

I like this little paperback book a lot — one of the great distinctives of this gospel-based devotional is that is has questions to ask broken down for different ages groups— 3s and 4s, 5-7s, questions for those over 7 and a question or so for teens. There’s a little drawn Advent calendar in the front (whose symbols re-appear on the appropriate day’s reading), a chart of key verses and some “here’s the point and where we’re going” for parents each time. In other words, it is really useful.  Further, there are kid-friendly drawings in black and white in a style that strikes me like you might see in some graphic novels or cartoon episodes…

Webb-Peploe is obviously quite talented but the touch is light and upbeat. They say the point is to help us recapture (and share with our kids) a sense of the adventure and astonishing drama of this first Christmas, help us find our own way into the adventure. The author is the Director of a para-church ministry called Faith in Kids in London.

The Expected One: Anticipating All of the Jesus in the Advent Scott James (B+H) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39 

With a foreword by David Platt you might guess that this is a radical call to evangelical discipleship, to glorifying God in all things, and to be attentive to the way Jesus is central to all Christian faith and discipleship. It may seem hardly necessary to say Advent is about Jesus but there is a sense in which we sometimes don’t have a historically rooted redemptive view of the unfolding gospel in Scripture and the point of it all. 

What is nice about this (a revised and updated version of an older work) is that the text is graphically designed with gold ink and some nice touches, but it is very brief. But it’s lay-out is really simple-to-use: there is a Bible text and then a “trace the thread” section, inviting us to ponder connections between the Testaments and the “thread” of connection. There is a “connect with kids” section, some “further reflections” and “prayer points.” That is, it is brief, practical, useful, and altogether gospel-centered. (By the way, this is a companion volume to The Risen One: Experience All of Jesus in Easter.)

A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

What a great resource, clear about the gospel and the centrality of Jesus in our lives.

May you know Barbara Reaoch’s book from 2020, (which we recommended last year) A Better Than Anything Christmas: Explore How Jesus Makes Christmas Better; I love it that the very wise (and very smart) Joni Eareckson Tada says of that previous book “consider this unique book your Christmas toolbox. I give it my double thumbs-up!” Well, A Jesus Christmas is her previous one and is arranged very similarly and is a great companion to it. Who doesn’t want to make their Advent and holiday season more of a “Jesus Christmas”? This will help.

It is a family devotional, each day’s entry looking at a passage from the Gospel.  There is a helpful question and even a space for journalling and occasionally an invitation to draw something. (Unless you have a huge family, each member can share this space, which could be fun.)


God Speaks Through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming Drew Jackson (IVP) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE =  $12.80

I’ve been waiting a while to introduce this, itching, itching, as it is so very good. And so unique. We praise the Lord for IVP’s willingness to release something like this and applaud Rev. Drew Jackson (pastor of Hope East Village in lower Manhattan) for crafting remarkable poetry that reads so well out loud, all about, as he says, “God’s Unexpected Coming” in human form.

Here is what is going on here: Draw Jackson explores the first eight chapters of Luke’s gospel in what the publisher calls “a new poetic register.”

These are declarative poems, faithfully proclaiming the gospel story in all its liberative power. Here the gospel is “the fresh words / that speak of / things impossible.”

From the Magnificat (“That girl can sing! . . . She has a voice / That can shatter shackles”) to the baptism of Christ (“I stepped in / Committing insurrection”), this collection helps us hear the hum of deliverance — against all hope — that’s been in the gospel all along.

Okay, so it isn’t exactly or exclusively an Advent devotional, although some of the poems are directly from the early chapters of Luke so include the standard narratives of Advent, Christmas, etc. But it isn’t just a seasonal collection. But you can use it now, for sure. Okay?

Our friends at Christians for Social Action interviewed Jackson and shared this short reading of one of the poems which will give you a sense of this poignant poetry that speaks of justice and race and public theology and Bible. Enjoy!

Jackson’s own mother, by the way, was a Christian woman in the black church, a poet with a prophetic voice, and he was raised in North Philly. 

God Speaks Through Wombs is an amazing book, also, because (it is fun to point out) it carries a powerfully poetic forward by late night talk show band leader, the incredible Jon Batiste of Stay Human. 

If poetry is the art of the indirect, the undefended doorway into deeper consciousness, then Drew Jackson is a wonderful new teacher on the scene! Seldom have I read such direct insight into spiritual moments and spiritual matters . . . . I am already eager to see and hear more! — Richard Rohr

With undeniable depth and brilliant creativity, Drew Jackson offers a powerful poetic tour through the Gospel of Luke. Drew joins poignant cultural analysis with biblical faithfulness, and does so in a way that kept me captivated throughout. This book is a gift, offering us a fresh vision of the gospel story with profound flow. — Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship and author of The Deeply Formed Life

Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Malcolm Guite (Canterbury) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

Okay, this isn’t new, but I’m on a roll here, and since I enthused about the hip hop spoken word poetry of Drew Jackson (above) I thought I should note this, too, even though it isn’t new. There are many classic Christmas poems and lovely collections of holiday verse. This, though, is by an British poet — who looks like a Hobbit, some say — who has written many books, from high literary criticism (like his book Mariner which is a study of Coleridge’s Rhyme of…) to the spectacular new Square Halo Books release Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God which I will eagerly be telling you more about soon. Oh yes, I will!

Waiting on the Word is a devotional for the season as Guite has a daily reading about the wonder and insights of the poem of the day. From Edmund Spenser to Luci Shaw, from Keats to Cairns, these poems and reflections are just lovely, thoughtful, seasonally attuned. He has his beloved Blake in there, and a few of his own for good measure. This is a standard seller for us (as are his other books, including the similar one for Lent, Word in the Wilderness, and, of course his most recent poem collection, David’s Crown which is a poetic companion to the Psalms.) Anyway, Waiting on the Word is a fine, classic collection.

An Advent Book of Days: Meeting the Characters of Christmas Gregory Kenneth Cameron (Paraclete Press) $16.99                       OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I mentioned above in comments about another book that studying the characters of Christmas isn’t uncommon and there are several good ones like that. (I have recommended other years my friend David Darling’s The Characters of Christmas, not to mention, while we are at it, his The Characters of Easter, both nicely published by Moody Press.) This brand new one from the good folk at Paraclete is just tremendous. Gregory Cameron is the Anglican Bishop of St. Asaph in Wales and brings an Anglican sensibility, a deeper sort of reflective spirituality, to his book of the colorful characters of the Biblical narratives for this season. As it says on the back, it is “a Book of Days to nurture and inspire your soul this Advent.” So that’s it, it is a spiritual formation resource that hopes to enrich your spirit.

And here is what is so curious about this well made little paperback. The author is a bit of an artist and he adapted famous paintings into his own works, and offers them as a “visio divine” inspired by, in part, the medical tradition of the illuminated book of hours. 

As the back cover says:

Rich reflections draw upon Scriptures, history, and send about the character of the day — Gabriel, the Virgin Mary, the Star, the magi, and, of course, the Christ child, paired with gorgeous illustrations from the author, adapted from famous works of art.

I like this little book a lot. Bishop Cameron draws a lot from European paintings — frescos by Fra Angelico, paintings from Florence, and by Renaissance favorite, Giotto. Which is to say, although he paints Joseph as rugged and Middle Eastern and his picture of David has his long dark hair flowing, there are two black characters (one, St. Lucy, is spectacular.) Too many have this yellow glow, golden hair, fair skin, highlighted by the yellow frame. Just a bit more diversity in the art might have made this that much better of a book. As it stands now, nonetheless, I’m very eager to use it. I hope it finds it’s way into the hands of many discerning and discriminating readers and viewers.

Adore: A Guided Advent Journal for Pay and Meditation Fr. John Burns, illustrated by Valeri Delgado (Ave Maria Press) $10.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $8.76

Speaking of art that captures a more realistic portray of a darker skinner Mary and Jospeh, this lovely book has a few full color art renderings and they are very nice. The large font on pull quotes, the two color ink, the spacious journaling sections, some with lines, make this like a devotional and journal and meditation book and Bible study all in one. With pictures!

Sister Miriam James Heidland, writes: 

“Through these uniquely beautiful reflections from Fr. John Burns, you will encounter the quiet, safety, and rest of the hearts of Mary and Joseph, joining in their preparation for the birth of our Savior. You are warmly invited on the journey.”

Read these lovely endorsements and see if they don’t resonate with you, Protestant or Catholic:

Like many others, I often have big spiritual goals and plans for Advent that are all too easily overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Fr. John Burns has given us a wonderful remedy–a real gift to help us daily refocus our gaze upon Christ. Rich in reflection and beautifully illustrated, this book will be of immense help in making Advent the time of spiritual renewal we so desperately desire it to be! — Sarah Swafford,  author of Emotional Virtue

While many people celebrate Christmas each year, the busyness of the season tends to distract us from where our attention really ought to be: the mystery of the Incarnation. This collection of daily Advent meditations, journal questions, and prayers will help you not only find the focus you need to prepare for the coming solemnity, but also see and worship the living God who is present in our midst. — Fr. Casey Cole, O.F.M., creator and host of Breaking In The Habit on YouTube

The Dawn of Redeeming Grace: Daily Devotions for Advent Sinclair B. Ferguson (The Good Book Company) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

I have not studied all of this yet, but I read the first two entries (including the one on the genealogies!) and I am eager to read more. Many, many readers love the good prose and sharp mind and Scottish brogue of the great, Reformed scholar and preacher, Sinclair Ferguson. (He is a Ligonier Teaching Fellow and Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.)  We’ve read a number of his books — academic ones and devotional ones — and stock many, but in this, he draws us with lines like this: “As dawn broke on that first Christmas morning, the sun rose on a new era: God’s King had come to earth to bring about his Kingdom.” As the publisher invites us, “This December, enjoy living in the light of the dawn of redeeming grace.”

The Dawn of… is a study of the first two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, accompanied by hymns and prayers. These are short readings, but rooted in classic, rich theology. Blurbs on the back include lovely endorsements by Nancy Guthrie and Alistair Begg and Ray Ortlund.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy: 25 Devotions Leading to Christmas Mark M. Yarbrough (Lexham/Kirkdale Press)  $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Yarbrough is a Southern preacher (and proves it with a Cracker Barrel joke, references to his farmhouse boyhood, and, at the end of one of his Advent readings, says, “And all God’s children say ‘Amen!’”)  He is the President of Dallas Theological Seminary. Yarbrough’s book is very nice to read with some laughter along with the learning. (And when you take his “Christmas Exam” you may laugh, or not.) Anyway, this is upbeat, he can tell great stories, he preaches it up really well.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey says it is a “5-star-rated resource!” Andy Stanley says you will “marvel…” And he also says, “Need to bust out of the bah humbug blues of Christmas? Then take a journey with my friend Mark Yarbrough as he leads you through the greatest story ever told. Tidings of Comfort and Joy provides what it says.”

A Surprising God: Advent Devotions for an Uncertain Time Thomas Long & Donyelle McCray (Westminister/John Knox) $14.00                             OUR SALE PRICE = $11.20

Anyone who reads books by mainline denominations knows the name of Tom Long who is an Emeritus professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology. He’s written a bunch of books writes fo The Christian Century, and did a very important book on funerals with the poet and undertaker Thomas Lynch. So he’s a reliable, important voice for the gospel.  Endorsements on the back are from Luke Power (Dean of Duke University Chapel) andHeidi Haverkamp (who wrote Advent in Narnia.) 

Scott Black Johnston, Senior Pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian in New York writes,

Again and again, I dabbed tears from my eyes as Long and McCray brought this messed-up world into conversation with God’s story of immeasurable hope. This book is a gift.

As this lovely little put puts in it the back: “The world that is emerging from the shadow of global emergency raises old questions with new urgency. Where do we find whose when it seems in such short supply? Where are the signs of God’s peace in this divided world? Where do we find a deeper sense of joy?  These are the questions of Advent.

I like how they succinctly but eloquently explore what it means to wait, to take hope in “the small and insignificant.” The prayers at the end of each reading are beautiful, too.

Traveling with Our Ancestors: An Advent Devotional Sandy Rani Jha (Chalice Press) $3.99     OUR SALE PRICE = $3.19

For the last several years, Chalice Press — the progressive publishing arm of the Disciples of Christ denomination — have done inexpensive Advent booklets that we have stocked. A few years ago there was the nice I Am Mary: Advent Devotional by Carol Howard Merritt and last year they released Imagining a New World by Terri Hard Owens.

Anyway, these short, plainly written devotionals in this years edition are about our ancestors in faith, and that includes Bible folks, justice advocates (Caesar Chavez, Dorothy Day) global missionaries, and courageous church leaders or care for the outcasts, etc. Traveling with our Ancestors is not long-winded or luminous. But she brings important voices into our consciousness and at the end of each reflection, invites us to consider how to live it out, embodying the lessons learned this Advent season.

Shadow & Light: A Journey into Advent Tsh Oxenreider (Harvest House) $22.99                   OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Due to Covid pandemic issues last year this handsome hardback — with nice paper, calligraphy and two color ink and some nice design touches — the publisher ran out of these even before Advent began. We found one through a distributor and that’s it. Now we have a few to re-introduce it this year. It is very nicely done, smart and contemporary. She is fresh without being odd, honest but as a fairly conventional evangelical.

But here is what makes Shadow & Light stand out as a very interesting devotional tool this season: she has a song to listen to (presumably that can easily be downloaded from the internet) and a recommended art piece to look up and gaze upon. She doesn’t reproduce it in the book, which is already a bit lavish, but the name of the art and artist can easily be located and used. Isn’t that cool?

Her musical tastes are a bit eclectic with some indie stylings and the occasional gospel or classic piece is suggested. I loved that she used “In Labor All Creation Groans” written by Benedictine Delores Dufner (sung on a Bi-Frost recording called Lamentations, btw.) Matching that haunting song she suggests the famous 1950 Catholic Worker woodcut, “The Christ of the Breadlines” by Fritz Eichenberg. She has songs like “Mother of God” by David Gungor and art like the popular “Mary and Eve” by Sister Mary Remington as well as more famous works by Van Gogh, say.

To have a legacy evangelical publisher like Harvest House do a book with church calendar charts and calendars framing the basics of Advent by the liturgical year is very nice.  After this helpful overview (and listing of helpful resources) he four weeks (which she calls “The Journey”) are themed by Expectations, Preparation, Anticipation, and Gratitude. There’s a third section, too, with some alternative Scripture readings, a bit on Saint Nicholas Day and (yay) Saint Lucia Day and the 12 Days of Christmas. This really is a very nice volume. Kudos.

By the way, several years ago we reviewed her memoir The Blue Bike and have recommended her travelogue At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe. She’s a very fine writer and thinker and we’re glad she has loyal fans and readers.

Get ready: you can preorder the companion volume to Shadow and Light called Bitter and Sweet: A Journey to Easter.(Harvest House; $22.99) coming in February 2022.  20% off, too. It will have the same lavish look, slightly oversized, with thoughtful insights and resources.

Honest Advent: Awaking to the Wonder of God-with-Us Then, Here, and Now – 25 Readings for Advent and Christmas Scott Erickson (Zondervan) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

This is another book that, like Shadow and Light, was new last year, had an advanced buzz and lots of interested readers, but the publisher ran out early, unable to make more in time for most folks to find it last December. We’re friends with Scott and have promoted his two co-authored books done with Justin McRoberts (Prayer: Forty Days of Practice and May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer.) As with other books he’s illustrated, there is a very hip and edgy tone to the poster-like graphic art pieces (akin to silkscreens in my mind) brilliantly offered in often stark and striking gold and black ink. 

As I mentioned in my 2020 review, Honest Advent is honest, raw, even. It is sometimes upbeat — Scott is a passionate artist but a funny guy, and it shows. He has little patience for false sentimentality or simple piety, but probes and pushes us to see how this Kingdom of God stuff really works. I think the subtitle — “Awakening the Wonder” is good, but it is indeed the “God-with-Us” impact (“here and now”) that is so compelling.

I wouldn’t pigeon-hole Erickson’s theology as progressive or emergent or deconstructive, but he is attuned to the edges of creative culture, knows well the “bittersweet season of complicated family dynamics, a predictable brand masking insatiable consumerism, or simply a sacred story that feels to far removed from our current chaotic world.”  He has staked his life on the Jesus way and offers here provocative writing to help us deepen our own faith journey.

God, the Christmas story shows us, shows up in the hardest parts of our humanity and is still showing up in those hard places today. 

There are his powerful images to ponder, contemplative questions that invite us to reflection, and honest, really honest, prayers. I hope you saw my review last year, and hope you know we have plenty of these now. You may want to get a few to share especially with artful young adults you know who might appreciate his blend of memoir, Biblical reflection and visual aesthetics that speak to their deepest experiences.

I’m a fan of this unusual Advent book. It might even work for skeptics or the unchurches or artsy teens you know. Give it a try.

By the way, while were at it, I’d be remiss not to invite you to pre-order Mr. Erickson’s forthcoming book, releasing in mid-to-late January of 2022. That will be called  Say Yes: Discover the Surprising Life Beyond the Death of a Dream. (Zondervan; $25.99; OUR PRE-ORDER SALE PRICE = $20.79.) Or, as Scott sometimes put it, “A Liturgy on Not Giving Up On Yourself.”  He’s pretty amazing and this will be a really interesting book, for sure.


I mentioned above that you can always go back and scroll through our many archived Advent or Christmas lists from previous years. If you go to the website and click on the BookNotes tab you then can use the search engine by putting key words into the box. Here are a few to look for that we very highly recommend and that I reviewed more thoroughly in older BookNotes. They deserve special mention again, here.

Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $30.00           OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I suppose I needn’t gush about this or insist you consider getting it. I’ve said it for several years now at BookNotes that this collection of pre-Advent and Advent sermons is one of my favorite such books and some of these sermons are nothing short of transformation. Just understanding this shift in the thinking of many, coming to understand that Advent is not primarily a count-down until Christmas Day, but a season of repentance and longing for the second coming, is revolutionary.

I’ve got stories about how I’ve used this book, what we’ve heard from others, how moved (and proud I was) when our oldest daughter led an adult ed class at our church discussing selected sermons.  But I don’t want to distract you from ordering this, asap. Just do it.

By the way, there are some pre-Advent messages, some for The Feast of Saint Michael and, of course, a few for the last Sunday of the church year, Christ Our King Sunday, immediately prior to the start of Advent. There’s a Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent, too. And some essays and writings as well. (The long introduction, 33 pages, is itself worth the full price of the volume.) What a book!

Brian Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen, Sylvia Keesmaat (Wipf & Stock) $12.00      OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60

I say this every year but these are four of my favorite Bible scholars and serious Christians; they wrote these four weeks of Biblical meditations originally for a Canadian peace and justice organization and they bring to it their years not only of advocacy for public justice, but of years of digging deep into the Biblical texts. (Richard, by the way, just released his breathtaking book The Silence of Abraham about which I’ll be writing soon.) I hope you have noticed my earnest explanations of this book in years past and recall that it leads us into Advent by digging well into the socio-political complications during the time of Isaiah and how knowing all that about wrong political goals and alliances and the anguish of exile and promises of home-coming. I think that if you like the Biblical writings and insight of Walter Brueggemann (or, for that matter, the New Testament work of N.T. Wright) you will value this one-of-a-kind Advent devotional.

I sometimes say that this is one of the most rigorous Biblical books for the holiday season and it will help you understand the Bible’s trajectory and flow towards the transforming Kingdom of Christ better than any such little book.The Advent of Justice is, I think, a must-have resource which is why we commend it every year.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas edited by Charles Moore (Plough Publishing) $24.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Perhaps you were one of those who saw the Facebook live event I did interviewing Charles Moore about his recent Plough Publishing collection Following the Call which brings together excerpts of writings about the Sermon on the Mount, from across the broad spectrum of thinkers throughout the church from various times and places.

Pastor Moore’s name isn’t on this Advent classic but he did compile and edit this collection of readings just like he did with Following the Call and Living in Community (and, I might add, the Lenten favorite, a companion to Watch for the Light, entitled Bread and Wine.) Moore has a gift to find just the right reading and this is incomparable. We say something good about it every Advent and we hear back from customers who want to give it as a gift. The array of thoughtful, important writers is remarkable and we’re so glad to get to sell such a wonderful (and sturdy) hardback. Highly recommended.

David Bannon – with forward by Philip Yancey (Paraclete Press) $29.99                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Moving, classic art reproductions by painters who experienced suffering and the author’s own tales of sorrow, loss, remorse. He discovers how Advent can help use lament and find new hope through a deeper relationship with the (wounded) God who is with us.

When it first came out we recommended it, of course, but the Christian Century review by Elizabeth Palmer captured it best; she wrote:

Bannon… has lived through the realities of failure and grief. In this book, he intersperses carefully curated photos of Christian art with his own reflections on the artists—their lives, their tragedies, and their persistent hopes. Bannon also evokes an honest grappling with grief by including brief quotations from a variety of thinkers: Carl Jung, Annie Dillard, Terence Fretheim, Isabel Allende, Elie Wiesel, Julian of Norwich, Simone Weil, N.T. Wright, and Søren Kierkegaard make appearances. Particularly evocative are the excerpts from Friedrich Rückert’s poems, which Bannon translates here into English for the first time: “Do not wrap yourself around the night, / bathe it in eternal light. / My tent is dark, the lamp is cold, / bless the light, the Joy of the World!”

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas: Reader’s Edition edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

If you’ve read BookNotes for years (as some stalwart friends have) you may recall my rave reviews of this masterpiece of a book, truly one of the great Advent book releases of the last 30 years! It was firstly released as a hardcover with full color art but (as we’ve explained the last few years) the copyright for the art ran out and the little publisher had little choice but to re-issue the book without most of the artwork and lavish design.) It is now available as a very handsome paperback with classy French folded covers, but not as much artwork. There are a few plates and some nice design touches making this “reader’s edition” a truly magnificent paperback. The first edition hardbacks are out of print and unavailable.

God With Us includes an ecumenical array of thoughtful writers – Eugene Peterson, Beth Bevis, Emilie Griffin, Richard Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris and poets Scott Cairns and Luci Shaw. There are eloquent, rich, moving insights here about the incarnation and the deeper meaning of the season. This book is a treasure.

Rejoice! Advent in All of Scriptures Chris Wright & John Stott (IVP-UK) $12.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60

Here is another many of our customers have enjoyed and found useful over the last two years. I wanted to re-post my own comments from two years ago:

What a gem of a little book. I hope you know John Stott, one of the leading evangelical voices in the entire world in the last decades years of the 20th century and into the early 2000s. He was kind and rigorous, orthodox and justice-minded, thoughtful and wise, missional before the phrase was used. Some of my favorite writers to this day see Stott as a mentor and his books as among their most sturdy influences.

In Rejoice!, Old Testament scholar and International Ministry Director of Langham Partnership (one of the global organizations Stott founded) Chris Wright offers a Biblical meditation jump-started by a quote or quip or excerpt from a John Stott book. There are 25 Advent readings, drawn from throughout the Bible, each linked to a Stott quote or story. This is more than just a tribute to John Stott, more than a Christ Wright devotional (although either would make the price of the book a good investment for your study) but the synergy here is notable, good, inspired. Do you see your life somehow part of the big Biblical story? This book will help you see the big picture of the drama of Scripture as it unfolds and it will help you understand Christmas in its full-orbed Kingdom context, and it will remind you (or introduce you) to the wit and wisdom of the late John Stott, the sort of leader that gave evangelicalism a good name.

Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher Rodkey, with illustrations by Jesse & Natalie Turri (Christian Board of Publication/Chalice Press) $12.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60

I am happy to list this among our favs and best-sellers even though I suppose it isn’t for everyone. Back at the start of the adult coloring book craze. Rev Dr.. Rodkey, a neighbor, friend, and Dallastown UCC pastor, came into the shop wondering about adult ed options for December at his small, creative church. He had a hunch folks were burned out, tense, in need of some serenity. He thought about just doing an arts and craft thing for adults, a contemplative coloring time. It went over well and he set himself to the task of collaborating with some Pennsylvania illustrators and created this Coloring Advent, based on lectionary readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. There is nothing like that and his brief comments about the Biblical text — yes there are footnotes in a coloring book! — are beyond intriguing with his penchant for including lesser known feast days from the world Christian traditions, from Orthodoxy and Catholicism’s liturgical calendar. A thoughtfully arranged, annotated, ecumenical coloring book that follows the lectionary. His subsequent Coloring Lent and Coloring Women of the Bible are equally as fascinating and fun. Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book was created here in Dallastown and we are glad to list it here.

Chris Rodkey, by the way, just announced that he is running for Pennsylvania State Representative which would surely bring a unique (and competent) visionary voice to Harrisburg. You heard it here first.

Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas Jan L. Richardson (Wanton Gospeller Press) $20.00      OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

I have reviewed this artful seven-week book of meditations in the past, but perhaps not as often as I might. It had been first published by the United Church Press/Pilgrim Press and later the artist/writer Jan Richardson picked it up to re-issue out of her own studio. We are thrilled, always, to think of her, and we are happy to carry her other books (including the stunning grief narrative Sparrow and her artful and meditative poetry volume Cure for Sorrow and her evocative Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons.)

Night Visions, though, is where it started and is her most lavish and handsomely designed book which includes full color collage art and graphic touches, pull quotes and sidebars, all arranged on the glossy paper making this both classy and cool. And yet, as a “devotional guide for pilgrims” it is written to “usher quiet moments of introspection.”

As the back cover puts it, Night Visions “leads spiritual travelers on a journey through the Christmas season — from the horizons of Advent to the presence of Christ on Epiphany.” Do you need encouragement to sit, linger, tarry, ponder, wait, behold? This will help. Because, as Jan says, “something is on the horizon.”

All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings Gayle Boss, with illustrations by David G. Klein (Paraclete Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

I do hope you’ve seen our description of this in past Advent columns (and, also, my recommendation of their Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing.) Just yesterday Beth read a bit of this out loud and we were again in awe of the lovely writing and the very striking illustrations. It is just so darn nice, so moving, so evocative. This is really good, a fresh way into this time of year.

Here’s the thing: it isn’t about the Bible or the nativity, even. At first glance it isn’t very Christmasy at all (until the December 25th reading, unashamedly about Jesus the Christ.) We regularly list lots of books that are explicitly Christ-centered, Biblically-based, and gospel-oriented titles. This is more subtle, more common, but yet a grace.

Each reading is about an animal and how it prepares for hibernation or changes in temperatures as winter draws neigh. Yep, this is a reflection of natural history, a wonderful resource for families whose children like animals or for anyone who enjoys quasi-spiritual explorations of the natural world.

Boss explains it in the introduction clearly enough and it makes sense: this helps us understand the rhythms of God’s good creation and somehow offers a hint of — as the wonderful subtitle puts it — “The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings.” 

Before anybody posts some criticism of Hearts & Minds saying we’ve lost our moorings, allow me to remind you that the Bible says that the very creation speaks to us (Psalm 19:1-4.) It commands us in Job 12:7-8 to listen to the animals, the creatures (even the fish, so Biblical legalists really ought to read the entry on page 69 about Lake Trout.) Just saying, you know.

This is a wonderful and handsome book and it just might bring some quiet joy to somebody you know.


I have often thought that the Christmas season is often a time to talk about the meaning of faith and the adventure of Christian discipleship. People gather, chat over holiday cheer, some even attend church in a once-a-year with extended families. I know at least one person who made a commitment to Christ during an eye-opening Christmas service that was unpacking the unfolding drama of Scripture and the meaning of the transforming power of the Kingdom of God.  Maybe you can think of somebody to whom it would be appropriate to share one or two of the above books. They are hearing Christmas songs on the radio, after all — it’s the only time in the year where Christian truths are at least in air.

I am aware that foisting a book on somebody isn’t always appropriate. And I truly know that for many, disinterest in faith and discipleship is driven less by intellectual disagreements or even hard questions but just, well, apathy towards spiritual things. Some are understandably frustrated with church life (yet another topic) and some just need a renewal of imagination that Christianity matters and that God cares. They need a vision of meaningful discipleship and a warm welcome to be  part of a community to which they can belong and friends with whom they can discover what Christ’s abundant life looks like. They need a better story to live.

Still, there are those few who have questions about the fundamental truthfulness of the Christian gospel. They, too, need a better story and a fresh imagination about the meaningfulness of living for Christ, but, first, they need to resolve some questions about if it is true.

Here are two great little books you can afford to give away to seekers and skeptics who need some intellectual answers showing that the too-often skeptical pablum of the History Channel can be answered with solid, reliable, answers.

Is Christmas Unbelievable? Four Questions Everyone Should Ask about the World’s Most Famous Story Rebecca McLaughlin (The Good Book Co.) $3.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $3.19

Perhaps you know McLaughlin (who holds a PhD from Cambridge) from her good book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion and her recent The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims. She is sharp and clever and a fine writer. She gets the big issues that many fret about and she understands the skeptics concerns about whether there is historical evidence for the events that are so central to the gospel. Although it is not primarily a defensive book, but an invitation, she does discuss briefly the views of the likes of  Bart Ehrman, Richard Dawkins and Steven Hawking, bringing in recent scholars such as Yuval Noah Harai (Sapiens.)

Happily she’s a fun writer, dropping insights from NASA scientists, Doctor Who, episodes of House and Broadchurch and Harry Potter…

The four questions McLaughlin succinctly explores in these small 60-some pages are:

  • Was Jesus even a real person?
  • Can we take the Bible seriously
  • How can you believe in a virgin birth?
  • Why does it even matter?

As Timothy Keller puts it, Is Christmas Unbelievable is “a highly accessible and crystal clear case for the historicity both of the written gospels and of Jesus Himself.”

The Case for Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger Lee Strobel (Zondervan) $2.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $2.39

I am sure you’ve heard of The Case for Christ, the breakout book edited by former journalist Lee Stobel who told of his own atheistic skepticism and what he learned while doing a major story for the Chicago Tribune ostensibly to prove that there wasn’t reliable evidence for Christian faith. After his rather dramatic conversion based on the evidence that he discovered he went on to compile other popular works of apologetics, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for Grace, The Case for Miracles and, most recently, his brand new The Case for Hope. We’ve got teen versions and kid’s versions and DVDs of most of these as well. With a Master’s Degree (in the study of law) from Yale, we can be glad that Lee is not only honest, curious, fun-loving, but super smart and a very clear writer.

The Case for Christmas is a nice mass market sized paperback about 100 pages long — ideal for anyone who wants a quick read offering a study based on archeology, messianic prophecies and more. It is excerpted from the larger (and quite detailed) The Case for Christ. He applies it to Christmas and is asking if it is plausible that the baby born matches what the ancient prophecies predicted. He talks about what he calls Eyewitness Evidence, Scientific Evidence, Profile Evidence, and Fingerprint Evidence. It’s logical, but nicely written with touches of warmth and evangelistic welcome.

His opening story about the faith of a very poor family in urban Chicago and the mother’s generosity and charity and trust and how it effected him is worth the price of the book; in a way, that love and trust and goodness, found most often among the marginalized, is a final apologetic. 



It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders. The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.49.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.60 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places.


HELPFUL HINT: If you want US Mail, please say which sort — Media Mail or Priority Mail — so we know how to serve you best. If you say “regular” we left scratching our noggins.


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MORE BREATHTAKING MEMOIRS REVIEWED (and an invitation to pre-order “Fortune” by Lisa Sharon Harper (Part Two) ALL 20% OFF at Hearts & Minds

Thanks for those who wrote nice notes or ordered books from us in response to that list of important memoirs I reviewed in BookNotes last week. As I mentioned, in some cases, these books really meant a lot to me, personally — we hope you enjoyed our comments about them. What a privilege to get to explain these passionate, often eloquent, well-crafted narratives of somebody’s life. Whether about a person who is famous or not, we can get lost in this kind of story, as with fiction, swept into its pathos and joy and longing and hope. And you’re sure to learn a bit, too. Please take a look at that list if you missed it. We would be grateful.

As promised, there are more. 

I love the lines from an old Bruce Cockburn song, “Great Big Love” (from Nothing But a Burning Light) that goes:

Seen a lot of things in the world outside
Some bad but some good stuff too
Felt the touch of love in the works of God
And now and then in what people do
Never had a lot of faith in human beings
But sometimes we manage to shine…


I’ve read a lot of these kinds of books of memoir for my own personal enjoyment this past year and I’ve been eager to tell you about them. There’s some bad, but some good stuff, too. And, as Cockburn put it, “sometimes we manage to shine…” Some of these are simply stunning, several offer some of the most unforgettable writing I’ve encountered in years. Some of these stories may not appeal to you at first, but I’m confident they are worthy of being read and discussed.

AND — I described it at the end of this post, but do consider pre-ordering the February 2022 release of Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and The World and How to Repair It All by our friend Lisa Sharon Harper (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99  Not Yet Released: DUE FEBRUARY 8, 2022.


ALL BOOKS LISTED ARE 20% OFF, TOO. As always, just click on the “order” link at the very end of this newsletter which will take you to our secure order form at our Hearts & Minds website. It’s our pleasure to help. Thanks for caring.

No Place: A Spiritual Memoir Margie Haack (Square Halo Books) $24.99


I want to start this second lists of our favorite memoirs this year by naming again a book I reviewed a half a year ago, long before it came out. We took quite a lot of pre-orders (and the dear author, the exceptional Margie Haack, got her loyal followers to order books through us.) So this has been — along with the biography of Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier called A Burning in My Bones — one of our biggest sellers of 2021. We are glad, too, as it is a great read, fun, interesting, well-written and very inspiring. You can see my review from when we first announced it HERE.

For those who want the reminded, No Place is the second volume in a trilogy, the first which will very soon be re-issued in a newly edited and expanded edition with a new cover matching No Place. That one is called The Exact Place and tells of the hardscrabble upbringing of Margie’s girlhood in the far rural north of Minnesota. She narrates her own young life and a rather unique upbringing in a poor shotgun shack (with a pretty rough family) which, as she puts it, was “the exact place” she needed to be, for, as they say, the next steps on her journey. For her, these essential steps turned into a life-changing realization of the saving goodness of God and a commitment to Jesus Christ and a desire to trust Him with the rest of her life. Without typical piety or sentimentalism, The Exact Place is a powerful spiritual memoir of a smart girl from a poor, working class family coming to vibrant faith. We very highly recommend it for those who like these sorts of personal stories.

The new one, No Place, is even more interesting and covers the next phrase of her life. This includes her early university years starting in 1965 (ill prepared as she may have been given that her family did not send children to college), her meeting the rather unusual Denis Haack, and their courtship and marriage in, as I recall, 1968. What a story!

The next period of the book includes their work in a fundamentalist door to door urban evangelism ministry — hot time, summer in the city, ya know — which was alienating and awful. She writes about this wonderfully, colorfully. Their faith grew and faltered, their marriage faced tension, and we learn a bit about Denis’s fairly dysfunctional childhood, the son of a very strict fundamentalist missionary. Even their weird door to door evangelism efforts were not respected by Margie’s father-in-law for some odd reason — he didn’t approve of the para-church group, he didn’t like somebody theologically, most likely Denis’s attire and moderate, late 60s haircut wasn’t conservative enough. What a painful and hard way to start off a young marriage. If you know their joyful and culturally aware lifestyle and ministry now (thanks especially to the influence of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, for starters) you would hardly believe this is how they used to be. I really believe, whether you know them and their creative ministry now or not, this book is illuminating of a life lived for God, but with unusual beginnings and eccentric twists and turns.

Set in the late 60s and early 70s as it may be, the issues for us all are not that different: how to discern what constitutes healthy Christian doctrine and life? How does our worldview inform us in life-giving ways? What should we think about the trends of the culture? How do we build bridges with non-believing neighbors? How do we create in our own homes and lifestyles signposts of beauty and goodness pointing towards God’s truth?  No Place is a stimulating retro story, but — believe me! — it’s incredibly relevant, yet today.

Part way through the story, the twists and turns become harder and wilder. They end up rejecting much of this pushy sort of works-righteousness, holier-than-thou, anti-cultural attitudes of the ministry they were working with and, more generally — as they were coming to see — American fundamentalism more generally, and they set out in evangelical fervor to join what some call the Jesus movement.

