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.

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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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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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Great books (old and new) on creation-care, Biblically-informed views on ecology — ON SALE. (But first, my little sermon.)

If you don’t want to indulge my storytelling and preaching a bit, jump down to the actual book descriptions, although I hope you enjoy my first few paragraphs explaining why we are so eager to tell about these books on creation care.  You can order any by clicking on the “order” link at the very bottom of the post. If you don’t hear back from us within a day, by all means, try again, or call. We always reply to confirm that we got your order or inquiry. Of course, we have lots more books than these here mentioned in BookNotes. Let us know if we can help further.  Thanks for your support. We are grateful.

A few weeks ago I was asked to do a Zoom presentation, a talk on the Biblical basis for creation care (what some call environmental stewardship) and cultivating a faith-based ecological worldview. I noted that we’ve written often (here at BookNotes) about the good books available that remind us to “tend and keep the garden” as Genesis 2 puts it. It was an honor to speak to a small group from an evangelical church in a major East Coast city, one troubled by pollution of all sorts. What a beautiful thing to see young professionals praying for God’s guidance as they desired to learn more about how to be faithful in this aspect of our complicated days. I’m no expert but they mostly needed some guidance in opening up the Biblical texts and seeing a coherent eco-theology that emerges from God’s Word. It was a great joy that I did not take lightly.

In small ways I’ve shared these sorts of teachings in various venues over the years — from picking up litter with a local EUB church youth fellowship group on that first Earth day (1970) to helping college students understand the Lordship of Christ over His good creation when not too many were writing about this, to training folks in nonviolent civil disobedience against TMI-era nuke plants, to testifying about the loss of wonder (and the capacity for proper awe of God, according to some Old Testament texts) when we experience creational degradation such as light pollution. My little testimony about Psalm 19:1-4 in a public hearing fighting a local Wal Mart expansion into country fields was shown on Cable TV on and off for years.

Beth and I are not very good at all this these days and we certainly aren’t legalistic. We do know that recycling each week can be — at least according to Romans 12:2 or I Corinthians 10:31— an act of worship. I take courage that at least one of the answers to the every-present question of “Where is God when there is so much pain in the world?” — at least according to the last half of Job — is that God has taken great delight in His power shown in creation and given it to us as a gift, to His own glory. Listen to the animals (even the birds and the fish and the land) and they will teach you, Job 12: 7-8 says. Attentiveness to creation is without a doubt a core component of any faithfully Biblical spiritual formation. We are not gnostic mystics or lost in our own clouds of unknowing or waiting for a rapture so we can go to heaven , but sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, Earthlings in the image of a Creator-God, tasked with the holy vocation of caring well for our creation home, God’s temple.

 I’ve often paraphrased a quip by Tony Campolo from when he was preaching through a passage about the groaning of the hurting creation itself (Romans 8:19-23) and how he noted that much of that chapter is about the Holy Spirit. “If you want to be charismatic and really empowered by the Spirit,” Tony playfully chided, “you have to go green.”  I remember he said that he sometimes asks those claiming to be in touch with the Holy Spirit if they recycle, to see if they really were. Ha. I told that Zoom group with a chuckle that I think he is pretty much right. Ecological virtues and creation-care practices are part of our whole-life discipleship and a faithful, holy lifestyle here on God’s beloved planet. 

Diving into the amazingly plentiful Biblical texts that shape our creational imagination and inspire us to holy earth-keeping, we spent time talking about the Bible and their city, about the groaning creation here and now and embodying Kingdom hope. We were inspired by the glorious goodness of God’s cosmos and reminded ourselves how Jesus Himself seemed so attuned to nature (consider the lilies and all) and (at least according to Mark 16:15) commanded His followers to proclaim the gospel “to the whole creation.” The Bible tells us over and over that God takes delight in his good creation; that is certainly one reason to mourn species extinction: when even a rare or obscure species disappears it is one less voice in the choir of praise that our awesome God deserves. Who wants to be responsible for stealing from God the weight of glory to be ascribed to Him? I cited the beloved Revelation 4:11 — beloved at least among those who worship well — and noted that God is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power.” Some of us even raise our hands in praise when worship leaders lead us in singing that line. But why? Look it up for yourself and see the rest of the verse: God’s own worthy glory is because God “created all things and by your will they were created and have their being.” 

Of course this in no way makes us pantheists. We don’t worship creation even if we love how God is so very imminent, holding up all things (as Colossians 1: 15-20 so powerful sings.) I quoted Francis Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man on that score (and noted that no Christian creation care advocate I know teaches such a heresy, so when critics charge that, they are pretty much just wasting breath against a straw man.) We don’t fight pollution and work against the changing climate only because of the stewardship mandate of Genesis 1 and 2 (although that foundational command sure ought to be enough) or just because God’s glory is reflected in the world He created. We frame our feeble ecological efforts by the theology of redemption. We know that God is in the very business of restoring all things; Jesus — God in Earthly flesh — is incarnated into this very world of physicality and matter, promising that the groaning creation itself will be redeemed, renewed, restored — “all things” as Ephesians 1:10 puts it.

It is worth recalling that the famous “Behold I make all things new” from Revelation 21:5 uses a word in Greek that does not mean “brand new.” Some Greek scholars debate this and your study Bible might have a note about it, but I can be said that God is not trashing the trashed creation and starting over with a brand new one (let alone taking us to an ethereal heaven.) God is remaking all things, making all things (re)new(ed.)  As Pete Hughes puts it in All Things New: Joining God’s Story of Re-creation, the very story of the Bible follows a pattern of creation > de-creation > re-creation. The Kingdom comes “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” It is that for which we are to hunger and thirst according to Jesus’s beatitudes and in Him the meek will inherit that healed Earth. 

 That sort of longing, to be a part of the Biblical drama of a good creation that is deeply ruined but being graciously rescued and renewed through the cross and resurrection of the second Adam — that is, to be gospel-centered and missional Kingdom-visionaries — is the basic worldviewish vision behind any good work in the world, and certainly for our human task of tending to the ecology of our fellow creatures. We live well as creatures because it is what we are called to and, better, what we anticipate will someday be as we pray “Maranatha!”

Can you see this Biblical-theological foundation for creation care? At the least it comes from the doctrines of creation and redemption and future restoration.

Curiously, we do this big picture hoping for the salvation of the creation in simple ways. Consider the lilies, Jesus said. Listen to the fish, God commands through Job. The birds are our theological teachers, Luther says. I know that questions of carbon emissions and sustainable agriculture and public health and citizen activism are complicated but we start with our worship of God as creator and Christ as redeemer of creation in the joy the Spirit empowered to pay attention to that which is our own backyard— our landscape, our built environment, our watershed. 

I said a whole lot  in that talk and we referenced a ton of verses. It was energizing at least for me and reminded me I haven’t shared about these sorts of books in a while.

Shortly after offering that on-line program, I read a news story that started with this paragraph: 

It’s the summer of cascading disasters in the United States: Downpours have made rivers of major metropolises’ transit lines, a coastal condo collapsed, flames have engulfed vast swaths of land, and triple-digit heat has roasted typically temperate regions. The catastrophes have brought a mounting death toll and incalculable trauma.

I suppose there are still some who think the pictures of the morgues filled with Covid bodies last year were faked and that the pandemic is overstated. Similarly there are some who deny the obvious science: the planet is changing due to an overflow of carbon (amongst other toxic stuff) and this is already effecting coastlines and crops; the poor of the global south and places like India are now suffering. What does it mean to love our neighbors well when many are suffering from what one author calls “our angry Eden”? Just a day ago I heard an NPR interview with ranchers and cattle farmers in Idaho, I believe. They are running out of hay and selling off their animals now rather than watch them slowly starve. Nobody paying attention to our climate is cavalier about the sustainability of our current food systems. Denial is not an option, certainly not now. 

For those BookNotes readers with whom this resonates, I invite you to buy a few books to spread the good news of God’s love for creation and the need for a gospel-centered approach to our ecological responsibilities as the care-takers of God’s house.

This isn’t a topic we hear enough about in our churches and religious circles (given how very much is in the Bible about it and given the pressing issues of a warming planet and the crisis of climate change.) Please consider donating some titles like this to your church or community library. I went to a nearby library recently and they had in their adult collection one — one! — rather heavy book on climate change. I was appalled. And, of course, even though they carry many religious books (especially evangelical novels) they had nothing on a theology of creation care.

We can change this, folks by spreading some book love around to those who are influencers — your pastor or spiritual director or church youth worker, for instance  — or even public servants or elected officials or journalists you know. Did I mention church libraries?  Book clubs? Small groups? Let’s spread the words!

It would make us happy to get to sell a few of these books. Some are older, some are newer, a few pretty serious, a few less heady.  All are 20% off, of course. To order, just click on the “order” link at the very bottom of this page (or click “inquire” if you have any questions.

EarthWise: A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care  Calvin B. DeWitt (Faith Alive) $16.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

This is a real Hearts & Minds classic, now in its third updated edition; we have stocked this brief book since it came out in its first edition in the mid-1990s.  It is short and clear. Cal DeWitt is an beloved environmental scientist and prof at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he serves on the graduate faculties of Environmental and Resources, Water Resource Management, Conservation Biology, Sustainable Development, even something called Limnology. He famously developed the Northern Michigan AuSable Camp into the AuSable Institute, a faith-based environmental studies site where college students can take a semester of field-based courses in environmental science and environmental studies. He has written a lovely little book on being a creation-loving, Christ-following scientist (Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation) which shows how he so nicely integrates his faith and his work in the science and educational communities.

For all those credentials, scholarly research, and institutional fame, this is a very basic little book with short chapters. They were published by the Christian Reformed Church as an adult small group study book or a Sunday school resource — there are seven chapters, a study guide and closing prayer for each week. Earthwise is a great little study that we are honored to recommend.

Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why It Matters Sandra L. Richter (IVP Academic) $20.00                                OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

Although this is on the often very scholarly IVP Academic imprint, it isn’t a heady textbook or academic treatise. Richter is known as a lively Bible teacher (with PhD from Harvard she is a member of the Committee for Biblical Translation of the NIV). Her scholarly resume is impressive and many churches (and colleges) have used her serious but wonderfully realized The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. In this recent paperback (about 150 pages) she offers insights about ancient Israelite society and economy and shows “how significant environmental theology is the Bible’s witness.” She has great sections on various mandates given in the Bible to care for the land, for animals, and people on the margins (who are often most vulnerable in times of drought.) Her knowledge of Scripture is impeccable and, as one reviewer notes, “She lays out a Biblical theology  that instructs us to steward and care for God’s beautiful creation, not destroy it for our own greed.”

Dr. Richter has been outspoken about a Biblically-based, evangelical theology of creation-care for years and has been influential in both academic circles and as a beloved Bible teacher. (She was at Wheaton College but now teaches at Westmont in California.) 

Stewards of Eden is a great book because it is not terribly passionate or emotional (even though it is clear the author cares very deeply and has been working at this for years.) What I mean is that it teaches the material clearly and allows the background and cultural context she offers to illustrate connections to day. There are maps and pictures of artifacts from antiquity. It’s a little nerdy like that. There are pages and pages of footnotes. 

And yet, there is a great Appendix which she calls “Resources for Responsive Christians”which is a veritable handbook of practical stuff you can do to be “responsive” to God’s will as shown in Scripture. Her practical bent is evident and this book is going to be really helpful for many.

Serving God, Saving the Planet: A Call to Care for Creation and Your Soul Matthew Sleeth, MD (Zondervan) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

I almost always, always recommend this for those who need a quite readable, almost upbeat overview of the joyful (if serious) call upon humans to care for the Earth. This is a very nice, clear-as-can-be Biblical and theological introduction to the topic that is concise and yet truly fascinating. (There is an appendix, too, that includes great Bible texts and another of great creation-care quotes from various folks down through church history.)

Sleeth was a medical doctor and growing in his apparently new-found evangelical faith. (His heart being “strangely warmed” as the Methodists put it.) In his conscientious work as a doc he realized that so many health problems — just think of asthma and some cancers — may be caused or made worse by environmental conditions. As a doctor wanting to help with public health he turned to the study of pollution and the theological need for a Biblical foundation for ecological activism. Sleeth has gone on to write other books about sabbath keeping (24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life with a great forward by Eugene Peterson and a lovely one about trees in the Bible called Reforesting Faith.) But this little early one is still a classic. And there is a very useful workbook sort of study guide in the back, ideal for those who want concrete steps to process and apply the call to a more frugal, joyful, healthy lifestyle.

As it puts it on the back cover the revised and updated second edition, “With the storytelling ease of James Herriot and the logical clarity of C.S. Lewis, Sleeth lays out the rationale for environmentally responsible life changes and a how-to guide for making these changes.” 

By the way, for those who want practical guidebooks, his wife Nancy Sleeth wrote a helpful book called Go Green, Save Green and the fascinating Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life

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

Yep. This is one of the very best new books on this topic and a great read. I was not sure I was going to like this book much, thinking it might be an angry screed. Or some theologically questionable insinuation that God just lets things go to Hades as punishment for our mistreatment of the creation. I knew the author, David Williams, had written a fabulously interesting and critically acclaimed novel (When the English Fall) about how, when a future power grid collapses, the only folks seemingly able to cope are the Amish. (Now that’s an apocalyptic plot you hadn’t thought of, eh? It’s a very good novel, btw.)

As it ends up, I loved the voice and gentle wisdom of pastor Dave, a Presbyterian small church pastor. He proved his bone-fides when he used the phrase “Wee Kirk” but his many years as a small town guy and small church minister was evident from the first pages, from the witty way he described mainline churchy stuff and his love for driving around town in bad weather.  (“As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m the first one out there when severe weather rolls in. When the local news station cuts to Storm Team special coverage, I’m almost giddy.”) And then, in explaining the huge expanse of the eternal cosmos, he said, “Creation is not just our world dagflabbit.” You gotta love a guy who makes up words like that.

There are four units/sections of this fabulous book, but it feels almost like two halves. The first part explores a rather sensible (if not terribly comforting) notion that the creation does get rough and Eden is increasingly angry. He’s not exactly apocalyptic, at least not entirely so, and he isn’t cranky, but some chapters do feel a little like Jeremiah – honest and heartbroken with a bit of hope. And yes, there are chapters like “Too Little, Too Late” as he talks about myopia and inertia, growth and greed. Williams takes climate change seriously, with a tone implying that, well, this really shouldn’t surprise us, given our idols and profligate living at least since the industrial age, and certainly in these recent most foolish decades. He is honest (some might say harsh) about the data which he explains well.  Yes, he uses words like lollygagging and he tells stories about his lovely church people — Jesus folk, he calls them — that sound almost charmed, like his Poolesville Presbyterian is in some suburb of Stars Hollow, or, better, Mitford. But don’t be fooled: this is an urgent cry, a prophetic warning. He’s damn serious about how little time we have left to tone down the demonstrably “hotter, harsher planet.”

The second half is also urgent, but considerably more homey. Again, Williams brings his small-town, awe-shucks, pastoral wisdom to invite us to live the Christian life in ways that are kind, frugal, sensible. He has several chapters under the heading “How We Face the Crisis” and it is strong and sane; wise public theology offering moral guidance for our personal lives, our churches, and society. He works at questions of why we are less engaged than we should be and offers insight in ways that Bill McKibben calls “beautiful and timely.” The back cover calls it an “unflinching yet hopeful call to faithful action” and that is a very good description.

The last handful of chapters are shorter and plentiful as he tells stories and preaches some and offers us on-ramps and first steps and moral arguments for living well in the face of this very real climate crisis. He is charming and funny — eating a vegetarian diet is an important way to cut personal carbon emissions, as we all know, and he colorfully (and graciously) describes cooking backyard steaks on the grill for his family or guests as he grills his modest veggies. He is a born storyteller, it seems, and weaves his narratives from the personal to the public, from moral urgency to delightful freedom. We all are called to be responsible and he has opinions, lots, actually, of what we might do. He invites and evokes, but the book is anything but angry. It is one of my favorite books of this hot summer. Very highly recommended.

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

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

Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment  Mitch Hescox & Paul Douglas (Bethany House) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

One of the very best introductions, especially if you want an easy to read book by trusted evangelical leaders who are balanced and compelling. If you are interested you can see my more elaborate review from our September 2016 BookNotes review when we first announced that we were bring these two authors into the store. You can read that HERE

The short version is that Mitch is a good friend, the President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network (who lives in York County) who is a preacher at heart and a down-home evangelist, even as he has been called to this work as a public faith leader and organizers. His co-author and pal, weatherman extraordinaire Paul Douglas, was a delight to meet and he brings wonderfully explained scientific information to the book. And, yes, we had Paul recite his one line (that made him a bona fide movie star) from his small role as a weather forecaster in Spielberg’s Twister. Paul got to know Spielberg when the great director used in Jurassic Park some new Doppler type technology Paul invented.  Paul is a leading consultant in weather patterns and climate change for major businesses, industry, and government and is a heck of a nice and altogether reasonable guy.

I don’t know if it makes much of a difference but for what it is worth, both authors are fairly conservative theologically and politically. They are Republican evangelicals and some of the most informed faith leaders in the who question of climate change. Mitch, a United Methodist pastor, interestingly, used to work in the coal industry and knows much about international global technology transfer. When they offer practical solutions for which we can reasonable advocate it is like gold. We should allow these guys to bring us up to speed and life more faithfully. Caring for Creating is a very good starter book and a very good mid-level book if you study the charts and graphs. 

Want to know more about the EEN organization mentioned above? Check out the Evangelical Environmental Network (which Rev. Hescox serves as President) here.

Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care edited by David Paul Warners & Matthew Kuperus Heun (Calvin College Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I adore this book and wish it was better known. It isn’t arcane or too heady but is sophisticated, provocative, and really engaging.  We first reviewed it back when it came out (in August 2019) and celebrated it in a post that was dedicated to books by indie and boutique publishers that we liked or authors with whom we had some particular connection.  We are especially fond of this book for these very reasons. We know a few of these authors, including one of our very best friends in the world, a woman we greatly admire for her work on a variety of social issues, but, most recently, for being on a team overseeing an audacious project of cleaning up a large creek running through Grand Rapids, Michigan. You’ll see Gail Heffner’s beautifully rendered chapter (on environmental racism, actually) described in my (only slightly edited) comments below, first published in our BookNotes on August 28, 2019. I hope it inspires you to consider this fabulous volume.  Here’s some of what I wrote:

Beyond Stewardship is a major new work and could have been released on a big-time, well-known publisher because Beyond Stewardship is brilliant in its overall vision and wonderful in how it has offered so many interesting, astute, and vitally important contributions to the conversations about faith and creation-care. This fascinating and generative book deserves much attention!

Here’s the basic gist: Beyond Stewardship is a collection of about 15 chapters offered by a wonderful crew of interdisciplinary scholars who invite us to think whether “stewardship” is the best way to describe humankind’s relationship with the other-than-human creation. For decades, theologians (especially those within the evangelical tradition who want to be intentionally shaped by the Bible) have drawn on the deep and rich notion of being house-holders, care-takers, managers and vice-regents of God’s good but fallen world. Stewardship, we often say, is more than giving money to church (as it has woefully been reduced to within the common church-goer’s imagination.) It is caring for resources and managing them well.

It may come as a surprise to many, but this really is a live question: is this actually the best way to talk about what Genesis calls oikonomia, the home-making calling to tend and keep the economy of the garden? It may not take too much consideration to see that it may not be fruitful to think of ourselves as “over” the other creatures, distant from, “using” them. This fine book from Calvin College Press is a tremendous and important conversation about that question. Is talking about our “stewardship” of the creation Biblically adequate and is it helpful? The authors say no; we need a better way to describe our human relationships with other creatures and our vocation to “serve and protect” the cosmos.