They were drawn to a vision of reaching hippies and druggies out in a commune in the high deserts of New Mexico, along the legendary hippy trail to San Francisco, actually. Their efforts and experience at His House, as they called their community were set in a very different sort of faith experience and is vividly told; you will be on the edge of your seat. Through it all there is this question of the relationship of Christ to culture, of what some might call missional contextualization. Driven by the Spirit and flying blind by the seat of their pants (add another cliched metaphor in there anyone?) this season was both frightening and fruitful. They seemed born to do this sort of ministry, reaching out to those cast out from and often despised by conventional churches. They had found a calling. Deep hunger, deep gladness, indeed.

Of course, it necessarily comes undone and other jobs need to be found. They have a baby, Denis becomes a janitor, then does some working at a church that was less than ideal for them. Another baby, a connection made doing campus ministry with IVCF. On the story goes and it is wonderfully crafted, well-told, and very interesting. Margie is unsparing about their own personal and relationship difficulties, family stuff, finances and more. It is, as a good memoir must be, honest and captivating and in a nonintrusive way, instructive.

I can’t say enough about this book and highly recommend No Place, whether you’ve read The Exact Place first or not.  It is a great story, a great read, a fine recent book.

There are some very good endorsements on the inside of this handsome paperback. Andi Ashworth of ArtHouse Nashville wrote the great forward and others who have raved include Katy Bowser, Nancy Nordenson, Donald Guthrie, Mark Ryan, and yours truly. Here is what I said:

There are memoirs that are so interesting and well written that one just enjoys spending time within the story they tell. There are others where the author has learned much, perhaps the hard way, and we are wise to listen in, absorbing her hard-won truths. And there are those that are sheer testimony, giving glory to God who seems the real actor in the story’s drama. It is rare when a memoir is all three, and Margie Haack’s No Place is thankfully one of these rare treats that is fun to read, offers profound wisdom, and through which we learn much about the God who is there.

Kin: A Memoir Shawna Kay Rodenberg (Bloomsbury) $28.00


I’m not sure what initially drew me to this story mostly set in Appalachia — perhaps the prestige of the publisher (assuring me it would be at least well written and thoughtful) or the enticing blurbs like this from Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, who promised:

“This startling memoir of a wild soul will electrify you. The unbreakable Shawna Kay rises again and again to forgive, despite every institution that failed her.”

Or, this, from Rosanne Cash:

Kin moved me, disturbed me, and hypnotized me in a way very few memoirs have.

I know Ms Cash is especially literate and has endorsed another memoir or two that were remarkable. She, like many of the other reviewers, have noted that this story is written as “an intimate portrait of hardscrabble life in a much-derided, little understood place.” Michael Patrick Smith (author himself of The Good Hand) continues:

With the grit of the damaged yet hopeful, Rodenberg crafts the raw notes of faith, addiction, and generational trauma into a hymn to survival. By focusing on the deeply personal lived experience of a family, Kin contains worlds.

Indeed, it “contains worlds.” Like other memoirs of abuse and complications of family and place, you may not exactly imagine yourself there, and yet, yet, you relate. There are universal themes here, including a love of place, shame about poverty, relationships that are toxic, religion, faith, spirituality, education, culture, and adult children loving their parents despite the often horrible mistakes. And — oh, my — forgiveness.  Who wouldn’t benefit, or at least be stimulated if not inspired, by looking over the shoulder at one truly memorably family coping with so much grit and grace?

As yet another reviewer noted, Shawna Kay Roderberg’s “American original, so full of ballsy intelligence and unremitting love… feels like secular Scripture.” 

Here’s the deal with this complicated, well-written story. First, you should know that Shawn had a very hard upbringing with hard-scrapple extended family in small towns among the mountains of Appalachia. She is now a somewhat sophisticated, college literature professor in another State and the book opens as she is serving as a liaison to the local folk in the holler with a big city TV crew doing some kind of documentary. The New Yorkers disdain for the local people (and their crass stereotypes, asking her to help them find shots that simulated the hillbilly optics they wanted) is exceedingly annoying and Shawna Kay’s keen capacity to relate to two different worlds is obvious. I do not make comparisons of the people or even the books, but because many readers will get the reference, I suggest that she is, in some ways, like Tara Westover of Educated and J.D. Vance of Hillbilly Elegy and, more recently — in some surprising ways — perhaps even Philip Yancey of Where the Light Fell.  

Many of our customers had pre-ordered Where the Light Fell and some have finished it already. Some are amazed at his harsh mother, super-spiritual Bible teacher that she was, the toxic religion he endured amid Southern, small town poverty. Yancey says to his anguished brother — and to all of us, I suppose — that his story isn’t as bad as some, that the hard physical punishment he received and the strict fundamentalism he was taught could have been much worse.

Kin narrates a story that was “much worse.” And not only worse, but much more weird.

You see, Shawna Kay Roderberg (who tells her story with “near heroic self-awareness and insight,” as one reviewer put it) was raised on-again, off-again, in a very strict fundamentalist cult in Minnesota. Or, if not a cult, at least an expression of exceptional Pentecostalism and hyper-fundamentalism that drew her parents to live in a sectarian community, off the grid, prepping for the end times. She was raised — at least during her time in the fellowship — on a rural compound, eating meals in what sounds like a church camp setting, living in cottages that are meagerly appointed and hardly heated. This in the late 1970s and 80s, with parents who renounced the world and forbade their children most toys and books and most contact with the outside world. How her parents go into this heavy Bible teaching of Reverend Sam Fife is another part of the story and the ways she appreciated and hated the rules of the place are fascinating. (To say Shawna is precocious is quite the understatement!) I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to spoil this adventure of a read, but it is playful and funny at times, horrible and horrific at others. They believe in corporal punishment, of course, and there are some harsh scenes of serious abuse (and other bizarre stuff that seems almost expected in these kind of highly authoritarian religious sects.) Even when they move away (backsliding, as they might call it) they connect yearly with others in this network at larger gatherings.

I hope I’m not saying too much when I hint that her parents themselves have an epiphany or two about the heavy-handed and anti-worldly fellowship. They get a job serving the movement away from the intentional community and, on some days, allow a more normal lifestyle. Their faith wavers, they fall away, they move back to Appalachia.

And we thought the people in the Minnesota sect were toxic and odd. Well, man, this story is just heating up.

Shawna, knowing little about 80s junior and senior high fashion, let alone popular culture, enters her school in Eastern Kentucky.

Shawna was permitted and has nearly memorized from repeated re-readings the Little House on the Prairie books and the way those stories keep coming up is a fun device. It is a part of her childhood that she clings to even as she gets older. The narration of her years in school back in small town Kentucky — learning how more ordinary rural kids live in public schools, enjoying time at DQ and Pizza Hut and going to the Dollar Store and school events and attending more ordinary country churches — is striking. How little she knows about school life, popular culture, attire, even. Not to mention, shall we say, sex, drugs and rock and roll. But she is a fast learner. So there’s that.

To make matters worse, although it is not explored in detail, there are hints of PTSD from her father’s Viet Nam war service. Which perhaps explains some things…

This family is troubled, and various branches of their relatives have their strengths and weaknesses. It will keep you turning the pages, I promise. Rodenberg both makes Appalachian life and near poverty vivid and compelling but her story dispels many stereotypes (even as it might reinforce others.) Her angle of vision and the tone of the book is decidedly not Hillbilly Elegy. I love the blurb on the back of Kin, that says, “Whatever you believe about Appalachia, prepare to have those beliefs upended, or at least beautifully complicated.”

Beautifully complicated. That’s it! Kin and my feelings about why I loved it so are beautifully complicated.

This recent book, dear readers, is a high-octane memoir full of vivid descriptions, colorful stories (and colorful language) telling of the struggles of deep faith, distorted as it may be, family love and dysfunction, violence and harm and goodness and redemption. Can telling a story like this itself be an act part of hope, what too many reviewers too casually call redemption? I think so. In that sense the above-quoted writer who said this is “secular Scripture” is wrong. It is not Scripture, of course, but it is not utterly secular either. This is a story of some sort of amazing grace and through the ups and downs, extravagant weirdness, family mental illness and unreliable choices, the story shines.  

I liked this part of a review, yet another celebrating Kin as a well written and important read:

I hope this book will fall into the hands of everyone who has ever swallowed their words, hid their scars, been mocked, laughed at, or ignored. Rodenberg’s lyricism, mastery of form, and command of image and metaphor are matched only by the power of her honesty and the precision of her recall. Kin will endure and bring light and warmth to all who encounter this beautiful book. – Robert Gipe, author of the Canard County illustrated novel series, Trampoline, Weed Eater, and Pop

Soul Full of Coal Dust: A Fight for Breath and Justice in Appalachia Chris Hamby (Little, Brown) $30.00


I have written several drafts of a review of this book which was one of the most striking books I’ve read all year; I do not have the space to do it justice. One can hardly believe the captivating detail, the plot that just gets thicker, the heroic tenacity and character of Mr. Hamby as he studies the problems of a seemingly sudden rise in Black Lung disease being uncovered in certain mining towns in West Virginia, and how miners and their families were denied what seemed to be their obvious, legally entitled reimbursement. (There are, you will learn, some reasons for this unexpected uptick in Black Lung in the late-1990s related to both changes in policy and measuring metrics, new mining technologies with different sorts of dust and dangers, and good, old-fashioned human corruption and carelessness.) Some tried to fight the surreal injustice of getting their due but their cases consistently were denied, unsuccessfully litigated by rural legal aid clinics in Appalachia. Both the disease and the injustices became epidemic.

I have a grandfather who had been a coal miner in Pennsylvania and who died from complications of Black Lung. I so wish my own father was alive to tell me more of Pappy Nip and his conditions — my memories of him and his illness are disturbing; near the end of his life he was always spitting black gunk into a gross cup. 

Like reading about the pain and the injustices of medical mistreatment so eloquently written about in Ross Douthart’s Lyme disease memoir, Deep Places (that I reviewed in the previous BookNotes) Soul Full of Coal Dust is book I cared very much about, that I felt connected to. Maybe you know someone who has had to fight a “David vs Goliath” battle over health care injustices. Maybe you even know someone who mines.  At the very least, you know of stories like the true-to-life Julian Roberts movie about Erin Brockovich and her uphill battle against the corporation that denied cancer-causing pollution in the water. Or maybe you are watching Dopesick (or have read the exceptional book by journalist Beth Macy.) In this fallen world, what the Bible calls the “principalities and powers” are often corrupted institutions, those with power and resources and a calling to do good who turn in ways that can reasonably be called demonic. The complicity in evil of big coal companies like Massey Energy and esteemed institutions like the radiology department of Johns Hopkins are exposed in this brilliant, carefully documented book that unfolds like the best legal thriller. Who needs John Grisham when you have real-life stuff like this to keep you reading late into the night!

There are heroes galore in Soul Full of Coal Dust, living and working in places some of us know, from Beckley WV or near the New River Gorge. Idealist medical practitioners, para-legal advocates, and various other folk align themselves with coal miners — sometimes with their unions, sometimes without — as they come to realize that somebody higher up has changed the definitions of and rulings about and evidence for what constitutes “real” Black Lung. (The corruption at Johns Hopkins is among the most stunningly surprising revelations and I’m amazed I had not known of this part of the story.) Some the characters whose lives are told about in this big book will inspire you, perhaps significantly so. Some, as you might guess, died in the course of their campaign for restitution and during the writing of the book. Man.

Although the book is an investigative piece of non-fiction reporting, I list it here as a memoir as it unfolds exactly like a memoir as Mr. Hamby himself is telling about his own research and writing. It starts as he is doing investigative journalism about this at the New York Times — for which he earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2014. He wants to know more, he can’t let go of these trips to West Virginia, and with the doggedness of Watergate-era Woodward and Bernstein or the detective tenacity of others trying to piece together a pressing mystery, he keeps at it, befriending miners like the decent Gary Fox and health-care heroes like Dr. Donald Rasmussen and miner advocate John Cline.

Called “harrowing and cinematic” and “eloquent and sobering” I simply couldn’t put down Soul Full of Coal Dust and zoomed through the 400+ pages in a week. I admit to being outraged and moved to tears. I am not usually a fan of photos in books like this, but I have poured over these pictures, over and over, appreciating the dignity of these hard-working men, maybe searching their eyes for signs of my own grandfather. And I’ve looked at the pictures or the heroes, and the crooks. I will never forget this amazing book and commend it to our Hearts & Minds friends.

Please, please read these endorsements — they each capture with better eloquence the themes and power of this book, and I hope they inspired you to pick it up.

An important story told with care and eloquence, Soul Full of Coal Dust will have you rooting for its underdog heroes and shaking your head — and maybe even your fist — at the coal barons and their hired guns who for decades” manipulated a rigged system to deprive injured miners of simple justice. — Dan Fagin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

 Soul Full of Coal Dust is a revelatory David versus Goliath story, this wondrous layering of history with a present-day bare-knuckles fight for justice. Chris Hamby has pulled off an astonishing feat of investigative journalism, one that left me rooting for these hard-bitten coal miners as they take on the unmoored greed of the coal companies and their minions. — Alex Kotlowitz, author of An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago the winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize

Under the double pressures of the climate crisis and our increasingly polarized political landscape, coal miners are often stereotyped as symbols of all that’s wrong with the nation. Through an intimate journey into the lives of miners suffering the horrific ravages of black lung, Hamby calculates the cost of a pressing scourge, and restores humanity and dignity to a group of American workers who have given their lives for American power. — Eliza Griswold, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America

There are two kinds of cruelty. One you see on a face, and in the actions of a particular person. The other you can’t see unless, like Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Chris Hamby, you uncover a hidden system-in this case of corrupt West Virginia mine company officials, paid-off lawyers, and lying doctors who deny ill miners and widows recompense for unnecessary suffering and death from black lung. It’s a riveting David and Goliath story, close up and personal, and illuminating the heroic tenacity it took two men to win a hugely important fight. — Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Canary in the Coal Mine: A Forgotten Rural Community, A Hidden Epidemic, and a Lone Doctor Battling for the Life, Health, and Soul of the People William Cooke, MD with Laura Ungar (Tyndale Momentum) $25.99


Speaking of heroic doctors working in under-served communities, few books I’ve ever read can rival the aforementioned Soul Full of Coal Dust. However, there is something very compelling about hearing all sorts of stories of those in positions of power and influence who do right, who stand up against stubborn bureaucrats and careless systems, turning tables for the better by staying put, working hard, being agents of change and service. When it is done by people of faith inspired by Biblical principles, it becomes a signpost pointing the way of the Kingdom of God. This recent book, friends, is a quiet testimony, showing how a reformation of small town health care can make a huge difference in the lives of thousands. 

Although there is faith (and even an appendix listing “Biblical principles of harm reduction”) this is a story that will appeal to any sort of reader interested in public health and mitigating hurtful  social forces — in this case the opioid abuse epidemic and a subsequent, deathly, record-breaking outbreak of HIV and Hep 3 — and how a small town doctor exposed this unseen crisis. Yes, nearly rural Austin, Indiana (situated north of Kentucky, south of Indianapolis)  developed the worst case per capita of AIDS in the history of the global disease. As you may guess, this will resonate for those who have read Dopesick by journalist Beth Macy or the brand new The Least of These: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth by the powerful writer Sam Quinones (who wrote the much-discussed Dreamland.) Although there is public health information and reporting about the tragedy in Austin, Indiana, it is, truly, a memoir. It is the story of Dr. William Cooke.

As it says on the back cover:

When Dr. Will Cooke, an idealist young physician just out of medical training, set up practice in a small community of Austin, Indiana, he had no idea that much of the town was being torn apart by poverty, addiction, and life-threatening illnesses. Soon, however, he would find himself at the crossroads of two unprecedented health-care disasters: an opioid epidemic and the worst drug-field HIV outbreak ever seen in rural America.

I like that although this is published on an evangelically Christian legacy publishing house, it isn’t primarily one more story of personal piety and learning to trust God or fighting the culture wars, but it is truly a story of public health and hard medical work; this includes battling foes such as the prejudices of politicians, racism, and the seemingly ever-present despair that threatened to overwhelm his own soul.

(And, yes, one of the politicians he has to confront there in Indiana — in a short but revealing scene having to do with a clean needle replacement program widely known to save lives and prevent contagion — is the then-governor Mike Pence who will only say he will “pray about it.” Cooke’s reflections on that are pointed and well worth reading. )

The rave reviews of Canary in the Coal Mine, significantly, are not from the often-seen celebrity authors who usually blurb Christian books, but by other doctors, public health officials,  epidemiologists, journalists of note. For instance, Dr. Gabor Maté (who wrote In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction) says:

From the first poignant vignette through many dramatic moments to its inspiringly compassionate conclusion, Dr. William Cooke’s book is a gripping medical chronicle infused with wisdom, science, and deep humanity.

There is a hugely positive review by David Fiellin who directs the addiction program at Yale School of Medicine. There’s a blurb by Jim Curran, the dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University (and former head of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC. On and on, there are superlatives from folks from think tanks about rural medicine, public health activists, community development thought leaders. Will Cooke, it should be clear, is a respected doc and hero to many. He has been on nearly every major media outlet (from the New Times and USA Today to NPR to the BBC) and was named the Family Physician of the Year by the Indiana Academy of Family Physicians in 2016.

And Dr. Cooke’s co-author, Laura Ungar, is not a ghost-writer who helped him craft his sentences and write his story; she, too, is a leading thought leader around these very questions. She is a St. Louis-based editor and reporter for Kaiser Health News. She has won more than50 national, regional, and local awards in her years a  journalist.

You couldn’t find more authoritative tour guides of rural America than Dr. Cooke and Laura Ungar, who have lived and worked among its people―their people―for decades. The pair’s medical savvy and crackling prose can compete with the best out there… This gripping, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful book is about far more than a tiny town and its hardscrabble people, many of whom were affected by one of the biggest HIV outbreaks in US history. It’s a look at where so much of America has been heading when so many others weren’t watching. — Jayne O’Donnell, health policy reporter, USA Today; cofounder, Urban Health Media Project

Kudos to Tyndale for publishing this great story, full of faith and courage and compassion. Now the question: who is going to get the movie rights?

This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks into our Darkness Sarah Clarkson (Baker) $16.99


You may have seen on my personal Facebook page a video or two from an adult Sunday school class I’ve been helping with, some informal Bible teaching and theological pondering about creativity, the role of the arts in our lives and, more generally, paying attention to the aesthetic dimension of our life in God’s world. In one of them I read out loud a beautiful article (Embroidering Hope) by this author (that could have been a part of this book) that had appeared recently in Comment magazine. (It’s a very nice example of her writing style and fits the theme of this wonderful book.) It describes a beautiful tablecloth made by the mother of a friend, a nurse, during a service in the second World War and the joy she experiences seeing it, knowing it. Could this ordinary beauty be healing? A sign of God’s redemption of all things?

This Beautiful Truth is aptly named as it is a beautiful truth, that beauty matters. It is written very much like a memoir, with a few Biblical and theological excursions along the way — she is a solid teacher — and lots of literary explorations. Indeed, characters in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or novels by Chesterton make their way into her life and their impact on her are wonderfully described. In a remarkable and eloquent section on home-making she tells of an episode that carries a great truth from Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter, which is a foundational work for her. Seriously, doesn’t that speak volumes? (That she cites Browning’s “Aurora Leigh” just seals the deal — who wouldn’t want to read about book that draws on that line about the Earth crammed with heaven, how every common bush is aflame?)

Sarah Clarkson has written several good books, including a fun one about books and the reading life, Book Girl. (As has her mother, her sister, and her brother, Joel, who is exploring similar themes to those in this one, described in Sensing God: Experiencing the Divine in Nature, Food, Music, and Beauty recently released by NavPress.) In This Beautiful Truth Sarah has arranged this narrative nearly as a memoir, sharing discoveries and shaped around her own life, her depression and sorrows, her OCD, her struggles. Her mental health disorders are talked about honestly as are her doubts, and, yes, how notions of beauty (think of the end of Job) can be the reply to the deepest questions of theodicy. She has drawn beauty from so much, from the Book of Kells to Rivendell to Marilyn Robinson’s Lila to personal experiences of charm and loveliness and common grace.

Can God truly be seen and encountered as good? Can the goodness of art and beauty and creativity reveal that to us? Can life lived with verve and sensitivity to beauty be a witness to others as we learn to see ourselves not only as children of (in her wonderful phrase) Lost Eden but also of New Jerusalem? It seemed to have worked that way for her — others and their sharing of beauty or pointing her to wonder, are those very means of grace.

This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks into our Darkness, unfolds Clarkson’s quest for these kinds of answers, not as mere head knowledge or insights but in what she calls knowings. Like many of us, she yearns for the real experience of goodness and of God. This book is a great read, insightful and wise and persuasive, even; I might say that as enjoyable as it is mature and inviting us to serious reflection without being dense. It is very good to be allowed to share another’s journey and this is a great example of how edifying it can be. There is hard stuff, yes. But there is hope, a hint of restoration, a life unfolded on sacred ground. This very personal book by Sarah Clarkson is one of my favorite Christian books of the year and I very highly recommend it.

Blessed are the Nones: Mixed-Faith Marriage and My Search for Spiritual Community Stina Kielsmeier-Cook (IVP) $16.00


I have been wanting to tell BookNotes readers about this for quite some time, but wasn’t sure how to frame it, when to list it, how to review it. I loved it for several reasons and could see it helping or being enjoyed by any number of different sorts of readers.

It is, in fact, a very helpful book and good resource for anyone going through marriage complexities, especially when the situation is as this book describes — two serious Christians who marry with idealism and hope for a God-glorifying, Kingdom-oriented, holy marriage and come to realize that one of the partners has drifted from faith and no longer believes. How does one cope when the one you love the most doesn’t love what you love most, or, in this case, Who you love most, namely, the Triune God of the Bible?

What if one says they are trying with all their might and the grace they believe they are given by a Spirit they think who guides them, to follow a Jesus who they believe is the King of the world, resurrected from the dead, truly God and truly Friend, and their spouse just doesn’t buy it anymore?

What if the church was a central part of the couple’s life together — the source not only for ritual and meaningful spiritual encounters and music and teaching, but the source of most of their social encounters, their best friends, their support system, and the community in which their very beliefs were underscored and made plausible?

What happens when that union becomes not just a mixed-faith marriage — a Christian and a Jew, say, which is interesting and challenging enough — but the story of a disciple and a none? (As in, you know, those who say they are “none of the above” when asked on a survey what their religion is.)

Yep, this book can help give some good advice about all that since that is what happened when Stina’s husband (and good father to their baby) stopped going to church and finally came clean: he just wasn’t interested in faith any more. She became, as they say, “spiritually single” and, now, wants to help others in this situation (which is more common than many may realize.) So, yep, we put this on the shelf with other books about marriage and its difficulties, about conflict, and next to titles like Lee & Leslie Strobel’s Spiritual Mismatch.

However this is not really a self-improvement resource. It is, truly, a memoir, written exactly as a story with Stina narrating her feelings and experiences as she learned of her husband’s shift to no longer seeing himself as a Christian. She tells of their radically Christian young adult years, their mission trips, their commitments to justice, their experiments with living in intentional community. I so resonated with those few early chapters, feeling the energetic and idealist vision of being young adults sold out to the Kingdom of God and its upside down values. I nearly shuddering hearing her tell of earnest and scary conversations, as we had in those years, reading books about racial injustice and simple lifestyles, freeing resources for those who are poor and for organizations doing the work of social renewal, the call to community and the call to, in the words of Dorothy Day “build a new world in the shell of the old.” Even her description of their eagerness (and struggle) to find a church that helped them with their missional discipleship and their longing for deep and authentic spirituality for the sake of the world sounded so familiar. What a story!

How does that calibre of thoughtful and communal and seriously informed kind of faith come crumbling down? This isn’t the ill-informed faith or watered-down discipleship of nominal believers or flash-in-the-pan religious eccentrics, but the meaningful and visionary stuff of solid Biblical living.  But, you can imagine, when one is so deeply committed to Christ’s ways, so fully involved in thinking and living Christianly, when ones very marriage is seen as something akin to a sacrament pointing the way of Christ and His love, when that blows up, well — not to minimize the heartache of it all in their lives — one has a very captivating story to tell. And when one is as fine of a writer as is Kielsmeier-Cook, then one has a very good book to share.

We are so glad for her candor, for her continued love for her husband, for his own willingness to allow his story to be told. Blessed are the Nones is her story, of course, and it is told from her vantage point. But as she says in the acknowledgements, it is a story that he agreed to. It has not been easy (for a variety of reasons) but they remain happily married, as you will find in this great memoir of a changing marriage. As Sarah Bessey writes, it is “a lyrical, honest, moving portrayal of marriage.” I think many will enjoy it.

However, there is yet another thing that makes this thrilling to read, unexpectedly interesting and so, so good. It revolves around this funny play on words, mashing up the journalistic jargon of “nones” (as we have said, those who claim no religious identity) and, yep, nuns. You see, the author, even as she is grieving the loss of a soul-mate and spiritual partner in her marriage, has discovered a group of nuns. And that becomes another big part of the story: Blessed Are the Nones tells of an evangelical woman learning about (single) female saints by hanging out with a group of Salesian nuns in a spiritual formation program in her neighborhood. I’ll be you didn’t see that coming.

This hungering for a deeper contemplative spirituality is evident in the life of Ms. Kielsmeier-Cook. There is a bit early on about what guys like Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove began to call the “new monastic movement” which shows her awareness of and hunger for some healthy exploration of contemplation and action, the journey inward and outward. As she writes about an episode in her earlier forays into meeting some Catholic folks on retreat she notices a book about Dorothy Day, who, of course, she recognized. It was, as they say, a good sign. 

There are wonderful chapters — very well written, but short, almost like stand-alone but inter-related essays — with titles like “Little Virtues” and “Fellow Pilgrims” and “Relinquishment.” Much of this good writing tells of truths learned in her time with these nuns in their Monastic Visitation ministry and her adventure in joining them. She finds new friends, new sisters in these Sisters. And she is introduced more deeply not only to sustained, livable spiritual disciplines and prayer practices but a legacy of female mystics and women saints, most who are — maybe you can see where this is going — unmarried or unhappily married. These women, modern friends down the street and ancient siblings in the great crowd of witnesses, become a support and lifeline for her.

Of course a subtext to all this evangelical and Protestant apprenticing with the Catholic religious women is Stina’s own lack of spiritual fellowship with her husband. To be honest, much of this is just so ecumenically glorious and wonderfully told it would stand alone as a good story of a young evangelical’s Christian growth among those who have commitments in monastic communities. We learn about Francis de Sales and his associate, Saint Jane de Chantel and their intense but deeply holy relationship in the early 1600s. (Jane was, by the way, also a friend of Vincent de Paul, fyi.) And we learn about not only the call to holiness, to a devout life (as de Sales put it) but about community. In one conversation with one of the Sisters Stina describes herself as “spiritually single” and this (obviously unmarried) nun said that the phrase didn’t resonate with her; who among us is truly “single”, after all? Are we all not, in more or less ways, in relationships, in families, part of communities? Naturally, a quote or two from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together crops up soon enough.

And so, again, this is a book about marriage, about mixed-faith marriages, but also very much about a thoughtfully evangelical young adult increasingly learning about spirituality by seeking fellowship and guidance from Catholic sisters. This is such a great read I commend it to everyone.

But, yet, again, it is about her life in this situation. There are vivid scenes of her (and her husband) with their children. There are scenes about getting kids into snowsuits, about Cheerios to keep kids interested in long car trips. There are play dates and church services. There are church services with her husband — he inexplicably attends a Christmas Eve service with the fam — and there are services without him. The wrangling of kids and the tenderly joyful parts of raising children becomes a part of this story as well. Some of it is just lovely. 

Blessed Are the Nones: Mixed Faith Marriage and My Search for Spiritual Community is a great read, a well-crafted book, a moving story. It would make a great book club choice, too. Highly recommended.

Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle Danté Stewart (Convergent) $25.00


In online conversations and a few Zoom book announcements that I’ve been invited to do for conferences and gatherings, I’ve highlighted this one — it is one of the vital new books of this season. The advanced buzz on it was notable (and believe me, there’s a lot of advanced noise on a lot of books these days!) But when people we know and respect so highly promote a new author, we notice.

For instance, Calvin University scholar and popular historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez says:

“A magnificent debut. . . If you read one book this year, make it this one.”

And listen to this from Zondervan author Jemar Tisby, of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism:

 An emotional meditation on race, religion, and nation. In Danté Stewart’s boldly revealing stories of love, pain and renewal, we find our own.

Robert Jones, Jr., himself a New York Times bestselling novelist (author of The Prophets), says

Only once in a lifetime do we come across a writer like Danté Stewart, so young and yet so masterful with the pen. This work is a thing to make dungeons shake and hearts thunder.

The advanced recommendations and rave endorsements kept coming in, from Krista Tippett, Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Imani Perry, Kiese Laymon, Bishop William Barber, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, even the Pittsburgh-based fiction writer Deesha Philyaw. The praise has been shoutin’.

In a way, this book stands among many memoirs naming the complexity of the black experience in white America. Tisby is right — the prose is arresting, the meditations emotional, the insights revealing. One reviewer said Shoutin’ in the Fire is written with “unparalleled candor” which, while perhaps not technically accurate, does illustrate that his is one of the voices in the movement of black authors being real; really real, telling it like it is as we used to say. (This candid truth-telling by black writers is not new, of course, but it does feel particularly frank and fresh, given Stewart’s role within the church and how that is part of his story of “groan and ache.” If you have appreciated the highly-regarded memoir I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (the same publisher, the same shape of trim-sized hardback) Shoutin’ in the Fire should be on your list. It is a book you will find it hard to put down.

I needn’t say much more other than to say that we feel privileged to get to recommend and to sell such important books by black authors of this calibre. Young Mr. Stewart is a very good writer — you can tell from the very first pages — and he is rooted well in a black family in the black community in the black church.

He knows whose shoulders he stands on, too — he cites before each biographical chapter a good epigram, authors like James Baldwin (there’s that fire language, eh?) And bell hooks, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, Ta-Nehisi Coates. And Maya Angelou, of course. And, happily, near the end, rapper Kendrick Lamar. So Danté is a lover of language, nearly a rural poet himself, coming up in Calhoun County, South Carolina. His BA degree was in sociology from Clemson (where he also played football) and he’s currently studying theology at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. As a writer and speaker, he is one young leader to watch. We all need, as Stewart puts, it in a closing note to Baldwin, “praise breaks and prophetic lines: We shoutin’ in the fire.”

Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir Brian Broome (Houghton Mifflin) $26.00


Let me just say it up front: this book is not for everyone. There is graphic sexuality and painful hookups and awful parental abuse and descriptions of drug use that are disturbing. In some ways, much of this book is disturbing. And yet, I was drawn in by the exceptional accolades this debut writer was getting.

For instance, Augusten Burroughs (famous for Running with Scissors) raved like this:

“Punch Me Up to the Gods is some of the finest writing I have ever encountered and one of the most electrifying, powerful, simply spectacular memoirs I — or you — have ever read. And you will read it; you must read it. It contains everything we all crave so deeply: truth, soul, brilliance, grace. It is a masterpiece of a memoir and Brian Broome should win the Pulitzer Prize for writing it. I am in absolute awe and you will be, too.”

Kiese Laymon, whose heavy memoir Heavy I recommended in a BookNotes a few years ago (perhaps with a similar disclaimer), said this:

“Punch Me Up to the Gods obliterates what we thought were the limitations of not just the American memoir, but the possibilities of the American paragraph. I’m not sure a book has ever had me sobbing, punching the air, dying of laughter, and needing to write as much as Brian Broome’s staggering debut.”

Ergo: lover of memoir that I am, minor and small town connoisseur of good writers that I try to be, long interested in black memoirs, I had to pick this up. I’ve often said we should read books by those unlike ourselves and I knew this to be about a queer black man; I felt drawn to understand his life, to want to take in his God-given gifts as writer and storyteller. I had no idea it would effect me so.

First, I’m a sucker for writers from Pittsburgh where we used to live, almost in the years in which his coming of age went down. Mr. Broome is an award winning writer, a poet and screenwriter, and (dig this) he has been a finalist in The Moth storytelling competition He is a Leroy Irvis Fellow and instructor in the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is pursuing an MFA. He even won the grand prize in Carnegie Mellon University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Awards. He also won a VANN Award from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation for journalism in 2019. So, he’s a guy whose work we should know. Pittsburgh Yinzer’s — listen up.

And then, on the first page — in a remarkable device that appears throughout the book, with this on-going set of unfolding episodes on an urban bus ride — Broome is getting on his bus in McKeesport, Pennsylvania — exactly where Beth and I lived in the late 70s, in a steel mill town just outside of Pittsburgh. Some of the story is told via these reoccurring scenes as the bus moves by Homestead and towards Squirrel Hill and into Downtown. I have been on that very bus, and it is fascinating for me to read about the experience of a black man with mostly other black riders, a dad and his baby, right there on that Mckeesport line. I was hooked.

After Broome’s father lost his rust-belt job in Ohio he became sullen and brutal and the punishment he doled out on Brian was reprehensible. Broome’s growing awareness of his being gay is interesting, but the horror is in knowing how is father will turn on him. This hard bit of his youth happens mostly in south Eastern Ohio before their move to Pittsburgh and some of these scenes are so striking and the telling so well crafted that they will leave an impression on you, for better or worse. There is a scene in which he goes out dancing with white friends (against his mothers wishes) and is stranded as no white kid would dare ask his parents to give him a lift home. I will never forget that scene. For white readers, especially, like other memoirs by contemporary people of color, this may be surprising (or not) but it is ferocious stuff, powerful on the page, necessary.

I need not chronicle the facts of the downward spiral his lonely life took, visiting dour gay clubs, doing dangerous drugs, the weird sex — one scene struck me as gratuitously vivid — but the whole tragic story is important. And it is not all tragic, either. Dare I say he learns some pride? That God continues to haunt him? I am trying to be generous and discerning about an incredibly well written story with a distinctive voice set in a town I love, but some of this is egregiously graphic. One rave reviewer noted that it “feels like a scream at the end of a summit.” 

There is a reason that this book, with the creepy title (a reference to physical abuse) and candor about being queer and black, is getting such lauded reviews and has been so enthusiastically received by some of the black literary world. It is captivating, revealing, well penned. Some of it is that the units of prose themselves are framed by lines from the nameless boys in a famous Gwendolyn Brooks poem (“We Real Cool”) which is itself a stroke of genius. I am not schooled enough or part of that literary community to ascertain much more of the unqualified applause, but with quotes like Laymon’s and rave reviews from poets and novelists and writers likes of Sapphire and R. Eric Thomas and Comonghne Felix, it seems like this is very important. I just know I couldn’t put it down.

Walking Through the Fire: A Memoir of Loss and Redemption Vaneetha Rendall Risner with a foreword by Ann Voskamp (Nelson Books) $18.99


Fire is used as a metaphor in many ways, from various authors, and while this one is not about the black American experience or the soul-wrenching anguish of racism (like Shoutin’ in the Fire, above) it is a burning, burning, painful passion that allows this author to share her story. When Vaneetha Risner’s infant son died due to a doctor’s error, she felt “devoid of purpose, of thought, even of feeling.” 

Her anguish is deep and deeply understandably; she reasonably wondered if she hadn’t already suffered enough — she had polio as a child, there were years of being bullied, she learns the heartache of her husbands unfaithfulness, and there were three lost babies due to miscarriage. I think of the line Marva Dawn used to use, quipping that is seems she almost “out Job-ed Job.” Risner has been through a lot, an awful lot.

She does not wallow in her misfortune but she narrates her life in a way that is honest and engaging. Her struggles are real but her faith is inspiring. Her ups and downs are more pronounced than many, but we can still relate to her feeling left out. As a South Asian Indian woman she was treated with prejudice. As a woman with a limp, she was teased as a “cripple.” (A story she recalls in a moment of adult hardship came flooding back to haunt her when a young man said he wouldn’t date her because of her disability.)  There really is a lot going on in this story, and there’s plenty to ponder or discuss.