Here are three quick things that might inspire you to order this from us. First, I’m happy to say that one of the authors in this book is one of our very best friends, Gail Gunst Heffner, who has for years, with other colleagues and students at Calvin College (now University) been painstakingly and lovingly working to restore a deteriorating stream in their Grand Rapids area watershed. The “Plaster Creek Stewards” have gotten some national attention and their deep involvement helping the college use its resources to serve the community has helped many of them, Gail included, to increasingly doubt the ultimate usefulness of the “stewardship” model. (Gail’s chapter in Beyond Stewardship is on what is often called environmental racism and it is clear, succinct, tender, and prophetic.) Gail used to work for the Pittsburgh-based campus ministry organization, the CCO, and is truly beloved by so many. I know some of our customers know her so you should buy this book!

Secondly, Gail isn’t the only person in this book we admire. Steven Bouma-Prediger (who teaches at Hope College and whose books are mentioned in this column) has a lovely piece I adored, making the overt case why we should “move from stewardship to earthkeeping.” James R. Skillen (son of the political scientist and founder of CPJ) uses his expertise in geology to get at the topic in light of the Biblical teaching of the Kingdom of God. There are other Calvin profs who have made vital contributions – English professor and wondrous writer Debra Rienstra has a chapter called “What’s That? Naming, Knowing, Delighting, Caring, Suffering” that is a great essay helping us to reorient our imagination and find hopeful ways forward. The piece “From Stewardship to Place-making and Place-Keeping” resonated with me a lot. Editor David Paul Warners has a beautiful chapter called “Walking Through a World of Gifts.”

There’s so much in this great book. There is an art piece, a delightful student contribution, excellent discussion questions and other creative touches. Contributors include the likes of Aminah Al-Attas Bradford, an ordained CRC minister and a PhD candidate at Duke; she is theologian who knows her way around the sciences, a scholar of both Barth and microbes. Matthew Halteman has written on our relationship with animals and co-editor Matthew Kuperus Heun is a professor of engineering. One author is a city and regional planner, another teaches economics. One is climate change activist, another tells of outdoor educational experiences. All of these involved scholars are deeply committed to notions of sustainability and asking big questions about a faithful worldview and how to live into God’s ways in God’s world.

There is a great afterword by the great Loren Wilkinson whose book Earthkeeping was the first book (in the late 70s) produced through the Calvin Center on Christian Scholarship and very important in my own journey to understand some of this stuff. They grappled with the word stewardship in those years and his story (shared briefly, co-authored by Cal DeWitt and Eugene Dykema) offers a very nice historical touch. For those who have followed this movement over the years, is nearly worth the price of the book. For others, it frames this very contemporary multi-disciplinary re-think by some older thinkers and earth-keepers. Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care edited by David Paul Warners & Matthew Kuperus Heun is a true gem.

Check out the fun and nearlly stunning “Illustrated Guide” to Beyond Stewardship” by browsing around this website, with a link for pictures and more info for each chapter. 

Scroll down to the bottom of the book’s webpage to find a podcast interview with each author of each chapter of Beyond StewardshipThis creative resource helps you hear these good scholar/activists and learn more about why they wrote each chapter as they did. Very nice. And then back and order a few from us for your next book club or study group.

Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Mark Wilson (Leafwood Publisher) $14.99                                   OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Here is a review I offered a bit ago — it is such a Biblically insightful book I wanted to suggest it again.

This wonderfully done book is so refreshing and interesting as it relates a wonderfully robust view of new creation in the Bible to our environmental crisis.  It invites us to explore the full story of God’s work in the world — God, creation, humanity, sin, redemption, promises of restoration. It draws on brilliant and well-known friends of ours such as Richard Middleton, Al Wolters, and N.T. Wright, as well as some of the finest Christian thinkers about environmental science and creational stewardship.  All three authors have advanced seminary degrees and are not only Biblically astute, but have studied church history and know flow of ideas, the ups and downs of theological insights and how they have been applied. Hicks teaches at Lipscomb (he earned his PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary) while Valentine is a pastor in Tucson AZ. Mark Wilson (whose first Master’s degree was in biology) has worked for 36 years in conservation through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. How great is that?

I really, really liked Embracing Creation and it offers a fabulous framework for thinking well about our mission in the world.  It explores creation and new creation from the perspective of what is called in American church history the “Stone Campbell Movement” that gave rise to the Church of Christ denomination. Each chapter ends with some take-away bullet points and excellent discussion questions.  It is very nicely done and I happily recommend it.

Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World (in the “Biblical Theology for Life” series) Douglas J. Moo & Jonathan A. Moo (Zondervan) $24.99                                       OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

These slightly oversized books are personal favorites and we recommend them all — they are offering Biblically-based overviews of a topic, from one on discipleship to one on the Kingdom of God, one on wealth and one on mission. This one, as you can see, is a study of creation care.

And we love it. Creation Care: A Biblical Theology is co-authored by a lovely father and son team. Dad Moo is a very esteemed New Testament scholar and son Jonathan (with a PhD from Cambridge) teaches environmental science at Whitworth University. It is a clear and solid overview of much the Biblical material, very well done and super intersting. In fact, no less a scholar (who has written bout this very thing) as Richard Baukham says it should be considered the standard work. Rave reviews on the back and inside are from activity like Bill McKibben and Ben Lowe, Biblical scholars like Tremper Longman and Chris Wright, and church leaders like Russell Moore.  

Listen to Ed Brown (director of the excellent organization Care of Creation), who says of it,

In 2012 the Jamaica Call to Action, which one of the authors assisted in writing, called for ‘new and robust theological work,’ including ‘an integrated theology of creation care.’ Douglas and Jonathan Moo’s work in Creation Care is exactly what we need. Beautifully written, it nonetheless provides a deep understanding of the exegetical, theological, scientific, and even practical issues involved in a Christian examination of this important area. Creation Care should become the standard text for any course on environmental theology and required reading for any pastor who wants a solid biblical framework for understanding and teaching about creation care. 

Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation  Fred Bahnson & Norman Wirzba (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Again, this is a little book that we have raved about over and over. It is part of the remarkable series of books about reconciliation published by IVP and Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation. (There are a good handful in the series, the first being Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice.) They each are done by one who is a scholar or professor while the co-author is practitioner. (In this case it isn’t much of a distinction as both authors are serious thinkers and have plenty of dirt under their fingernails, although I suppose Wirzba is pitched as the scholar while Bahnson is a farmer.) Making Peace with the Land it is truly one of the very best, a moving and nicely written study of God’s reconciling work bringing together all things on heaven and Earth, including Earth. It does this by taking a good look at farming, food, and eating. From serious study of unsustainable agricultural practices to daily living in alternative communities, this splendid study helps us appreciate creation and embody stewardly lifestyles, aware of God’s great care to bring healing to the land itself, even in how we experience our food.  Highly, highly recommended for growers or eaters.  Forward by Bill McKibben.

Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home  Pope Francis (Our Sunday Visitor) $12.95               OUR SALE PRICE = $10.36

Here are my remarks from one of our Booknotes “Best Books of 2015” column, posted in January of 2016. I wanted to celebrate this good book again, which still remains an excellent resource for any of us wanting a clear but profound analysis of climate change from a faithful and Biblical perspective.

I suppose you know about Encyclical Letters, the rare and formal times a Pope offers to his Roman Catholic flock and the listening world a declaration of what he takes to be God’s will, Christian truth for the church and for the cultures of the world. Much has been made of Pope Francis’ radical ways — that he took the namesake of the old Saint Francis of Assisi is important — and his own former ministry among the poor in his native South America influenced him significantly.

Not everyone knew, at least until this document, that besides being a priest among the poor Pope Francis also has an advanced degree in the sciences, and is a thoughtful, if not professional, political philosopher as well. Nearly anyone who reads this remarkably important Papal Encyclical will quickly realize both. Francis is a great preacher and gentle spiritual writer and many of his devotional books have come out in the last year or so. This important formal piece, though, that was released this past summer, is exceedingly important, and exceptionally astute.

Two quick comments: Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home places the Christian concern about climate change in the theological context of our human duty to care for God’s creation; it keeps God in the discussion at all points. (Indeed, the Latin phrase in the title means “Praise Be to You!”) I suppose Francis hasn’t read the Norman Wirzba book From Creation to Nature [another book we awarded as a “Best of 2015”] but both that book and the Pope’s own intellectual influences would agree: secularizing modernity effected both how we view God and thereby how we view the cosmos and therefore the way we fall into idolatry, such as reducing progress to mere economic growth. Once we realize God’s great delight in God’s own world that He so loves, we ourselves can see our own vocation of creation care as a divinely charged obligation and privilege.

So — Laudato Si is good creational theology rooted in a history of ideas, and analysis of the complexity of human cultures and a good example of thoughtful Catholic scholarship regarding economics and markets, politics and governments, various institutions and civic life, global cooperation and the need to work hard at naming and working towards an ethic of the common good.

For an exceptional bit of Protestant appreciation of and evaluation of the Pope’s Letter, see the wonderful two part piece by Jonathan Chaplin Comment magazine, here and here. After reading this detailed review you will want to get the Encyclical itself. How great that in 2015, a Catholic Pope can write a detailed analysis of God’s role in the world, the dangers of climate change, and the inadequacies of science and markets alone to solve our cultural malaise, in such a way that it ends up being discussed, even with its Latin title, in the secular Western media as well as among Christian folks of all sorts. This really is a little miracle, and we are grateful to play a part, selling copies here, and commending it to you as a very important, mature bit of Christian writing. I say Gratias Deo.

For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care  Steven Bouma-Prediger (BakerAcademic)  $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I once said not too many years ago that this was the most important book yet done on a uniquely Christian perspective on the environmental crisis and the Biblical call to creation care. Other work continues to be released, including, recently, the excellent one by Steven himself. (See Earthkeeping and Character, below.)  Still, For the Beauty remains one of the very best, exceptionally thoughtful, utterly serious, and a must-read for anyone who cares for the earth and appreciates her beauty.  As with his other work (like the breathtaking Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement co-written with Brian Walsh) Bouma-Prediger offers not just Bible verses about stewardship or ecology; he frames this robust Biblical theology with a profound, nearly prophetic understanding of our idolatrous times. Some of this is nearly poetic, and most is quite beautiful, including solid environmental science, informed by great Biblical wisdom. Dr. Bouma-Prediger is a popular professor at Hope College.

Here is the table of contents:

  • Introduction: Ecology and Theology in Dialogue
  • 1. Where Are We? An Ecological Perception of Place
  • 2. What’s Wrong with the World? The Groaning of Creation
  • 3. Is Christianity to Blame? The Ecological Complaint against Christianity
  • 4. What Is the Connection between Scripture and Ecology? Biblical Wisdom and Ecological Vision
  • 5. How Should We Think of the Earth? A Theology and Ethic of Care for the Earth
  • 6. What Kind of People Ought We Be? Earth-Care and Character
  • 7. Why Worry about Galapagos Penguins and the Jack Pine? Arguments for Earth-Care
  • 8. Where Is There Hope? Christian Faith at Home on Earth

Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic Steven Bouma-Prediger (Baker Academic) $24.99                         OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Okay, I mentioned above that For the Beauty of the Earth is one of the best serious books on this vital topic. Indeed, it is. But, well, this more recent one by the same great author (Hope College prof, Steven Bouma-Prediger) has maybe topped it. This book came out at the very end of 2019 so we squeezed onto our “Best Books of the Year” post in January 2020. Yes!

Here is an only slightly edited version of the long review I posted in November 2019 of Earthkeeping and Character. I really hope you find it interesting. I learned so much reading the book and want to tell you what it’s all about.

Have you ever hugged a book? I mean, right in the middle of it you are just so grateful, so glad, so appreciative that you just hold its pages to your chest and smile and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving?

If not, I hope you don’t think I’m too weird, but I did this with the new release by Professor Bouma-Prediger. It’s hard to explain why I am overcome with joy for this title but I suspect it is partially because I’m so glad for a book that is truly pioneering — making a reader feel like he or she is in on something vital and groundbreaking and redemptively new; the Lord doing that new thing promised in Isaiah 43 perhaps? It is also my gladness for seeing a scholar that writes so well, a good storyteller who knows his philosophy, a professor that is as keen on telling about kayaking technique or his love for the Northern Lights as he is on the history of the sacred-secular dualism in Western rationalism or the scholarship behind certain schools of theological thought.

Further, I am nearly verklempt whenever I see a seriously Reformed Calvinist who is fluent in Catholic theology and spirituality and when I see an evangelically-oriented Bible scholar who cites so widely across the theological spectrum (in this case, from Lutheran Joseph Sittler and German Reformed Jurgen Moltmann.) Bouma-Prediger so deftly weaves into his scholarship gracious moments by citing the likes of poetry by Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver and profound excerpts of Nicholas Wolterstorff and Sylvia Keesmaat and Tom Wright. I believe this book’s content and teaching is exceptionally important and I commend it urgently; aside from its significance, I recommend it for how it is a model of generous, interesting, relevant, elegant scholarship.

I have read Steven’s excellent book on creation care For the Beauty of the Earth and the extraordinary co-authored volume (with Brian Walsh) called Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. (We even stock his deep Oxford University Press book The Greening of Theology where he compares the ecological models of Rosemary Ruether, Joseph Stiller and Jurgen Moltmann.) He is a scholar who you should know and has done books you should read. Listen to A.J. Swoboda, author of Subversive Sabbath:

Bouma-Prediger’s groundbreaking For the Beauty of the Earth woke many up to Christ’s call to care for the earth. One might struggle to imagine how he could top that prophetic book. He has done it. This book could change the way we think about discipleship. And it will change the way we think about how a discipled people can transform the world.

Listen to Jonathan Moo, environmental science prof at Whitworth University, (who co-authored the splendid Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World with his father, the famous New Testament scholar, Douglas Moo) who says:

“This book cements Bouma-Prediger’s reputation as one of our best thinkers and writers on the most important issue facing Christians today: how we relate to God’s creation and care for it well in a time of profound crisis. This important book will now be required reading in my environmental ethics courses.”

You should realize that this book really is covering a topic that is unlike any other accessible Christian creation-care book we know: it is, as it says, about character; that is, about virtue ethics. Let me explain.

In a moving story in the beginning Steven and some students are hiking and as they come to their wilderness campground, the find the place nearly trashed — litter strewed, burnt logs and ashes scattered, bark stripped from the glorious white birches. “What kind of a person would do a thing like this?” a student cries?  And, conversely, Steven revisits the story and comes across a wonderfully well-kept spot, protected, nurtured, stewarded. And the question remains: “What kind of people do something like this?”

And so, we start a journey that I found very helpful and – as many have said in recent decades – is exceptionally important; namely, a study of virtue ethics. That is, we need more than the standard sort of right vs. wrong mentality that asks us to do the right thing out of duty, obedience, a proper response to the rules. Rather, some have said (including Aristotle, or, in our day, Alistair McIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas) that a more helpful and fruitful and lasting kind of ethics isn’t just merely our duty to do right, but the question of being a good person; that is, a virtuous person who wants to do the wise and good thing. It ends up, there is a large difference between a person who is dutiful to obey the rules, to do good, and a person who desires to be good.

Bouma-Prediger is a great teacher and he not only explains what is meant by virtue ethics and how that school of thought (about character formation, not merely obedience to ethical principles) is an important aspect of uniquely Christian and deeply human ways of being a good person. And then, just when it was getting interesting, he makes it even all the more interesting by telling us about a recent school of thought in our generation about Environmental Virtue Ethics, known as EVE in the biz, apparently. Who knew?

So, within the environmental studies field there is some insider baseball stuff about whether we need to go deeper than passing environmental legislation and policies to save the planet but to the question of what kind of people we must be if we are going to serve our fellow creatures in that capacity. And, of course, to answer that, even though Aristotle and other virtue ethicists can help, people admittedly need deeper, perhaps more sustainable voices, calling us to a view of our selves and our role within creation. Perhaps our sacred story revealed in the Bible can help.

I love that Bouma-Prediger writes unashamedly as a person of deep Christian faith. He is an evangelically-minded professor at a Christian college (Hope College is affiliated with the Reformed Church of America.) And yet, he writes as if any seeker or nature lover or person curious about ethics and living well, might be listening in. He is like one of his heroes in this regard, the late, great Lewis Smedes. Smedes was a Dutch neo-Calvinist at Calvin College who did seriously Reformed work in Biblical studies and theology, alongside friends like Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw and Alvin Plantinga. Near the end of his days, Smedes was writing delightfully wise articles for places like Readers Digest offering all sorts of readers a Biblical worldview without the lingo. Smedes asked us to be “pretty good people” and guided us towards virtues and hope and goodness with grit and grace, in language the whole world could understand. 

Bouma-Prediger is perhaps more interested in Biblical exegesis than Smedes was (then, near the end of his career when we was writing books for a wider, popular audience) and he remains a studious scholar, but he has this charming sense that in writing about Christian ethics and Biblical perspectives and theologically informed virtuous ways of being in the world, he is not just calling out to church-folk and Christ-followers but all who care about the state of the Earth.

Earthkeeping and Character, then, could be – Lord, please! – a major contribution to two conversations, received by two main audiences. It will surely deepen the Christian work of thinking about – and doing something about – the crisis of the creation and our call to steward well our role in creation’s ecology. Anyone in the Christian tradition writing about creation-care or Earthkeeping or environmental stewardship and the like will simply have to grapple with his wonderful insights and vital proposals. This includes not just ecologists and activists, but Bible scholars, theologians, outdoor education leaders, those in camping ministries, youth pastors and more.

But, secondly, E & C could be a contribution to the broader world of environmental studies and those working on EVE. Dr. Bouma-Prediger knows the major textbooks and other people of Christian faith who have contributed wisely, profoundly, to this developing academic discipline. (This, too, is a remarkable feature of the book, how he interacts with these other key texts and figures, religious or otherwise, making some serious stuff so very interesting.) May this book be seen not as an in-house religious resource for church folk only, but the serious contribution that it is to mainstream environmental ethics.We need all hands on deck and only the most fundamentalist secularist would ignore this helpful vision for having something substantive to offer.

(One thing that I like which all might ponder: he does not like the word “environment” much, and prefers the more wholistic, nuanced word “ecology.” He explains why, using the Bible, naturally, and he cites Saint Wendell on this – I hope you know Wendell Berry’s good rant in Sex, Economy, Freedom, Community. Bouma-Prediger’s pages explaining this is simply wonderful and we should consider well his linguistic insight.)

I wish I could walk you through his marvelously ecological vision of virtues and vices, showing how such character traits have such vast repercussions for our role in God’s creation. Nobody has written this stuff with such passion, wisdom, and verve. He looks at wonder and humility, self-control and wisdom, justice and love, and courage and hope. The stories and examples are thrilling, the trajectory of this both exciting and a bit challenging, if not overwhelming. Can we become these kinds of people, the kind the planet needs? And how does it happen?

Can we make the time to slow down, to experience creation, to reflect on who we want to be in our vocation in our watersheds and places?