There is a bit of another backstory here as well. In 2005, the CCM singer and recording artist Natalie Grant released the song “Held” that was written about and for Vaneetha when her little one died. She has remained friends with Natalie Grant, who notes,

This book beautifully and honestly tells a story of deep loss and redemption, and it is a  must-read for anyone who’s ever wrestled with the question of why a good God would allow such suffering in this world.

Fifteen years later, now, the songwriter of “Held” (Christina Wells) pulled together a group of other women to create more songs as a companion to this book. Included in the book is a QR scan code to download for free More Than Rubies: The Bravest Thing which includes songs by Ellie Holcomb, Jess Ray, Nicole Witt and Taylor Leonhardt.  Not a bad bonus, eh?

As they say in the back of the book,

These five songs, written during the global pandemic, speak poignantly to the themes of Vaneetha’s particular story, which includes suffering, compassion, repentance, forgiveness and courage, while also hitting the heart of our struggle to thrive in the midst of great fear and uncertainty. 

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home Tembi Locke (Simon & Schuster) $17.00


I know in the above BookNotes reviews (and many of the previous ones from last week’s post) most of the memoirs are rather heavy, dramatically telling of personal anguish or social injustice or coping with the pathos of complicated lives. We believe these are, in a way, entertaining, compelling, and well worth reading.

Sometimes, though, we read memoirs for the joy of the language, the telling of a nice story, even one that invites us into the pleasures of an interesting life in a good world. This is the case, mostly, at least, with this recent love story — a poignant, cross-cultural one, I might add — that is both let against a lush background and is lushly written. Tubi Locke (a TV and film actress and TEDx speaker) is elegant and eloquent. And her story is set in the Sicilian countryside. What caught my attention (besides the admittedly alluring cover photo) was the publisher’s promise that the author “discovers the healing powers of food and family.”

From Scratch chronicles three summers in which Tembi spends in the Italian countryside with her daughter and in-laws. There are shades of those other famous books about the gifts of simple, fresh food, the embrace of a close-knit community, and (as the back cover puts it) “the wisdom that lights a path forward.” But there is more; yes, more pathos.

I guess I need to say this — spoiler alert —it is also a story of grief, recovering as she does, from the death of her beloved husband. The very first sentence is striking: “In Sicilian, every story begins with a marriage or death. In my case, it’s both.” There is a now-almost-famous section in which she compares cheese-making to grief and it is quite moving and profound. (Both need “time, labor, and attention”, she reminds us.)

From Scratch is a gorgeously written book, what one reviewer describes as “an utterly incandescent love story.” Words like luminous and lyrical come to mind. It’s a lovely memoir, a story about an experience in life most of us will not have, at least not in the particulars of these European visits.

This was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection, and I see why. As Reese herself puts it, “This book gives me all the feels.” 

Love Makes Room And Other Things I Learned When My Daughter Came Out Staci Frenes (Broadleaf Books) $18.99


Speaking of “all the feels”, Love Makes Room And Other Things I Learned… sure did that for me. It may not for you for any number of reasons, but I have been reading over the last years numerous memoirs of LGTBQ persons, often stories of being exiled from church, sometimes memoirs of being terribly mistreated, sometimes even by parents. This touching memoir, by a evangelical worship leader mom whose daughter came out amidst a flurry of tears in her senior year of high school, is one we highly recommend for those wanting to see how a family “copes” and learns to walk through the various feelings and convictions and attitudes they encounter in this situation.

And, yep, they encounter all sorts of stuff from their own heart issues, their own theological beliefs, their own prejudices and presumptions about what it all might look like as their daughter goes off to college and identifies as a Christian lesbian.

And it was anguishing for them as parents — there are obvious questions about Biblical interpretation and theological formulations that concerned them, but there were more emotional sorts of fears, too. There is a tear-jerking episode of mom Staci thinking about her beautiful wedding dress and how she had so hoped to bequeath it to her daughter, Abby. Will that not, now, be possible? The scene seemed emblematic of so much. And there were questions for her and her husband and daughter about extended family members and church friends and, well, (let’s be honest) Frenes is an evangelical worship leader and recording artist of praise songs and this isn’t part of their vision for their lives, their witness to the world, their sub-culture. Her reputation and career are on the line. You can imagine.

And yet, as the title suggests, love is the “greatest of these” and their familial love and their love of God and the love of God for them sustained them in a way that allowed them not to have to write the book that others have written about family dysfunction and ugliness and hurt and judgement. In another heartbreaking book by a gay daughter of a chief spokesperson for Focus on the Family, of all people, turned his back on his daughter. Such outright rejection is not uncommon, especially from church folks, and those who know gay, lesbian or trans kids know the hurt so many carry, that their friends and lovers have carried, about being banned from their family, there parents, their siblings, their home church. How such cruelty can be seen as acceptable in the body of Christ is beyond me. 

As complicated as it may have been (and, to be honest, I was a bit annoyed by the author’s wrought, first thoughts about all of this) the eventual transforming grace in the life of the Frenes family allowed them to show empathy and care and eventual acceptance of their daughter.

You can read the ups and down of how it all happened and how this may serve as a model for other evangelical folks who want to be faithful and affirming or at least accepting. As one reviewer puts it, “This is a story of invitation and awakening.”

Jonathan Merritt, author most recently of Learning to Speak God from Scratch, writes about Love Makes Room:

If you are committed to understanding and loving your gay child, queer cousin, or trans neighbor, start with Love Makes Room. The story of Staci Frenes’ quest for a more expansive expression of love will help you make room in your heart for others too. It’s that simple. It’s that difficult. It’s that profound.

Of course, you may not agree with her choices or strategies of how to show love, or of what God’s grace looks like in families like this. I don’t list this here as a guidebook or manual or theological study as it is not. It’s a memoir. It’s a story, a love story. It’s one testimonial of how one family walked through some things that were hard and surprising for them. It’s a good read.

Affirming: A Memoir of Faith, Sexuality and Staying in the Church Sally Gary (Eerdmans) $19.99


I mentioned above that I have been reading — for years, now, actually — books of stories of families experiencing (for some “coping” is a word they’d use, “navigating” or “accepting” may be how others put it) a family member coming out as gay or lesbian or trans. Each story, of course, like each person and each family, is different. Some are fairly upbeat and generous, others are horrific, explaining toxic rejection that borders on abuse. None are particularly detailed about Bible or theological puzzlements on this contested topic (what the Bible means to say about same-sex attraction and marriage) because, again, in this genre, at least, we are talking about stories. 

Memoirs often read like novels, not so much mere autobiographical data, but sharing the memories of the interior life of the author as he or she moves through life. When there are huge identity crisis’s or worldview upheavals or social conflict, it is often anguishing but makes for instructive reading. Learning how others experience and make sense of and construe their lives, how they bear witness (and to what) is helpful and often inspiring. Agree with the author or not (heck, like the author or not) this is why we encourage folks to read memoir — to grow wiser (and hopefully more empathetic) about the human condition, at least.

(And yet, some are so poorly written they seem hardly worth the time; others are so tendentious or lacking in nuance that they seem like propaganda. And, occasionally, there are some that are so amoral or advocating such unhealthy attitudes that one fears they might somehow be harmful. I recently purchased a memoir of a religious woman breaking free from her previously toxic and shameful view of human sexuality and, fiesty and fun as she seemed to be, her advocacy (and graphic narration of) open sexual expression was so unwise I just couldn’t promote it, even as a memoir. So there’s that.)

I say all that to say that there are those among our readership who ought to read this recent Sally Gary memoir (her second) even if they are likely to disapprove. It is a very good story, well-written, honest, and thoughtful as she describes her journey within a conservative Christian denomination and Southern subculture of coming out and embracing her role as a woman of God who is affirming of her own same sex attractions. It is also a story of her own grappling with her previous views of all this, a story of changing one’s mind.

Affirming is a powerfully written memoir and strikingly wholesome story that I couldn’t put it down. To be honest, I shed tears of joy to hear a pro-gay advocate who has a relatively decent relationship with her older, conservative parents, her conventional Bible church, keeping her self-proclaimed identity as an evangelical. With so much deconstruction and drifting away from core evangelical truths these days — and a valorization of that, it seems, in some circles — it was refreshing to see a woman reforming her theological views on this one thing without ditching the whole of evangelical faith and robust Christian discipleship and her love of the Bible.

As Don McLaughlin (a senior minister of the North Atlantic Church of Christ who, I suspect, does not fully agree with Sally’s position as a fully affirming Christian) puts it,

I have known Sally Gary for nearly twenty years. She has been — and still is — deeply committed to faith, Scripture, and the church. In sync with the same spirit she has demonstrated all these years, I recommend this vital work. Sally does not demand agreement, but she appeals for understanding — for a hearing of her personal journey as a gay Christ-follower and as a member of his body, the church.

Here is part of the backstory of this moving story: a decade ago Sally came out as a gay, Southern Christian and, perhaps inspired by Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, she wrote a book called Loves God, Likes Girls: A Memoir, published by her denominational publishing house, Leafwood. She tells of her Churches of Christ church culture, of Texas youth groups and holiness church camps, of mission trips and the young adult Christian college scene at Abilene Christian University, and other telling bits about her life and Bible believing family within her tightly knit church (and denomination.) It was moving to learn what it was like coming out even as she assured readers that she still believed in the conventional Biblical interpretation that these desires were disordered and that she would be committed to Christian celibacy.

(As you may know, there is quite a movement, these days of LGBTQ believers who feel it is best to be out and generally unashamed about their sexuality but who still maintain traditionalist views of sexual ethics and marriage. See, for instance, the recent book of stories compiled by Mark Yarhouse and Olya Zaporozherts called Costly Obedience: What We Can Learn from the Celibate Gay Christian Community.) 

As should be clear from the new title of this new one by Ms Gary, her second memoir (published by Eerdmans) is about her growth and change, about her changing her mind about what the Bible does and doesn’t say and mean and demand, and how to share that more inclusive and affirming view with her people. Affirming is no screed or Bible study (although, in memoir fashion, she does describe some of the process and conversations she went through in this conversion to this new perspective.) I resonated with listening in as a vibrant and thoughtful young woman who obviously loves Jesus and her family and her church undertook a journey to figure something out, to study and pray and read and talk and listen to others from various quarters, all while trying to be honest about her experiences, her understanding, her soul and her loves, and what it means to be faithful to the God she knows.

After college, Sally was working in Christian higher education, got a Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian and spent some time as a person of evangelical faith earning a law degree from Texas Tech. (Did I say she is super smart?) Soon enough, she started a safe place called CenterPeace that has become known as a helpful nonprofit to minister to and with LGBTQ and questioning kids. As she becomes clearer about her own need for personal integrity and as she is honest about her desires (unchanged after years of celibacy and prayer and advocacy for trusting God in traditionalist views) she increasingly saw her lesbian sexuality less in conflict with her faith but as a given from God, an orientation that called forth certain kinds of  intimacies. As the publisher puts it, “Her story is a resounding reminder that, just like Sally’s own heart, things can chance, and, sometimes, when we earnestly search for the truth, we find it in the most unexpected places.”

I appreciate and affirm the comments about Affirming: A Memoir… by Justin Lee (author of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate) who says:

This is a powerful read — not only for Christians who want to better understand the LGBTQ community, but for anyone wanting to rekindle their faith. A few chapters in, I thought I was reading a simple, folksy memoir of growing up in the Churches of Christ. By the end, I had tears in my eyes. In a world that increasingly sees Christians as hypocrites and homophobes, Sally’s story is just what we need to remind us of what drew so many of us to Jesus in the first place.

What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance Carolyn Forché (Penguin) $18.00


Do you recall I said in both the previous BookNotes listing of memoirs (“Part One”) and at the start of this column (“Part Two”), that I’ve recently read books that are utterly unforgettable for me? This is one of those, a story that kept me up late at night, tearing through the pages, only to stop and tell anybody within listening distance how weird and exciting and powerful and captivating this wrenching, brutal, spectacular story is. It is hard to explain and I will not do it just in my brief description. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. Wow.

First, I am not alone in raving about this riveting read. It was a Finalist for the National Book Award in 2019. Margaret Atwood called it “astonishing” and one paper’s review said it was “Unflinching… Reading it will change you, perhaps forever.” The New York Times called it “Riveting, intricate and surprising.” The New York Times Book Review said:

One recovered incident, person, landscape, and image at a time, the narrative advances, accruing tremendous authority and emotional power… it is a magnificent memoir.

What is it about? It is a rememberance of a period in the life of poet Carolyn Forche who was twenty-seven when a mysterious stranger first appears on her doorstep. She is a working writer, teacher, in a relationship, socially conscious but comfortable in her bohemian artsy lifestyle. 

After a stunning foreword, the first line of the first chapter is “Over the years, I have asked myself what would have happened if I hadn’t answered the door that morning, if I’d hidden until the stranger was gone.”

I can hardly explain to you why you should consider this extraordinary book; should I start with the quality of the luminous writing, the reputation she has garnered as a poet (and now as a memoirist) in league with Pablo Neruda or Czelslaw Milosz for giving us an account, in the words of one critic, “of a poet’s education, the struggle of a great artist to be worthy of her gifts.”

Or, perhaps somewhat easier — although it is so bizarre it is hard to say it convincingly — I should tell you what the basic plot is. You see, this stranger seems like a character from a TV show or movie— larger than life, obsessed, mystifying, utterly compelling, at least to follow and see what the hell is going on. He invites her to go to El Salvador with him and she agrees.

As the back cover explains:

Carolyn Forché is twenty-seven when the mysterious stranger appears on her doorstep. The relative of a friend, he is a charming polymath with a mind as seemingly disordered as it is brilliant. She’s heard rumors from her friend about who he might be: a lone wolf, a communist, a CIA operative, a sharpshooter, a revolutionary, a small coffee farmer, but according to her, no one seemed to know for certain. He has driven from El Salvador to invite Forché to visit and learn about his country. Captivated for reasons she doesn’t fully understand, she accepts and becomes enmeshed in something beyond her comprehension.

Together they meet with high-ranking military officers, impoverished farm workers, and clergy desperately trying to assist the poor and keep the peace. These encounters are a part of his plan to educate her, but also to learn for himself just how close the country is to war. As priests and farm-workers are murdered and protest marches attacked, he is determined to save his country, and Forché is swept up in his work and in the lives of his friends. Pursued by death squads and sheltering in safe houses, the two forge a rich friendship, as she attempts to make sense of what she’s experiencing and establish a moral foothold amidst profound suffering. This is the powerful story of a poet’s experience in a country on the verge of war, and a journey toward social conscience in a perilous time.

So. There are the bare bones of this enchanting, spellbinding, powerful story. For those of us who protested the awful actions of the US government (in the Reagan years, mostly) of supporting death squares, the School of the Americas teaching assassination, of rape and torture, the killing of nuns and the hit-squad murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, picking up this literary memoir and reading up close about farmworkers and peasant collectives, about murder and CIA involvement, about the repression of the churches who wanted to help their poor parishioners find the bodies of the disappeared, this is a bad trip down a rocky memory lane. For those who do not know about, say, how on Dec. 2, 1980, three US missionary nuns (Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, and Dorothy Kazel) and a lay missioner (Jean Donovan) were captured, raped, and murdered by members of the U.S. backed El Salvador National Guard and how their religious reputations were so besmirched by White House spokespersons, well, this is a story diving into that place in those years.

Yet, the unusual character who befriended Forché —Leonel Gomes Vides — is as interesting and colorful and hopeful as any fictional character I can recall. We are left wondering how he came to know so many people in so many places of so many political parties and sympathies (in countries other than his own, even)? How did he come to care?  He is magnetic and insistent. No wonder she follows him to the isthmus of central America. No wonder she stays longer than she intended. No wonder her mind is captivated and her heart broken over the tragedies unfolding. This is much of the point, he says — he wants her to be a good poet, a good artist, and to tell the truth about the impending doom. Why her? She wonders that until this day…

What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance is an important book and a heck of a ride. It is mesmerizing and curious, odd and prophetic. I hope a few of our BookNotes readers order it from us. As I said, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it.

Don’t miss these endorsements. Please, really — read these recommendations.

“Carolyn Forché asks us not only to hear, but to see, the scale of human and moral devastation in El Salvador. For those of us who are citizens and residents of the United States, Forché’s powerful, moving, and disturbing memoir also demands that we recognize our country’s responsibility for the atrocities committed by the El Salvadoran military. As is the case with her poetry, Forché’s nonfiction asserts the need for truth–in our politics, in our writing, in our witnessing.” — Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer

“In this galvanizing memoir, Forché recounts her political awakening under fire with a poet’s lyrical acuity and a storyteller’s drama…. Forché recounts her frightening and transformative encounters with scorching specificity and portrays her brilliant and courageous mentor and other resistance fighters with wonder and gratitude. This clarion work of remembrance, this indelible testimony to a horrific battle in the unending struggle for human rights, justice, and peace, stands with the dispatches of Isabel Allende, Eduardo Galeano, Pablo Neruda, and Elena Poniatowska.” — Booklist, starred review

“In this searing, vital memoir, Carolyn Forché at last reveals the dark stories behind her famous early poems: she brings alive the brutality, complexity and idealism of El Salvador in the late 1970s, a time of revolution that echoes all too painfully in the present. What You Have Heard Is True, a riveting and essential account of a young woman’s political and human awakening, is as beautiful as it is painful to read.”           —Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

What You Have Heard Is True is as much an enthralling account of a life marked by an encounter as it is a document of a time and place. Carolyn Forche’s urgent and compelling memoir narrates her role as witness in an especially explosive and precarious period in El Salvador’s history. This incredible book shapes chaos into accountability. It marries the attentive sensibility of a master poet with the unflinching eyes of a human rights activist.” — Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer  Laura M. Fabrycky (Fortress Press) $25.99


One of the frustrations of the hard hit of the pandemic over the last year was that we were unable to do our annual Best Books of the Year awards, our often two or three part BookNotes that celebrate our favorite books each year. Had we had the ability to get that done last year, this book — which came out in Lent of 2020 — would have been on it. As that Spring turned to Summer and Fall, we didn’t, almost a year ago, create that big list, and like many author’s that season, their books perhaps didn’t get the hearing they deserved.

We raved about this the best we could we it first came out. I have visited and revisited this and I continue to think it is not only an impressive work but an important one. Not only because it revolves around the life of Bonhoeffer (always an interesting and edifying topic) but because it shines as a memoir. It is, actually, the story of Laura’s work as a volunteer at the museum housed in the old Bonhoeffer house in Berlin. In a very real sense, this is a story of discovery, a memoir about learning and, importantly, with what one does with what one learns. 

Near the end, in a chapter called “Befriending Bonhoeffer” she tells about how Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s comrade in the Confessing Church movement, colleague in daily work and dear friend later initiated the project (in 1983) “to make the house place of memorial of Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy and for others to encounter his life too.” She tells a fascinating side story of an arts and writing group she is in (it’s a memoir, after all, or nearly so) and then brings it together recalling not only Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, but his deep friendships. “The Bonhoeffer-Haus reminds me,” Fabrycky continues:

…that relationships are central to the business of our common good, our common lives. A home is one of the small and seemingly insignificant places where trust is built hour by hour, day by day, while attending to household tasks… a house is a place where friendships can be discovered, sustained, and even rekindled. Our friendships need places, too.

This good insight about place comes on the heels of another discussion about embodied life in the digital age — again, you can see that she is learning from the attention payed to the details in this place, this historic, German haus.

When I reviewed it in a March 2020 BookNotes, I said, “It is timely, beautiful, informative, and exceptionally profound. I loved it.”

Here is more of what I wrote in that review:

Keys to… isn’t precisely a biography, as it is a memoir of an (American) woman who became a curator at the home – the haus – of Bonhoeffer in Berlin. It is a look into his world by way of being in his neighborhood and, literally, his house. In a way, this is an ideal window into the man and his role in history for those that don’t want to wade through a major, chronological biography.

Beautiful? Oh my, I should describe this with vivid and glowing words but cannot do this lovely book justice. Laura Fabrycky is a very fine writer and has given us a book that is intelligent and eloquent and elegant and creative. That she is, in fact, a published poet doesn’t hurt. (See her Give Me the Word: Advent and Other Poems.) Those of us who enjoy memoir and creative nonfiction will enjoy these essays that are grounded in her own story, living in Berlin with her diplomat husband and young children, discovering this nearby house, being drawn to it time and time again, eventually learning to be a guide to the tours. We are enthralled as she increasingly feels at home reflecting on the story that is mid-twentieth century Germany, the complicity of the Church with Nazism, and the faithfulness of the underground Confessing Church movement.

We learn much about the fidelity of this movement and this particular man who lived in the haus, but it is also the story of Laura’s learning, Laura’s own internalizing of the issues that pressed upon them in those hard years and what it may mean for our own faithfulness in our time, in any time. This makes for reflective writing and she is self-aware and artful in how she shares her story. It makes Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus a truly enjoyable and very stimulating reading experience.

I said it was informative. It certainly is because although it is a first-person narrative of the Fabrycky family in foreign service in Germany and Laura’s own coming to grips with what she was learning, she does share, in fact, what she was learning. So it is very informative about good stuff – documents that she discovers, paintings, books, and a very clear report of her own study of the history of German culture – and it is informative about little things. For instance, there is a cigarette burn on the famous desk of Bonhoeffer in his small bedroom. There is a clavichord there in the corner. (We know how much he loved music and many of us will recall that he commends singing as a body in his classic book Life Together.) She doesn’t just teach us that Bonhoeffer studied and valued music, she write about the clavichord. You really do learn a lot from this book, in fresh and compelling ways, even if you’ve read Bonhoeffer’s own books and the standard bios about him.

Keys To Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is, as I have said, timely, beautiful, and very informative. But it is the fourth trait that I mentioned – its profundity – that deserves critical conversation and I wish I had room to explore it more: the book is profound and wise and good as the author helps us learn to understand our own complicity in injustices and how we are implicated in the fallenness of our times; further, she deeply knows of the grace of the gospel which not only forgives but calls us all to take up – as her friend Steve Garber puts it – “visions of vocation” as we “weave together belief and behavior.” Or, as Bonhoeffer put it more tersely, as we die to self by taking up “the cost of discipleship.”

The book has been called “part biography, part travel memoir, and part call to action” and it is Fabrycky’s gentle, yet morally serious “call to action” that must be considered. She does not preach or cajole; she is not ideological, left or right. (I simply most note that, as Stephen Haynes explores in his book The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump [Eerdmans; $19.99] many Bonhoeffer scholars and fans and biographers are themselves deeply committed to right wing or left wing assumptions and ideologies.)

Ms. Fabrycky is not unbiased, of course (no one is) and she is interested in our civic responsibilities and our public witness, but not merely around this cause or that issue. It is rare, I think, in the way in which the author invites us to allow Bonhoeffer to inform us, to speak to us anew, but profoundly and radically, which is part of the value of this extraordinary book. Her moral imagination has been shaped by other important writers and thinkers, again, making this a book from which you will learn much and be called to much. (What do we do with what we know she asks – especially in an unforgettable reflection on the skilled engineers who improved the efficiencies of the death camps and, of course, her reminder of the famous line by Arendt about the banality of evil.) She knows a bit about our own troubled times and she knows some of what we might discover when we study the details of Bonhoeffer’s life. That is, to put it rather simplistically, this book helps us learn what we do today to be faithful to Bonhoeffer’s legacy. How might we be responsible in our own time in history as he was in his?

As Dr. Victorian Barnett (the general editor of the esteemed Bonhoeffer Works English translation project puts it) Laura Fabrycky “offers a profound and moving reflection on what history can teach us about living mindfully and faithfully.”

I like very much the way Anne Snyder, editor of Comment magazine, describes Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus:

With self-awareness, vulnerability, humility, and historical rigor, Fabrycky captains a journey that is as engrossing as it is instructive. While Bonhoeffer’s times are not our times, there are echoes worth attending to: his keys to a discernment of public consequence, our keys to private sanity and civic hope.

Sanctuary: Being a Christian in the Wake of Trump Heidi B. Neumark (Eerdmans) $24.99


There is quite a collection these days of well written memoirs of pastors within mainline denominational churches. If evangelicals are telling stories of personal faith (and, increasingly, deconstruction of childhood verities and church cultures) or how God has helped them though various and sundry difficulties, how to live ones best life now, mainline folks continue to struggle with what it means to be a progressive voice in an increasingly conservative US culture, shaped by the ethics of Jesus and the passion of the prophetic who denounced injustice, greed, and the like. For those captured by the liberationist themes of the gospel, insisting that faith must embody Jubilee-justice and be “good news to the poor” (as Jesus himself put it in his first sermon, recorded in Luke 4) the ways in which ordinary churches do that is vexing at best. From clergy burnout to wholistic evangelism, from caring for ones unchurched neighbors to being prophetic in matters of racial injustice, we have many books narrating the lives of pastors and clergy within conventional mainline parishes.

Such is the incredible witness of Heidi Neumark, who has served (and written about) being a Lutheran pastor in the South Bronx and, now, in Manhattan. One need not necessarily see this as a call to faith-based resistance to the policies and demeanor of the President during the Trump years (although that is when the book was written) but, rather, as a story of a congregation’s vision to create real community in the face of urban poverty, homelessness, gentrification issues, racism, repression of immigrants, drug and health problems, etcetera. The cultural pressure against helping immigrants and the poor was heating up. Few pastors have the capacity to lead churches that care about so many of these pressing issues, but there she is, thick in the middle of a very personal ministry among (as her friend Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign puts it) “the bruised, battered, and abandoned.” She continues, “Neumark’s stories embody the call of the gospel to preach good news to the poor and bring comfort to the broken amid bedbugs, detention centers, and systemic injustice.” 

Rev. Neumark’s first book was an eloquent read, published nicely on a mainstream publishing house, entitled Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. The title of this, her recent memoir, Sanctuary, seems to be a bit of a bridge from and connected to, that earlier phrase “Breathing Space.” As she puts it early on in the book, “Through the pages of this book, I invite you into various spaces of sanctuary — not as places of retreat, but for the deepened resistance, vision, and transformation that these days and the gospel require.” She offers a gospel that can be a sanctuary amid the turmoils of life and in this book she pushes that to be a more public sort of space, as “the true Christian calling is to live out a counterpoint to today’s prevailing spirits of exclusion and hatred.

She uses her own bilingual and multicultural congregation (Holy Trinity Lutheran) as somewhat of a model of trying to live this way, do church this way, walking us through the liturgical seasons of the church year as stories of inclusive and caring ministry unfold. There are vivid church stories here, bringing to mind the testimony in books like the fabulous For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World by Emily Scott or Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead by Sara Miles or Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber or the work of Jehu’s Table in Brooklyn, pastored by Lenny Duncan (author of Dear Church, shaped by his life described in United States of Grace: A Memoir of Homelessness, Addiction, Incarceration, and Hope.)

“Heidi Neumark’s books always take me to places I’ve never been. Sanctuary is no exception. It is more than a prophetic response to one president or one political party. It is a series of eloquent dispatches from the front where genuine ministry is happening, delivered by a trusted and wise messenger. This is a wonderful book.”                       — Richard Lischer, author of Just Tell the Truth: A Call to Faith, Hope, and Courage

“Neumark has the unique ability to bring together people and events that are seldom in the same space—consider her chapter, ‘Bed Bugs, Condoms, Frankincense, and Myrrh.’ Biblical texts and church seasons intersect with politics without apology: ‘It’s remarkable,’ she writes, ‘that people who gather to worship in spaces with a cross prominently displayed become upset about politics in the sanctuary.’ You will never say ‘sanctuary’ again without hearing her passionate plea for the church to take sides—based on the Bible—with those whose lives are demeaned and dismissed. This is a book many have been waiting for; hopefully, it will also be read by those who didn’t know they were waiting.”  — Barbara K. Lundblad Union Theological Seminary, New York City

Portraits of Peace: Searching for Hope in a Divided America John Noltner (Broadleaf Books) $27.99


When a handsome book of black and white portraits appears with the suggesting shelving categories as “travel and travelogue” and “photography” and “memoir”, but it is done by a respected peacemaker, we are not exactly sure what to do with it. As with many good books, this new one defies easy categorization. It is a slightly oversized hardback with artful photographs of people — not the zestfully playful “Humans of New York” project (cool as that is) but moody close-ups that capture the eyes, the clothing, the place, perhaps, of people across our land. Evocative and helpful as they are, this is not primarily a book of photographs, but it is about the photographs, about the people and their hopes and dreams.

The author is a master of the portrait, but his deeper agenda is to get to know people across social and cultural and political divides. This really is a story about hearing people’s stories and their longing for safety and respect and well being. Although the authors good photographs have appeared in distinguished publications such as National Geographic and Forbes and Midwest Living, he is also a born storyteller. This book is the prefect combination of his art of photography, his art of listening well, and his art of storytelling as he takes us on the journey across American to get these shots and hear these folks. And, always, he asks one key question.

In fact, here is how the publisher describes this publishing project:

Frustrated with an increasingly polarized social landscape, award-winning photographer John Noltner set out on a 40,000-mile road trip across the United States to rediscover the common humanity that connects us. He did so by asking people one simple question: What does peace mean to you? Through difficult conversations, gentle humor, and a keen eye for beauty, Noltner’s Portraits of Peace captures a rich collage of who we are as a nation.

In a sense, Portraits of Peace is a perfect book to end our list of good memoirs. It is a tribute to hearing well the stories of others and honoring the dignity of all. Yes, he is searching for hope in this increasingly divided culture (and, yes, even this stance of wanting to hear others and be a peacemaker is, itself, a divisive thing to some.) Still, on he goes, asking about peace. Some of his work has been on tour with the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the intriguing Gandhi-King Conference on Nonviolence and now Portraits of Peace is yet another resource for peace building, right here at home. 

Perhaps this book can be a “promising road map to a peaceful future as a pluralistic society.”

Listen to what two great peacemakers — Parker Palmer and Padraig O Team — have said about this handsome volume:

Getting to know each other’s personal stories is one of the best ways to bridge our deep divides and reclaim the power of ‘We the People’; this book gives us that chance. Portraits of Peace also gives us a chance to correct the lenses through which we look at others, and get back in touch with our shared humanity. — Parker J. Palmer, author of Healing the Heart of DemocracyLet Your Life Speak, and On the Brink of Everything

John Noltner knows three things about stories: people have them; people need to be heard; people need to listen. In this latest collection of stories, he comforts and challenges, he shows the fractured stories and the flourishing ones, he shares stories that contract and stories that expand. In this, he is a curator of the thing that might save us: our capacity to tell; our capacity to listen; our capacity to change. — Pádraig Ó Tuama, host of Poetry Unboundand author of In the Shelter and Borders and Belonging

PRE-ORDER NOW Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and The World and How to Repair It All Lisa Sharon Harper (Brazos Press) $24.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99  Not Yet Released : DUE FEBRUARY 8, 2022

This author is a friend that we esteem so much –she is brave and outspoken and an amazing leader with a robust and holistic vision of the reign of God and how the reconciliation Christ brings is the only answer to our world’s messed up condition. In her must-read The Very Good Gospel she unpacks the Bible’s narrative as she moves from the goodness of creational shalom to the way sin and idolatry has caused alienation and brokenness and how Christ comes to make things new, to healed, restore, reconcile. In the second half of that book she shows how a stronger vision and commitment to the ministry of reconciliation could impact various arenas of alienation — between genders, nations, the rich and the poor, races, humans and other creatures, even ourselves and our own bodies. Our ultimate alienation from God is the fundamental problem and flowing out from the gracious mercy of God that heals that wound, other wounds can be healed. She is one of the most realistic people I know about the horrible implications of personal and institutional and cultural sin and yet, as a Biblical Christian, she remains hopeful somehow.

Those who have heard her speak or read her books know that in her ancestry there are, of course, enslaved persons. And indigenous First Nation peoples. She carries in her own genes the results of oppression and anguish and courage and resistance (and, she has connected with others of her multi-ethnic background and, this, and be fruitful with some humane and glorious stories. This, too, is a sign of Kingdom come.)

That Lisa has taken up the significant calling of writing down her ancestry and her family story, is heavy and exceptional. Fortune is now one of our most anticipated releases of the forthcoming New Year with both Beth and me very eager to see this book. Lisa has been working on this genealogical stuff for years, now, so this isn’t surprising. But it still sort of makes me gasp that she is sharing it with the world and using it as a springboard for redemptive insight.  Wow.

Although the release date of her book is early February, with supply chain issues and printing backlogs it could possibly be delayed. On the other hand, we often get titles from this good publisher a bit early — so who knows.

Pre-order it now at our secure order page at the Hearts & Minds website and we will not use your credit card digits until we send the package next year. We can get you on the waiting list and send it the day it arrives, enclosing your credit card receipt in the package showing all your details. As always, we also say at the website that you can always ask for an invoice so you can pay by check later. That works. In whatever way you want to handle it, Fortune by Lisa Sharon Harper is 20% off and it would be our honor to get to send it to you. It’s going to be a much-discussed story and I will be sure to review it more properly once it is nearer the release date.

For now, the publisher says this:

Harper has spent three decades researching ten generations of her family history through DNA research, oral histories, interviews, and genealogy. Fortune, the name of Harper’s first nonindigenous ancestor born on American soil, bore the brunt of the nation’s first race, gender, and citizenship laws. As Harper traces her family’s story through succeeding generations, she shows how American ideas, customs, and laws robbed her ancestors–and the ancestors of so many others–of their humanity and flourishing.

Fortune helps readers understand how America was built upon systems and structures that blessed some and cursed others, allowing Americans of European descent to benefit from the colonization, genocide, enslavement, rape, and exploitation of people of color. As Harper lights a path through national and religious history, she clarifies exactly how and when the world broke and shows the way to redemption for us all. The book culminates with a powerful and compelling vision of truth telling, reparation, and forgiveness that leads to Beloved Community. It includes illustrations and a glossy eight-page black-and-white insert featuring photos of Harper’s family.

Fortune… releases February 8, 2022. You may pre-order it now.



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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.49.
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Recent, stunning memoirs reviewed (PART ONE) including by Philip Yancey, Kate Bowler, Ross Douthat, Gregory Boyle, Anne Lamott, and more – 20% off at Hearts & Minds

PART ONE: More memoirs coming soon…

BUT FIRST, NEW NOVELS!!!  All 20% off. Order easily at our link at the end of this column.

A BookNotes a few months ago was a particular blast to do as I described some of the novels that Beth and I had been reading last summer. Thanks to those who ordered from us and thanks to those who told us what they thought. They are all still at 20% off, of course (our BookNotes offers don’t quickly expire) and, yes, the eagerly anticipated Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers has arrived for those who pre-ordered it. We still have a stack here, now.

In that column we linked to several older lists, too, for those that wanted more unique fiction suggestions. I’m still surprised that some customers are surprised by our breadth in taste and that we suggest books that are not directly religious in nature. (Well, they all have some religious view, actually, some guiding worldview — doesn’t everyone? — but that’s another discussion.) Like a number of characters and teachings in the Bible, we believe in reading widely. Unlike many Christian bookstores, we carry New York Times best-sellers, fiction and nonfiction that is highly regarded or of interest to us. We invite you to order from us and to join us in this project, this story of which you are a part, forging a curated book buying space that is based on historic Christian faith but is open-minded and curious about the world of wonder we are called to care about. As Karen Swallow Prior taught us,  Alexander Pope used to say, we “read promiscuously.” As Francis Schaeffer’s mentor Hans Rookmaaker reminded us decades ago, “art needs no justification.” Do I hear an amen? In any case, we appreciate your support and glad that our efforts somehow serve your interests in finding these sorts of interesting reads.

With the turn of a couple calendar pages, we’re in a new, brisk season of amazing new novels. Talk about eagerly anticipated: we’ve got the new Anthony Doerr (of All the Light We Cannot See fame) called Cloud Cuckoo Land. Living near Route 30 as we do, we were excited to read Amor Towles’s The Lincoln Highway. (Beth adored A Gentleman in Moscow and finished Lincoln Highway late last night. She read the last few pages twice, just to be sure.) And, oh my, we’re glad that the new one by Overstory author Richard Powers is here — simply called Bewilderment. Beth is serving as a judge in a lit prize contest so has her bookstand full, but this one is coming up soon — it was shortlisted already for the Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. (And speaking of Overstory, I wonder if the highly acclaimed Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson will live up to its reputation for inspiring ecological awe and wonder as it explores the life of a blue-collar logging family.) Speaking of prestigious  award-winners: of course many are talking about the new Colson Whitehead novel, Harlem Shuffle.