Well, it might happen as we, at least, follow in the ways of others. Character ethics are transmitted like that – by mentors, in community. (Ahh, remember Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior which showed how young adults, especially, move from head to heart, from abstract convictions to ways of life, by watching a mentor?) And so the good explanations of virtue and vice, the ruminations on character, the teaching on how classic Christian virtues apply to our stewardly care for fellow creatures, adept analysis of various aspects of how the creation is groaning, are illustrated by stories, examples, episodes, people. Yes, by slowly working with this profound book we can be changed. In fact, not only does Steven introduce us to places and stories and people, he himself is one such model for us all.

Listen to his friend Brian Walsh, who has also written a bit about Biblical virtue and ecological crisis in the recent Romans Disarmed:

“Bouma-Prediger can only write about the shaping of ecological virtues because his own life is such a brilliant testimony to the character of an earthkeeper. He has gifted us with a philosophically astute, ecologically attuned, and biblically profound meditation on ecological virtue.”

Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History and Praxis Daniel L. Brunner, Jennifer L. Butler, A. J. Swoboda (Baker Academic) $30.00                       OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00

I can hardly believe this book came out in 2014; I still think of it as quite recent. It is so, so good and we tried to honor it by naming in one of our “Best Books” of that year. Here is what I wrote in that round-up award show (okay, not a real show) in January of 2015. This great book deserves a more in-depth review — I hope I entice you here:

We have a very large selection of books about creation care, climate change, environmental stewardship and green living. Each year we preview bunches, and stock a good number. This, without a doubt, is the stand out volume of the year, certainly the best theological work on this topic in years. These authors are creative and thoughtful evangelicals, solid, passionate, and yet remarkably fluent with other faith traditions, and, of course, with the science of climate change, pollution and the like. This has rave reviews from wise and trusted authors — Norman Wirzba, Steven Bouma-Prediger, Leonard Sweet, and Rev. Fletcher Harper, the ecumenical director of GreenFaith. I hope you don’t mind the phrase “eco-theology” or think it is odd in the title of this book. This is a really solid theological study.

These three co-author scholars are from George Fox University and are exceptional, and, nicely, they bring an interdisciplinary touch: Brunner is professor of Christian history and formation, Butler is a UCC pastor and instructor in Earth-keeping, and A.J. is a professor of Biblical studies. (He, by the way, has edited an extraordinary volume of Pentecostal theologians and ethicists profoundly grappling with earth-keeping and environmental justice. Did you know the founder of Earth Day was a pacifist Pentecostal? Learn more on that in Swoboda’s other recent book, Blood Cries Out: Pentecostals, Ecology, and the Groans of Creation.) For now, Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology deserves a very green Award of Merit. Cool they used the term eco-theology, too. And what a great cover!  Good for them!

Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change Jim Antal (Alban Institute/Rowman & Littlefield) $25.00                        OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00

This is one of those books that some have found really useful — it is very comprehensive, teaching us so much about so much, but each chapter moves towards application. It is not simple or quick but the chapters are reasonable and designed for Adult ed or church groups. There are discussion questions (and small group suggestions) for each chapter and the writing is pointed at ordinary, mainline denominational churches. Jim Antal is a fireball, legendary for his zeal and faith and energy and humor. He serves as the national spokesperson on climate change for the United Church of Christ and many of our local (small town, culturally conservative central Pennsylvania) UCC congregations have worked through this big book. Hooray.

Listen to Desmond Tutu as he invites you to consider this book for your use:

Jim Antal shows how the church can engage the urgent moral crisis of climate change. This book will inspire both the courage and conviction people of faith need to provide the leadership necessary to realize God’s dream of a just world in which humanity is reconciled to all of creation.–Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Or listen to our always generous friend (who is always happy to talk about creation), Brian McLaren, who says:

If you ever meet Jim Antal, your first thought will be, ‘This man has the energy of a dozen people wrapped up in one body.’ You’ll see his brilliance, his enthusiasm, his focus, and his resilient determination. You’ll also see his faith. You’ll sense all of these qualities in Climate Church, Climate World. You will be drawn from well-written page to page, until you have to put the book down and join the movement to . . . quite literally . . . save the world. On top of being brilliant, energetic, and inspiring, Jim Antal is, in my opinion, 100% right, and his message is prophetic in the truest sense.–Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration

Ecotheology: A Christian Conversation edited by Kiara A. Jorgenson & Alan Padgett (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

Perhaps like you, I’ve got a stack of books I’m very eager to read but just haven’t gotten to them yet. This is on that stack for me, on a short list of books I’ve heard such good things about (the Christian Century review was very good.) It’s a book that looks so engaging and interesting — in fact, the roundtable conversation approach really is attractive. The authors in this conversation, too, are very important and respected voices, and represent some different vantages points so this really does look like a major contribution, a really helpful volume. I love these “point-counterpoint” books that invite conversation and consideration. It is not, I might clarify, a “pro vs con” approach as all conversation partners are deeply committed to a theologically-shaped ecological worldview and are themselves deeply involved in environmental education and activism.

As it says on the back cover, “In roundtable format, Richard Bauckham, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Steven Bouma-Prediger, and John F. Haught navigate the layers of what it means for humans to live in right relationship with earth’s lifesystems. After each contributor’s essay, the other three contributors issue a response–including points of disagreement and questions–thereby modeling for readers productive and respectful dialogue. The ecumenical conversations in Ecotheology represent the diverse viewpoints of contributors’ theological and practical commitments, exploring creation care through a variety of frameworks, including natural science, biblical studies, systematic theology, and Christian ethics.”

The four authors are diverse theologically, but all well worth hearing. Richard Bauckham, as you may know, is a brilliant Anglican Bible scholar who taught at Saint Andrews in Scotland, having studied at Cambridge. He is highly regarded throughout the world in the elite class of major Bible scholars, perhaps compared to Jorgen Moltmann, Walter Brueggemann, Tom Wright, Richard Hays, Michael Gorman, etc.) Cynthia Moe-Lobeda is a progressive Lutheran scholar and activist. With a PhD from Union, she now teaches at Pacific Lutheran and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She has lectured all over the world and is known for her most recent book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. I described two of Steven Bouma-Prediger’s books above; he has two Master’s Degrees, one in philosophy from ICS in Toronto and a second in theology from Fuller; he got his PhD from the University of Chicago and is now a Professor of Reformed Theology at Hope College in Holland, MI and is an ethicist by training, an avid outdoors-person, and a great teacher. Dr. John Haught is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus at Georgetown and is a prominent Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher of science; he has written over 30 books and, as know first hand, is a delightful presenter. The foreword is by one of the leading scientists in the world today and an outspoken evangelical Christ. (We are, by the way, taking PRE-ORDERS for her forthcoming book, due in September 2021, to be called Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World (Atria) $27.00.) Katharine Hayhoe is a climate scientist and chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy. She is also a  Professor in Public Policy and Public Law and Paul W. Horn Distinguished Professor at Texas Tech University.

Here is the table of contents of Ecotheology: A Christian Conversation so you can see for yourself if this sort of discussion would be edifying for you.

  • Foreword: Katherine Hayhoe
  • 1. Being Human in the Community of Creation, Richard Bauckham
  • Response from Moe-Lobeda
  • Response from Bouma-Prediger
  • Response from Haught
  • 2. Love Incarnate: Hope and Moral-Spiritual Power for Climate JusticeCynthia Moe-Lobeda
  • Response from Bauckham
  • Response from Bouma-Prediger
  • Response from Haught
  • 3. The Character of Earth-KeepingSteve Bouma-Prediger
  • Response from Bauckham
  • Response from Moe-Lobeda
  • Response from Haught
  • 4. The Unfinished Sacrament of Creation: Christian Faith and the Promise of NatureJohn F. Haught
  • Response from Bauckham
  • Response from Moe-Lobeda
  • Response from Bouma-Prediger
  • Conclusions

Plundering Eden: A Subversive Christian Theology of Creation and Ecology G.P. Wagenfuhr (Cascade Books) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

 You know that stack of (ever growing) books I said I have that I want to get to? You know that stack, too, eh? This, too, is on it. I have to admit — unlike the one above that I really “get” and can’t wait to read — I am not sure what is going on in this one. It seems really important, maybe a bit different, but some folks I respect have endorsed it. It seems to be a follow-up or companion to his previous Plundering Egypt: A Subversive Christian Ethic of Economy that came out a few years ago. That was one heck of a book, written by a leader in the ECO Presbyterian denomination.

I’m not stalling here, but providing some context: here are two quotes about that previous one, Plundering Egypt. You’ll know if that, or this new one, is for you by checking this out:

In a world where the economy pervades every cultural domain, money dominates our imagination, and consumption defines our identity, we need increasing clarity about all things economic. Gregory gifts us in Plungering Egypt with a prophetic perspective that will helps us discern the spiritual dangers inherent in the system. — Alan Hirsch, missional activist and author

One part the intellectual-historical narration of MacIntyre, one part the ideological criticism of Žižek, and another part the theological exegesis of Bonhoeffer, Gregory Wagenfuhr’s study offers a compelling account of the ways in which the logic of monetary economics has dominated and continues to shape human relationships. The tonic he proposes is a rediscovery of the radically subversive form of Christian existence prescribed in the New Testament–one in which reconciliation, rather than exchange, sets us free. For anyone despairing the domesticated gospel of Christendom, this Plundering Egypt book will be a cup of cold water in the desert. An exciting read!–Justin Stratis, Tutor in Christian Doctrine, Director of Postgraduate Research, Trinity College Bristol

Which brings us to Plundering Eden: A Subversive Christian Theology of Creation and Ecology. Here is what it says on the back cover which I’ve read several times and it remains fascinating:

“Christian ecotheology runs the risk of making God himself a resource for human exploitation as a means to species survival. The world of climate change, soil depletion, and mass species extinction reveals a frightening conclusion — humans act as cosmic parasites. The problem is not with the world — talk of climate change blames the symptoms displayed by the victim — but with human epistemology. Humans are systematically incapable of rightly perceiving reality, and so must socially construct reality. The end of this epistemological problem is necessary ecological devastation by the development of civilization. In Plundering Eden, Wagenfuhr traces ecological problems to their root cause in the broken imagination, and argues that reconciliation with God the Creator through Jesus Christ is the only means to ecological healing through a renewed, kenotic imagination expressed in the creation of an alternate environment that reveals the kingdom of God–the ekklesia.”

Maybe these enticing summaries and endorsements will help:

No one likes to be accused of being a parasite with delusions of grandeur, but this is the opening note sounded in the prophetic trumpet blast that is Plundering Eden. Like Nietzsche’s madman, Wagenfuhr rushes into our global village announcing the death not of God but civilization, that doomed project of thinking humanity could by building things wrest order from chaos. The Babel-onian captivity from which Wagenfuhr seeks to free us consists of a wrong way of imagining the world, namely, as something to be mastered, often through violence, with devastating effects on nature and society alike. The solution lies in giving up the juvenile fiction that we are masters of our own fate and submitting our imaginations to the logic of creation and new creation, that is, to the vision of the world created and recreated in, through, and for Jesus Christ. –Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Civilization is an idolatrous myth that is literally killing us. For Christians, argues Greg Wagenfuhr, the only plausible antidote to our predicament is the redemption of our imagination of ourselves as creatures. A timely and robustly theological intervention in ecological ethics. –Brian Brock, University of Aberdeen

Few can dispute Greg Wagenfuhr’s description of how humanity has been (wittingly or not) a parasite, plundering, destroying, and sucking the life out of the planet (Eden, creation). His analyses of how our ways of thinking (our myths and imaginaries–especially the uncontested rule of technique/technology and scientific management) are the culprit behind the plunder are spot on. Wagenfuhr’s bold revisionist theology of creation and redemption and his calls for radical, costly change on the part of Christians must be taken with total seriousness. . . Plundering Eden has a very important and urgent message for our times.–David W. Gill, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Still not sure if Plundering Eden is worth your time to read? Or whether you will mostly agree or not? Here is a fabulous rejoinder article he wrote to reply to friendly critics at a Symposium about the book. (The Symposium was sponsored by the Carl Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.)  It’s one long piece, but there are hyperlinks linking back to each of the scholars who presented affirmations and criticisms. (One of the respondents to Wagenfuhr was Brian Brock, who above has a blurb, and one very interesting response is by J. Richard Middleton offering some interpretive missteps Wagenfuhr. Richard, you may know wrote the must-read A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology. Enjoy this conversation and then come back and order some books!

The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet Michael Mann (Public Affairs) $29.00    OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20

If you have been following the debates about climate science and the often bizarre deflection and misinformation by those who oppose the large scientific consensus about the dangers you probably know the name of Michael Mann, the distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State and the (in)famous hockey stick chart. The opposition to Mann has been ferocious (he gets death threats!) The resistance to those working for better care of our planet is often extreme — from the debunked Frederick Seitz and his “Oregon Petition” which is supposed to prove there isn’t a general consensus among scientists (signed by “scientists” with names like Geri Halliwell of the Spice Girls and the beloved MASH character B.J. Hunicutt) to Trump’s anti- environmentalism EPA guy Scott Pruitt and the notorious Koch brothers funding a Michael Moore movie, etc. etc. The first few chapters of this clear-talking book explains the recent “climate wars” and public debates and without mincing words, shares his perspective and rebuttals to his critics. Just the first few chapters that shows who is who in this contentious matter are worth the price of the book. And, interestingly, although he has much to be mad about, the tone is almost hopeful.

Here is one review from the New Scientist that indeed calls it “hopeful.” Skip the silly Amazon link in there and come on back, please.)

Most of this book, in fact, is taking the reader behind the “information wars” and some of the backstories of those who have scars from the climate battles. From Bill McKibben being tailed to public accusations of hypocrisy and shaming for using airplanes to the more complicated and substantive dynamics about political polices, The New Climate Wars helps us sort out what is going on when those with much vested interest — fossil fuel companies, polluters, profiteers, and market ideologues — fight back against those trying to steward the planet well. 

Sure there is good ground for people of good faith to disagree about the wisest policies, but this isn’t Mann insisting he or his colleagues (or the UNFCCC) is perfect but that the climate change deniers are themselves not fighting fair. (And, as he explains, have even been in cahoots with Russian meddlers and bots who have messed with our election processes. They of course, want to further monetize their own primary economic asset — oil reserves so, frankly, supported the election of a President who promised to turn back environmental regulations and brazenly open up even crummy oil fields (Tar Sans) and in wilderness areas. Trump’s own “Russia-gate,” Mann suggests, was clearly connected to fossil fuels.

Mann’s exploration of who started the campaigns about how wind power kills birds is fascinating. No, it was not the Audubon Society (who, he notes, actually has the mission to care for our feathered friends) but Robert Bryce of the Koch-funded Manhattan Institute who funneled inaccurate pieces to The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Fox Business shows, and even got President Trump writing about it. Remember when a supposedly reputable source said that wind turbines cause “UFO crashes” and Trump said they “cause cancer”? This book would be laughably entertaining if it weren’t so awful.

But. here is another important concern and I have not read enough to say. Mann is what some have called a “techno-optimist.” While he knows that climate change and rising sea levels are huge, structural problems he seems to only focus on market-related answers. He scoffs at “reforestation” and more regenerative kinds of agriculture. He’s an engineer and while not politically conservative, still working within the standard capitalist assumptions. He is no Wendell Berry or Steve Bouma-Prediger if you get my gist.  (I’ve been enjoying Bill Gates new book, too,  How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, although it is above my head with his call for big investments in clean energy technologies. He is urgent and realistic and explains lots of science about energy stuff in great detail.) Mann, some have said, seems not only to be understandably frustrated at the deniers but he even turns on those who might be considered by a more generous leader, an ally.

The New Climate War is about the public debates and it behooves us to understand some of this. Throughout he shows facts about the consensus among most scientists, argues for certain sorts of policies that, agree or not, are well worth considering even if he may not see the full big picture of the sorts of reforms we may need. Right-wing mocking of tree huggers and disinformation simply doesn’t help. Mann is a bit sarcastic here, too, so read it knowing of his big bias. I happen to think he is mostly right.

As Bill Nye the Science Guy puts it “Read this book, and let’s get to work.”

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility Dorceta E. Taylor (New York University Press) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.30

I do not have space to say much about this 2014 powerhouse of a book studying the complex reality of environmental racism, but will merely say much that this book is considered by many to be one of the very best books on the subject. From St. Louis to New Orleans, from Baltimore to Oklahoma City, “there are poor and minority neighborhoods so beset by pollution that just living in them can be hazardous to one’s health.” Much of this is injustice faced by some of our fellow citizens stems from long-standing patters of segregation and racism in zoning, real estate and banking (see classics like the must-read The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City by Antero Pietila [about Baltimore] or Redlined: A Memoir of Race, Change, and Fractured Community in 1960s Chicago.) And it is caused by “the path of least resistance” as toxic dumpers and unscrupulous businesses could get away with polluting poor and minority communities, targeting them in ways they simply couldn’t in more middle class and well resourced neighborhoods. 

As it says on the back, Toxic Communities “takes stock of the recent environmental justice scholarship” and offers some new insights and concepts for understanding environmental racism in contemporary United States.

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind Harriet Washington (Little Brown, Spark) $17.99                  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Most BookNotes readers may not be old enough to remember the popular ad slogan for the United Negro College Fund, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This cleverly plays on that phrase even showing that environmental racism “assaults the American mind.” Fascinating. 

Harriet A. Washington has a Fellow at the University of Nevada’s Black Mountain Institute, a Research Fellow in Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School, a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University, and a visiting scholar at DePaul University College of Law. She has held fellowships at the Harvard School of Public Health and Stanford University. Not too shoddy, eh? She hasn’t wasted her mind! Dr. Washington is also the author of Deadly MonopoliesInfectious Madness, and Medical Apartheid, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Oakland Award, and the American Library Association Black Caucus Nonfiction Award. This new edition of A Terrible Thing to Waste came out in paperback about a year ago and has been widely reviewed and praised’ Gerald Markowitz (who has written powerfully on the toxic lead poisoning) has called it “powerful and indispensable.” 

The theme of this book is not just that poorer communities of color are dumping grounds toxic waste and are more polluted (located, as they often are, near harsh industrial plants) but that this has caused cognitive decline in poor children. The great inner city educator Jonathan Kozel said that years ago and here is an expose that draws on science research and documentation, offered with lively, if heartbreaking, reporting. 

A Terrible Thing To Waste does look at the devasting consequences of environmental racism but promises to show “what we can do to remedy its toxic effects on marginalized communities.” I was glad to see in the paperback edition there was a new preface even addressing Covid-19.

She writes lucidly of how pollutants such as heavy metals and neurotoxins injure developing brains and recounts vividly case after case of the devastating cost to human brains and bodies. As she demolishes racist notions of inherited intelligence, she describes the medical consequences of horrific environmental catastrophes that have largely been forgotten or overlooked. Revelatory and compelling, Harriet Washington’s A Terrible Thing to Waste is the Silent Spring for the 21st century. Robin Lindley, JD, Features Editor, History News Network

How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick: Restoring Health and Wellness to Our Communities Veronica Squires & Breanna Lathrop (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

In light of the above titles, I thought I would reprieve this review I wrote a few years ago when this great book released. Do you know anybody who would care about this?

Of course toxic buildings and environmental dangers are not exclusively the plight of those living in parts of cities populated by people of color, but there is a thing called environmental racism, and it is undeniable that those in poorer neighborhoods, often people of color, are plagued with bad water and industrial pollution and lead paint and asbestos and the like in levels much worse than wealthier and mostly whiter parts of town. As Squires and Lathrop bravely discuss, even the psychological conditions of living with racial trauma has significant documented health repercussions. (I’m writing this just days after a police officer in Pittsburgh was exonerated for shooting a boy in the back as he was running away; a good friend of mine, a black pastor in ‘the burgh, wrote that he hardly feels safe in his own town.) These troubles — physical, sociological, psychological — impact the health of those living in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

We have long wished for a readable, affordable book about public health from a Christian perspective. And, we have long wished for a book about the poverty experienced by the urban underclass which includes more about substandard housing and the health problems associated with leaky pipes which cause mildew, sewage problems, asbestos, and the like.