Were you one of the many who enjoyed Olive Kitteridge? Elizabeth Strout’s latest installment about Lucy Baron just came a few days ago, entitled Oh William! I have reviewed Miriam Toews’s books before and her brand new Fight Night just released. We’re glad the smart Reese Witherspoon has been promoting for her book club the brand new Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo. We’ve sold her Welcome to Lagos since it came out several years ago. So, yes, there’s a lot of brand new fiction books we’d love to see some orders for.

I’ve been sporting a little pin promoting the long-awaited Jonathan Franzen, the first in a major trilogy, called Crossroads, set among the family members of a pastor of a early 70s mainline Protestant church, First Reformed. (I chuckled right out loud when one of the pastor’s kids was looking through his father’s stuff and found magazines called The Other Side and The Witness.) There’s some graphic, uh, you-know-what, and (less expected in a contemporary novel) overt theological discussions. Something to offend everyone.

RECENT MEMOIRS – PART ONE. All 20% off. To easily order, just click on the link at the end of this BookNotes newsletter.

If our fictional suggestions were a bit wild and woolly, this BookNotes list is even more so. I like the art of memoir even more than fiction — and some memoirists are as luminous in their craft of artful writing as any novelist. And sometimes their true stories are — as we like to say — so surprising or bizarre that if a novelist made that a part of her story, some editor would say it strains credulity, with a red pencil insisting “nobody is going to believe that that would ever really happen!” I love those that are just so darn weird that it makes me gasp. What a world we live in. But I also love real-life memoirs for their subtlety and making the (sometimes) mundane meaningful, learning how other people construe their lives. Thanks to these writers who dared to tell their story. A few of these memoirs I know I will never forget.

In no particular order, here are memoirs and autobiographical works I’ve read in the past months, many quite new, a few older. All are 20% off. Enjoy!

Where the Light Fell: A Memoir Philip Yancey (Convergence) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Phil Yancey is, for many of us, nearly a patron saint, an icon, a thoughtful evangelical who is widely read, smart, kind, a talented reporter and good writer, artfully exploring, often, suffering and grace and Biblical faith that isn’t pushy or dishonest about its quandaries. When he says that this brand new one is a book he was born to write, we take notice. And, wow, what a story.

I must admit that it wasn’t utterly surprising to hear of his fundamentalist background, his southern racism, his graceless mother, his doubts and struggles and hopes for a kind church that honors Jesus by showing goodness and grace to all.  He has mentioned his painful upbringing and the church of “un-grace” that he experienced. Yet, having written journalistic books like Soul Survivor which tells of great, thoughtful, people of faith who inspired him and kept him going, we knew he was a kindred spirit. But, wow, I had no idea how neurotic and broken and ugly and hard his growing up years were. 

Yancey has been criticized for naming the abuse and racism of his past, but he seems nearly always generous, magnanimous, sometimes,  even.  As some have said, this is a breathtaking work of God in his life, that as he is able to live through such toxic stuff from his past and still maintain a healthy Christian faith and life. Having finished the book with tears in my eyes, I agree — it would make sense, if he, like the brother who figures so much into this story, walks away from faith. But he does not, so there is no surprise ending here; we know that going in. But, still, what a captivating plot and what an amazing ending Where the Light Falls offers.

The comparisons to Educated and Hillbilly Elegy ring somewhat true. But as he notes (especially in conversations with his bitter, now atheistic older brother) many people were abused much worse than they were, many experienced violence of a sort that is multiple times more harsh, and some are yet resilient. His story has some harsh scenes and there is no denying the pain his family has experienced, but it isn’t as dramatic or rare as either of those two popular memoirs.

Where the Light Fell will mesmerize many who don’t understand the revivalism and sectarianism of classic American fundamentalism. They will be shocked that he attended Bob Jones, a notoriously conservative and, at the time, racist Bible college in South Carolina. It is a realistic glimpse into that part of our county’s population. But, I think, it will also ring true to many who grew up in that kind of strict, religious home. It will ring true to those who have severely ruptured family relationships, who have experienced grief and sorrow even as they’ve quested for meaning and purpose, God and redemption. It is a slow, calm, plainly spoken story for the first three-quarters of the narrative, anyway. 

And then the pace quickens, the tragedy and the sorrow deepen, and the goodness of finding true faith, healthy enjoyments, a good romance, and new hope — despite all, including some signifiant new and tragic turns for brother Marshall — comes alive. I wept away tears in these last chapters as the story wove its way to contemporary times and some sort of layered resolution. 

Yancey has been interviewed a number of places on line, from more conventional  authors and from characters like Kate Bowler and Bob Goff. I’m glad for this as the typically demure Yancey gets to shine as he tells his real story, the story he says he was born to write. Check out some of the many reviews out there, enjoy the online interviews you might find, and come back and order the book from us, please. It is one of the very good memoirs of the year.

No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) Kate Bowler (Random House) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Well, if you know the horrible, funny, wise, questioning, upbeat, honest and very popular story of this young, Duke Divinity School prof and scholar getting what seems to be terminal cancer, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I Loved), you most likely have already ordered the sequel, No Cure for Being Human. And if you haven’t, you really should — unless you need an absolutely strict and narrowly theologically-argued, strong view of the sovereignty of God (get Crossway’s Providence by John Piper for that angle, also written by a sufferer, but of a very different sort.)  Ms.Bowler, though, is the sort that walks wearing her hospital gown, hanging on to her wheelie thingie with the IV hookups, into the hospital lobby bookstore and calls bullshit on books written by prosperity teachers such as Joel Osteen. She insists that these are not appropriate for a hospital bookstore since they offer serious dishonesty and false hopes. She knows a bit about this, actually, since, in fact, her scholarly area of research has been on the name-it-and-claim-it prosperity heresies and their impact on the religious landscape. (See her 2013 Oxford University Press book Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.) In her colorful account of this flamboyant bit of Old Testament dramatic prophetic gesturing, she notes that she hates this false theology but can usually take it. But there, then, in the hospital with the sick and dying, she just lost it. Well played, Kate!

This new book is full of heart and joy, pain and struggle, stuff about the great relationship she has with her parents (she was born into a religious family in the Canadian prairies near Winnipeg.)  There are other books by people of faith coping with cancer and illness, but few as well told and honest as this, without being overly heavy on the pathos. There are some raw books of real honesty about sickness and impending death that are snarky and sarcastic, that don’t take their plight as seriously as one might think, but many of those are either oddly self-reliant or brazenly irreligious. No Cure is not like those that are finally not terribly helpful addressing the deepest questions. Like her friend Anne Lamott, Kate Bowler has a brilliant wit and style about her that is both snide and deeply religious; full of sarcasm and candor, tender and, at times, tough. I know it sounds like a cliche but it is true: you will laugh and you will cry. There is, after all, no cure for being human.

I loved this small hardback book. It has moments that are truly illuminating — about dumb doctors with terrible bedside manners, telling of unhelpful ways some people respond to news of her illness, but holding up for examination, also, the good stuff people do, decent and faithful efforts to get this stuff right. Kudos to Bowler for her work and witness, her good faith and her good writing, punchy and interesting as it is. We are very glad to be selling this book and (while we’re at it) taking pre-orders for forthcoming devotional that will come out in mid-February 2022 to be called Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection (Convergent Books; $20.00; our sale price = $16.00.)

The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery Ross Douthat (Convergent Books) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

Well, speaking of disease and disorder, pain and the fear of dying: Ross Douthat is a very different sort of person and author than Kate Bowler and, while good humored, writes here with utter seriousness and exceptional eloquence, about a very dark few years in his life. I have reason to care deeply about his deep place, and once I started this I was struck, although not really surprised, at how it moved me, how captivating it is, and how very important (for a few different reasons) this brand new story is. It is, among other things, about his devasting experience with chronic Lyme disease. 

Douthat is a deep thinker, a mature and conscientious writer, a pundit who makes his living on talk shows and confabs and by cranking out thoughtful editorial pieces as an in-house conservative voice for the New York Times. He is the sort of (Roman Catholic) conservative that, as we learn in bits and pieces in this story, opposed Donald Trump and became known in moderate, intellectual circles for insisting that the GOP find a candidate that held to classic conservative values and virtues. Be that as it may, Douthat is an author I respect (and whose last book — called The Decadent Society, which even-handedly stepped on right and left-wing toes — I favorably reviewed and recommended.)  In The Deep Places he says in passing that it is nearly miraculous that he wrote that book (or accomplished much of anything) in these years of brain fog and near constant pain, some of it vicious and debilitating. This story is not for the faint of heart.

I commend this new memoir for anyone coping with the pain of illness, with chronic disorders, with bad luck or hard times. He is eloquent, religious without being weird, faithful but honest as he struggles to find hope and resilience while nearly often laid low.

For those of us who have been there, or who have had family members or loved ones who have been debilitated with whatever sort of hardships or disabilities that our frail human family often endures, this book will give voice to the many feelings and questions that arise with the struggles we face. It is not dense or an exercise in whining or even lament, although he tells of times when that was his lot. It is well written, moving without being maudlin, frank; it’s a good memoir about life, about buying a home — near Lyme, Connecticut, in a twist of fate that makes me think he was born to write this book! — starting a family, struggling with civic and neighborhood responsibilities, financial issues, career questions, extended family stuff, a little bit of faith and church life. As a story of an upper middle class white guy’s life and times, reflective and well written, it is a gem of a story. But as all hell breaks loose in his body and mind, The Deep Places quickly becomes one of the most unforgettable books I’ve ever read.

As a memoir of illness and a story of coping, it shines. For those who read this genre, you won’t want to miss it; in this sense it is both entertaining and edifying. It’s a good, good read, as good as any contemporary novel of suburban angst in the early 21st century or the harrowing experience of being sick or debilitated.

But here is what set The Deepest Place into a class unlike any other book of this kind, a book that makes it simply a must-read, one of the best books fo 2021: it both explains and explores the epidemic of Lyme disease in a more interesting manner than any other book on the topic (topping, for my money, the excellent Cure Unknown by Pamela Weintraub) and it describes with reasonable skepticism, the subculture of those struggling outside the medical mainstream for a cure for their tick-born illnesses.  His self-aware foray into a desperate underground is fascinating and reliably told.

You see, the CDC and other official medical groups have declared that there is no such thing as on-going, chronic Lyme disease. That is, if you take some course of antibiotics and don’t get better, then, well, you must have something else. Most likely it is all in your head (especially if you are female) and the docs just declare there is little they can do. (One cannot get healed from a disease one does not have.) Or, perhaps, they say it is something else — we know people who were wrongly told they have MS or fibromyalgia or Crones disease because, well, Lyme or Bartonella, just goes away quickly, and if it doesn’t, you’ve got something else — something untreatable, usually. They even have a name for it, now: post-Lyme Disease Syndrome. For those who suffer with chronic Lyme it is considered dismissive, insulting, hurtful, and, frankly, not adequately scientific.

Which necessarily creates alternative medical practices and researchers and groups of folk trying all manner of wacky stuff to get better. Ross Douthart, conservative thinker and sophisticated writer, simply couldn’t imagine himself, a year earlier, ever entertaining the seemingly eccentric cures (some with significant medical and scientific evidence of some success, and others on the verge of quackery.) But there he is, going down rabbit holes into oddball treatments and conspiracy theories. How does somebody become this desperate so quickly?

And this is where the book shines. He is exquisitely aware that some of these eccentric treatments are long-shots at best. He knows he has become deeply engaged with a true sub-culture, a networked movement made up not only of reasonable health care practitioners but populated also with flat-earth conspiracy guys, social weirdos, folks dabbling in the occult, people who have maybe lost their minds. What is one to make in our secular age — yes, he reads Charles Taylor; he’s that kind of a guy — of an Enlightenment-based, rationalism that shapes a medical establishment that simply can’t see all that is there to see? What is one to make of the near spiritual overtones of some of the herbal remedies and protocols?  One need not quote Shakespeare’s Horatio line to see the wisdom here. Indeed, our reductionistic metrics (and often dehumanizing practices) that inform the habits of the medical establishment — from research centers to examine rooms — need a reforming vision that is more honest, more human, more open. And The Deepest Place tells of Douthat’s first hand encounter with the way in which an unhelpful medical stonewall drove him into a whole other world, on line and in Lyme disease support groups, searching for Lyme-literate health care providers and some glimmer of hope. You will find, reading this marvelous story, whether that alt-world of Herxing and co-infections, unique protocols and supplements and Rife machines and hyperbaric chambers and IV pics and prayer and therapy really did help or not.

Almost everywhere in North America, the Lyme disease epidemic is spreading and with climate change there is no doubt that tick-borne illnesses will be more wide-spread and, most likely, more devastating. And, no, it is not conspiracy theory gullibility to report what open-minded docs are finding — the relationship between tick-born disease and mental health issues, for instance, and the way they sometimes find tick-born spirochetes in the autopsied brains of those with Alzheimers, the huge anecdata about medical practitioners ignorance about the basic facts of Lyme. (No, Lyme doesn’t always present itself with a bulls-eye rash, but if it does, it is a sure sign, regardless of the often unreliable blood tests.) This book will help you see the crisis, it will help you understand what it is like to have to live life under such pain and with such a sense of being an outcast, disrespected, a pariah, even, for not getting better as the doctors say you should.

I do not want to scare anyone away, and I’m not sure the good Mr. D would put it this way, but, on one hand, this is a moving memoir of an interesting young family with chronic pain and the hope of recovery; yes. It is also a book about Lyme disease and its fascinating history and the current state of the art of understanding it. But it is also, also, finally, a book about epistemology. That is, how does one really know anything in this crazy world? If trusted established institutions — in medicine, say — are so wrong about this, what else gives? Who is to say whether mainstream medical authorities are right or are the tens of thousands of ordinary people who have discovered otherwise? 

If deep thinkers who tilt right (like Douthart himself, or his friend Rod Dreher, or scholars like Yuval Levin) warn us about the crisis of cultural authority, and if lefty postmodern critics remind us to question the truisms of institutions, wondering about their power and what they have to gain from maintaining the status quo, then the insights Douthart explores — with a light touch, since this is a memoir, telling of his thoughts and experiences, not a treatise, as such — are exceptionally important for those of us who want to forge a healthy worldview that leans into contemporary life with wisdom. In this sense, this book is an immeasurable gift, gently inspiring us to wonder: how do we know what is true? What do we trust? Why? And, that, my friends, now more than ever, is nothing short of essential. The Deepest Place is hard to read at times but it is thrilling, combining personal memoir and this hint of cultural criticism. It’s a beautifully good read, illuminating, and very, very highly recommended.

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats Kristen Iversen (Broadway Books) $17.00                                                       OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

I wish I had time and space to write a major review of this because it means a whole lot to Beth and me. It is a uniquely well written and captivating story of a young woman growing up next to the now infamous (but at the time, secretive) plant that made small nuclear weapons that actually served, essentially, as the firing caps to set off the world’s largest H-bombs, the most destructive weapons of mass destruction in the history of the human race. Because they were assembled elsewhere — that would be the also secretive plant in Amarillo, Texas — it wasn’t, it seems, under the same sorts of scrutiny and regulations and international law as you might think. Opened by the Atomic Energy Commission in the early 1950s, there were plutonium fires and toxic waste accidents and controversies about the high security nature of the jobs of many of the authors friends there at plant just outside of Denver, CO. But she’s a kid in the 70s, riding her bike with her friends, and this portion of the memoir is captivating, if bittersweet, as you may know some of what is coming. Oh, these stories of innocence lost…

As the captivating story unfolds and Iversen grows into adulthood in the late 1970s and into the ’80s it becomes clear that the plant is making nuclear weapons that will be used to incinerate civilians in cities, mostly likely in Russia. (Not to mention that this puts them on targeting map for incoming Russian missiles.) This leads to the era of the nuclear-freeze campaign and the world’s religious leaders (including the Pope and Billy Graham) condemn the use of these weapons. (Although it doesn’t come up in the memoir, as an aside, it is interesting that the Roman Catholic Bishop of aforementioned Amarillo, Texas, said it was a sin to work in that weapons, plant.) There are protests at Rocky Flats and more accidents, arguments for and against the need for deterrence and what the Pentagon called “mutually assured destruction.” Not surprisingly, regardless, despite the health risks, working class folks entering the growing Denver middle class needed good jobs to pay for good suburban homes. Kristen Iversen tells all of this in a classic memoir style, sharing her own interior life as she ponders her experiences, even as she tells of her growing up and young adult years in college and beyond, there in the suburbs and farmland of the front range. 

This quietly momentous story is recommended for anyone interested in questions about moral formation, how some come to live with great evil, or come to have the courage to say no. There is no grand religious conversion or radicalization in Full Body Burden, but Iversen keenly feels the weight of the gravity of this employer at center of her childhood neighborhood.  Friends who work they may have reached maximum radioactivity exposure (the “full body burden” of the title.) Farmers are reporting deformities of their animals; the plant is accused of polluting Denver land and water supplies; global peacemakers are denouncing US policy that pays millions to the plant to make weapons that, if used, will incinerate innocent civilians and perhaps start a nuclear world war.

As it ends up, dear friends, the plant was managed by Rockwell International out of Pittsburgh, PA in the late 1970s and early 80s. A group of us, inspired in part by Sojourners magazine and our friends at Jonah House, the war resistance community founded by Phil Berrigan and Elizabeth McAllister, tried to act like Old Testament prophets to expose and denounce the idols that nuclear weapons had become; we occasionally disrupted business as usual at Rockwell’s home office in what was then called the U.S. Steel Building. We were from time to time arrested, carted out of share holders meetings, involved in sits-ins and public dramatizations about the impending doom on planet Earth — perhaps engulfing us all, if Rocky Flats blew. There were nuclear scientists and people all over the country that eventually expressed fearsome concern about Rocky Flats and we felt, as people of faith committed to peacemaking in the nuclear age, that we had to protest Pittsburgh’s connection via Rockwell’s involvement in this dirty business.

Kristen Iversen alludes to the street theatre and public action against nuclear war back in Pittsburgh — and there is a page or two about some of my good friends who risked their lives nonviolently and prayerfully entering the high security zone at the plant which was much discussed afterwards not only by plant security but by the Pentagon and FBI, we were told. But she doesn’t tell our dramatic story, she tells her own, what it was like living there, year by year, having a boyfriend, going to college, looking for a job in the greater Denver area. Even if you’ve never thought about the ethics of living near a nuclear weapons plant, Full Body Burden works as a wonderfully-rendered coming of age memoir. As I often say, well-told autobiographies are often every bit as engaging and moving as a well-written novel.

Unlike anything else I’ve read in the last 40 years, this personal story captured in some sort of tangential way, a significant part of my young adult life and ministry. Some of our friends know that in circuitous ways, our Christian anti-nuclear weapons campaign against Rockwell International (vindicated, eventually, as they were indicted for one the nation’s most serious and largest cover-ups of toxic waste spills and put out of their corrupt business by the Feds) led, in a confusing way, to our starting Hearts & Minds, our bookstore here in central PA, far from downtown Pittsburgh and even farther from Rocky Flats, Colorado. Reading Full Body Burden was striking to me, triggering memories, and I wept uncontrollably through some of it. It was a good, cathartic, reading experience for me and I recommend it to others. Gladly, it has gotten rave, rave reviews from some of our best nonfiction writers, from Rebecca Skloot (who wrote The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) to Kai Bird and Bobbie Ann Mason. Mark Hertsgaard exclaims, “You don’t expect such (unobtrusively) beautiful wiring in a book about nuclear weapons, nor such captivating storytelling.”  Agreed.

If I were teaching a class on the art of memoir, I think I’d use this book. If I were teaching a class on the ethics of work, I might use this. If I were recommending a good read about coming of age in this nuclear age — that is, in our time! — I would recommend this marvelous story. If anybody wants to know why we spent a few years of our lives enmeshed with others trying to say no to those who profited by endangering us all, I’d say to read this. It is, in a very small way, a part of my own story. Thank you, Kristen Iversen. Thank you for this amazing memoir and this remarkable story, for quietly telling us of your own life, coming of age there, in that time. And thank you, too, for any who order it, to learn in this small way, about a piece of our history that should be better known.

(Reading Ms Iversen’s memoir as a memoir is a wonderful and informative experience, but if you’re interested, here’s a fairly objective Wikipedia article about the history of radioactive contamination from Rocky Flats. It is now called The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, certified eventually — although it is contested by some — safe by the EPA.

All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House David Giffels (Harper) $16.99              OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is not recent, but I finally read it over this past summer and, wow. How had I not read this before?

I’m not much of a handy man. Okay, I’m not at all;  Beth was raised in a hardware store so knows her way around a tool-box much better than I. We have a few friends who have rehabbed their broken-down homes, while living among demolished walls and bad wiring and buckets of spackle. I thought of them when I read this, perhaps one of my favorite books ever. I so, so enjoyed this and, to be honest, I wasn’t surprised.

You may recall that a few years ago I raved about another memoir by David Giffels called Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life about how he and his eighty-some year old father teamed up to build a coffin for the elderly dad. It’s a wonderful read, tender and funny, set in Giffels’s beloved blue-collar, rust-belt town of Akron Ohio — about which he wrote wonderfully in another favorite book of mine, a collection of essays called The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt. (While we’re at it, I raved here about his book this past fall trekking his home state, searching for clues to what unites and divides us, what folks yearn for, and how the looming election might go down. We’re still recommending Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America. Put on that great old Simon & Garfunkle song and check it out. It’s a wonderful, good-hearted and helpful read.)

All the Way Home, though, is what catapulted Giffels to fame, and, if you didn’t catch it above, I think I’d name it as one of my all time favorite reads. The story of “building a family in a falling down house” is a masterpiece. The Los Angles Times called it, without enough oomph or passion in my opinion, “A truly wonderful book… full of heart and cheer, a soulful, funny tale.”

Yes, wonderful, absolutely so; yes, full of heart (and at times, pathos — surprisingly so.) Yes, a fair amount of good cheer; and, yes, it is really, really funny. It isn’t just a goofy or slap-stick “money pit” story, though (although the escapade with the critters in the attic is ridiculous!) but is also thoughtful, tender memoir, an artful story about place and home and family and history and hope.

There really are some good wood-working, tool-shop, rehabbing descriptions and carpenter types or those in the building trades will enjoy it. I know nothing about that world, but, man, I was right there — I’ve done enough hammering, at least, to mostly follow. (Although, ingenius as he is, part of his thing is wanting to figure it out himself and that means — he readily admits this — that he’s in over his head a lot, underestimating said projects (and how much it costs to do them.) His friends and wife are mostly long-suffering.

Giffels is a rock and roll fan and hip music critic, too, so there’s lots of references and allusions to bands and songs so my music fan friends (you know who you are) should read this. There are appropriate lines from good albums, including this, from The Replacements: “Look me in the eye, then tell me that I’m satisfied.”

In a way, that is part of what this story is about: what does it take to calm that restless heart, to find satisfaction. (And, yes, I’d say you could cue “I Can’t Get Me No/Satisfaction” by the Akron-based Devo right about there.)

All the Way Home with that signifcant sub-title, Building a Family in a Falling-Down House book is a delight, by a master of the creative nonfiction genre. It is a coming of age story for a young dad who, as he says in his previous book, enjoys “the hard way on purpose.” I can’t say enough about this great read and highly, highly recommend it. Especially if you’ve bought a house you had to fix up, or wanted to find just that perfect place that would be home. Who like upbeat and witty writing that can evoke the feels. All the feels.

The Book of Rosy: A Mothers’s Story of Separation at the Border Rosayra Tablo Cruz & Julie Schwietert Collazo (HarperOne) $16.99                   OUR SALE PRICE =$13.59

I have read several riveting memoirs of those who have been immigrants or those who have involved themselves in the lives of refugees and immigrants and asylum seekers. In previous BookNotes I’ve told you about the unforgettable Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by journalist Sonia Nazario and the Lancaster-based story by our friend, novelist Shawn Smucker, Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor. I’ve mentioned often a book I’m even in, in passing, about Chinese asylum seekers (eventually detained for years near us in York County Prison) called The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream by the great nonfiction writer Patrick Radden Keefe. I do hope you recall our rave review of Separated by the Border: A Birth Mother, a Foster Mother, and a Migrant Child’s 3,000-Mile Journey published by IVP, written by Gena Thomas. It’s so moving, a very good idea for a book club. There are others, both journalistic reports and first-hand accounts and many of us would benefit from entering into this world, coming to know these issues — these people, for a bit. A memoir like The Book of Rosey can help.

This is a must-read for anyone wanting to “walk a mile in another’s shoes” as they say, learning empathy (at least) and most likely standing in awe at a mother’s love and determination. I found it very moving and, as Kirkus Review, said, “haunting and eloquent.” 

Although a quick summary does not do this story which is full of pathos and care and compassion and human dignity, here is how the publisher explains the plot:

 From a mother whose children were taken from her at the U.S. border by the American government in 2018 and another mother who helped reunite the family, a … story about the immigration odyssey, family separation and reunification, and the power of individuals to band together to overcome even the most cruel and unjust circumstances.”

I think it was this (one of many similar blurbs and endorsements) that convinced me to give this one a try, even though I’ve read plenty on this topic; this puts it well:

A must read. Gripping, beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming. This intimate tale of one woman’s journey across the border shines a light on the circumstances that have led thousands of women to risk all in order to give their children a safer, better life. It’s a testament to the compassion of strangers and that in these troubled times, storytelling still has the power to increase our empathy and understanding. Reading this book will change you for the better.”– J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Saints for All Occasions

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You Dina Nayeri (Catapult) $16.95       OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56

I have had this on my stack because Beth insists it is one of the best non-fiction books she has read this year. (She’s in the middle, now, of Playing Through the Whistle: Steel, Football, and an American Town about the steel-mill town of Aliquippa, PA, and their incredible fascination with hard-boiled high school football, which is a bit like her own high school alma mater of Steel High in Steelton, PA. It doesn’t quite fit the memoir category, but I promised her I’d mention it as it is nothing short of brilliant. But I digress.)

Nothing short of brilliant? That’s how she described The Ungrateful Refugee which has haunted her for weeks — the mark of a very good book.

We learned of Dina Nayeri’s honest and excellently-written memoir, I suppose, through her brother, Daniel Nayeri (author, most recently, of the most excellent YA novel Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story) that is itself nearly a slightly fictionalized memoir of his own life, about escaping from religious repression in 1980s Iran and (making a very long story too short) ending up in the publishing industry in New York. As Dina tells her dramatic version of their escape and immigration experience as a serious literary memoir, first published in the UK, she explains the complications of their Christian family and their daring escape. And the complications of being a Persian immigrant, first in Europe and then in the US, and the process of gaining asylum. Whoa!

Ms Nayeri tells of the rather quotidian experiences in all of this and what it is like going through the rigorous journeys, then the proper channels and official processes and yet she also eloquently explores the deeper meaning of what it means to be an exile from one’s homeland.

Dina was born in Iran during the revolution there and arrived in the United States when she was ten years old. A graduate of Princeton, Harvard, and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (wow!) She now lives in Paris.  As a scholar of ideas (she is a Fellow of the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination) she does explore common assumptions and misinformation about immigrants.  The Observer said it is “a work of astonishing, insistent importance… full of revelatory truths…”

We think The Ungrateful Refugee is timely and insightful, entertaining and compelling — Beth couldn’t stop talking about it as she was reading a few months ago. The New York Times Book Review said her writing, especially as she tells of other refugees she has met, is full of “tenderness and reverence.”

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

Those who know the storytelling ruminations and faith-based reflections of Anne Lamott know that she always roots her preaching of the gospel (which, after plenty of complaining, brings her good cheer) in all sorts of hardships in her own life stories. So this isn’t a memoir, exactly, not a linear, unfolding plot of her recent life. But each chapter adds a bit more color to her colorful life and a bit more faith to her life of ongoing conversion to the way of Jesus. They are sort of connected essays, storytelling from her own life, the ups and downs of these complicated days.

As she admits, “Yes, these are times of great illness and distress. Yet, the center may just hold.” 

In a way, Dusk, Night, Dawn, is a bit of a follow up to her 2018 Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. I guess you can tell by the flow of the words on the title.

Agree or not with her hippy dippy worldview and her lefty politics and her penchant for appreciating non-Christian writers and gurus, her involvement in a small, urban PC(USA) church is sincere and her telling of teaching children Sunday school, as she has done for years, is lovely, even inspiring. And her ability to turn a phrase, work a metaphor, having fun with it, and then bring the whole essay home with a punch, is masterful. What a good nonfiction writer she is, in this style that seems “down home” and unpretentious, until you realize just how crafty and well-crafted the whole thing is. Dusk, Night, Dawn is breezy and fun as a conversation partner and a collection of fine, upbeat essays, but the prose is so well developed, the words so well-chosen it is worth it just to see how she does it.

 I admire Mrs. Lamott and enjoy her, and her readers will feel that they know her a bit better after reading these connected essays. The first few, by the way, tell of her falling in love with a kindred spirit named Neal and marrying at what some might consider a surprising age. Well, nothing should surprise us about Anne Lamott! That Dusk, Night, Dawn is so good is not surprising, though — for her fans, it’s a must-have volume. For those who don’t know her, give this one a try. I trust it will make you think, and make you smile. The last short chapter, which she calls a “Coda” is entitled, simply, “Big Heart.”  Yep.

Down Along with That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy Connor Towne O’Neill (Algonquin Books) $26.95                                       OUR SALE PRICE = $21.56

Once again, I have to say that this is truly one of the best books I have read all year. I couldn’t put it down. I do hope somebody out there sends us an order or two. It is unforgettable.

I must admit that I was thrilled when on the very first page he tells of kayaking near the Wrightsville Bridge that spans the Susquehanna River not far from us. The author grew up in Lancaster, PA, and although he now lives in Mississippi (where he teaches at Auburn University) he has roots around here. So when our town of York, PA, comes up in the story — in a story I find troubling — he knows exactly what the Southern racist is talking about; he’s from here! I love these kinds of connections to a book. And, believe me, this story spans so much territory, I’ll bet you’ll find something to relate to as well. Especially if you know anybody in the deep South, in Eastern Tennessee, or in Memphis, where key parts of the story unfold. 

This is one of those creative nonfiction books that the author’s investigation of the topic is so vivid and narrated in real time that it feels very much like a memoir. Granted, this is not a full autobiography of Connor O’Neill — although he reveals plenty, from a early childhood in Philly at a mostly black school to his sussing out connections between his knowledge of the Civil War and the rise of Neo-Confederate statuary in key places throughout the south in the middle of the 20th century.

(We all know this now, don’t we? That monuments honoring those who fought for slavery in the so-called Civil War did not appear in some generic era wanting to honor the confederacy, but arose very suddenly after civil rights legislation was enacted in the late 1950s and into the heights of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. These are monuments that had specific meanings and policy agendas when they planned, paid for, and celebrated in the context of their supporters vivid anti-civil rights efforts not general peans to southern culture.)

Connor Towne O’Neill wants to know more about all this and sets out to interview those who are supporters of major statues honoring the infamous Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. We learn right away that by far, the most honored person in the confederate monument biz is not Robert E. Lee, as we might expect, but Forrest. As O’Neill explains, Forrest was a bad, bad guy, who allowed on his watch a massacre of black prisoners and who after the war founded this little thing called the Klu Klux Klan. Although it seems he much later repented of this sinful stuff nearer the end of his life, those who celebrate him know he was the first and in many ways the most storied Grand Wizard of the KKK. These are the statues that are being debated (and are said to be a non-racist symbol of genteel Southern culture.) O’Neill’s book is the best I’ve read on this and it is a wild, even entertaining ride, or it would be if it weren’t so aggravating and the topic so grim.

Down Along with That Devil’s Bones tells of O’Neill’s journeys and conversations and coverage of statue debates in three locations where there are vigorous battles about the monuments. That he focuses on these three stories makes the book really focused and moving — he tells of his own travels to these towns, the local texture, his own observations and meetings, his own feelings and wonderments. He is self-aware about his own privilege and his own role as a historian. He is honest about his own past and shows us that this is not only a Southern story, but an American drama. As Publishers Weekly put it, “O’Neill writes with grace and genuine curiosity, allowing people on all sides of the issue to speak for themselves.  As the copy on the book jacket says, it helps us see how we got from Appomattox to Charlottesville.

Join him as he takes us into the experience of being a Northerner transplanted, as they say, into the South — in Selma (in 2015 when his story begins.) Go, then, with him to Murfreesboro, on to Nashville, and then to Memphis. (Ahh, and there is an epilogue where he visits Montgomery, a riveting few pages so good I didn’t want the book to end.)

I appreciate that these kinds of books have been compelling for many and pray that this one, too, finds readers across the social and cultural spectrum and is taken to heart. It sure is interesting and it is written by an author who obvious has taken his own knowledge seriously, perhaps recognizing his own being, as my friend Steve Garber sometimes puts it, implicated. Perhaps many of us are. Perhaps it is true what Kiese Laymon (himself a black memoirist whose book Heavy I have reviewed in these pages) says about Down Along With That Devil’s Bones: “We can no longer see ourselves as minor spectators or weary watchers of history after finishing this astonishing work of nonfiction.” 

A Sin By Any Other Name: Reckoning with Racism and the Heritage of the South Robert W. Lee (Convergent) $25.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

This is a small memoir, a story of the coming of age and the coming to the position of being an outspoken critic of statues of Robert E. Lee written by the great, great, great nephew of the Southern general. I wasn’t sure I needed to read it, and wasn’t sure it was substantive or well written enough. Why did I think it was just somehow capitalizing on his family’s namesake. Sure, I’m glad a relative of Lee  came out against racism. But did he have to write a book about it?

Well, from the very first pages on, I was hooked and tore through this with joy and great intrigue. What a story. Again, I didn’t want it to end. It a great read. (And he is respected by many — the back has rave reviews and good blurbs by (get this) Rev. Dr. Bernice King, Diana Butler Bass, Whoopi Goldberg, and the great Jesuit author James Martin.) And, we come to know, Lee’s big moment was when we was asked to speak at a globally-televised MTV award show, standing with the grieving mother of the young woman killed during the riots at Charlottesville around the removal of the Lee statuary there. And that’s when the death threats began in earnest.

Man, what a story.

I won’t spoil too much, but some of this is a lovely tale of a young boys early sense of God,  his involvement in his mostly white United Methodist church, how he got involved, in earnest but naive ways as a teen, in racial reconciliation projects in his high school, and how he discerned a call to Christian ministry. (He ended up going to Duke, by the way, so he’s one smart cookie, actually.)

Anyone who was a person of faith in high school and yearned to be clear about God’s presence and leading will get a kick out of this earnest telling. Come to think of it, I haven’t read much that covers this nice ground…

One episode is important, though, and it is a bit of a spoiler: a black woman was a secretary or helper to his mother at her workplace, the local hospital. After school, Robert would go there for a bit until his mother was off work and he would ride home with her. In those moments waiting for his mom to finish her workday, Robert became friends with this black woman and enjoyed knowing of her deep faith and active church involvement. When it came time tor Robert to find a sponsor for his own confirmation process at his own church, he asked Mrs. Bertha Hamilton to be his adult mentor. Of course she said yes, and he subsequently visited her own historical black church. More importantly, she visited his home and in his room saw his proudly displayed Confederate flag and Robert E. Lee memorabilia.  Oh my. She had a heart to heart with young Robert and it was an early but profound, decisive episode. He learned that his own proud heritage was hurtful to this woman he admired and loved.

This was obviously an unusual and unforgettable confirmation experience that, again, got him on a certain track in his life. It makes for a unique story, and A Sin By Any Other Name is well worth reading.

It is interesting how, once in ministry, how Lee was treated in churches in the South that felt his outspoken position was a betrayal of so much they held dear. It was interesting how his fairly standard anti-racism messages were seen as so controversial even in mainline Protestant churches. The book has a few chapters about his first job as a young pastor, and that is instructive (and for some, will cause nods of appreciation.) His moment of fame at the MTV gig was narrated in such a way that I was really moved, wiping back tears as I read. (Have you ever been really honored and really nervous, having bought a new suit and feeling called to something but then fearful that it might backfire. Man, I’ve been there.) His journey to preach at Harvard was thrilling and his acceptance at the historic Ebenezer Baptism was beautiful. None of this comes across as bragging or namedropping; the dude was a young guy trying to be honest to his convictions, follow his call as a Christian, and next thing you know admittedly because of the spin of the story, relative of General Lee that he is) he’s famous, called upon to show up, put up, speak out, and he and his young wife are nearly in over their heads.