How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick is a godsend and we congratulate IVP for being the first publisher to make this contribution to our understanding of how sin and the subsequent social dysfunction have badly effected our built environment and how social injustice literally has public health implications.

The book is nicely designed, handsome, interesting, well-informed, passionate without being polemical, and a helpful look at the stark realities of public health in old and often poor and often urban settings.

Kudos and many thanks to these authors. Here are their bios for those who might want to know solid credentials and be pleased to learn of their deep experience:

Veronica Squires is chief administrative officer for Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta. She previously served as director of corporate development for Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta and as the Georgia director of ministry partnerships for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She is a certified CCDA practitioner and serves on the advisory board for the Georgia Charitable Care Network.

Breanna Lathrop is chief operating officer and a family nurse practitioner for Good Samaritan Health Center. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Georgia Southern University and a Master’s of Public Health and a Master’s in Nursing from Emory University. She is passionate about eliminating health disparities through improving health care access and health outcomes among vulnerable populations, and has previously published on the social determinants of health.

The Climate Diet: 50 Simple Ways to Trim Your Carbon Footprint Paul Greenberg (Penguin) $13.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40

This is brand, brand new, a mass-market sized small book that is for those who need practicality. Or at least concrete ideas. And, wow, are they fascinating. The title is a bit misleading as it isn’t only about our diet (although the author is perhaps most well-known for his eco-culinary book Four Fish and there are some great cooking suggestions here.) The use of “diet” here, though, is more the other usage — as in going on a diet. We need to go on a carbon diet, lose some of that extra waste. He gives you lots of consider.

For what it is worth, there are lots of great ideas for a more faithful, simple lifestyle and tips about home cleaning products and going green you can get for free with the click to the internet. We have books like Go Green, Save Green: A Simple Guide to Saving Time, Money and God’s Green Earth by Nancy Sleeth.  But this guy really explores some remarkable stuff and although his suggestions are only briefly described, it’s more interesting than most of these sorts. Also, the great appendix in the back has very up-to-date websites and contact info for learning about everything from “smart” thermostats for your home to wiser ways to compost; he has info about tree-planting arbor organizations and a cool bike-share website. Fantastic. 


Okay friends. We’ve given you a lot to consider, big books, small books, Biblical studies and science titles. Some of our suggested authors are conservative theologically, others less so. Many are in the mainline denominational churches but some are in more independent and evangelical congregations. Some are not Christian at all. Not all agree with each other on every aspect of faith and science or a Christian view of creation care, let alone the science and ethics of climate change. But all are very good reads, important, urgent, even. Please consider which you might buy, which you might donate, which you might encourage your group to read together.

And since I’m on a roll, allow me to name five other books that are not primarily about environmental stewardship or creation care or ecological ethics as such. But, I’m telling ya, they are well worth reading in these complicated days as we hear God’s creation groaning…

Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire / Demanding Justice Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat (Brazos Press) $29.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.20 

I’ve reviewed this at length before at BookNotes and it is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read, even more jaw-dropping, confounding, convicting, entertaining, enriching, and controversial than their extraordinary Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. It shows how the early church gathered in inclusive, caring communities and developed a way of life that claimed God’s grace as the ultimate reality, naming Christ as the true King, and how the book of Romans is less an epistle of systematic theology but a manifesto of how to live in the Spirit in the face of the totalizing brutality of the Roman Empire. It makes a very compelling case about how to live when the world is falling down around you and how to take inspiration from the Old Testament echoes woven throughout the New Testament letters. The chapters on the groaning creation (Romans 8) tells you much of what you need to know about the ecological crisis of the twenty-first century and how the Bible can shape our lives as faithful home-makers.

Brian and Sylvia are creative and dear folks. They have great empathy for those who are sad or hurting and they know a thing or two about advocating for policies of public justice. They read Romans “from the margins, as it were, but also from the land. Despite being authors and academics and activists, they are farmers. They sell crops and chickens and host events at their Russet House regenerative farm about the Bible and biodiversity, about permaculture and watershed discipleship and the like. What a commentary this is, infused with great hope for the good creation.

Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World A. J. Swoboda (Brazos Press) $19.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I mentioned A.J. Swoboda (above) as the co-author of an excellent, sophisticated study of evangelical ecotheology. This one is deeply connected to that, I think, as he here invites us to subvert the very go-go-go and buy-buy-buy visions of growth and progress that have driven the Western world to disregard creational limits and exploit the creation and our very selves. Agree with the above titles about earth-keeping and climate change, nobody denies that we need rest. Few deny that the Old Testament call to sabbath and sabbath-keeping have pertinent wisdom for our modern predicament.

I think at a BookNotes review before I said that this was the best book on sabbath we’ve read. And there are so many good ones. Matthew Sleeth (whose own 24/6 I mentioned in passing above) wrote the foreword to this one. Norman Wirzba’s Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight which is perhaps the most comprehensive offering a “sabbath way of life” is duly cited. Subversive Sabbath yet is lively and captivating.

As John Mark Comer (whose own latest book is called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry) said of it,

“Few things are as subversive to the hurry addiction of the modern world than the practice of Sabbath. And few things are as life-or-death important. A. J. has written his best book yet. His keen mind, quick wit, and deep soulfulness come through beautifully, page by captivating page. But more than anything, this is a book that is lived. My new go-to book on the Sabbath.”

Ragan Sutterfield (Franciscan Media) $16.99           OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59 

All rightee then. Some of you may have been waiting for this (or something like it.) To be honest, I’ve been working on and off on an entire BookNotes column on the many books (essays, novels, short stories, poetry) of Wendell Berry that I might post one of these days. I had the great joy of doing a Zoom adult Sunday school class for a Presbyterian church a month ago about Mr. Berry and that got me really wanting to do a reader’s guide to his many books. That might come later.

For now, if I were to suggest one book that allows us into the world of the Kentucky farmer and writer, it would be this. There are others, and, of course, you should read Berry’s own works. Ragan Sutterfield is an Episcopal priest and has had experience at small-town faming. (His short book Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us is very strong and quite potent; he has a small study guide, too, called Church, Creation, and the Common Good: Guidance in an Age of Climate Crisis published by Church Publishing a few years ago.) His introduction to the wisdom and ways of Wendell Berry is brilliant. I can’t say enough about it.

I do hope you will buy a book on creation care and study how these authors, above, point us to an ecological worldview and a responsible lifestyle in God’s good but damaged world. But this — a dive into the water of Berry’s unique way of thinking/being — may be the most important thing yet to do. “It all turns on affection,” he says, in a book of essays with that title. We dare not be abstract or love “the world” without knowing our place, our land, the really real. The Kingdom of God reorients our desire and, in humility, we can become “native to this place.” Ragan lives this stuff and, doubtlessly, has explained it as well and as beautifully as 

Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution  Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I have written about this book before and you may know I appreciate Diana and her many books. Her latest, Freeing Jesus has been a real blessing to many of my peers and even customers we hardly know have told us how they appreciated it. Her role as a scholar of the contemporary religious landscape and a practitioner of faith is wonderful to see. 

This book came, a few years ago, on the heels of her deep research into congregational life, the health of churches that were forming community and offering genuine hospitality. As new folks entered mainline churches, they created some anxieties and renewal, too. She wrote a fascinating book about the “spiritual but not religious” types and how the church might more authentically relate to this new ethos. I’m not sure I liked it fully, but she remains a leader I recommend regularly. She really does understand why many are leaving institutional structures of faith, but are still seriously longing for some religious faith. She has been an advocate for these “spiritual but not religious” when many have been dismissive. She realizes that something needs to change in our churches and in the way they present the faith to others. And then she wrote this.

And my, my, I loved this writing, bringing to mind the likes of Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith and Learning to Walk in the Dark. It’s a bit more theological than Taylor although there is plenty of beautiful nature writing and memoirist self reflection and good, touching storytelling.

By looking at dirt, water, and sky as our natural habitat (and roots, home, and neighborhood as our human geography) she invites us to a real-world, earthy spirituality, a faith that invites us to find God amidst our daily humanness. She isn’t the only one to say this, nor is she the most detailed. But in all of this she reminds us of how corrupting a dualism between the physical and spiritual, the secular and the sacred, liturgy and life can be and how revolutionary it may seem to many church-goers to say that God is everywhere and there are sacred moments outside the walls of the church building. 

Yep, if we are going to nurture a sustainable faith that lasts in these secularizing times we need a robust creational theology, a faith that is more than only about heaven and the afterlife. We need a vision of Kingdom coming in Biblical words and truths like shalom and incarnation and reconciliation. Butler Bass doesn’t fill that out entirely but in this lovely book she starts us thinking in the right direction, inviting us in to finding God in the ordinary. Again, she writes about dirt, water, sky; roots, home, neighborhood. And the commons.