And you know what else? I loved this guy and his wife’s commitment to their small North Carolina town. This less dramatic part of the story was important, too, as he pushes for change but in gentle, caring ways, not as an outsider or antagonist, but as a member of the commonwealth there. I liked this guy a lot, and I think you’ll enjoy his great story of these few years. 

Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity Karl Forehand (Shai-Sophia House) $19.99                                                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Some BookNotes readers might recall a short review I did of what I believe was Karl Forehand’s first book, a book called Apparent Faith: What Being a Father Taught Me About the Fathers Heart. It was a nice fatherhood memoir, a story of his own past, his relationship with his father, and his own extravagant love for his own children. If God is called a Father — or “Daddy” as Jesus prayed, using the Aramaic “Abba” — what might we discover about the character and heart of God by our own fatherly instinct. It wasn’t luminous or theologically heady, but it was a good story, with a sensible bit of insight, a trope we hear about sometimes but that, surprisingly, few have actually written about. He narrated his own life, told bits of his own story, and how it made him a more spiritually-tuned follower of the heavenly Father, now understood as more loving, kind, involved, and faithful than he ever before realized.

And then, a. year later, he wrote The Tea Shop another brief book, a glimpse into the life of the Forehand family, as he narrates the near disastrous vacation visiting a relative in Taiwan and a missionary friend in Taipei. As Thomas Jay Oord says, “The Tea Shop takes readers on a journey of discovery that makes a difference.”

Forehand, you see, is what some might call a recovering fundamentalist, a former Baptist preacher who has been renewed in his own faith by pondering his own interior life and the gracious doctrines of progressive faith. God is good. God is gracious. God is love. Radical, stuff, actually, when applied to one’s life.

And so, after a creatively written reflection/parable/story called The Tea Shop (which is half memoir, half fiction, half spiritual parable) Forehand has returned to straight-ahead memoir by telling about this recent era of his life in which he came to the liberating wisdom of the need for a deeper spiritual life. He, like many these days, is learning about doubt and deconstruction, about faith and hope, and about an inner sort of mystical encounter with the goodness of God that can be transforming, honest, real.

And honest he is. Karl tells about some horrible interactions with his wife and friends that pushed him to a crisis point. The book opens with this nearly jarring account of a couple of days of anguish and arguments although what he has learned later, he reads back into the story, realizing he was projecting a sense of his own insecurity upon his friends and beloved. He was bullied as a kid, he was traumatized, he was fearful. In mid life this was coming back to haunt him and he took it out on others.

This is sort of textbook stuff that I am sure counselors hear often. Forehand gets that, and tells the story without shame but as a way to show others how one can walk this path and learn these truths.  In This, William Paul Young (the very creative mind who wrote The Shack, itself a story of grief and loss anguish and acceptance, grace and redemption) says, “This book is a tapestry of beautiful and authentic storytelling… tremendously helpful.”

As Forehand says,

It’s time to discover a new say of living and becoming where we remember that we are human beings not human doings. Embark on a powerful journey toward presence and authenticity, learning how to be where you are and who you are. Because, after all, “being” is not a destination — it is an ongoing and meaningful adventure.

And, as he also asks in one of the chapter sections — “Why Waste a Good Crisis?” And so, tells about “the weekend” and what he had to do to process his odd and hostile behavior. He had to “go deeper” with his self-critic and learn to be. To get there, he tells about learning from several sources about “the shadow” side and what it might mean to encounter this darker, secretive side of ones psyche.  This narration of his own journey inward (and into his past) is clear and unassuming. He copes with his pain and the anxieties of being a “spiritual nomad” and shares what some might think are fairly conventional psychological cliches. 

I think with a careful read, though, as commonplace as some of this is, you will not only enjoy (if that is the right word) reading about his guy’s life and journey and discoveries, but you will be inspired that somebody can come to grips with this fresh (and for some, self-evident) truth that we are invited into a relationship with a good God, and that that forms the basis for authentic and healthy relationships with others.. Why Forehand, a Baptist preacher, had to learn this the hard way — hadn’t he read Henri Nouwen or Ragamuffin Gospel or even Chuck Swindoll and Max Lucado? One doesn’t need to be a devotee of Thomas Merton or Ram Dass, for that matter, to have heard that we are to “be.” Yet, in Forehand’s life (and I wish he’d have explored this a bit more) something prevented him from breaking free with gospel liberation. As he journeys away from a performance-based religiosity and a deeper more simple sort of authentic faith that values “being” rather than “doing” readers are instructed, themselves, to be with their own deeper selves. In fact the last third of the book tells of how to “be” in all sorts of venues — with crisis, with community, with pain, with solitude, with nature, etc. He has chapter about his dog, and a good one about being with his own body. 

Being is not going to win the Pulitzer Prize, even though Karl has dutifully worked diligently to offer an interesting and energetic book. And it isn’t breaking new ground theologically. But what it does is what so many of us so deeply yearn for: the author is a friend, a companion, a guide, even, just sharing a bit of what he has learned, even as we take his cue and process this transforming stuff in our own way and in our own lives.

And isn’t that one of the reasons we read memoirs, stories, testimonials? To realize we are not alone, to look over another ordinary person’s shoulder and follow along with their story.

I appreciate his bravery and vulnerability in Being: A Journey… There are two traits (with a nod to Brene Brown) that he calls us to. As Karl notes, the book describes nearly a 3-year time span, but “beneath that, almost 20 years of trying to understand how humans work and what God is like and how all that matters.” We wanted you to know about it.

The Film Club: A Memoir David Gilmour (Twelves) $16.99                                                                    OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I was late to the game on this one; it was released to great acclaim in hardcover in 2008. It was chosen by the Chicago Tribune as one of the best memoirs of the year that year and a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. The accolades were remarkable — “a delicate memoir”, “dynamic”, “ fascinating”, “heartwarming”, “a wry, wondrous memoir”, “subtly affecting.” I had to read it, hearing some of these and being intrigued by the basic plot: as it says on the cover, “The true story of a father who let his son drop out of school — if he watched three movies a week.”

I suppose I thought it would mostly be movie reviews and there was some of that, since that is, well, the heart of the story. But, oh my, there is so much more.

As Newsweek put it, The Film Club memoir is “Tender… a beautiful unvarnished portrait of fathers and sons — irregular, flawed, full of heartbreak and heart.”  Yep.

The kid is sort of a punk, but the dad, living in Toronto who has worked as a film critic, says the 15-year old boy, Jesse, could drop out of high-school, if he agreed to watch and talk about three movies a week for a year. The father gets to choose — and what fun that was, the method in his madness. (There were themes, including “Over-rated films” and war and horror and the best movies of Jack Nicholson. It’s funny at times, touching, too, obviously a bit edgy. There’s lots of film lingo and it’s a nice way to read a memoir that is mostly about watching movies. But, of course, it is even more about parenting, about a less than ideal family and the insight that comes from this complicated year of learning about life from Hollywood’s greatest.

(Do I really. have to say, here in the thick of this long list of memoirs, that one doesn’t have to agree with the choices of the authors — and certainly not in this case. That isn’t the point; these are not morality tales. Geesh, I wouldn’t have picked some of those movies. Not to mention the little thing about letting his kid drop out of school. Okay? Just go with it.)

There’s plenty of other plot in the lives of the boy and the father, and you can discover that yourself.  Wow. The heart of the story, though, are the movies (some which led to good discussions, many which do not.) There’s the expected showings (Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Crimes and Misdemeanors, films of Kurosawa, Kubrick, Bergman, and the like.) There are movies I hadn’t heard of, documentaries, some fairly raunchy, and a bit of goofy stuff. The kid got to pick some, too. Occasionally his on-again off-again girl friend joined them, but this mostly became a sacred time with father and son. The whole thing is pretty bittersweet by the end and I am really, really glad I read it. If only I had read it 25 years ago…  

Baptized in Tear Gas: From White Moderate to Abolitionist Elle Dowd (Broadleaf) $16.99             OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This is a memoir I was very eager to read, to be taken on a journey to the streets of Ferguson and I found some of it very, very moving. To see a fairly middle-class, conventionally attractive, smiling, earnest, young Lutheran pastor getting abused by cops in a BLM protest near Ferguson, is riveting stuff. As a fairly ordinary and wholesome kid, I found myself being tutored by radicals and those who seemed used to the near-violence at protests. Getting stomped on by police horses or being given hankies to protect from tear gas was shocking for this small town, conservative Christian kid. I can relate a tiny bit to Ms Dowd. Whether you can relate or not, or especially if you cannot, this is one heck of a story.

More, this is about her journey of realizing about her white privilege and learning about solidarity and suffering and the journey to deep mutuality, rather than churchy, do-gooder, paternalism. (She carries this work of reforming church life through SOUL in Chicago and #decolonizeLutheranism; she writes regularly for the Disrupt Worship Project and facilities workshops on gender, sexuality, and the church.)

During one of her first protests, all she could do was offer some water bottles and I can’t explain how deeply moved I was by this gesture, this position of wanting to help but feeling so unsure, so on the edge, not knowing how to help.

Some still may not know or believe it, but there really was brutal police violence aimed at often peaceful protestors in the season after the killing of Michael Brown. This first hand account confirms first hand testimony I have head and I know some of our readers will be shocked. For some, this is so far away from their own experiences, it may not mean much; for others, this is no big deal, or so they may think. But this carefully rendered story was deeply compelling for me and I am sure it will be for many readers who are open to learn what it was like. I am grateful for what Brenda Marie Davies calls a “transformative memoir.” 

I will admit that not all of this was as page-turning as all this. She is learning the “great cost and greater reward” of moving towards being a mere ally and then to a fully engaged abolitionist. And for anyone who has spent any time on the political left, the rhetoric of this and insights gleaned could be tiresome. She warns against niceness if it covers up white supremacy; good insight. She tells about worrying if the protests will seem violent to her white suburban friend and asks who gets to define what is and isn’t violent; again, true enough. If these are fresh conversations for you, this is a great way into the discourse (as they sometimes call it) since it comes as a memoir of her own honest learning and growth.

Dowd is not arrogant about any of this but I suspect that some will think she’s a bit much. Or preaching the obvious, laden with lingo. I will be very eager to hear how those not familiar with this sort of stuff reacts to her book. She tells of a former friend who she even prayed with at church who unfriended her on Facebook — because Dowd renounced a gruesome, racist internet meme that this person re-tweeted. It is a small slight in the grand theme of things — different than getting tear-gassed — but it signified so much. I worried about that episode for days.  I hope Hearts & Minds readers will be more generous and hang in there with her.

Baptized in Tear Gas is, admittedly, an edgy book. But she is a pastor and is herself hoping for conversation and rebirth; the memoir tells of her own transformation so she expects much from readers. There are theologically important discussion questions at the end of each chapter, so this would be good for an open-minded book club or adult ed class.) She covers a lot of ways that race and racism (not to mention sexism and homophobia) pervades our contemporary lives — she has two black children, both adopted from Tanzania, and even the complexities of that has to be explored. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” she admits, but she is fiercely loyal to her daughters. In deed, when non-activist, non-radical folks see people marching on TV or whatever, they often don’t consider that they’ve got spouses and children and parents, that they read books and play games and go to sporting events (and prayer meetings and lead worship.) It is remarkable seeing such a seemingly ordinary mom pushing into what she insists are Kingdom values, rooted in the Jesus way.

There is a bit of abstracted teaching —she name-drops Assata Shaku and quotes James Cone — but most is vivid memoir. Soon, you learn this: she is grabbed by police. It triggers her own previous sexual assault. This is plainly described and it will make your heart pound. Look: I know women who cannot dare to be in positions like this because it will indeed trigger evil episodes from their own lack of bodily autonomy. This isn’t just lefty sloganeering, it is real. It is awful stuff. Dowd tells about hiding in a basement with a few other Ferguson activists during a 4th of July weekend because the fireworks sound too much like tear-gas cannons. Her description of how this impacted her, hearing nearby fireworks is gut-wrenching.

She continues:

I want to be very clear about this because when we speak trivially about uprisings, we endanger people. This is not a game. There are real costs to this work, costs that I underestimated. I’m going to talk about some of the costs for me and my family because I want everyone to understand what activism is really like. But I want to reiterate: I was one of he most privileged people out there. I am a white woman. I had a job with a supportive boss. I had a family and friends who believed in what I was doing. I had access to healthcare. And still, my body and mind will forever be different. As you read about the ways this work has effected me, keep in mind at every juncture how much more deeply Black activists are affected.

So, it is her story, her hours on the streets and in jail and the courts. She learned what she learned and it will not be expressed in the same way you may wish. Some readers will be perplexed, others inspired. In any case, it’s a memoir of a new breed of pastor and street-level theologians, a devoutly Christian, exceedingly progressive faith leader. As her friend Rev. Traci D. Blackmon says in the foreword, after mentioning endearingly Elle Dowd’s youngest daughter and her own astute observations and joy, “This book is a road map to liberation for white people.” I suspect it is not the only road map we need, but, as another reviewer put it, “it is holy work.” 

The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness Gregory Boyle (Avid Reader Press) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

This new book just arrived and I’ve hardly dipped into it. But I can assure you that it will be as good and as beloved as his previous two best-sellers. I hope you’ve heard of Father Boyle’s inner city job training program, Homeboy Industries in Los Angles. Boyle is a Jesuit who’s faith-based, love-infused ministry is considered “the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and reentry program in the world.” He has received the California Peace Prize, has been honored by the White House and by Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal. One reporter called him “The Gandhi of the Gangs.” As you might guess, all the net proceeds of The Whole Language goes to fund his extraordinary work.

His previous two books are Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir. I do not know of any customers who have read these and not loved them.They are consistent sellers for us, which tells you something: Boyle is not only a good writer and great storyteller, but he is one to something we long for: connection, kinship, compassion. He models courage and innovation, sure, but, more, he tells of kindness and — as he will put it in The Whole Language, perhaps with shades of the late Brennan Manning“extravagant tenderness.”

Here is what it says on the inside cover:

Boyle’s moving stories challenge our ideas about God and about people, providing a window into a world filled with fellowship, compassion, and fewer barriers. Bursting with encouragement, humor, and hope. The Whole Language invites us to treat others — and ourselves — with acceptance and tenderness.

The Room Where It Happened John Bolton (Simon & Schuster) $32.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.00

I devoured this memoir by one of the most important foreign policy leaders of our time, reading it late into the night at the end of the summer, amazed that I was learning so much about so much. As with other political memoirs and accounts of public service done by those who have served their country, there is much going on and it is hard to keep up.  Although Mr. Bolton served as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor for less than two years — 519 days, to be exact — his former service included significant positions in the White House administrations of Presidents Reagan, Bush #41 and Bush #42. For what it is worth, if you don’t know, I mostly opposed much of the foreign affairs of all of those Presidents and while I admire Mr. Bolton’s resolve and principle, I find myself on the other side of many, many issues, on nearly every continent, and nearly every war.

But that is why I so appreciated this book — I saw another very realistic side of the “hawk vs dove” debates and realized just how incredibly complicated every meeting is, how they must plan pre-meetings to discuss negotiations about who will or won’t talk to whom. A healthy and fair world order doesn’t come (obviously) from merely withdrawing troops or from merely putting your nation’s own interests first without qualification.

The Room Where It Happened is, among other things, a first hand glimpse into how so many momentous details go into nearly any governmental move, any step towards statesmanship. From the complexities of the relationships with North and South Korea, Japan and China, Taiwan and others in the Pacific rim, to the fraught relationships with Eastern European countries (and Russia), not to mention the dangerous relationships in the Middle East, Bolton could be arranging matters of huge consequence in meetings day after day, shuttling here and there, all the while not only negotiating with our allies and enemies, but with the differences of opinions between the State Department and the Pentagon and the White House. This is legendary stuff — just watch a couple episodes of Madam Secretary and quadruple that —and it is nothing short of breathtaking. 

And this is completely beside the question of whether I, personally, trying to nurture the Christian mind and think theologically about political norms and principles, determining what just and prudent statecraft might be, would agree with Mr. Bolten on any given policy outcome or strategy to get there. I didn’t read The Room Where It Happened to shape my Christian political options, but as a memoir, an over-the-shoulder accounting of what it was like to shoulder this huge stuff. Anyone interested in “how the sausage is made” as Bismarck famously put it, will find this thrilling. Weird as it may sound, I really enjoyed it as a captivating thriller and first hand account of one guy in the thick of it.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the real gonzo fly in the ointment, the unbelievable drama of having Donald Trump as Bolton’s boss. Which makes this incredibly informative, globe-spanning, detailed account of an international diplomat not only edge-of-your-seat interesting, but an absolute page-turning. hair-raising, fore-head-slapping, tailspin of a train wreck of story. If only it were a novel.

You just can’t make up stuff like this. For instance, say in one meeting Trump tells Bolton to insist on one thing to, oh, say, his Russian counter-part, or an attache to Turkey, or wherever. Later that day Trump tells a State Department guy the opposite. Bolton flies to Japan overnight to execute a certain agreed-upon strategy, he get there only to find out somebody else has violated strict chain of command protocols and has subverted the plan, offering a different agenda to the conversation partners across the table. Talk about blindsided, over and over. Further, the President loses his temper repeatedly, more, though, he just loses interest. He’ll ask the oddest questions of Bolton, indicating he doesn’t know the names of certain countries, let alone the Presidents of said countries let alone the binding treaties and laws in force. Bolton tries hard to stay true to his traditionalist ethics: he serves the President and signed on to do what the President says. But what does one do when the President is clueless about geopolitics, and spends hours of precious meeting time joking about the nicknames (“Rocketman”) he wants to give to his international counter-parts or ranting about suing somebody in ways that aren’t irrelevant and, on the face of it, ill-conceived? Billions of dollars, and, worse, thousands of lives are at stake in this war or that conflict; this is utterly consequential stuff. Trump is confused about basic facts and allows Bolton to tutor him on occasion, only then to turn on him and form alliances with other White House associates with other goals. It is surreal. 

Some of us have read other books pulling back the curtain on the nearly unbelievable behavior in the administration of the last President. This one is not written by a liberal members of the mainstream media — read respected, serious journalists like Michael Wolff or Bob Woodward for that for that — but by a loyalist. It is his story, a political memoir by a seasoned GOP statesman.

By the way, in case you don’t know, there is this: interestingly, President Trump wanted to decrease American military escapades the world over. He didn’t want expensive, threatening military exercises in the Pacific; he didn’t want to be quite so bellicose against Russia, he was less dedicated to disrupting the shift to socialism in Venezuela than the militaristic Bolton. He complained incessantly, perhaps rightly, about NATO. Bolton was used to relatively orderly and principled administrations before him — normal leaders of a hawkish sort — but Trump was not only in constant disarray (and almost consistently dishonest with his colleagues) and often significantly ill-informed and fickle, but he was less confident in militaristic solutions than any of Bolton’s former bosses. This gives Bolton’s role an odd and curious weight, needing to make his case for more assertive effort to maintain (or expand) the American empire to a capitalist who sometimes sounded like an idealist peacenik. What a story!

Even as a peacenik, I oddly sympathized with Bolton as he represented real-politick and hard-nosed pragmatism in a whirl-wind administration that had no overarching principles or political theory or foreign affairs strategy. That is to say that I may, as a Christ-follower, disagree with Bolton’s ideology, but it seemed right to have some intellectually and historically and philosophically informed strategy rather than the ever-changing nonsense of Trump’s mood-of-the-day dictates. It was breath-takingly informative to see how Bolton navigated such complicated global situations, all the while perplexed by what the White House really wanted and how they would spin it to the press and what he should do, for the good of the Administration and, more, for the good of his country. There is no doubt that he is, at core, a patriot.

As is well known, the seasoned public official couldn’t take it any more, working incredibly long and stressful hours only to find himself betrayed and blindsided, over and over. That Trump would give authority for foreign affairs situations to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for instance, violating Bolton’s commitment to “chain of command” and proper authority functioning just became too odd, too compromising, too pointless. The book ends — after almost 600 pages — as Mr. Bolton turns in his letter of resignation. And, surprising as it sounds, I wanted the book to keep going — we have been introduced to behind the scenes negotiations about all manner of things all over the world (again, like binge watching The West Wing or Madam Secretary but without the religion or family drama) and I truly wanted to know how things resolved (or unravelled, as the case may be.) 

Bolton does compliment the former President on a number of things and summarizes what he think he accomplished, for the country and for the world. It was a good exercise for me to see this morally serious management of global crises through the eyes of a foreign affairs expert I had not particularly understood or respected. 

To remind you: this book has been called “jaw dropping” and “a bombshell” and “jarring” and “astonishing.”  It is a “devasting indictment” on Mr. Trump’s “vanity and incompetence.” But, in one more wacky aspect to this story, as you may recall, the former President oddly took the publisher and the author to court to try to stop publication (which, I suspect, helped fuel sales when it was released in June 2020.) Mr. Bolton, by the way, as is his law-and-order way, submitted the manuscript to classification experts, and was only required to excise a few phrases and dates. Mr. Trump’s accusations that this content was classified was ludicrous. This does make the book somewhat newsworthy to consider — or at least it did a year and a half ago. But now, I list it not as a jab in the Trump wars, nor whether I finally admire Mr. Bolton, but as a thrilling memoir, a story that reads like a political thriller and an existential struggle to know what to do, how to finally live with one’s self and one’s sense of calling. A novelist couldn’t have done a better job offering a hard-to-put down story of intrigue and conflict and hard, complicated decisions.

A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson by Winn Collier (Waterbrook) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Might I indulge your already weary eyes and stretched pocketbook and say this: since we are talking about life stories, one of our most treasured books this year and one of our biggest sellers ever is not a memoir but it is a biography. It it written with verve, reads tenderly, and is full of the sorts of great insights one gets when one looks over the should at another well-lived life. It is a book about a pastor, a theologian, a Bible translator, a writer, a reader (and, yes, a customer of Hearts & Minds.) Yes, I am referring to this year’s remarkable, highly-appreciated, much-discussed authorized biography of the late Eugene Peterson. I wrote a bit about it before it came out (and took a lot of pre-orders.) Then we were honored to be mentioned as Peterson’s bookseller at the generous and fun on-line launch party, hosted by author Winn Collier and one of Eugene’s sons, the pastor and author Eric Peterson and took orders for even more. The book is simply stunning, one of the obvious choices for the best book of 2021. You’ll see it on this list. I hope it is fair to say you heard it here, first.

So, yes, buy some of these captivating new memoirs (or not so new ones as the case may be.) Enter into the mesmerizing world of evolving narrative and get lost in a book about the life of another human, made in God’s image in this messy world. But please don’t miss A Burning in My Bones. It is a great read, interesting, fun, full of glorious, imaginative sentences about a plain-spoken but remarkably imaginative man, an author you should know, a friend we will never forget.



It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders.The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.49.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.60 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places.


HELPFUL HINT: If you want US Mail, please say which sort — Media Mail or Priority Mail — so we know how to serve you best. If you say “regular” we left scratching our noggins.


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We are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health and the common good (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation. We are doing fun, outdoor, backyard customer service, our famous curb-side delivery, and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the ongoing pandemic.

Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 Monday – Saturday; closed on Sunday. Thanks for your support.

Please join us for a live Facebook conversation THIS THURSDAY (October 7th) with author Charles Moore discussing his new book “Following the Call: Living the Sermon on the Mount Together” ON SALE NOW – 20% OFF

Yes, we are thrilled to invite you to a free webinar, a facebook live event this Thursday, October 7th, 2021, where I am delighted to be the host of a conversation with author Charles E. Moore, an editor at the extraordinary Plough Publishing House. We will chat about his stunning new collection of writings about the Sermon on the Mount (in the same style and format of his equally stunning devotional anthology Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People that came out in 2016.

It is called Following the Call: Living the Sermon on the Mount Together. Both books are compiled by Moore and published by Plough, the publishing arm of the Bruderhof communities. Both are $18.00 and we have both at our BookNotes 20% off discount, making them each $14.40.

We hope you can join us for this free conversation (and we hope you considering ordering these from us.)

In order to explain just a bit about the remarkable format of this new book — drawing on authors from around the world and throughout church history — I’ll share with you a slightly revised version of what I wrote about it back in July when we invited you to pre-order Following the Call (that just now released.) But first, here is the information about registering with the good folks at Plough to be able to join us for this free program.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP. Then come back to read the rest of this BookNotes (and click the order link below to order the book from our Dallastown shop. The “order” link takes you to our secure order form where you tell us what you want and how you want it shipped.)

By the way, you should know (and we’ll talk about this a bit on Thursday night) that Plough has an excellent, classy, and edifying publishing program. I hope you at least know their popular Advent devotional Watch for the Light and the similar Lenten devotional, Bread and Wine. They also do what is perhaps our favorite quarterly magazine (up there with our other fav, Comment) simply called Plough. I’m sure we’ll talk about their life together in intentional community, their Anabaptist roots, their ecumenical and wide-ranging reading habits, and their publishing ministry. It’s going to be really interesting, and if you know Plough or the many beautiful books so lovingly done by their publishing house, you know it will be thoughtful and literate and inspiring.

This new book compiled by Charles E. Moore is the most delightfully curated, fully inter-denominational book we’ve seen in a long time. Yes, yes, we surely need to pay more attention to the Lord Jesus’s teachings in Matthew, popularly called “The Sermon on the Mount.” This book guides us to that, embracing a more Christ-like discipleship. But how this book came about and how very wide-ranging it is, is itself a breath-taking story.

Here is some of what we wrote about Following the Call before:

Plough, the publisher, is rooted in the radical Anabaptist tradition of the Bruderhof communities (somewhat akin to the Hutterites, who are somewhat distantly akin to the Amish) but yet they draw on the most diverse range of authors of any religious publisher of which we know. We happily stock nearly all of the Plough Publishing volumes and respect them for their charm and seriousness. This lovely and challenging collection of short readings on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is no different and is a beautiful illustration of the grand and broad thinking for which Plough Publishing is known.

Beautiful and challenging? Yes, indeed. Ecumenical and faithful? Certainly, so. The editor, Charles Moore, is himself a wide-ranging and deliciously curious reader and writer and this volume, Following the Call, is somewhat of a sequel to his previous anthology, Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, which was also laden with diverse authors from across the faith spectrum. (Here is a short video with Moore describing just a bit about that volume. It’s a great book, hard-earned wisdom, for sure.)

Like that one, this new one, Following the Call, includes excerpts from the likes of Dorothy Day and John Perkins, Basil the Great and Madeline L’Engle, Richard Rohr and C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright and John Wesley. We weren’t surprised to fine a brief piece by Rabindranath Tagor (on grief) but have to admit to smiling when I saw the bit by Francis Chan. From Dorothy Sayers of the mid-20th century back to Augustine, from William Blake to Wendell Berry, from Amy Carmichael to Frederick Buechner, from Gregory of Nyssa to Madame Guyon, from Martin Luther to Teresa of Avila, this collection surely wins an award for the broadest wingspan of Christian books these days. We trust that our Hearts & Minds readers will appreciate how rare this is these days. How glad we are to see Christina Cleveland and Tim Keller, John Chrysostom of Constantinople and Romano Guardini of Munich and Dan Doriani of St. Louis.  Each of these writers are offered following a passage, line by line, from Matthew 5-7. Amazing, yes?

Following the Call includes 52 readings (but well over 100 contributors with several bits for each day’s reading.) There are often very well paired, even surprisingly so — Dallas Willard with Jacques Ellul, for instance, or Polish/ New Yorker Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel with the strict Scottish Calvinist, Sinclair Ferguson or, in a passage on “Right Worship”, we have F.B. Meyer, Henri Nouwen, and George MacDonald. The aforementioned poet Rabindranath Tagore is paired in a selection on mourning with Nicholas Wolterstorff and Frederica Mathewes-Green. Wow.

Following the Call is arranged with readings from these diverse thinkers into four major units. The four parts are Kingdom Character, Kingdom Commands, Kingdom Devotion, and Kingdom Priorities. I’m sure in our program we will talk about the distinctives of these four sections of the study. There will be so much to discuss, and it will be stimulating to hear from an editor who is so very fluent in such a wide swatch of religious literature.

The handsome and nicely designed paperback includes a great discussion and reflection guide in the back, good for your own devotions, but ideal for groups to read. (And you know I”m going to ask Charles about the “together” part of the subtitle, and the relationship of this book and his previous one on community.) I am not exaggerating when I say this very useful discussion guide is itself worth the price of the book for anyone studying this famous (but under-used) Biblical portion.

We hope you can help us spread the word about this upcoming Facebook live event. Thanks for posting this or telling your friends and church members. It’ll be nice to connect with some customers and friends in this way, but, better, it will be good to hear from Charles Moore and be reminded of the great breadth of helpful stuff that has been written on these few Bible passages. This could be just the thing you need to refresh and energize your faith and resolve for Christ’s gospel of God’s Kingdom.

Again — it’s coming up this Thursday, October 7th, at 8:00 PM. If you haven’t  please REGISTER for this free event now.

Talking about the Sermon on the Mount is always challenging and important but knowing the method behind this glorious process will itself be a blast. Even if you can’t join us, do share this, please. And say a prayer that we might sell a good number of this — what an impact in the discipleship and witness if church folk from all over took more seriously Jesus’ own commands, and we learn to follow His call together. Thanks to Plough for allowing us to help promote this vital resource. May the hard, happy blessings promised in the Beatitudes — part of what is studied in Following the Call — be yours as you read this new book.

It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders. The weight and destination of each customer’s package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide to choosing your shipping method.

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s $3.49;  $3.92 for 2 lbs.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.60 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places. 


If you want US Mail, please say which sort — media mail or priority mail — so we know how to serve you best. Saying “regular” isn’t really helpful.


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NEW BOOKS “The Soul of Desire” by Curt Thompson, “Redeeming Heartache” by Dan Allender, “The Wisdom of Your Body” by Hillary McBride, “All the Things” by Katie Haseltine, “7 Ways to Pray” by Amy Boucher Pye, and “A Spacious Life” by Ashley Hales – ON SALE 20% OFF

Maybe you saw that adult Sunday school video I had at my Facebook a few days ago where I talked about the creative side of life, being artful and the call to be culture-makers. It’s a nice introduction — somewhat informed by Calvin Seerveld’s Rainbows for the Fallen World and Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. I don’t view myself as terribly creative, but I’d like to think there is an art to book reviewing. But yet, my work here is more often than not something less than reviewing, certainly not serious criticism. It is more akin to announcing; I’m like the town cryer of old, clanging a bell, hear ye hear ye. I’m promoting, which, granted, can be done crassly with mere self interest or with some generous joie de vivre.

I am a bit sad that these days I do not have time for more serious writing about remarkable books.  Each that I am mentioning in this column, for instance, richly deserve a longer, more careful and detailed review but I simply do not have the time or bandwidth, as we say, to do more than tell you how very much I believe in these works, assure you they are well worth reading, describe too quickly why that is. This BookNotes has some very good books and I salute these authors and publishers for offering such fine fare.

I hope you enjoy these generous announcements. These are books you should know about. I want to promote them, and I hope you’ll buy them from us. Order them today at our BookNotes 20% off discount.

Click on the order link at the end of the column which takes you to our secure order form page. Enter your info and we’ll take it from there.


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

For Beth and me, this was one of the most eagerly anticipated nonfiction books of this season and once we held the hardcover in our hands, we realized just how very good it really is. We have admired Curt for years and have sold a good number of his first title, The Anatomy of a Soul and his second, the must-read The Soul of Shame. We have sold books with him on several occasions and heard him do key-note talks and all day workshops. Dr. Curt is a thoughtful, evangelical, Board certified psychiatrist with a keen interest (and knowledge of) neurology and brain science. He’s one of our favorite people.

If Thompson’s first book gave us a good introduction to basic neurological stuff to help with basic Christian living — sort of the neuroscience of spiritual formation and discipleship and healthy relationships —the second brought a remarkable overview of the unfolding Biblical story (from Genesis to Revelation — from good creation to radical fall to effective redemption and cosmic restoration) showing how God’s supreme enemy and the forces of evil have used shame to damage our lives and frustrate our human flourishing. Again, he frames this story by and through the lenses of a Biblical worldview but he is also doing some useful teaching about neuroscience (how different parts of the brain register trauma and shame and what can be done.) Dr. Thompson is a working counselor, so there are lots of stories and case studies, well-told and vivid but with a reasonable, reliable tone. 

This brand new one which we have for sale now, The Soul of Desire does in greater detail what the Soul of Shame hints at. It offers us new ways to find healing and wholeness; drawing on solid theology and spiritual practice and Biblical insights, Thompson also shows which part of the brain does this or that, and how various sorts of hurts and relational struggles need to be addressed in which ways. He’s a scientist, after all, and a doctor. Although he loves literature and theology and the humanities, he roots his visionary proposals in careful research and sold faith-informed thinking.

And what does he teach? What does he come up with, then? This is brilliant, yet — for those paying attention to many important conversations these days — it seems less surprising than it might have a few decades ago. Part of the answer for broken marriages and hurting individuals and fearful folk of all kinds is to re-orient ones deepest longings. Yes, it was the early church father Augustine who is often cited (see James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love or On the Road with Saint Augustine or the late David Naugle’s Reordered Loves, Reordered Lives) because,  Saint A  so clearly reminded us about our restless hearts, about how our desires are more indicative of what is in our souls than what we claim we believe. We live more out of our hearts than our heads might be one way to put it. We have to get under the hood (to use an automotive metaphor) and delve more deeply into what’s making us tick, or tick in ways that aren’t altogether healthy. This comes less from our ideas about things, even our theological convictions, and from something more below the surface.

I do not remember much of my college psych courses but I think that with Thompson’s ancient Augustinian orientation (and his 21st century neuroscience) his argument that we need to examine our deepest yearnings, dreams, desires, is not what the Freudians mean by delving below the surface. Getting deep down to the root of our internal problems is nothing new, of course, but in The Soul of Desire, Thompson is tweaking that lingo to show what might be most generative. Believe me, this “going below the surface” is not just psychobabble. 

And you know what that exploring below the surface discovers? A longing for beauty.

We needn’t make an idol out of beauty (a la Ode to a Grecian Urn where Keats says “beauty is truth and truth is beauty and that is all ye need to know) or fall for the overstated charm of that Dostoyevsky line that “beauty will save the world,” but there is something deeply true here. Curt sometimes asks those he counsels who are mired in pain and expecting simple formulas for managing their lives what they would like to create. Further, he sometimes shows them paintings — his description of standing before a Mark Rothko work is riveting— and invites them to gaze at beauty, not as a cheap technique, but to invite them into a deeper story, to put them in touch with yearnings they didn’t even know they had. This is deep evangelism, wholistic spirituality, embodied artfulness, allusive goodness, and, apparently, has the latest brain science behind it.

This is so central to Thompson’s proposals in The Soul of Desire that this glorious hardback has several glossy pages included that have full-color reproductions of vivid, abstract works by Makoto Fujimura (who wrote a very nice foreword, too.) The book makes good use of them and Thompson invites readers to participate in a bit of the therapy he offers some of his clients. The chapters “Dwell” and “Gaze” and “Inquire” are very moving and I think will be greatly appreciated by most readers. 

Another thing which is central to Thompson’s approach is the formation of what he calls “confessional communities.” These are not ordinary church communities nor are they merely clubs for group therapy. You can read about them and see how this innovation has proven helpful in his own practice and take his guidance about the need for such trusted communities of authenticity and growth in all of our lives. I love one of the chapter titles about all this — “Imagine That — Over and Over And Never Alone.”

Not to spoil much or to make this book of artistic nuance and scientific insight sound overly pious, but the last chapter is truly wonderful. It is called “Practicing for Heaven” and is nothing short of spectacular. 

We recommend this very highly — it is doubtlessly one of the great books of 2021. I’m not alone in saying this, though. Listen to these trusted, fellow-promoters: 

In his previous books, The Soul of Shame and Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson integrated neuroscience and theology seamlessly, cheering us on in a hopeful, unhurried journey toward healing. In Curt’s new book, The Soul of Desire, he brings it all back to the start, setting us right in the path of God’s beauty. With the skillfulness of a therapist and the earnestness of an evangelist, Curt Thompson implores us to see how God desires for us to create beauty in the context of confessional community–that our lives would be authentically generative, like works of art.   –Sandra McCracken, singer-songwriter and author of Send Out Your Light

This is an extraordinary testimony to the power of beauty in a broken and fragmented world. It is extraordinary not simply because of its unusually direct and winsome style, but because of what the author brings to his theme: a professional expertise in neurobiology. More than a testimony, it is also an invitation: to have our deepest desire set alight, our desire for the One from whom all beauty springs.   –Jeremy Begbie, Duke University

Curt Thompson’s previous work on shame has been life-transforming for numerous readers. Here he continues his interdisciplinary exploration of one of the elemental human experiences that founds our sense of self–the desire to see and to share beauty. Disarmingly self-disclosing, deeply in touch with Scripture and classic Christian sources, and engagingly conversant with the advances and insights of current neuroscientific research, this book beckons us to a deeper, healing knowledge of ourselves and, ultimately, of God.   –Wesley Hill, associate professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary

Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True Calling Dan Allender & Cathy Loerzel (Zondervan) $28.99                                       OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

After the introduction — Dan talking about our deep longing for peace, for some imagined journey back to Eden and Cathy’s description of childhood anxiety (including being a clueless guest at an Episcopal church that nearly did her in) — I was hooked. Then, after one of Dan’s characteristically honest, raw stories of coping with a fairly low-level snub, I was really hooked. As with his other many books, Allender honors our hurts and pains, knows the difference between real but not terribly consequential stresses and lasting, awful trauma. No matter what sort of heartache you’ve endured — and hardly any of us have been spared — this new book will bring new insight, new passion, and hopeful ways to embrace hard stuff in your life. 

Allender co-founded (with Ms Loerzel) the highly regarded Allender Center at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology (the graduate school in Seattle) and has long been an author and person we esteem. I’m sure in the last few years as I’ve reviewed his latest titles that I have said much about how important several of his older books have been (certainly The Wounded Heart and Healing the Wounded Heart.) By studying and helping those who were sexually abused, he has become deeply sensitive to all sorts of trauma (and the footnotes show how he and his-coauthor know well the state of the literature on trauma, from the work of theologian Serene Jones to Bessel Van der Kolk (who coined the phrase PTSD) to Peter Levine’s magisterial Trauma and Memory. Although this is passionately written and not academic, the footnotes are wonderful, again illustrating their exceptional awareness of the lay of the scholarly land on this topic. 

For what it is worth, I really valued Dan’s counter-intuitive book on leadership called Leading with a Limp. His book To Be Told: God Invites Your To Coauthor Your Future is a Hearts & Minds fav and we often recommend it. The one on playfulness in the sabbath (Sabbath in the Ancient Future series edited by Phyllis Tickle) is great. Most of us could use the book on emotional life as shaped by the Psalms (The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God.) I often report that I was blown away by the three chapters on faith, hope, and love, in the book The Healing Path. A recent one was written by his Bible scholar pal, Tremper Longman called God Loves Sex: An Honest Conversation about Sexual Desire and Holiness. This quick listing of even some of his many books illustrates that Dr. Allender has walked with people through a lot of tough stuff and that he is eager to offer hope and healing, without at all minimizing the muck of the messy world we live in. He and his co-writer are not being over-dramatic by calling the fist chapter “The Shattering.” Allender knows about, as chapter three puts it, “Trauma’s Ongoing Cost.” He gets it.  We trust him a lot.

Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True Calling has lots of solid information and lots of stories and lots of honesty and lots of hope. There are plenty of books offering encouragement for those facing hard times and this is, certainly, a big cut above most. I think you’ll agree.

(And, yes, they, too, write a bit about interesting brain functions — mostly in the end notes — and they quote Curt Thompson, who has a beautiful and rousing endorsement on the inside.)

One of the unique features (other than it is the first book Dan wrote with a female colleague — a woman younger than he who is now, interestingly, his boss) is that there is a three fold structure they use to get at some of the nature of heartache. This is great!

We hear over and over in the Bible about God’s love and fierce desire to protect the trifecta of vulnerability, the “orphan, widow, and stranger” and they then relate those to the common theological trio of Christ’s roles as “prophet, priest, and king.” So they use the three types of outcasts to illustrate three types of pain, if you will, and then pair those three hurts with three matching redemptive resolutions. Those six chapters make up the strong center pieces of the book. Wow.

The final portion is called “Restoring Shalom.” It looks to be very strong although I’ve not yet gotten there. I think this is particularly where they show that last phrase of the sub-title, where we start to most deeply inhabit our truest callings as humans.As the late-night TV advertisers shout: there’s more! Next, they offer a pretty extensive ‘application guide.”  While this could be used for conversation as a discussion guide in a book club or reading group, it seems these personal and poignant questions might be best done in personal reflection or with a small group of intimates. Redeeming Heartache is a great read, but I’m not sure those questions, with their pathos and candor, are the sorts of therapeutic questions your typical book club or even small group will be prepared for. These “application” reflections, though, really do look useful, making this book that much more of a useful resource.

There are two important appendices in the back, appendices sharing two interesting documents. One is called their “Statement on Allender Theory” and the other is “The Enneagram and Allender Theory.” Fascinating.

Listen to PhD Jay Stringer (author of Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing) who studied with them and knows them well:

Every single person has a story of heartache. While we tend to accept that these stories wound us, we don’t always know how trauma shapes the quality of our life and relationships. Dan Allender and Cathy Loerzel are pioneers who have joined to give us this life-altering book. Blending honesty, biblical wisdom, and brilliant guidance, Dan and Cathy offer a framework for understanding how unresolved pain shapes our fears and can cultivate our deepest desire. Redeeming Heartache is a watershed book written to all of us who seek truer, fuller, answers. 

The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied Living Hillary McBride (Brazos Press) $19.99          OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99                                    NOT YET RELEASED — PRE-ORDER             releasing October 12, 2021

I can’t say too much about this as I have only skimmed an advanced reader’s review copy, but I can tell you that this looks to be is really substantial stuff; important, considerably so. That we are embodied creatures, who (we must say) believe in a God who became embodied (that’s what we mean by the incarnation) and remained so after a grueling death and physical resurrection, is absolutely foundational for thinking, believing, and living well in our good but fallen world. Don’t you love that old C.S. Lewis quip that God sure must love matter, because He sure made a lot of it? Creation and incarnation and physical matter is very important to Christian faith. God loves stuff.

God must love bodies, too. Our bodies. I think that it is fair to say that McBride is inviting us (as are many others these days) to ask ourselves if we do? This is more than a question regarding our self-esteem, as important as that may be. It is a profound question, wondering if we are comfortable in our own skin.  Do our faith and theology and church and spirituality honor our embodied nature? That we are truly physical people, made in God’s image, not souls? An orthodox Biblical theology and lifestyle is centered in the person (that is, the physical person) of Jesus Christ who is Lord of the cosmos. Do we get the implications of that? Do we think that Biblical holiness develops as God’s Spirit makes us into new kinds of human creatures, in the image of Christ, that are fit for a new creation. Which ends up, if the Bible is to be believed, really more of a (re)new(ed) creation, restored, not destroyed. The physicality of all that is often not pondered but it is undeniable. It is not odd that a conservative evangelical thinker such as Dallas Willard had a chapter on the body in his classic The Spirit of the Disciplines.

Well, all that incarnation and bodily resurrection and new creation stuff that I love writing about isn’t the burden of McBride’s important forthcoming book, but it helps us here, BookNotes readers, to be reminded of those foundational theological/spiritual truths; that is the context for why I value a book like this. The creation is real (and “good” according to God), our embodied natures as real creatures is how it is meant to be. God said it was good. Our bodies matter. We are, after all, sons of Adam and daughter of Eve; humans — from the humus. Earthlings.

As a counselor working with some punchy, feminist insights, Hilary McBride does more than begrudgingly name the body as sort of important, but, rather, eagerly honors it, robustly so. She shows that the body can be wise. We can find, as the sub-title puts it, “healing, wholeness, and connection” through embodied living.  As the very first chapter puts it, we are to be “Fully Alive.” Right on!  This carries a very different tone than a number of “body books” that evangelical men have written this season (and there are several, such as Sam Allbery’s What God Has to Say About Our Bodies published by Crossway and John Kleining’s Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body published by Lexham.) The Wisdom of Your Body is a very different sort of book. Kudos to publisher Brazos, always a publisher to bring us intriguing, even surprising books.

There is some big picture, incisive diagnostic work that McBride is doing here. The second chapter is on how we became so disembodied, looking at “lies about our bodies and finding our way home.” Some will be a bit surprised by this, I think, and it is provocative and vital. The powerful third chapter is called “The Body Overwhelmed: Healing the Body from Stress and Trauma.” Yet another chapter explores how we tend to see our bodies, about appearance and image and demeaning outside influences. You know that’s some heavy s-h-i-t right there, right? 

(By the way, for evangelical women with garden variety body issues, helpful stuff keeps coming out. The popular Christian blogger and podcaster Jess Connolly just released Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good on Zondervan and it will be a blessing to many — it has great blurbs on the back from popular names in those circles such as Ruth Chou Simons, Jennie Allen, Katherine Wolf, Rebekah Lyons, and Jamie Ivey.)

Throughout Hillary McBride’s The Wisdom of Your Body, this therapist and critical scholar with an activist tone cites important theorists — Carol Gilligan, say, and popular advocates for body positivity (like the stunning The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor.) McBride is not particularly writing about Biblical teaching or even developing a comprehensive “theology of the body” (the way, say, Gregg Allison does in his recent Embodied: Living as a Whole Person in a Fractured World or as Stephanie Paulsell does in her lovely Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice; it is a far cry from, say Nancy Pearcey’s important Love Thy Body which affirms traditionalist views of gender and sexuality.) No, McBride is writing as a therapist and invites us to pay attention to what is going on in our physicality. Wisdom of Your Body is heavier and perhaps more intense than the gracious and wonderful Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bones by Tara M. Owens, a book I love, but, like that good book, it is inviting us to undo the unbiblical and unhelpful “spirit body divide.” In the words of one of McBride’s chapters, she is helping us realize that we inhabit “holy flesh.”

At the end of each chapter there are conventional study questions (“Some Things To Think About”) and there are also more embodied experiences (“Some Things To Try.”) Although informed by contemporary philosophy (not every self-help book has footnotes about the self suggesting Sartre’s Being and Nothingness) it is designed to be helpful, a balm and guide for those with commonplace shames and pains — she knows a bit about massage therapy and the like — and for those who are socially and politically oppressed or who have been cruelly violated. McBride knows about liberation theology and thinkers on the more progressive side of the faith community. (You may know her as a co-host of The Liturgist podcast.) She is deeply skeptical of the dehumanizing forces of some expressions of Christian faith and how some modern secular and religious ideologies legitimize violence, especially against women and people of color. She is prophetic in drawing on Arthur Waskow and Andre Lorde and Rosemary Ruether, and inspiring when citing the lovely Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass.  Much of the book is full of practical guidance and helpful ideas. McBride helps us (and I know this sounds cliched) get in touch with our feelings; her stuff about “feeling feelings” and “getting to know the emotional body” will be very, very helpful to many and is rooted in some important research on the connections between the body and our emotions. There’s a reason we talk about feeling something “in our gut” and she helps learn to pay attention to that.

(I wondered if she knows about the brand new Body Connections: Body-Based Spiritual Care by pastoral counseling prof at Wesley Theological Seminary Michael Koppel, who is a teaching elder in the PC(USA.))

I want to re-read the chapter “You Are Not Broken: A New Perspective on Pain, Illness, and Injury.” I love that she quotes several times one of my favorite memoirs of last year, the fiesty and fun and very moving Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig. I know McBride is candid not only about her own eating disorders and physical injuries, but about pain and illness. I think we need more books on this. (One I recommend that is less scholarly and more intentionally written out of a Biblical spirituality is the excellent Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness by Liuan Huska published by IVP.) 

There are a few chapters on sensuality (and there is reading pleasure here — she is a good storyteller and fine writer) although she also teaches a bit about brain studies and our gloriously complicated anatomy. There are chapters on sexuality and, yep, on sexual pleasure. She is wise in inviting us to consider desire and longing and delight. 

The Wisdom of Your Body is a heady, serious book loaded with deep scholarship and practical application, with delightful (and sometimes, horrible) stories and healthy guidance to help us live as the embodied persons we are. There is some creation-based spirituality — think Richard Rohr, for instance — but it isn’t chatty about faith, discipleship, or Biblical principles. For some, that will disqualify it but we want to commend it to be read discerningly, talked about with others, taken seriously. The topic is important, Dr. McBride’s passion is palpable, and this is a major work. If you pre-order it we will gladly send it when it arrives in early October, at our 20% off discount.

All the Things: A 30 Day Guide to Experiencing God’s Presence in the Prayer of Examen         Katie Haseltine (Morgan James)  $15.99                          OUR SALE PRICE = $12.77

This one is brand new and we are simply delighted to tell you about it — it has a bit of a backstory but the short version is that Katie is a seasoned spiritual director, deeply rooted in the evangelical world but increasingly drawn to the spiritual rhythms of the liturgical church and the quiet nudges of the Spirit discerned in contemplative practices and the resources of the Ignatian tradition. Sound familiar? 

Katie told me that she did not set out to write a book; she knows the creative life well and has been involved in plenty of artistic and social justice projects; she has a busy schedule of leading retreats and being soul friends with bunches of spiritual directees. She’s a mentor and life coach (and a certified Enneagram coach as well — what fun!) As you probably know, most spiritual directors are not too directive as they guide others but they learn to ask good questions of those they are helping; they are comfortable sitting with silence, are deeply prayerful and earnest in discerning God’s guidance. I suspect Katie is not the first one certified in offering such spiritual guidance who eventually realized that maybe God was speaking to her, too. Yes, yes, we can invite others to use tools like the ancient Examen prayer to discern God’s daily action in our daily lives. But what happens when the director gets some Divine direction? Hence, All the Things: A 30 Day Guide…

So, when a humble and gentle spiritual guide admits she didn’t set out to write a book, let alone seek fame as an author, but felt compelled to pick up her pen, and when I believe such a testimony (as I do with Ms Haseltine) I take notice. Such projects are the real deal, not driven by a desire for fame or fortune. Beth and I studied this book a bit and concluded not only that Katie was led by God to offer this resource, but that I needed it myself. Okay, that may be TMI, but there you have it. All the Things is a book I’m not going to peruse just so I can describe it to customers, but read for my own life and my own times. Do you ever worry about the state of your soul? I worry about myself sometimes.

(That Katie starts out this book saying that “praying the Examen rescued me” is almost jarring. But yet, I get it. As she tells a bit of her harried life a few years back, facing burn out and how her “head was full but her heart was empty”, I realized that there are probably a lot of good folks who need to join her on this road to discovery of a better way. Part of that, she mentions early on, is the shift from being merely right to being loved. As we all continue to face hard times in these complicated days, we need this shift.)

This brand new book, All the Things, is a simple guide to that one part of the spiritual direction of Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish Catholic scholar and pastor and almost mystic who lived in the 1500s — that generative time when the Protestant Reformation was moving through Europe —  and help found the order known as the Society of Jesus, or, more commonly, the Jesuits. His guide for pastors is complex, but the part of it — “praying your highs and lows” as she puts it — called the Examen prayer is increasingly recognized as an effective tool to help us reflect on God’s presence in our lives. It invites us to see where God showed up, where we’ve failed to notice, and how we might find God’s glory anew. It is at once profoundly God-centered and also simply practical for real-world folk. Despite its older reputation, it involves more than confessing sin and asking for forgiveness (although that is obviously a part of anyone’s daily piety) and in recent years has been increasingly celebrated as a keen way to help us attend to God’s guidance in and through the ordinary.

One of the great little books we’ve sold in the last few years that inspires us to creatively use this simple formula of Ignition prayer and “The Examen” is Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day by Mark Thibodeaux, published, of course, by Loyola Press. I’ve read and re-read the great introduction several times… Katie herself wisely commends Margaret Silf’s book, The Inner Compass: An Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality.

While there are many books on the Ignatian practices and several that focus on the Examen, we can happily now add Katie Haseltine’s All The Things to the list of most helpful resources which show us how to appropriate the ancient treasures of the Examen Prayer.

Allow me to note just a quick thing or two: All the Things is not a heavy treatise on Jesuit theology or Ignatian spirituality or even a fully detailed study of the Examen. It is nearly a workbook, delightful and useful, practical and inviting, by an energetic and practically minded guide. It would make a great introduction to this tradition and practice and it would be also good for those who have done this spiritual stuff for a while. It is fresh, simple, upbeat, and helpful. She tells stories and invites us to try things that will help us day by day by day.

Also, it is — as it should be — finally, all about love. In fact, in the summary of the book on the back cover it says that Katie is inviting us, as her readers and fellow-participants in this prayer practice, to “lay hold of love— love of God, self, and others.”  Isn’t that finally what you hunger for? Isn’t that much of what true spirituality is about? If this daily devotional type resource can help you experience this ancient prayer which can help you love and be loved, isn’t that nearly immeasurable? 

There is another thing that the Examen helps with and it is exceptionally important. As many have noted, one of the brilliant aspects of (and fruits of) this old prayer habit is that it helps us discern God calling to us in the mundane stuff of daily life. Who doesn’t want to “practice the presence”? Who doesn’t believe that God is with us 24/7, even as we live all of our lives in and through and for Christ? From the ancient Celts who found God in the creation to modern, reformational worldview scholars that insist all of life is being redeemed, from the monks who “pray the hours” to the recent interest in (as Tish Warren puts it) “the liturgy of the ordinary,” there is a hunger for faith that breaks into and transforms our seemingly mundane moments. Who doesn’t want to connect Sunday and Monday, faith and life, God and the quotidian? Ignatius hungered for that and it is through this prayer habit that Katie started to more clearly “notice God’s presence, attention, and activity in every day life.”

Here are just two of many who have endorsed this great little book:

If you’ve ever wondered where to find God in your mundane moments and groundhog days, All the Things is a good place to start. Katie Haseltine will teach you to pray in a forgiving, inviting, and flexible way. She doesn’t offer easy answers, but her battle scars make her a trustworthy guide.” —Steve Wiens, Pastor, Genesis Covenant Church, author of Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life and Shining Like the Sun

Sometimes we simply know. The first time I met Katie Haseltine, we were sitting together in the Art House in Nashville, and I listened, intrigued by her thoughtful passion for all things that should be. And now, over many years, my respect has only deepened as her life has deepened. She has worked hard to form her heart after the heart of God, and I have watched with affection and respect as she gives herself away to others, for others. I pray that this new book will bring her commitments and love to a wider world, a hope I have long had. All the Things is for everyone, everywhere, who longs for what should be, for what someday will be. — Steven Garber, author, The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good

7 Ways to Pray: Time-Tested Practices for Encountering God Amy Boucher Bye (NavPress) $14.99    OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

We have known of Amy Boucher Bye for years (we crossed paths decades ago when she worked with author and public speaker Os Guiness.) Over those decades she has moved to the UK, has studied Christian spirituality, earned a serious degree from the University of London, has published books and articles and devotionals, and has worked in evangelical ministry while raising a family.  She is beloved and respected around the world.

This book is one that fills a certain kind of niche and we are very, very pleased to tell you about it; t us the kind of book that we are always on the look-out for but (to be honest) is harder to come by than you might think. It is almost counter-intuitive that such a basic, clear, earnest, spiritually-minded book written with chatty storytelling and nice testimony would be such a stand out. Isn’t there a whole industry of evangelical self help books, of pious and Biblically-based inspiration? Yes, but few that are as rooted in the broad and wide Christian communion and the ancient teachings of church history. And that, dear readers, makes 7 Ways to Pray nearly an anomaly. It is about the most clear-headed and basic (and I mean that as a compliment) guide to ancient prayer practices you are ever going to find.

Those that follow BookNotes or browse here at Hearts & Minds know that we love this whole genre of the literature of spiritual formation. Celebration of Discipline remains an essential read, one of the best books of our lifetime.  We stock a lot of books like this, from heavyweights like the desert fathers and Orthodox mystics to Thomas Merton to the lovely and wise Henri Nouwen, from ancient classics like Theresa of Avila (and Theresa of Lisieux) to the more modern evangelical channels of this stuff such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Ruth Haley Barton) and to the fiesty and progressive appropriations (see, for instance, Mirabai Starr’s Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics.)

But yet, as Godly and deeply spiritual as most of these authors are, they are often just too deep for many of us. (One friend joked that he gets lost in hallways of the Interior Castle.) And for those raised with the passionate and intimate language of evangelical revivalism and devotional piety of that sort, hearing about even the Examen (let alone prayer beads or icons) just doesn’t work. Sure, some make the effort and have a trusting heart so they forge into deeper waters with guides that sound a little odd to them. (I can’t tell you how often traditional, serious Protestants have looked askance if I suggest Richard Foster since he knows the Catholic monks so well.) What we need is a translator, a clear writer who can simply tell of her own walk with the Lord and how these older, deeper saints can help us in our own discipleship. 

And, as I suppose you can guess, Amy Boucher Pye is just that woman. Did I mention she writes for Our Daily Bread? She has this knack for telling a nice story to serve as a nice illustration, dropping into these accesible sermonettes, rich, thoughtful quotes from  Bernard of Clairvaux or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Madam Guyon or Teresa of Avila or John Wesley. What a combo, lovely storytelling prose, Bible teaching, and intellectually solid spiritual guides to give it gravity.

There have been others who have introduced ordinary evangelically-minded folk wanting to deepen their devotional lives to the practices of the ancients. I’ve mentioned Richard Foster, an evangelical Quaker, who is nearly charismatic, so full of the Holy Spirit’s joy of the Lord. The founder or Regent College in British Columbia, James Houston knows these older writers well and introduced many a conservative, Reformed thinker to their sweet mysteries. The upbeat marriage and family writer, Gary Thomas, has written nicely about spirituality drawing on the monks and mystics but writing as a popular, evangelical communicator. One of my favorite books along these lines is heavier — maybe too meaty for some — is by Gary Neal Hansen, who wrote Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers in which he shows how to practice the various styles, techniques, and approaches from church “giants” from Luther and Calvin, Benedict and Theresa, Ignatius and Andrew Murray, and more. It is a masterpiece of a book, but not every young Christian wanting to learn to pray is willing to read about Puritans and monks and priests. 

Which, again, is what sets 7 Ways to Pray apart. Even the title might appeal to those with formulaic instincts, moderns who want to be offered simple and orderly ways to proceed. And she is a great teacher, a fun storyteller, a tender prayer warrior. But she is rooted in these ancient thinkers and contemplative practices. She indeed does what Gary Hansen says to do: she kneels with the giants. And comes back to tell us all about it, plain as day.

Amy starts this book with a very relatable story about an adolescent hurt experienced at church camp. I was hooked. A caring counselor wrote her a letter and decades later she realizes that this invited her into a more intimate relationship with God and called her to want to nurture that relationship. She began to wonder just what prayer really was and how to have a conversation with this God that she believed loved her.

Have you been there, wishing for just a little more connection with God, a little more meaning (and, let’s face it, success) in our halting steps towards praying? She has been there. Like many great books about prayer, she is honest about that. In this life-long work there are no simple answers.

But there are practices that have been taught and that have endured and in each of these seven chapters she nicely explains one of them. She is sharp and a fine writer, but I don’t commend this book mostly for luminous prose or for ruminations of deep mystery. This is just good, solid, spiritual guidance about how to pray, drawing on various classic themes.

For instance, she explains, firstly, how to pray with the Bible. (And her evangelical love for the Word is evident.) Next, she moves to how to pray with the Bible and nice guides us through experiences of Lectio Devina. She has a great chapter on “practicing the presence of God” and another on listening prayer.

Not every book on prayer has a chapter on lament but she offers good wisdom about crying out to God. Further, not every evangelically orthodox book on prayer invites us to “pray with your imagination.” That chapter (called “Entering the Story”) is very good and many will be inspired, I’m sure.

The last chapter called “Remembering in Prayer: How to Move Forward by Looking Back” is wonderful, a lovely and plain lesson on (you guessed it) the Prayer of the Examen as taught by Ignatius of Loyola. 

There are some other stories and afterwords inviting us to this kind of prayer that is, as Amy puts it, “an adventure with God.” One of the great features is the “For Further Reading” section where she has brief and spot-on annotations on a couple of the best books for further study in each of these seven classic ways to pray. Her book is a lovely invitation, almost a manual; and she does give guidance complete with bullet points, and instructional suggestions and application bits and Bible lessons galore. It will whet your appetite and drive you to pray and to want to read more, I’m sure.

There are, also, alongside the prayer ideas for individual readers there are unique group prayer guides for those using this in a small group setting.

Congrats to Ms Pye for these “time tested practices for encountering God.” It fills a need for a very simple read, conversational and warm, down-to-Earth but so solidly informed by really sophisticated stuff. We are happy to suggest it to you or your group.

A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for The Goodness of Limits Ashley Hales (IVP) $17.00     OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

Again, like most of the above books, this new one by Ashley Hales has been on our list of the most eagerly anticipated books of the season. I was so thrilled when it came, I almost didn’t want to open it — I wanted to be in a calm and special place so I could savor it. That cover, that open window, made me just want to go further up and further in.

I’ll admit that one of the reasons I looked forward to A Spacious Life is because I just adored her incredibly nice book Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much. I loved that sort of sociology of place coupled with seeking an intentional and aware style of discipleship cultivated in light of the obstacles and pressures of living in suburbia. I’ve reviewed it a time or two and highlighted why I think it was so wise and so rare — a nicely-written spirituality book with a sense of place; a critique of the ethos of American suburbia that had as its goal the formation of a holy sort of way in the world. A book fully aware of how the story and ideals and practices of the suburbs (and the American Dream more generally) needed to be counter-balanced by a different sort of story, a gospel story. Anyway, I admire her grit and grace and her accesible but thoughtful writing. I’m glad that she is increasingly known as a writer, podcaster, speaker and advocate for real-world faith.

Which brings us to this new one. Maybe it is inspired somewhat by some of the insights from her suburbs book, but this one is, again, about our creatureliness, how our faith develops as embedded in a place. And (see above) it is unavoidably embedded in a body. We are creatures with — news alert! — limits.

Hales is not the first to write about this, but I trust her spiritual instincts (and her theological chops; she has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh.) In this sense, perhaps A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry… is somewhat in the same ballpark as  Mandy Smith’s splendid The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry or maybe about submission to “the givenness of things” for which Wendell Berry is known. 

I can tell you this: I have not read this yet and am waiting for that bit of time to open up for me so I can savor it. I need a spacious life and I am not sure I can get rid of hustle, let alone hurry. I know that our creaturely limits are part of the reality of our beloved embodiedness in the world as God made it. But still… this is going to be hard for workaholic me and A Spacious Life will be a grace. Maybe it could be for you, too.

There are plenty of books about slowing down. John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry was a big one this past year (and next week the sequel, Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace, will release and we already have a bunch of pre-orders for that.) Bethke Jefferson two years ago wrote To Hell with the Hustle: Reclaiming Your Life in an Overworked, Overspent, and Overconnected World. But Hales is a writer of great insight and craft and hers will be worth pondering. And what great citations in the footnotes (always the mark of a good writer who is a good reader.) She helpfully draws in Leslie Newbigin and Steve Garber, Tish Harrison Warren and Walt Brueggemann, Fleming Rutledge and Jamie Smith. This is certainly going to be one of my favorite books of the year, even if I have to read it twice to learn to live even some of its wisdom. I want to slow down and try to create some — or, better, receive from God — some spacious bit of life. Why don’t you order it, gaze at the invitation on the cover, and when the time is right, take it up?

There are discussion questions for A Spacious Life and the 13 chapters (each with the subtitle of “An Invitation to…” would make a great small group read.

Listen to what these other good writers are saying:

In this book, Ashley offers us a glimpse of the steady beauty that a small life can provide. Interspersed with descriptions of everyday beauty that we so often overlook, she invites us to slow down and savor the fullness of Christ manifested in every moment. She invites us to find respite from the noisy, squawking world that so often distracts us–to find rest (and purpose) in Jesus. Reading her writing is a wonderful first step to the restfulness of which she speaks. It is a balm for a weary soul.  –Jasmine Holmes, author of Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope

Most of us in the West are trying to do too much. We wear ourselves out with our mad dash to make something of ourselves and secure a sense of significance. In A Spacious Life, Ashley Hales shows us a better path of flourishing by meditating on the goodness of creaturely limits and the wise way of Jesus. Her theologically rich and pastoral invitation to slow down is a needed tonic in our culture of ambition and excess.  –Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

From limitations to flourishing, Ashley Hales takes us by the hand and walks us forward into a new freedom that is really an old freedom. She offers the good news that the good life is not what we expected, but it’s right here in front of us, waiting between the boundary lines of our limitations. A Spacious Life is a welcoming invitation to consider that a smaller life means bigger love.  –Sandra McCracken, singer-songwriter and recording artist, author of the forthcoming Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song 

Nearly every other voice in our culture calls us to defy and detest limits, which is why it is so important for us to understand the different ways proper limits are not only good but essential to human flourishing. Dr. Ashley Hales has written a welcoming, biblically rich, and well-researched book that invites us to live a spacious life. Her painfully relatable stories of life in the contemporary world are paired with insightful cultural analysis, scriptural wisdom, and beautiful prayers to help readers see the goodness in embracing God-given limitations.  — Alan Noble, author of Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age and the forthcoming You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World

It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders.The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.49.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.60 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places.



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We are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health and the common good (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average. We are doing fun, outdoor, backyard customer service, our famous curb-side delivery, and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the ongoing pandemic. Be safe out there, please.

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We are here 10:00 – 6:00 Monday – Saturday; closed on Sunday. Thanks for your support.


Happy Labor Day! Some old and new books on Christian views of work. ON SALE 20% OFF

When we tell the origin story of Hearts & Minds, a story you are a part of as a customer and reader of BookNotes, we always explain that part of our vision for creating a somewhat unusual bookstore in the fall of 1982 was to arrange the store unlike most religious bookstores, with categories of books for ordinary folks to help them relate their faith to their various callings and careers. (Of course we have lots of more customary fare as well, books on prayer and Bible commentaries, books which focus on the family and titles about church life and personal growth, a huge children’s book section and lots of novels and poetry. Of course!) This Labor Day we consider, once again, how God has been good to us, blessing the feeble works of our hands, but we also note that we have not found that this part of our vision, offering books about work-world integrity, is as appreciated as we thought it might be.

Rather than being complemented for having interesting and wise, faith-based books for Christian farmers, nurses, teachers, engineers, counselors, businesspeople, artists, lawyers, computer scientists, politicians, and other careers and jobs, these sections of the store are routinely ignored. Film-makers and day-care operators and city planners and retail workers and special educators and dance instructors and business leaders just don’t come in very often to buy books on how to think faithfully about Christian approaches to their vocations in these, their spheres of service.

My hunch is, as I’ve lamented here before, that this discouraging fact may be in part because their pastors don’t talk much about the Christian mind, let alone “thinking Christianly” and reading and learning about our Christian convictions and practices in the day-by-day work-world. Rarely do churches preach about, or even pray for their “butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.” We do not know many who have offered Christian education classes on marketplace mission and the like. Gratefully, we hear more and more these days about being missional and living out our faith in winsome ways in public life and we are exhorted to honor the Kingship of Christ over all zones of culture, but our job sites and workplaces are rarely held up as venues of creative missional discipleship or Christ-honoring fidelity. I wonder how many even heard anything about a robust faith-and-work connection on Labor Day Sunday?  We’ve been told plenty of times by business people and artists and scientists and public school teachers and computer programers that they sometimes feel like “second class Christians” in their own faith communities for not doing “religious” work.

This has been changing in certain circles. I can hardly believe it was ten years ago that Amy Sherman coined the phrase “vocational stewardship” suggesting we are to steward our varying vocations for the common good, which she explored so thoroughly in Kingdom Calling. When we opened in the early 80s there were pockets of folks talking about this (kudos to Fortress Press who at the time had a series, now all out of print, by authors like Bethlehem Steel’s Lutheran William Diehl.) By the 2000s, this was such a movement that David Miller published with Oxford University Press a study about it all called God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement. There are bunches of websites and organizations, now, helping folks relate faith and work and it gives us great courage to keep on here in Dallastown.

HERE is just one article (from Seattle Pacific University) that nicely documents some of the recent history.

HERE is just one conference (at Regent College in British Columbia) that, although over, is great to see, just as an example to see how such things are being discussed these days.  

HERE is the website (of the Denver Institute for Faith and Work) of just one of many institutes doing this kind of work. Check it out!  I admire them a lot.

HERE is one of the epicenters of this movement, one we have even helped with a tiny bit (see their book recommendations, just for instance), the Center for Faith and Work of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.

HERE is just another example (The Charlotte Institute for Faith and Work) of this developing movement.

HERE is a link to some of the very thoughtful work being done on workplace theology and business ethics at the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Public Square at Gordon- Conwell, first lead by Ellul scholar David Gill.

HERE is the great website of the church network called Made to Flourish, which was founded by Tom Nelson (author of Work Matters and The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity) to help pastors and other church leaders implement a broader missional vision, including helping parishioners think faithfully about their work and lives in the marketplace.

These organizations are mostly Protestant and mostly evangelical. But each desires to be ecumenical and most admit a debt to Roman Catholic social teaching. It was in 1891 that Pope Leo XIII issued the extraordinary Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor”) which, by the way, is the same year the towering Dutch Reformed theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper published Christianity and the Social Question, which was first translated into English  as Christianity and the Class Struggle but is now available as The Problem of Poverty. Like the mighty Rerum Novarum by Leo, it, too, highlights the goodness (and brokenness) of systems of human labor and economic life.

In 1981, Pope John Paul II revisited Rerum Novarum with the extraordinary encyclical Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work.”) This is really, really important and Protestants, evangelicals, and Roman Catholics should be glad for this witness by these Popes helping ordinary people find dignity and purpose in their daily work.

(By the way, not to digress too much, but there is a nice chapter on a Roman Catholic perspective on work and labor within the broader context of what they call Catholic Social Teaching in a book I’ve suggested before, The Church’s Best-Kept Secret: A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching by Mark Shea (New City Press; $16.95 / OUR BOOKNOTES SALE PRICE = $13.56.))

Despite all this good literature and teaching and the energy around these institutes, classes, videos and websites, we here at the shop sometimes feel like outliers or weirdos with all our books about work and calling, vocation and jobs, authors helping us thank God it is Monday, teaching us how to follow Christ into the marketplaces and offices and schools and businesses and factories and clinics and studios, holy ground that they all can be. But as these books and organizations and Papal Encyclicals all show, we are not alone. So today we are grateful. On this Labor Day weekend we invite you to pray and think and talk with others about this. Maybe buying a couple of books would be helpful for you and your church, equipping all to serve God in all that they do. Pastors — bone up on this. Church librarians — come on! Small group leaders — why not encourage a small group in your church to try one of these? College ministry folks? Obviously, you should be doing this! We’re here to help and it would be our pleasure to serve you further in this.


As we note (ad nauseam, some may feel) we do have a large section on books about vocation and calling, and we have a large different section of books about work, helping people get a vision for seeing ways to serve God in the workplace, and how, as Tim Keller’s great book puts it, we can serve join God in our “every good endeavor.” I love Tom Nelson’s book Work Matters about how as a pastor he helped his congregation relate “Sunday faith and Monday work.” What a joy to recommend John Van Sloten’s Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God. In this section here at the shop we have books about craftsmanship, blue collar work, and various ways to find joy in the daily grind of our daily labor. I’ve highlighted books like this HERE, HERE, HERE, or HERE. (Notice that a few were first announced in hardcover years ago and now we have them at 20% off their current paperback prices.)

(And, of course, I might add, we created an adjunct special online e-commerce site listing books in dozens of industry-specific categories that you can use to browse books for your own calling. We did this for the CCO’s Jubilee Conference for college students and show and describe there a starting list of books — most fairly basic, but some more advanced — in professions from law to the arts, science to psychology, education to business, sports to health care, engineering to media studies, and on and on. See that curated, special Hearts & Minds e-commerce site HERE.)

Today, in honor of Labor Day, we not only invite you to click on those links to organizations and, hopefully, those previous BookNotes columns and that adjunct, supplemental Hearts & Minds e-commerce Jubilee bookstore, but will highlight here briefly a handful of mostly recent books that are good additions to the growing library on books in this growing field. All are 20% off.

Workplace Discipleship 101: A Primer David W. Gill (Hendrickson) $17.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36

Don’t let the word “a primer” cause you to think this is too basic. It is basic and clearly presented, but Gill is brilliant, a world-renowned scholar of the radical social thinker Jacques Ellul; he was the first director of the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Public Square at Gordon Conwell and has been studying this stuff for a long, long time. This jam-packed book has 12 good chapters with lots of sidebars and discussion stuff, making it ideal for a small group at your church or college or, better, your workplace. 

As Missy Wallace, Executive Director of the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work puts it,

It enables a senior leader, a middle manager, or a blue-collar worker to gain practical, implementable next steps towards a more integrated life.

Fernando Tamara, Director and Researcher at the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership (Los Angeles) says,

This is a must-read for all Christians who want to share their faith and see God transform their work.

Listen to Tom Nelson, Lead Senior Pastor, Christ Church, Kansas City; President, Made to Flourish Author, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work

Few people I know have thought more deeply and practically about the integration of the Christian faith in the workplace than David Gill. In Workplace Discipleship 101, David Gill’s keen intellect, ethical clarity, and encouraging heart frame a persuasive and practical guide for all apprentices of Jesus who long to embrace an integral faith. This book is an invaluable resource I have been waiting for. I highly recommend it!

Living Salty and Light-Filled Lives in the Workplace Luke Bobo (Resource Publications) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

This is not a new one, but they changed the cover and updated it into a second edition a few years ago and it simply isn’t as well-known as it ought to be. I respect Luke Bobo so much. He is a strong African American leader who has had considerable experience in the work world; he has worked as an electrical engineer for 15 years, served in industry and business. He has taught, and spend years working in Christian higher education. He has served as Assistant Dean for Training Ministries at Covenant Theological Seminary and has directed the Francis Schaeffer Institute there. Now he works for Made to Flourish, the wonderful network I mentioned above, founded by Tom Nelson, author of Work Matters. Mr. Bobo’s Living Salty and Light-Filled Lives in the Workplace is a great example of the exact sort work he has been doing for years — making complex ideas and challenging discipleship obligations understandable and inviting — and a good indication of how valuable he has been as a leader at Made to Flourish.

Many of us have heard (heck, I bet many BookNotes readers have made) exhortations to be “salt” and “light” and “leaven” in the world, drawn, of course, from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. What Christian doesn’t know that somehow we are to be influential in the world, adding savor and brightness, goodness and truth, to the world around us. And who does’t recall, once we think of it, anyway, that we spend maybe 90,000 hours over the course of our lives at our workplaces. (Sure, the work world is changing a bit with working from home and telecommuting, but the point is the same: we are to be God’s representatives bringing His healing goodness to bear on whatever space we inhabit, virtual or otherwise.) If we are called to infiltrate dark places to bring God’s light, and we spend most of our waking hours at work, well, shouldn’t we naturally want to connect the dots. Be salt and light in the work-world?

Living Salty and Light-Filled Lives in the Workplace would be an ideal book to give to anyone who wants to earnestly serve God with a sincere sort of discipleship but doesn’t know what it may entail to be salt and light. Whether one is in professional or blue collar jobs, this is a clear and practical and useful (and short) resource that is surely going to help many relate their faith to their jobs and callings in the world.

Unlike some books, this book gets to it’s point quick and easily. In fact, in the preface, Luke explains his strategy.  He has three introductory chapters that are great and pointed, easily understood and inspiring. These are what he calls “the facts” and he makes a compelling case that Christ’s Lordship and the all encompassing nature of our faith means we simply cannot leave our faith for Sunday morning. We are sent by God with a vocation of serving in the world, including the seemingly secular workplaces we find ourselves. There are two good chapters here, and they each cover lots of truth about God, faith, the culture, the implications of faith in the complicated modern world. There are solid reflection questions making this ideal for a reading group or book club (or your pwn personal journalling and processing.)  It offers fairly broad brush strokes painting a nice overview of our calling to be God’s salt and light and what that might look like in the work world.

The second portion has four chapters, and they corresponding with the four big themes many use these days to discuss the drama of the Bible story as it unfolds across the pages of Scripture — creation/fall/redemption/restoration — as it relates to our call to be salt and light at work. If the first 25 pages offered “the facts” he here fills in some “details” that underscore our understanding.

The four chapters in this portion are entitled:

    • Creation: Simply Breathtaking!
    • Sin, Consequences, and Our Work
    • Some Marvelous Good News: Redemption!
    • All Things New!

Yep, in less than 100 pages, Luke Bobo gives us a concise and Biblically informed vision of God’s work to redeem all things, including our culture and it’s work places, and our role in that as we take up the vocations God gives us. With His help and power, we become salt and light, even in the workplaces and job sites we find ourselves in. 

Listen to author and respected teacher Jerram Barrs who wrote the foreword to Living Salty:

That faithful, clear, imaginative and powerful communication has now found its way to the printed page in this, Luke Bobo’s first book. I commend his exposition of the Christian’s calling to serve God in the workplace with joy, knowing this book will be a blessing to you and will help any reader to serve the Lord more faithfully, Sit down, open your heart and mind, be ready to learn and eager to be changed. God’s passion is that you be transformed from one degree of glory to another into the likeness of His Son. This book will be an instrument win the Lord’s hands to help shape you into that likeness, and to aid you as you seek to walk in the ways the Lot desires for you in your daily life.  Jerram Barrs, Professor of Christianity and Contemporary Culture, Covenant Theological Seminary and Resident Scholar of the Francis Schaeffer Institute

Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work Denise Daniels & Shannon Vandewarker (Hendrickson) $24.95         OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Once again, this book is one we have highlighted before at BookNotes, such as when it first came out, and then on one of our Best Books of the Year columns. As always, those are still available at our website and you can enter the authors name or the book title in our BookNotes archives. We did exclaim a bit about this because — as we said then, and as is still true today — there is hardly anything like this in print. Written by two professional women who have worked well in the corporate world, it offers not only a solid and robust vision of faith in the work world and a Christian view of serving God in business, they have done this by drawing out the ways in which we can practice spiritual disciplines in the 9-to-5 world. That is, the subtitle of this is not a ruse or metaphor, it really is about “practicing the presence of God” as the old classic puts it. It invites us to take Eugene Peterson’s famous comment to heart (when he said that the work world may be the primary place for spiritual formation.) 

I love the arrangement of this fine book, too. The introduction includes a lovely reflection on “The Ordinary Rhythm of Work” which makes urgent the three major unites of this book. There are four chapters in each section.

First, there is the section they call “Orienting to Work” which shows how the workplace is, indeed, holy ground. We have to surrender the calendar, as they put it, and learn to read Scripture at work, to see how God speaks to us there. The “liturgy of commute” is nearly worth the whole price of the book.

Secondly, Daniels and Vandewarker write about “Engaging in Work.” This really does affirm the notions of calling, invites us to gratitude and celebration, to confession of sin (at work!) and lamenting at work. (Again, this is a chapter that is so rich and vital and not adequately spoken of in other books like this.)

The third portion is entitled “Reflection on Work” and, here, these high powered corporate women invite us to solitude, to prayer (including an examen for work) and to sabbath (that is, ceasing from work.) That they invite us to pay attention to God in this whole lifelong journey of ours, including our working lives, is just beautiful stuff.

This is a rare and solid book, mature and delightful. It will help anyone who has a job find God’s presence there and it will help anyone who desires to deepen their own sense of spirituality with fresh ideas for practicing these classic contemplative disciplines, even in and around the workplace. 

In this remarkable book, spiritual disciplines such as confession, sabbath, lament, and solitude are applied to the workplace… Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker challenge us to rethink our approach to work. Placing a spike in the heart of the artificial sacred/secular split, they call us to make Jesus lord over every aspect of our lives.       Alec Hill, President Emeritus, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

We’ve had some wonderful studies in recent years about the theology of work and also about spiritual formation. In this book, the two come together in marvelous ways. The authors aren’t just telling us that we should be workers who also happen to have a spiritual life. They help us to practice the presence of God as we engage the real stuff of our working lives. . . .Practical wisdom abounds in these pages!  Richard J. Mouw, President Emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary, author of All That God Cares About

By the way, for those who perhaps already have this fine hardback, you can now pre-order the forthcoming companion workbook that will be coming out in January 2022. It is called Practices for Working in the Presence of God: A Guided Journal (Hendrickson Publishing; $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99 DUE DATE JANUARY 2022.)

Good Work: How Blue Collar Business Can Change Lives, Communities, and the World   Dave Hataj (Moody Press) $15.99                           OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

We’ve highlighted this briefly when it first came out, but with Covid and quarantining, we’ve not had the opportunity to take it on the road to conferences and bookselling events, so wanted to remind you of this splendid, inspiring book. It isn’t as much about blue collar labor as I would have wished (although he has a small bit about the brilliant cultural assessment of Matthew Crawford and his Shop Class as Soulcraft and his book on automation in the workplace called The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.) Hataj is for anybody wanting to think faithfully about serving God well in the small business world, in factories or shops or the trades. The author is a machinist with a PhD, and that’s pretty cool, eh? It is handsomely made, too, with some two color ink and nice design touches. 

Check out a few others that have endorsed Good Work:

A machinist with a doctoral degree–you don’t meet one of those every day. Nor will you often find a book that so effectively demonstrates the hand-in-glove relationship between faith and everyday work. In Good Work, David Hataj has given us a wide-open window into his years of experience in the “real world.” Hataj meshes making gears with serving God — not merely in theory but in actual practice. His story traces the painful path he traveled to make that faith-work connection. Good Work will expand your outlook on family health, meaningful work, integrity in business, mentoring, and bridging the generation gap.
–Larry Peabody Professor, Theology of Work, Bakke Graduate University; author, Job-Shadowing Daniel: Walking the Talk at Work

You will want to pass Dave Hataj’s Good Work on to every small business owner, especially those in the trades. Kingdom impact is possible in blue collar business. Dave’s secret sauce to integrating faith in the workplace is “Do what you say you’re going to do!” I could not put the book down, reading it all in two sittings. I resonated with what Dave has to say — my father was a machinist and also a pastor, both in church and in the machine shop. It felt like Dave was in the room with me all the time reminding me that God is infinitely more concerned with who we become than with what we accomplish.
–Willy Kotiuga Chair, Bakke Graduate University Board of Regents

Dave Hataj loves Jesus and this book is a testament to a life lived in pursuit of Him! It is the story of Jesus’ faithfulness, gentleness, and heart cry for each and every person made in His image, including those of us who find ourselves in a blue collar world. This is a unique and essential contribution to the “faith and work” conversation that, if ignored, is done so at the peril of the Christian church around the globe. Finally, and somewhat less obviously, it is proof that behind every married man, there is a strong and loving woman. Without Tracy, the pages of this book would lie empty.  –Josiah Warren, carpenter

Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation Daniel M. Doriani (P&R) $15.99                               OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

I raved about this when it first came out in Spring of 2019. I admitted, as I recall, that I wondered what new could be said now that we are in the midst of a renaissance of books on this topic. And I was stunned — this is one of the best foundational resources we should have for those interesting in thinking very well about this topic. Yes, some of this has been covered in other seminal volumes, but I really think this is a key book, catapulting into my top few on faith and work. It looks at many aspects of this topic (rooted in a good view of creation and the cultural mandate, aware of sin and structural injustices, robust in the truth and scope of Christ’s redemption and his Kingdom coming.) He’s had a lot of jobs so he has lots of stories, too. What fun!

Doriani is an old pal from the CCO campus ministry (and the early days of our Jubilee conference) and has served not only as a pastor and theologian (having done academic theological work at Westminister Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School) but is the recent founder and director of the Center for Faith & Work in St. Louis, affiliated with Covenant Theological Seminary where where he now works. Work: Its Purpose, Dignity and Transformation is a winner.

The last few years have witnessed a flurry of books that treat a Christian view of work. This is the best of them. Well written, historically comprehensive, theologically informed, exegetically sensitive, this is now the ‘must read’ volume on the subject.                       — D. A. Carson, Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“With a high view of creation, a great love for the gospel, and the hope of Christ’s kingdom stirring in his heart, Dan has given us a wonderful introduction to a biblical theology of work. It is accessible, practical, and brimming with Dan’s wonderful personality.” — Scotty Smith, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN

Work That Makes a Difference Daniel M. Doriani (P&R) $12.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

I just finished this little book and very, very heartily endorse it. I love that is offers a good summary of his earlier book (Work: It’s Purpose, Dignity and Transformation) and extrapolates from the teachings there that God wants to transform the workplace to create spaces and institutions that help the world and provide decent and just work for people to get to use their God given gifts for the common good. That is, there is this bigger purpose for all of this, and it is more than finding fulfillment and more than merely being ethical.  It is about loving God and neighbor, of course, and this book shows how you can “discover what makes your work both good and strategically valuable — and then develop a concrete plan to make a difference in your corner of the world.”

Doriani rightly shows how the workplace is not only a strategic place for social change but how, even if we want to change it, it often changes us. (And, as a guy who has had a lot of different jobs, from freight handler to tennis coach, tour guide to security guard, he has some first hand experiences.) This is an invitation and a warning, showing how work is a gift and and obligation, and how the work world exits for God’s glory but is fallen and often anguished. I like his balance and tone and practicality, knowing it is rooted in the big ideas shared in his larger, previous book.

It seems that Work That Makes a Difference is designed especially for small groups. There are discussion questions, case studies, suggestions and “next step” recommendations. It includes prayers and guidance for helping one another be more intentional about all of this. There are 9 short chapters. It’s a great little volume, a good, good tool, and highly recommended. 

For the last year, Dan Doriani and I have empowered multicultural leaders with weekly meetings using Work That Makes a Difference. I highly recommend Dan’s book and invite you to join the team of multicultural faith-and-work disciple makers who live out the love of Jesus daily in the marketplace. —Brad Wos, Multicultural Director, Evangelical Free Church, Central District

Wisdom and Work: Theological Reflections on Human Labor and Ecclesiastes     J. Daryl Charles (Cascade Books) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Some serious-minded BookNotes readers may know Daryl Charles for his extraordinary 2002 study The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism or his several books on natural law and the just war theory. He is affiliated as a scholar in theology and social ethics with the right-ward leaning Catholic Acton Institute. His last book was published by Acton called Wisdom’s Work: Essays on Ethics, Vocation, and Culture. You may have seen his work in First Things or Providence. 

I wanted to list this one not only because it is new and the author is important, but because it is doing what not many have done — plumbing the insights of Ecclesiastes in a way that is generative and fruitful, walking a third way between those who perhaps see it as nothing but sour or those who fail to grapple with its cunning social criticism. Further, Dr. Charles explores it’s teaching and insight about work, a topic that is (surprise, surprise) not often discussed in standard commentaries on this wisdom book. 

Much of Wisdom and Work is, I should be clear, about Ecclesiastes. There isn’t much practical work-world advise and few quick take-aways for those wanting a quick formula for living out faith-in-the-marketplace. But using Qoheleth’s literary-rhetorical strategy and how the book “contrasts two diametrically opposed outlooks on life” showing us how meaning and purpose are to be sought after in the human experience (not meaningless, as a less substantive reading might led us to believe.) As the back cover puts it, “meaning and purpose…are by divine design to be the norm —a norm that infuses the daily, the ordinary, and perhaps most significantly, our work.”

The very first words spoken to the newly created human family found on the first pages of the Bible are words of vocation, a calling to imitate God through responsible work. Wisdom and Work is a gem for anyone interested in probing this critical topic through the lens of one of the most practical books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes. I highly recommend it both for preachers of any kind, and businesspeople seeking affirmation of their calling. —Robert Sirico, President, The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty

The book of Ecclesiastes has often been held in suspicion by communities of faith for its unrelentingly pessimistic view of human life. In this outstanding study, J. Daryl Charles breaks the interpretive logjam that has long prevented the positive message–the good news–of the book of Ecclesiastes from reaching its readers and informing their work in the world with a clear, coherent, and joyful sense of vocation.             —Lee Hardy, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Calvin University, author of Fabric of This World: Inquiries Into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work

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

This small paperback was a delight to read — written directly inspired by Martin Luther (and, more specifically, the seminal work Luther on Vocation by Gustaf Wingren, which we have long promoted.) As good, evangelical Lutherans know, talk about justification is not only about how Christ saves us — the cross of Christ through grace alone! — but is also a key work in thinking about the tendencies of the human condition. That is, without a gospel-centered identity, we try (sometimes knowingly, often less consciously) to justify ourselves. We try to prove to ourselves, to others, maybe even to God, that we are worthy. Of course, that isn’t how the gift of grace works: we are not worthy, so we might as well give up on the dead-end of self-justification. We need not pretend we have it together, we need to cover-up our failures or overstate our accomplishments. The burden of autonomous self-justification is deadly; it is ruining many of us with are drivenness and workaholism and perfectionists and shame. (And it taints our good work, too, with pride and privilege and such.)

We are freed from this burden, of course, through Christ’s redeeming work. But freedom, in this classic evangelical theology, means, as St. Paul puts it, we are freed to serve. We take up various stations (or places, callings, venues, offices) to serve our neighbors, each in their own place and way; we wear “masks” that God gives us, so to speak, so we can represent God in various ways to the watching world. Most such offices/stations and the “masks of God” we wear are not about employment — they include parenting and neighboring, being a citizen and being a friend. But it does, also, include our role as worker. While it may not be fully right to say glibly that we are God’s hands and feet, that common expression comes close to how it works. We love God’s world with God’s love and in the renewed image of Christ, we represent Him in the world. This is the point of our various callings and the key to the good life, the nature of shalom and human flourishing: we are avenues of God’s love.

Berg’s Vocation is a fun little book, potent and theologically rich. It is a fresh and concise explication of much of the background doctrine that should shape conversations about work and vocation, callings and careers. It has stuff about spiritual warfare, about cultural renewal, about daily labor.  It becomes quite practical with teaching on “purpose and self-esteem” and “honor and craft” and “vocation as the setting for evangelism.” Good stuff, for sure.

Work Worth Doing: Finding God’s Direction and Purpose in Your Career Tom Heetderks (Harvest House) $15.99                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

I often mention the annual Pittsburgh Jubilee Conference run by our friends at the CCO, a college ministry conference designed to help studies get a missional vision for their lives as themes of whole-life discipleship and vocation and calling and the coming Kingdom of God are explored with hip relevance for emerging adults and soon-to-be young professionals. Our friends at the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation run a one-day event before Jubilee each year, often called Jubilee Professional (or J-Pro, for short) that uses some of the same speakers but inviting them to address adults in the great Pittsburgh area. They talk about serving God as agents of His holy restoration in the arts, culture, business, social service worlds, and, of course, the local church. I say all this only to say that as I was speaking on Zoom there last year — talking about our own bookstores as a venue where these same topics are being discussed and promoted — I heard that a guy name Tom Heetderks was in the audience.  Holy smokes, when an author of a book about vocation and calling designed, in part, with college students in mind, is involved in something as J-Pro, it means a lot. I checked out his book and loved it. It was an entertaining read, upbeat, and motivational.

“Find more than just a job” it says one the back cover, and invites those who are just starting out in the workforce or those trying to figure out their next step in life, to use this book as a tool to help discern how to “pursue careers filled with meaning and purpose according to God’s plan for our lives.”

Of course, as Tom explains, all of this is less about the kind of work you do and more about how you do it, and for whom. 

Work Worth Doing is smart, practical, and has an enormous heart. In a unique and highly engaging conversational style, Tom Heetderks walks readers through a deeply personal encounter with the God-ordained purpose for what they’ll spend their careers doing. Reading it made me feel as if I were having a heart-to-heart talk with a trusted mentor over a cup of coffee. Eminently accessible and brimming with spiritual insight, this book tells the truth and offers a path forward full of meaning and hope.                   —Bryan Dik, PhD, professor of psychology at Colorado State University, cofounder of jobZology, and coauthor of Make Your Job a Calling

Whether flipping burgers or speaking from a pulpit, any job can be a mission field. Work Worth Doing provides humorous and thought-provoking insights that encourage a paradigm shift–a new understanding about the importance of a job and its God-ordained purpose.  —Shaunti Feldhahn, bestselling author, social researcher, and international speaker

“Tom writes in a way that gives us a fresh understanding of God’s truth. Young leaders today need these insights and wise stories. How good to know our work is an opportunity to worship God daily in big and small ways. Live this way, and you will hear the most important words of all, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.               —Cheryl A. Bachelder, CEO, Pier 1 Imports, Inc. and author of Dare to Serve

Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time  Rory Groves (Front Porch Republic Books) $25.00                       OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

We are delighted to tell you about this recent book from the Front Porch Republic which could be very useful these days as folks are thinking about new sorts of employment, young adults maybe not wanting to necessarily go off to college, for those makers who are wanting to be part of the “shop class as soulcraft” renaissance. This handbook has bunches on chapters, each on different trades that could be taken up if one wants to buck the standard system of going to work for a big corporation but take up the call to be self employed or in a guild with others. Groves writes eloquently on everything from silversmithing to leatherwork, from becoming a plasterer or sawyer or mason or butcher. Other “family friendly” careers could be various sort of farming jobs (shepherding, for instance) or finding livelihood as an artist, counselor, innkeeper, brewer, baker, embalmer, tutor… he has chapters on bunches of job options and it is all so interesting, in contrast to what he calls “brittle systems.”

Durable Trades offers some astute observations of the upheavals caused by the Industrial Revolution, writes eloquently about meaningful work and a good life, and invites us to take up trades that are durable, lasting, real. There is a thoughtful foreword by Allan Carlson He even rates each job for various features and benefits such as its historical stability, its resiliency, its easy of entry, and more. Fascinating!

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy Matthew Kaemingk and Corry B. Willson (Baker Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Oh my, where do I begin? I raved about this at BookNotes before it even came out and I’d invite you to review my announcement about it HERE; others have reviewed it with similar enthusiasm, and I wish it would have taken off in a bigger way here. There is simply nothing like it on the market and, demanding and sophisticated as it is, it is worth working through    every single page.

Work and Worship: Reconnecting… does exactly what the subtitle says: it studies both liturgy and labor and the relationship between them. It leads us to wonder: why are there precious few worship resources about our daily lives and our callings to the work world? And, similarly, why do so few of the many great books about work and calling, labor and jobs, marketplace and ministry, not talk much (if at all) about the church and her worship? This is a book that we really, really need.

Long before Tom Nelson used it in his great book subtitle, many of us talked about “connecting Sunday and Monday”, work and worship, liturgy and labor (and prayer and politics, for that matter) since it rolls of the tongue so well. It is symbolic and metaphorical, usually, when I use it evoking relating faith and life, all that Sunday stands for and all that Monday signifies. That preaches.

Kaemingk and Willson get that, but they here have helped us do more than just use those phrases to suggest a Christian public theology that includes work. No, they don’t just leave it at that, inviting us to think about God and our work, but they literally are asking us to worship well in light of God’s calling into the work-world, and to be shaped in our Christian perspective about work by the things we do in worship. They literally are inviting us to new and fresh liturgical insights about the formative power of well-designed worship services that can inspire us to see God’s mission in workplace. 

With chapters as intersting as “Workers in the Pews” and “Worship That Fails Workers” this book is truly fascinating, if hard hitting at times. (They are never arrogant or self-righteous in this, by the way, but have good hearts for God’s people. They love the church and love that God wants the local worshipping body to be fully inspired in all that that leads to, including scattering out as salt and light into the work zones and various tasks of our Monday worlds.) The main heart of the book, the large middle portion, is Biblical in nature, offering chapters from each part of Scripture, showing insights from those portions of Scripture and ways to be more fully Biblical in our worship services.

The last large unit is under the rubric of “Practices” and includes three solid chapters entitled “Work at the Lord’s Table,” “Worship that Gathers Workers” and “Worship that Scatters Workers.” I am sure there are ideas here you could start to implement in your own church and worship experiences right away. Others will lead you to ponder and pray.  I suspect if you are serious about this you will want more than one copy so that your own worship leadership, team or committee will be tracking with the things you are thinking as your reform your own liturgical practices and worship language.

Rather than explain again the many virtues of this great book and the many useful ideas it gives and tools it offers, read, please, these great comments by leaders in the worlds of worship renewal and cultural renewal. These great blurbs show that this, truly, is one of the most rare and groundbreaking and important books in recent years. Again, there is nothing like it. 

And if you allow me to circle back to my opening remarks in this Labor Day 2021 column, above, I might say that if this book is widely distributed and studied and used — especially for anyone forming new worship services or church planting or teaching about the liturgical arts and worship leaders — maybe, just maybe, folks will start seeking out books on how to think and act Christianly in their job sites. Maybe the lack of a book like this is the reason the faith and work movement has been limited to small pockets here and there. We have been lackluster in advancing this Godly call and Kingdom movement about faith in the work world in part because we have not prayed and revered and worshipped well about it. Kaemingk and Willson are out to help us solve this. Work and Worship: Reconnecting our Labor and Liturgy is a book every church should consider so we can more fully honor God with our worship and more fully equip God’s saints as they are sent into the Monday world of work, labor, and life.

“Here, finally, is the book that will take the ‘faith and work’ conversation to new depths of intentionality. With theological clarity and real-world accountability, Kaemingk and Willson mend what we have rent asunder. Advancing scholarship in theology of culture, it is also a must-read for those who lead worship for workers–which includes, of course, everyone. This should become a standard textbook, for the sake of the church and for the sake of the world.” — James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; author of Desiring the KingdomYou Are What You Love, and On the Road with Saint Augustine

“Kaemingk and Willson make an inspired contribution to the underdeveloped connection between work and worship in Christian life. They do not take the predictable approach of beginning with a theology of work and applying it to worship; rather, they come at it from the opposite direction, proposing that when references to labor are faithfully represented in the liturgy, it forms us for the work we ultimately present to God in all vocations.”  — Constance M. Cherry, Indiana Wesleyan University; author of The Worship Architect

“Born of years of deepening commitment and maturing insight, the great gift of this groundbreaking book is its remarkably rich study of Scripture and history, showing that the deepest, truest witness through the centuries comes from an understanding of liturgy and labor–which is surprisingly seamless. Work and Worship is a gift to the church.”  — Steven Garber, senior fellow for vocation and the common good, M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust; author of The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work

“In this beautiful and timely tome, Kaemingk and Willson argue quite persuasively and winsomely how work and worship were meant to be seamlessly coupled. They skillfully and methodically trace the rich biblical, theological, and historical foundation of this work and worship coupling across diverse people groups and cultures, ancient and modern. It is my earnest prayer that this book finally reunites and binds together–forever–these two vital segments of our lives.”  — Luke Bobo, director of strategic partnerships, Made to Flourish

Work Play Love: How the Mass Changed the Life of the First Christians Mike Aquilina (Paraclete Press) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

What a great, brief, compact-sized book this is. I read it in two sittings and couldn’t stop thinking about it (and talking about it) for days. I am not Roman Catholic, of course, and I may have missed a few nuances of the vibrant Aquilina’s theology, but it sure rang true to me. It was a delightful survey of the significance of true worship in the life of God’s people and the spiritually formative power of authentic worship. As he says over and over, a real encounter with Christ in worship necessarily spills out into all of life and this has huge (almost sacramental) implications for how we work, play, and love.

Naturally, for a Catholic, especially one who loves Jesus as much as this author obviously does, the worship service must include the Eucharist, and so, the word “Mass” is in the title. But for those with other theologies of worship and other perspectives on the Lord’s Supper/holy communion/eucharist, Mr. Aquilina’s views still are exceptionally relevant. I found myself nodding in agreement (as would, I kept thinking, Kaemingk & Willson, who are themselves deeply ecumenical and neo-Calvinist.) I’m telling you, regardless of your own denomination, this is a great little book and I highly recommend it. If you have too, anywhere he uses the word “The Mass” just substitute “worship.”

Mike Aquilina is the Executive Vice President and Trustee of The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, is a widely recognized Catholic author and lecturer. He’s known for scholarly work on the patristics (which shows in this simple but compulsively footnoted book — he knows his early church stuff, and peppers his upbeat writing with lines like this, which, he tells us, originated from the Martyrs of Abitine in North Africa in A.D. 304, “Christians make the mass and the Mass makes Christians.” I don’t know who the Martyrs of Abitine were, but it’s the same insight we hear from beloved contemporary evangelical writers like Tish Harrison Warren (Liturgy of the Ordinary) and Jamie Smith (You Are What You Love.)

Did you know that early Christians brought the fruit of their labors to the altar in worship — not only bread and wine, but also cheese, honey, olives, dried fish, and freshly pressed oil? As Dr. A puts it, “As they worshipped, they consecrated the world itself to God.”  His teaching about how early worship inspired believers to live out their faith in the worlds of work and service are nothing short of inspiring.

He explains (by way of setting up a good quote by Justin Martyr from about the year 150) that working for a living was a scandal among the Greeks and Romans (influenced as they were by Plato and their slavery system) and it was commonly hurled at Jesus followers as an insult. Justin Martyr, in Aquilina’s colorful prose,”…comes out of his corner like a boxer, leading with his chin, as he heralds Jesus as the unremarkable carpenter…” After a neat sidebar with the quotation, Aquilina continues, noting that Justin argued that Jesus taught us about a righteous life by working with his hands. “That’s an idea,” he says, “that changed the world.” A God with dirty, working-man’s hands. Imagine!

Aquilina writes,

Christianity was hardly a hundred years old when a pagan intellectual named Celsus launched a vigorous attack against it.

This religion couldn’t be true, he argued, because it was made up of shoemakers, cleaners, weavers, and other common laborers. Its God was a carpenter, for heaven’s sake. His mother spun cloth. And his great spokesperson was a tentmaker. How could a religion made up of such lowly people be anything but contemptible?


As the back cover puts it nicely, Aquilina also explains how a certain sort of playfulness, creativity, and leisureliness entered the culture in part due to the gentle tone of the early worship services and the values they portrayed. He writes, “The Mass was a leisurely, contemplative act, but it was celebrated on a normal workday in the Roman world. It was useless by the standard of the city. And yet it called forth — gently, gradually — the most creative responses.” This extravagant act that has no economic consequences speaks volumes to our culture of hot-wired rush and productivity. Such a weekly ritual could nearly be subversive to our idols of economic growth, no?

Of course, the Christian ritual demanded personal and communal acts of charity. “The earliest description of the Mass show the importance of the collection and its distribution to the poor, the imprisoned, and the homebound sick.” As he shows, this led to the establishment of institutions of universal charity, a first in human history.

One reviewer describes how beautifully written and wise this little volume is and notes that “Nobody makes the past more present than Mike Aquilina.” I agree — this was a dip into the earliest practices of our ancestors in Christ and whether you are Protestant, Orthodox, Anabaptist,Roman Catholic, or whatever, there is much to learn in this short, inspiring essay. That what some of us write about regarding work, callings, vocations, and whole-life discipleship, is most evangelical Protestant is fine, but hearing from this charismatic Roman Catholic scholar can only help us all. Work, Play, Love is a delight.

It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders.The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

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

Let us know what you prefer.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.49.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.60 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places.

DON’T FORGET TO LET US KNOW WHAT SHIPPING METHOD YOU PREFER. If you want US Mail, please say which sort — media mail or priority mail — so we know how to serve you best.


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15 recent novels that we highly recommend (and a nonfiction book about children’s books) — different sorts for different readers. ALL 20% OFF.

Many of our customers want to squeeze in a couple of novels here in the dog days of summer and since some of us (again) now have to cancel travel plans due to the new Coronavirus risks, you should stock up now.  What to choose? We’ll make it easy. We have lots and lots of other fiction bulging our store’s shelves, but these BookNotes specials are all at 20% off and each has some special appeal.

You can see some of our older lists of fiction HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and this huge list, HERE.

By the way, when browsing our huge archive of previous BookNotes reviews (as we hope you do) please note that books that I once recommended when they were first out in hardback in many cases are now in paperback, so the price would be cheaper. Tell us you saw it at an old BookNotes and we’ll honor that 20% off, too.

For right now, though, here’s what we selected to highlight from recent finds. Why not call up a friend or two and plan a little FaceTime, Zoom, or online book club? That’s fun. Just invite them to buy the books from us, okay? We’d be grateful.

So, grab that favorite beverage and get ready to read. Here we go.

The Weight of Memory Shawn Smucker (Revell) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

As a special gift for those who pre-ordered this, we got Shawn to add his artistically creative John Henry, and we still have some of those autographed ones left. He’s such a good guy and every book of his captivates us. I reviewed this one a bit when we first announced it. Here is a somewhat edited version of what I said then about this spooky, warm-hearted, deeply moving page-turner.

Okay, Hearts & Minds friends, BookNotes readers, fans and friends. This is a book we’re eager to invite you to consider. Beth and I love this author and we’re hoping many of our supporters will get behind this new one, recommending it for their book clubs, choosing it as a novel to read, perhaps gifting it to the curious and open minded.

As we’ve said before, Shawn Smucker is both a friend and good customer. He has written a pair of excellent YA speculative fiction fantasies, The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There and a handful of moving, well written, and particularly thought provoking adult novels, like Light From Distant Stars and his Dante homage, These Nameless Things. Each has a bit of strangeness to them; Light has some surreal stuff that you don’t know if it imagined or real (like that smoke monster from Lost, ya know?) And Nameless had that descent into… well, you know. In this sort of imaginative work strange is good and he excels in making it believable and compelling.

Shawn has also done a book in the memoir genre, telling of his friendship with a refugee from Syria who had settled in Lancaster, PA, and what Shawn learned from this new, somewhat needy neighbor. Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me About Loving My Neighbor is also great for book groups or adult classes. It’s very, very good and good for these times.

The new novel, The Weight of Memory is his best yet. Some of the lines are just stunning as he turns a phrase or offers a metaphor. Without being overly literary or obtuse, he crafts a great story, good characterizations filled with pathos and wonder. (As the great Daniel Taylor said of an earlier Smucker book, he has written an “imaginative,  morally complex (and therefore realistic) exploration…”  Shawn and his wife, Maile Silva, (who do a fabulous podcast together about the creative life, being parents and spouses and writers, cleverly called “The Stories Between Us”) are tremendously fun and kind people and having them here to the store again when the Covid threat rescinded would be our great honor.

We were glad to take pre-orders for The Weight of Memory and I’m glad to say we’ve gotten some good feedback about it from early readers. It is dramatic and just a little creepy (although not a horror or suspense novel, really.) It is about a really interesting, middle aged man who I is raising his precocious granddaughter.

This well-done novel is a story about, well, a lot of things, including death (which will come as no surprise to Smucker’s many fans.) It’s not a big spoiler to say that the opening chapter reveals the main character with his young doctor, getting the terminal diagnosis. It is cleverly written and truly captivating — I truly was hooked from the first page. Throughout there are these good lines that just make me smile, including the line in that first chapter where the patient sits on the examination table awaiting the news in the doctor’s office and “the paper underneath me crackles like electricity.”  Later, on a hot day as kids come out of school, their feet shuffle “like sandpaper.” Later, he mentions a Pentecostal preachers shoes which “shone like the deepest reaches of space.” I’ve seen that guy and his shoes, I thought. When he describes a rather inhospitable atmosphere in a small-town diner — one he used to hang out in as a teen when it was bustling with laughter — I thought, man, I’ve been to that place, too. He has a good eye and a way to describe surroundings that just ring true. What fun. And how strangely rewarding, like somehow the dad’s journey back to his old home town invites us to a similar journey of remembrance. Is there a particular weight of memory?

Here is how the publisher summarizes things: the plot revolves around Paul Elias who, upon receiving a terminal diagnosis, must find someone to watch over his granddaughter, Pearl, who has been in his charge. Paul decides to take her back to Nysa — both the place where he grew up and the place where he lost his beloved wife under strange circumstances forty years earlier.

But when he picks up Pearl from school, the little girl already seems to know of his plans, claiming a woman told her.

When they get to Nysa, Paul reconnects with an old friend, is nearly undone by the onslaught of memory, but that’s not even the half of it. Pearl starts vanishing at night and returning with increasingly bizarre tales and reality itself seems up for grabs. The Weight of Memory is both suspenseful and a bit introspective so will be appealing to many different sorts of fiction readers.

Perhaps like the more mysteriously gracious version of the menacing characters in his novel Light from Distant Stars, one doesn’t know if this is a figment of Pearl’s imagination, a mental illness (perhaps from some kind of intuitive stress from the losses in her life) or — maybe? — there really is some ghost-like apparition that is guiding her. In any case, Pearl seems to know more about Paul’s past life back in Nysa than he realizes. And as that older plot develops in memory, it evokes not only beautiful friendships from their teen and young adult years, but (for me at least) got me thinking about my own past. I’m sure it will do the same for you. What a gift a book can be.

It is important, I might add — okay, sorry for this little fun spoiler — that in the extended stay back in Paul’s old hometown, the town where her mother died, Pearl is reading two George McDonald fantasy novels. “I like Mossy,” she simple says once. You don’t have to catch the reference to The Golden Key, really, but it helps. 

I like the way the publisher puts it: In The Weight of Memory “the past and the present mingle like opposing breezes, teasing out the truth about life, death, and sacrifice.” It’s also a captivating tale of memory, secrets, regrets and hope, love and some sort of sense of grace. Not bad for a summer read, eh? Highly recommended.

Jack Marilynne Robinson (Picador) $17.00 paperback  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

We had taken pre-orders of this before it first released last year and even had the great privilege of selling some autographed hardbacks. (There are no more, by the way.) Now, we are delighted that in the summer of 2021, we have the great joy of announcing this as a newly issued paperback. Now you can get all four of the great quartet in the new matching paperback covers, all uniform sized.

I needn’t tell BookNotes readers, I’m sure, that Ms. Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for Gilead, the first in this set of slow, exquisite stories sent in a small town in Iowa, exploring the memories and lives of several interlocking families. Jack was the forth (and an Oprah’s Book Club choice earlier this year; O Magazine declared that, “There is a richness and depth at every turn.”) We are glad that the paperback is now available,

“There is a richness and depth at every turn.” Indeed.

For what it is worth, Gilead remains the essential first read as it explores the memories of the aging Congregationalist minister, John Ames. The second is Home which explores his colleague and friend, another pastor in the town of Gilead, the Presbyterian pastor Robert Boughton. The third novel is about the quirky wife of John Ames, Lila, and hence the title of that one, Lila. This most recent one, Jack, is about the son of Robert Boughton, the backstory that you may wonder about as you’ve read about him in Home.

That is, to oversimplify:  Lila explores in greater depth a character from Gilead and Jack, in a way, is a sequel to Home. It really is important to read the earlier books, at least Home, to best appreciate Jack. When magazines the world over highlight that these books are about transcendence and the Divine, about faith and redemption, and when the writer is called “our country’s most thoughtful novelist” you know these are books we are eager to promote. We would be delighted if you ordered some today.

Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf/Vintage) $26.95 hardback; $16.95 paperback             OUR SALE PRICES = $21.56 hardback        $13.56 paperback

Yep, the title Hamnet is a reference to the famous character of the Bard. Actually, it seems that Hamlet was often called Hamnet in the Elizabethan Era. And so, there’s that, but even if you aren’t a huge Shakespeare fan, this is one rocking (and, one might say, relevant) story. And, yes, the plague of the subtitle is black death that was in 1580 ravishing England. Not only was Hamnet a much-discussed New York Times bestseller, but it was the winner of the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. Beth absolutely loved this one when she read it almost a year ago.

The description reads:

A young Latin tutor–penniless and bullied by a violent father–falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman. Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is just taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.

As the Boston Globe said, “Here is a novel so gorgeously written that it transports you.”

“Here is a novel so gorgeously written that it transports you.”

For what it is worth, the one with the face and feather on the cover is the nice hardback with deckled edge paper; the blue one is a bit smaller, just recently out in paperback.

The Weight of Ink Rachel Kadish (Mariner) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This beautifully crafted, thick paperback is another award-winner, having been honored as the National Jewish Books Awards Winner. And, again, Beth loved it. Those who appreciate solid historical fiction — this on goes flashing back in time from the early 2000s in London to the holocaust years and, importantly, to an interwoven tale from the 1660s — will love this. Even the Historical Novel Society (yes, there is a society of the historical novel) has written,

An impressive achievement… The Weight of Ink has the brains of a scholar, the drive of a sleuth, and the soul of a lover.

Beth immediately noted that it was like another we both loved, The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I suppose Kadish would take that as a compliment; she too is a very gifted writer. No lesser a writer than Toni Morrison has a blurb on the elegant front cover, saying Ms Kadish is “astonishingly adept at nuance, narration, and the politics of passion.” At 550 pages you can really get lost in a complex story like this, what one reviewer calls “an intellectual mystery.”  Perfect for this time of year.

The Sweetness of Water Nathan Harris (Little Brown) $28.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40 

It isn’t always the case when a debut fiction work is universally acclaimed as so very excellent and the author is considered exceptionally “gifted and assured” (as Richard Russo, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner, put it.) Russo continued that The Sweetness of Water is, “better than any debut novel has a right to be” Ha. As Elizabeth McCracken says, “The Sweetness of Water is an extraordinary book, and just the start of an extraordinary career.” Beth couldn’t put it down and she talked about it for days.

It is a generous story, evocative and big — one reviewer (as you can see below) liked it to contemporary African American writers such as James McBride and Colson Whitehead. It is, to be clear, a story set after the Civil War and invites us into the lives of formerly enslaved people. In this case, the story revolves around two brothers, Prentiss and Landry who were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. The two men are hired to work on a farm, hoping to save money to move north with a hope of reuniting with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys.

In a Publishers Weekly column about the book it was reported that Harris shared how his father had done some genealogical research but was stymied — a situation not uncommon for black Americans, descendants of the stolen and enslaved. He suggests with this first novel he joined many Black writers who are “filling in their past.”

There are sub-plots and a parallel story (and a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers, who also move back to their small Georgia town of Old Ox.)  It is said that Harris’s debut novel invites us in to these things with candor and sympathy (with equal parts “beauty and terror.”) Could there be a healing vision in this town of Old Ox? The inside flap says, “The Sweetness of Water is an epic whose grandeur locates humanity and love amid the most harrowing of circumstances.” For what it is worth, Beth often does not like reading about such harrowing of circumstances, so took this up with some concern if she’d enjoy it. She did, certainly.

Perhaps we had heard a review on NPR or read somewhere saying it sort of deconstructs the antebellum myths of plantations and glory — in Russo’s words, Nathan Harris has “unwritten Gone with the Wind, detonating its phony romanticism, its unearned sympathies, its wretched racism.” Yet, this writing was so good, even lyrical, at times funny, is written in a way that one reviewer called “breathtaking” anyone who likes good fiction will enjoy it. With its deep understanding of the human condition, you may truly came to love it.  As Bret Anthony Johnston says, “Harris is a novelist with impossible rare talent and still rarer heart.”

The Pastor: A Crisis Bradley Jersak & Paul Young (Cappella Books) $19.95                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

This book is not set in faraway times nor is it lengthy. As a novella it is nicely made in a compact hardback size and at 137 pages, it’s a quick read. But, what an intense story it is. You may know that Brad Jersak is the edgy and Christ-centered pastor and thinker whose book A More Christlike Word I recently reviewed and that Paul Young is the controversial author of The Shack, a novel that is well worth reading as imaginative, compelling, moving fiction, a story about great loss and graceful redemption. This one has similar tones, but more raw and dark, wondering how faith can be meaningful in these hard, hard days.

The Pastor starts with an explosive public meltdown and a violent incident in the psychiatric ward. As it says on the back cover, “Now the Pastor stares into the abyss of his own secret shame. Before he can be free, he must confront his demons and find grace. But will he let go? Will he allow himself to be healed?” You know, the work of being a religious leader is daunting and many clergy create a persona (around his or her religious performance, obviously.) Sooner or later the exposure of this false identity may come to the fore. In this story, it comes crashing down.

It is interesting that on the back cover there is a quote from John Milton (from Paradise Lost, I believe) saying:

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Yes, this is about mental health and trauma. There are some mature themes here, some scenes of bullying and assault that could be triggering for some readers (even the passionate photo of the cover of a man screaming in pain warns.) A character asks, “Can love roar louder than my demons?” That’s the question that this creatively written bit of short fiction so passionately raises. It is what one reviewer called “beautifully brutal.” I suppose it doesn’t need to be said but it is not only about or for ministers, by the way.

If you want to know a bit more about what this book is about and how the authors came up with it, you can watch fantasy author H.R. Hutzel and her conversation with them here. It’s very good and covers a lot about the arts and their vision. Check it out and come on back to order if you’d like.

The Five Wounds Kirstin Valdez Quade (W. W. Norton) $26.95                                                        OUR SALE PRICE = $21.56

Well, speaking of intense stories, this new novel is one of “healing and regeneration”as well as “bracing and wise” (in the words of Luis Alberto Urrea, author of House of Broken Angels.) Engrossing as it may be, witty (and even humorous, or so some have said) and written with an empathetic voice, it is serious. 

Listen to Phil Klay, author of the recent highly regarded novel Missionaries:

The characters in The Five Wounds are so vivid, their grasping efforts toward love and redemption so finely wrought, and each page full of immaculate prose, that I read this novel with ever-increasing breathless urgency.

You may know (although I did not) that this started as a very highly regarded short story of the same name in The New Yorker. As it developed into a book fans were eager in anticipation for the fuller story. 

In a wonderful on-line rumination Image editor James K.A. Smith (in his newsletter “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.”) asked if The Five Wounds “is a Catholic novel?” Of course, that leads him to ask what would characterize such a novel (which leads me to ask what is a Christian novel, or a Christian bookstore, for that matter. But I digress.)

Jamie explained why he was reading this during Lent, and in the essay nicely summarized the novel:

The story is at the intersection of two intimate communities in northern New Mexico. The first—the focus—is four generations of the Padilla family who live together in the same house: Yolanda, the matriarch; Amadeo, her languishing, alcoholic son; Angel, his pregnant daughter; and eventually Connor, her son born in the course of the story. The novel is a compassionate but clear-eyed portrait of how tenuous and fragile their lives are—in virtue of the human condition we all share, and the isolating effects of late capitalism that isolate all of us, but also because of the long legacies of displacement and disempowerment experienced by indigenous and Latino communities in the Southwest. In so many ways, each character is suspended above the abyss by only a slender thread and the novel is attuned to the ways those threads fray. The most psychologically harrowing aspects of the novel are those moments when we fear we’ll see them snap. 

Smith explains that a character in the story participates in a Catholic ritual where a character actually takes on the wounds of Christ in his reenactment of something like a passion play. Smith writes:

It will seem very strange, then, to ask whether The Five Wounds is a “Catholic novel.” And yet I haven’t been able to shake that question.

This is not to ask, of course, whether this is a good novel. (It is.) Nor does the question expect the novel to teach doctrine or adhere to ecclesiastical expectations. (Of course not; we’re talking about art, not propaganda.) The question is one I ask hesitantly (especially as a Protestant). I understand the skepticism and I’m not even sure I’m committed to the category just because I can’t shake the question.

The question isn’t about expectations, and harbors no sense of what Quade “owes” us in a novel called The Five Wounds. So let’s transpose it from my opening question —“Is this a Catholic novel?”— to a different sort of musing: How does Catholicism function in this novel? Does the visceral spectacle of Catholic ritual belie a world that is, in fact, thoroughly disenchanted?

While the story is framed by (somewhat rogue) Catholic rites, the world of the novel is flat, even naturalistic, rather than sacramental and “charged” (in Hopkins’s sense of the word).

Not to spoil too much, but Smith notes this:

Perhaps this is what I think is most at odds between the world of the novel and the spirit of Catholic faith. The Five Wounds is, perhaps above all, a tender portrait of willpower. For Amadeo, his crucifixion veers on a self-help strategy twisted into an act of machismo: this is how he’ll get his life together; this is how he’ll show he can overcome; this is how he’ll win his daughter’s and ex-wife’s admiration; this is how he’ll triumph over alcohol and redeem a lifetime of bad decisions. When he receives the nails, it is not an act of surrender; it is an assertion of what he can do.

He may be right — this may not be a deeply Christian or Catholic novel; if it is about trying, there may be little real grace to be found, although there is goodness and delight. Yet, another reviewer, C. Pam Zhang, author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold, notes that the book is “bighearted, tender, wise, and shot through with moments of pure grace.” Hmm.

Klara and the Sun Karuo Ishiguor (Knopf) $28.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

First this: Ishiguor was honored with the heady and important Booker Prize in Great Britain and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. (The British citizen was Knighted by the Queen for his literary service in 2018.) You may know his story The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go, both which were made into highly regarded films. Mr. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, which seems sad to me to write here the first week of August. (The civilian cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by our atomic WMDs on August 6th and August 9th, 1945, respectively.)

Klara and the Sun is his first novel since having won the Nobel Prize. It is said to be about, to put it succinctly “the wondrous, mysterious nature of the human heart.” He does this, in part, by having one of his main characters [what in the story is called] an “Artificial Friend.” (Do you recall Spike Jonez’s mesmerizing Her with Joaquin Phoenix with all that pathos? Just saying it’s not too fanciful.) The Washington Post review called Ishiguor’s Klara novel “a delicate, haunting story, steeped in sorrow and hope.”

As an NPR review noted, “again and again, Ishiguro asks: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to have a self? And how much of that self can and should we give to others?” Wow.

As an NPR review noted, “again and again, Ishiguro asks: What does it mean to be human?

Here are some of the impressive blurbs from impressive recommendations for this artful story.

One of the most affecting and profound novels Ishiguro has written….I’ll go for broke and call Klara and the Sun a masterpiece that will make you think about life, mortality, the saving grace of love: in short, the all of it.   Maureen Corrigan, NPR

Ishiguro’s prose is soft and quiet. It feels like the perfect book to curl up with on a Sunday afternoon. He allows the story to unfold slowly and organically, revealing enough on every page to continue piquing the reader’s curiosity. The novel is an intriguing take on how artificial intelligence might play a role in our futures…a poignant meditation on love and loneliness.   Maggie Sprayregen, The Associated Press

A prayer is a postcard asking for a favor, sent upward. Whether our postcards are read by anyone has become the searching doubt of Ishiguro’s recent novels, in which this master, so utterly unlike his peers, goes about creating his ordinary, strange, godless allegories. — James Wood, The New Yorker

Moving and beautiful… an unequivocal return to form, a meditation in the subtlest shades on the subject of whether our species will be able to live with everything it has created… [A] feverish read, [a] one-sitter… Few writers who’ve ever lived have been able to create moods of transience, loss and existential self-doubt as Ishiguro has — not art about the feelings, but the feelings themselves.   –The Los Angeles Times

The Four Winds  Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press) $28.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

I’ve been hoping somebody on our staff would read this, but none of us have had the time yet — I suspect we are all just waiting for that right mood and moment. Well, more than a moment because once one starts this, it’s going to be absorbing. One of our team (I’m not naming names) may go upstairs to her bedroom in the middle of the day with such a story. You may know Kristin as the author of the run-away bestseller The Nightingale. It may be that that World War II novel was popular also because of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize winning All The Light We Cannot See (a WWII story we all loved for its pathos and excellent descriptive writing. You can pre-order Anthony Doerr’s forthcoming Cloud Cuckoo Land, due November 16, 2021, btw, at our 20% off. ) In my mind I connect those two books. Kristin Hannah is equally beloved and is known for telling one solid yarn.

And this book: oh my. It is about the dust bowl years. It may be pitched as an “epic novel of love and heroism and hope” but it is yet a local story, not Wendell Berry, exactly, but rural, set in 1934. The main character is Elsa Martinelli, “one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation” In one interview I read with Ms. Hannah, she said Elsa is one of her very favorite literary creations (which is quite a statement from an author of 24 books!)

It is notable that People calls it a “tour de force” and the New York Times called it “eerily prescient” in 2021. Their good review continued,

“Its message is galvanizing and hopeful: We are a nation of scrappy survivors. We’ve been in dire straits before; we will be again. Hold your people close.”

This may not be so symbolic and literary that she will win the heavy Nobel Prize, or even cause philosopher art patrons like Smith (as noted above) to ponder its essence. But I assure you, it will be a really good story which will inspire you to love and sacrifice, courage and friendship. Publishers Weekly said it will “revise the ghost of Tom Joad.” Good Morning America, somebody told me, said it was finally a story about home.

Through one woman’s survival during the harsh and haunting Dust Bowl, master storyteller, Kristin Hannah, reminds us that the human heart and our Earth are as tough, yet as fragile, as a change in the wind. This mother’s soul, suffering the same drought as the land, attempts to cross deserts and beat starvation to save her children with a fierce inner strength called motherhood. A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself. — Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing

By the way, I have to note with joy the aesthetic pleasure of the striking gold specks — wheat? dust? gold? — on the front and back flyleaves of this handsome new volume. It’s a really classy touch like we’ve rarely seen. And, if anybody worries, my Wendell Berry namedrop above was not gratuitous. Ms Hannah starts the book (which begins in 1921) with an epigram from Saint Wendell himself. That should tell you something, eh? Kudos to Kristin Hannah and The Four Winds.

The Incredible Winston Browne Sean Dietrich (Thomas Nelson) $26.99                                      OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I might as well admit it. Again, we’ve not read this, but it is on my stack. I love novels set in small towns (and lots of readers like books about baseball) so I have high hopes for Winston Browne. Mostly, I’ll again admit it, I’m excited because my friend Shawn Smucker highly recommended this author and this book.  (Shawn’s got a nice blurb on the back, even.) Some of you may know the fiction (or even the nonfiction) of Sean Dietrich who is a guitar picker and country guy, essayist and storyteller who often goes by the moniker Sean of the South. Yep, he’s that interesting guy, author of the very well received novel, The Stars of Alabama.

 I love that Sean of the South wrote a memoir called The South’s Okayest Writer. His publisher released last year a memoir about his remarkable journey down south called Will the Circle Be Unbroken? A Memoir of Learning to Believe You’re Gonna Be Okay (Zondervan; $24.99.) That autobiography — in the style of a celebrated southern storyteller, starts with the stunning line, “The day before he shot himself, I saw a blue heron.” It has been described as “an unforgettable memoir of love, loss, the friction of family memories, and unlikely hope.” Indeed, Deep South magazine called it “a spark of hope to those who need it.”

So, you can see why we are eager to tell you about this recent novel that looks just really, really nice. There have been lots of great endorsements encouraging you to read The Incredible Winston Brown, about a principled, baseball-loving small town sherif in the town of Moab, Florida. 

One reviewer wrote:

With the help of Moab’s goodhearted townsfolk, the humble and well-meaning Winston Browne still has some heroic things to do. He finds romance, family, and love in unexpected places. He stumbles upon adventure, searches his soul, and grapples with the past. In doing so, he just might discover what a life well-lived truly looks like.

And Sean, himself, said this about The Incredible Winston Browne:

I wanted this book to be about common people who do extraordinary things. I wanted to treat hard times with dignity.

Chasing Manhattan John Gray (Paraclete Press) $24.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

Perhaps you were one of the many who heard about this author’s big bestseller a Christmas ago; the rights to Manchester Christmas were bought by a Hollywood producer even before the book came out. In that one, the stained glass windows of an abandoned church seem to be speaking to Chase Harrington, a writer, who is trying to find new meaning in her life (and is embroiled in a romantic quandary.) Faith, mystery, suspense, Christmas cheer — it was a sweet, cozy, story.

This is the second about the lovely Chase as she moves to New York City on the heels of her best-selling novel. As the back cover puts it, “Wanting her life to return to normal, instead she finds herself on an assignment involving an elusive millionaire, a mansion with secrets, and a misfit cast of characters who all need her help.”

Two things about this light and charming inspirational story. First, it is published by Paraclete that is known, mostly, for deeper spiritual writings, liturgical resources, ecumenical and profound with somewhat of a sacramental worldview. They do serious monastic spirituality, produce sacred chant CDs and mature poetry. So that they think this upbeat story is worthy, I’d check it out. Secondly, John Gray has also written for Paraclete two children’s books about animals (so, of course, a fabulous dog is part of this plot, too.) He and his wife have rescued many a pup and the proceeds to this, like Manchester, go to ministries hoping the poor and, of course, to animal rescue projects.

The Midnight School Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell) $15.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

What a great, easy-to-read book to promote among those of us who care about reading, about helping others learn to learn, about how the gospel can motivate us to help the disenfranchised, even in ways that seem innovative and socially and institutional complicated. The Midnight School, as we’ve said before at BookNotes, is historical fiction and romance that is enjoyable and inspiring. Kudos to Suzanne Fisher, a popular writer of Christian fiction, for bringing this little known and dramatic episode to life in this fine bit of faithful storytelling.

The backstory is complex but can be summarized simply: in the early part of the twentieth century many folks in Appalachia could not read. Lucy Wilson was a (fictional) woman who arrived in Rowan County, Kentucky in 1911— visiting a relative, haunted as she was by personal tragedy. She went to assist her cousin, (the real-life) Cora Wilson Stewart, who was in those years the superintendent  of schools. One person called Lucy “a fish out of water” and so it was Lucy who had the eyes to see that the primitive conditions and intellectual poverty was an injustice that needed addressed.

To help those who had no other option, she invited adults to literacy schools, held after dark on moonlit nights. They were sure that the best way to combat poverty was through education, especially literacy. They had no idea if the folk would come. There is, of course, the plot theme of the haughty outsider who learns to reconsider some of her own attitudes as she learns from the locals.

This upbeat novel is inspired by true events and I suppose you know that despite exceptional hardships (personal and cultural and political) these inspiring ladies eventually found their late night schools to be exceptionally successful and they expanded them across the hollers and into other rural counties. This was, in fact, the genesis of the adult literacy programs that now exist in nearly every place in America. This is a sweet, good, read.

As Laura Frantz, herself a Christy Award-winning author (of Tidewater Bride), put it, The Midnight School is a novel that is,

An unforgettable story about love and the transforming power of words and community. Deeply moving and uplifting.

Jacobo the Turko: A Novel In Verses Phillip Bannowsky (Broken Turtle Books) $20.00             OUR SALE PRICE =  $16.00

Well, if the above novel approaches the need for a serious social reform in an upbeat and captivating faith-infused romance story, this one is nearly the opposite in style and vision. Bannowsky is a seriously deep poet and an even more serious radical activist; he has for years been in the trenches of working for progressive change in part through serious interfaith conversation and joint social action. His novel, if one can call it that, is a story told in poetry form. It is demanding, playful, at time infuriating, and fully fascinating.

Bannowsky (who helps edit a lit mag called (Dreamstreets) has read and conversed and lived at the margins of conventional faith for years, citing his appreciation for the likes of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber and Palestinian theologians such as the Rev. Dr.  Mitri Raheb and Naim Attek. Back in the day he knew the Berrigan Brothers and he is an aficionado of grassroots and global poetry; he has taught English in Ecuador and Lebanon and, yep, the wilds of Delaware. He has worked many years on the assembly line of a now-razed Chrysler Plant in Newark. He was raised as a Navy brat, as he puts it, so one could say he gets around and has seen the world in ways many of us have not.

There is a glossary in the back of this “novel in verse” and you learn that Bannowsky knows his Christian theology (explaining a heresy about Christ’s two natures and wills from Chalcedon) and unique phrases in other world religions as well. It is helpful to see Arabic or South American phrases that appear in Jacobo translated and explained. That helps a little, at least.

Importantly, you learn that the name Turko is a bit of a slur, an Ecuadorian expression for waves of Lebanese who immigrated to Ecuador. Banno notes that it is “related to their roots in Ottoman-controlled (ie Turkish) Lebanon/Syria. Today they are well-established in Ecuadorian business and politics.” (Who knew?)

And so, this may be “theatre as good read” as one reviewer put it, and it is eccentric, but it is informed by deep awareness of global culture and a longing for fundamental human rights. Global, inter-religious, allusive and suggestion-rich, this is unlike anything I’ve ever read.

The very indie Broken Turtle Books notes that Jacobo the Turko is — get this — “a tragicomic take on Gitmo.” 

The plot flows something like this, I think: it recounts the misadventures of Jacobo Bitar, an Ecuadorian of Indigenous and Lebanese parentage, “who seeks the American Dream on the beaches of Delaware, only to be robbed of his pay and passport, harried by I.C.E., and deported to Lebanon (where he has never been and) just in time for the 2006 Hezbollah/Israel war. From there, he is abducted to the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and ultimately confined at Guantánamo Prison. “ As one who knows a little bit about I.C.E. and (illegal) detention of immigrants and asylum seekers, I’d say stranger things have happened.

Here is what a fellow creative, poetic activist says of it:

Jacobo the Turko is a novel in verses quite unlike any other. Phillip Bannowsky’s linguistic dexterity and exceptional musicality create a unique narrative voice—the perfect voice to tell this picaresque tale that is a wild gumbo of characters and adventures, politics and class, and the absurdities and cruelties of modern life. Bannowsky’s visionary blending of novel and poetry—and letters and documents and rap and prose and concrete poetry, etc.—is nearly indescribable, so strap yourself in for a wild ride and see for yourself.  —Jim Daniels (The Middle Ages, poetry; The Perp Walk, stories)

Eden Mine S. M. Hulse (Picador) $17.00             OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

Everyone knows there are certain sorts of literary genres that capture the tones and texture of place. We think of  Southern writing, of course, and there is a feel to much from the great Southwest (I hope you’ve read Desert Solitaire by Abbey) So many sophisticated, contemporary novels are set in New York or other urbane locales. There is a lot of Appalachian writing and, of course, we think of Wendell Berry’s Kentucky. 

I do not know much about the novels of the great contemporary West, except maybe the wonder of Kent Haruf and some of Cormac McCarthy (There are great cowboy stories, and we know many esteem the legendary True Grit by Charles Portis and of course Larry McMurtry.)We learned that S.M. Hulse (whose debut story Black River was considered very strong and achieved national acclaim) was a new voice of contemporary Western prose and a fiddle player and horsewoman herself.

I think it was this quote (among many) that won me over:

The prose in S.M. Hulse’s debut novel Black River mirrors the Montana land in which it’s set: spare, powerful, and dangerous. This is a novel about love born from violence, about families torn apart by tragedy, and about a community that must take a long, hard look at its past if it’s ever going to see its future. Like Kent Haruf and Larry McMurtry, S.M. Hulse knows the landscape about which she writes, and she understands the hearts of those who live there.  —Wiley Cash, author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy

I started Eden Mine and somehow my wife commandeered it,  finishing it while I waited it out. She didn’t tell me much so I could pick it up where I left off, and now we are both happy fans (and both have Black River on our lists.) Eden Mine was, indeed, set in rugged terrain of rural Montana and I am very eager to heartily recommend it. The long shuttered but polluting mine (Eden) to which the titles refers in the story is up the way from another mine, Gethsemane Mine. Uh-huh.

Here’s the thing: there is some drama at the very beginning of Eden Mine that I simply can’t explain for fear of taking away your own surprise when you turn the pages. It isn’t graphic or awful, although there is some serious stuff and you will not know at first whodunit, let alone why. Even the very nature of the crime is something I don’t want to give away as I was just so startled when I realized what it was about.

Granted, there are settings and themes that are obvious and gratifying; Alexi Zentner in The New York Times Book Review says it “perfectly captures not only the landscape of the American West but also what it feels like to survive in a town that is dying.” But there are surprises galore under that big sky and you’ll enjoy discovering them if I don’t say too much.

The main woman, Jo — I can’t say everything about her, either, but you can enjoy knowing she is a painter — loves her brother and there are real tensions that start the story as she must discern if he is a culprit (and why he is on the run.) The book gives us much to talk about — ethics, art, faith, family, politics, morality, land, legacy…

As the back cover says,

A timely story of the tensions splintering families and communities all over this country, S.M Hulse’s Eden Mine is also a steady-eye gaze into the ideal of the West and the legacies of violence, a moving account of faith in the face of evil, and a heartrending reckoning of the terrible choices we make for the ones we love.

PLEASE PRE-ORDER The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois Honoree Fanonne Jeffers (Harper) $28.99. OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19 This is not yet released. RELEASE DATE = August 24, 2021.

This massive, important new work is truly brand new, having just released a week or two ago. Jeffers is known in literary circles as an award-winning poet; her first poetry collection The Gospel of Barbecue, came out in 2000. She has also released short stories and has been honored as a nominee for the National Book Award. Her short stories are set in Georgia and she thinks of them as “Faulknerian.” She did her undergraduate en and MFA in Alabama (and has won an Alabama-based Harper Lee Prize) so she indeed deserves to be thought of as a Southern Black writer. A much respected poetry collection was inspired by archival work she did on the late colonial-era Black intellectual, Phillis Wheatley. This major new release has been much anticipated. Not every poet, it is said, can write long-form novels but in this, Jeffers has given it her all. The book weighs in at over 800 pages.

It is a long, epic, multi-generational saga starting with the story of Ailey Pearl Garfield of Washington DC (born into an upper class black family in 1973.) In between the long chapters are the “songs” (which are actually other chapters —side-stories — tracing the history of Ailey’s relatives, which “go back generations to the earliest residents of Chicasetta GA (the fictional town of her earlier short stories) and includes Native Americans, Scottish slave holders, and enslaved Africans.”

I suppose most BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds customers know about W.E.B. Du Bois and his notion of the ‘talented tenth.’ Jeffers was quoted about Du Bois in a piece in Publishers Weekly (by journalist Lauren LeBlanc.) LeBlanc writes,

Jeffers says Du Bois’s constant presence [in the novel] echoes the experience of “Black folks who grew up in all-Black spaces and went to HBCUs,” where he is taught across the disciplines. His belief that Black people are capable of far more than white society expects is a running thread in the novel.

“W.E.B. Du Bois is the most important Black intellectual of the late 19th and most of the 20th century,” Jeffers says. “But the thing about him is that he really loved Black Southerners. They had a special place in his heart. As a Black Southerner, I’m also a part of a community that he imagined and that he tried to save. That’s why they’re the love songs — because these are the people whom he loved.”

This is a key to the size and shape  and “staggering” ambitions of the book — the story arcs, the seeming digressions and plot lines of the extended family — are love songs; Ms LeBlanc in her reflections calls them “bittersweet love songs.” 

It seems to me that this is, in deed, a theme of the book: in looking at the graces and horrors of Black life in America, the “beauty and the pain”, we learn something ultimately necessary for us all. Love.

Here is a quote by the fiesty and fabulous short story writer Deesha Philyaw (of Pittsburgh PA, I might add):

From our earliest roots, African and Indigenous, to our present-day realities weighed down by inequity and injustice, Jeffers writes about all of us with such tenderness and deep knowing. Hers is the gorgeous prose one expects from a gifted, accomplished poet, masterful and stunning, as she explores both the bountiful resilience of Black folks and the insidious depravity wrought by white supremacy. These Love Songs make for a frank, feminist, and unforgettable read. — Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

Here this from Angie Thomas of the must-read YA novel The Hate U Give:

As one of the most prolific poets of our time, Jeffers has penned a family saga that is just as brilliant as it is necessary, just as intimate as it is expansive. An outstanding portrait of an American family and in turn, an outstanding portrait of America. — Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give.

Is Stephanie Powell Watts right, in the blurb below, saying that such a powerful book only comes around once or twice a generation? Perhaps more than that, but still. I hope this remarkable endorsement inspires you to consider this, to spread the word, to help us sell a few of this book that is, as Watts says, “Not merely a good novel but a great and important one.” 

In this dazzling debut, generations of high yellow and brown ‘skin-ded’ women in one Georgia family explore the complexities of kin, the legacies of trauma, with all the sharp corners and blind alleys of real life. Wise, funny, deeply moving, I can’t tell you how much I love this book. A few times a generation a book comes along that gathers you up with its force, its insights, its sound and fury, its lyrical beauty. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is one of those books. Not merely a good novel, but a great and important one. — Stephanie Powell Watts, author of No One Is Coming to Save Us


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

Only the most careful BookNotes readers will recall that we’ve promoted the amazing YA novels of Mitali Perkins. Her last one was Forward Me Back to You (Square Fish; $10.99.) She writes multi-ethnic and socially aware stuff, delightful and engaging — she seemed aware of Christian faith and church life which is quietly woven into some of her work. (Duh, we later found out she was, in fact, an outspoken, clear-headed woman of faith.) Anyway, our admiration for her has only grown and we are glad for her lovely voice in the YA space.

This book is not for youth (although I think sharp teens would appreciate it) and it is — in the theme of this BookNotes column — a work of fiction. But it is lit crit, as they way, which is almost just as good when it is done well. What book lover doesn’t like book love? What fan of good writing doesn’t like writing about writing? We have a section of “books about books” in our shop and it’s a personal favorite browsing place for me. 

Well, this one is simply a must-read for parents, teachers, youth pastors, children’s ministers, church librarians and, I’d hope, public libraries. This is not about “religious” books as such, but about the values and worldviews and imaginations that are nurtured by reading good children’s books. This has been done before (from great mainstream writers like Katherine Paterson and Madeline L’Engle or by evangelical cheerleaders for books ) but not a star of the younger generation of contemporary fiction. Mitali is, in our view, exactly the sort of person to offer this perspective. Steeped in Stories is going to be a modern-day classic, I think.

Impressive figures in the world of children’s books have raved. It isn’t every day we see a blurb from the Editor of The Horn Book. Or words like this from the granddaughter of Madeline L’Engle, who says, “This book is a pure delight and a fierce testament to the power of stories to instruct and beguile.” Rita Williams-García, New York Times-bestselling author and three-time National Book Award finalist says, “Beautifully crafted, carefully researched, Steeped in Stories is a requisite immersion for all who enter the domain of children’s literature.”

Do you recall how the great Karen Swallow Prior did On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books? Of course. Well, this new one by Perkins could be seen, loosely, perhaps, as a parallel or companion book about children’s and teen books. In fact, the book encourages us to see the “transformative practices” of reading this genre of writing and follows the format, then, of “seven books and seven virtues.” 

Karen Swallow Prior herself has said this about it:

Steeped in Stories is a timely exploration of timeless classics, clear-eyed about cultural blind spots, yet still enchanted by the wisdom, beauty, and wonder of these marvelous stories. This is one of the most brilliant guides to children’s literature I’ve read.               — Karen Swallow Prior, professor and author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

“One of the most brilliant guides to children’s literature I’ve read.”

Here is how the publisher describes this wonderful and beautifully rendered project:

Award-winning children’s author Mitali Perkins grew up steeped in stories–escaping into her books on the fire escape of a Flushing apartment building and, later, finding solace in them as she navigated between the cultures of her suburban California school and her Bengali heritage at home. Now Perkins invites us to explore the promise of seven timeless children’s novels for adults living in uncertain times: stories that provide mirrors to our innermost selves and open windows to other worlds.

Blending personal narrative, accessible literary criticism, and spiritual and moral formation, Perkins delves into novels by Louisa May Alcott, C. S. Lewis, L. M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other literary “uncles” and “aunts” that illuminate the virtuous, abundant life we still desire. These novels are not perfect, and Perkins honestly assesses their critical frailties and flaws related to race, culture, and power. Yet reading or rereading these books as adults can help us build virtue, unmask our vices, and restore our hope.”

 As it says on the front flap:

Reconnecting with these stories from childhood isn’t merely nostalgia. In an era of uncertainty and despair, they lighten our load and bring us much-needed hope.

Three big cheers for Steeped in Stories and for Mitali Perkins. Kudos to Broadleaf for, again, being one of the most interesting recent publishers doing great, great work.


It is very helpful if you would tell us how you prefer us to ship your orders. The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a thumbnail, general guide.

There are generally two kinds of US Mail options, and, of course, UPS. If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Let us know what you prefer.

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.20.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is about $7.00 or so for a few books and that gets much more attention than does “Media Mail.”
  • UPS Ground is more reliable but about $8.00 or more for one or two books to most places.



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