Grounded is a wise and beautiful book. It is, in fact and in places, almost an anthem to the sacred unity of the physical and the spiritual in the formation of human faith and in the maturation of the human soul.– Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence

In Grounded, Diana Butler Bass brings theology back down to earth. She writes about the environment and about the church in a way that makes sense, feels authentic, and doesn’t put you to sleep. A stunning book that will open up new conversations in the church and beyond.– Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution

I absolutely love this book. I’ve long respected Diana Butler Bass for her intelligent, academic approach to the religious conversation, and never more so than in the pages of this book. Grounded made me love this beautiful world more deeply, and made God’s presence more visible everywhere I looked.– Shauna Niequist, author of Savor and Bread & Wine

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber (IVP) $18.00            OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I have often said that this is one of my all-time favorite all books. Certainly Steve is one of my all time favorite people. I was deeply challenged and informed in lasting ways by his first major volume, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior and I have raved about his collection of short essays in The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work. But this; this one I find myself showing off and quoting from and telling about almost anytime I am giving a talk or class on hard things. Things like coping with climate change, nurturing a Christian imagination in the arts, being faithful at work amidst hard workplaces, resisting bad ideologies in the public square, fighting world hunger, being an anti-racist agent of reconciliation, and, well, nearly any aspect of living out the implications of the Christian life. Steve has been an encouragement to people doing often nearly heroic things in places big and small, in the global south and in under-served inner cities and in big urban corporations and in rural settings, ranches and farms that he loves.

Steve was shaped by important theological voices from old Puritans to older mystics, from moderns like Francis Schaeffer and John Stott. He has read Newbigin and Wright and Simone Weil. In a message at the recent funeral of his dear friend David Naugle he played and quoted from Davey’s favorite band, Switchfoot. I say this just so you know that he is intersting and attentive and the pages of.Visions of Vocation will easily go from ruminating on a Bible passage to talking about a visit to Wendell Berry, to citing a contemporary pop song (or a classic novel.)

I have said plenty about Visions of Vocation before but I close this list with it now for two reasons.

Throughout the book, Steve is grappling deeply with and for those who feel the weight of our times about our complicity in the world’s brokenness. Many of us are exhausted these days, many of us weep openly, many of us are hardly able to sing our favorite hymns — not so much because of doubt but because of understandable cynicism or just because of the sorrows of these times. Steve reminds us without being glib or shallow or cliched, that God, too, loves this world through His tears, that God is faithful to the redemptive project not in spite of the world’s sins but because of them. We, too, in God’s image and transformed by His grace can do this, adding our failures and foibles to His work, a small gift of grace for the common good. In our weakness we lean in to Christ’s presence. We can endure. I think this is one of the most helpful books for thoughtful long-haul disciples these days for this reason. He so nicely combines “heart and mind” that our fans and friends will want to read him. He reminds us of our vocation, cruciform as it may be. If you are overwhelmed by all this climate change stuff and the vocation of stewardship (and whether we are even allowed to call it that now — ha!) Garber’s reminder that it okay to feel the feels and carry on, will be a thoughful balm and a steady motivation.

Secondly, there is a particular chapter in Visions of Vocation that is worth pondering in this context. It is about what he calls “proximate justice” which is to say (in my stumbling way) that we can’t always get what we want. Short of God’s own healing when Christ returns, we will not see Kingdom Come. The creation, which includes us, is groaning and will continue to groan. We can do what we can, where we can, and it will never be enough. Can we learn to be content in the hope of God saying “well done” even if we didn’t do all we might wish or accomplish what we hope? Can you live with the proximate?  Fancy pants theologians and Christian philosophers warn us not to “immanentize the eschaton” which is to say, trying to build heaven on earth. That leads to ideology and pride and probably violence of some sort or another. It is a temptation of social reformers and political activists of the left and right. Garber gives us a wise way to think about coping with not getting all we wish for in this needy world, even as we press on with our eyes on the prize.

We need not live for our successes but hopefully we can see some sort of health and wholeness and social reform; Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good helps us hang in there, glad for what God gives us to do day by day. If you have read this far in this weighty list, I certainly commend it to you. Thanks for caring.



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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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.

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PRE-ORDER forthcoming books from Cole Arthur Riley, Rachel Held Evans, John Lewis, Keith Wasserman & Christine Pohl, Rodney Clapp, John Armstrong, Jackie Hill Perry, Terry M. Wildman, Daniel Bowman, Jr., Kat Armas, James K. A. Smith, Matthew Kaemingk, Charles E. Moore, Rachel Held Evans, and Cole Arthur Riley – ALL 20% OFF

As we often say, you can pre-order anything from us at any time. Except for those books that are self-published by authors or outfits that don’t work with real bookstores, we are always ordering new titles and pre-ordering not-yet-released/forthcoming ones. If it is a real book from a bone fide publisher, we’re on it! We curate a pretty wide selection of all kinds of books, religiously oriented and not, fiction and nonfiction, seriously academic and lightly poppy, kids picture books and YA novels. If you wonder if we stock — or, more importantly, if we can quickly order something for you — don’t hesitate to ask. We can help.

Several customers have been chomping at the bit to pre-order a few forthcoming books that they know we will care about. So here is a big list of some of the most important upcoming titles.

This is a good thing to pre-order items, by the way, as it allows us to place somewhat larger orders from the publishers who then realize there may be a demand for this particular title. It alerts them. Orders from our shop in our south-central Pennsylvania town are, we are told by some publishers, may be some kind of bellwether for what at least a certain market demographic may want.

We seem to illustrate to those watching that there are faith-based customers who care passionately about significant books that are not necessarily on the religious best-seller list, packed as it is with positive thinking and prosperity books by megachurch preachers, end times procrastinators, and purveyors of the distinctively un-Christlike stuff of much of the religious right. In any case, we’re grateful for your orders and your support.

So, we here offer announcements about a Baker’s dozen of great books that we hope you will consider pre-ordering from us. Not only will you be delighted to get these books as soon as they are released, but you will be helping these authors and publishers, voting with a bit of your own disposable income, showing your support for this calibre of quality publishing. We can help you do this. Just click on our order form link at the end of this newsletter – we’ll take care of the rest.

All of these titles are offered at our BookNotes 20% off discount.


If you want more than one selection and they are releasing on dates near each other we can hold them and by sensibly bundling them together, save some shipping costs. If they are releasing weeks and months apart, we may want to send each as soon as they release in separate shipments. In any case, please let us know what you prefer. Thanks.

Carry on: Reflections for a New Generation John Lewis (Grand Central Publishing) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60                  DUE DATE: JUST ARRIVED!  AVAILABLE NOW

We are grateful that the great legacy of Congressman John Lewis has been enhanced by the three fabulous graphic novels of his life, the respected trilogy which ends in the award-winning March, which tells and shows the horrible episode on the Pettis Bridge. A forthcoming series of graphic stories by the same artists will pick up where that set leaves off and the first is called Run (we are taking pre-orders for that, too; it releases August 3, 2021.) As you might guess, it tells of the youthful SNCC leader’s call to run for office.

In the meantime, this very handsome, sturdy, hand-sized hardback — brand new today! — offers excerpts of some of Mr. Lewis’s wisdom in bit-sized essays on a variety of topics.  Ranging from justice, courage, faith, mentorship, and forgiveness, to the protests and the pandemic, Carry On is part devotional, part manifesto, part commemoration and part civic encouragement, part handbook for meaningful living. What a joy to see his thoughts on mentorship and hope and fear and spirituality. For some reason, I jumped to his one on happiness.  It is what Ibram X. Kendi calls a “small guide” but is is clear-headed and honorable. The portrait photo on the back cover will take your breath away.

Good Works: Hospitality and Faithful Discipleship Keith Wasserman & Christian Pohl (Eerdmans) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59    DUE DATE: JUST ARRIVED!  AVAILABLE NOW

I am happy to say I could hardly put this book down and it exceeded my high expectations for being a book of very helpful and deeply spiritual insight for anyone doing ministry. It is fabulous and I am sure will bless those who care about church life, who serve within organizations, go to work, live in families. Granted, it is written by and about the legendary Southeastern Ohio social service ministry that serve those who are disenfranchised and often without house or home. Yes, it is guided by the very significant author Christian Pohl. Her must-read books on hospitality, community, and service — Making Room, Living into Community, and Friendship at the Margins — are nearly embodied by her former student, Keith Wasserman, and his team in Good Works, Inc. and summarized and clarified in Good Works. If you valued her important books you love this practical application full of stories and inspiration. 

This brand new book is a must for anyone who is interested in the great conversation going back to the likes of Samuel Escobar & Rene Padilla, Ron Sider and Amy Sherman, John Perkins and John Stott, about the relationship of social service and evangelism, about bearing Kingdom witness by way of community, missional service, and, yes, pastoral care, spiritual formation and conventional relational evangelism.

You know the assessment (and can predict my next sentences): too many in the evangelical wing of the church have been pushy in their evangelism (and in the world of some “rescue missions” serving those unhoused, they are can even be mean and depersonalizing about it) even as those who have been culturally savvy and justice-seeking about seeking the shalom of the city haven’t always been clear about naming the saving gospel and holding up the name of Christ. The bifurcation continues with some doing verbal evangelism in a way that isn’t particularly attentive to public context or social injustices [with recent books justifying such infidelity these days saying “social justice isn’t Biblical” and asserting that most who seek justice are preaching “another gospel.”) But, yet, some who are doing helpfully wholistic, spiritually-motivated social service still are not winning many to Christ or trying to mentor new Jesus-folk into life-long disciples.) Wasserman’s crew at Good Works In. stands as a wonderful mission proving the caricatures wrong — I haven’t been so excited to learn about a ministry of this sort since we read about Bob and Gracie Ekblad and Tierra Nueva in Burlington, WA. 

To be clear, as I suggested in the first paragraph, this book about a wholistic worshipping community that serves the poor and needy is, actually, a story for any of us who want to form organizations and ministries with greater intentionality and concisely Christian processes. From learning to offer gracious hospitality to caring for real persons with stories and gifts and foibles to commitments to Biblically-informed conflict resolution to holding out visionary goals of spiritual formation within their nonprofit, Good Works tells of their journey, their plans, their work, and how it all might offer guidance to all of us. Dear reader, this is not only an edifying story, it is inspirational in the best sense — it will inspire you to be more of what you want to be. It will help you embody Christian grace and honest institutional practices, if you take it to heart. 

Good Works is an inspiring and beautiful book full of wisdom. It weaves together Christine Pohl’s decades of insightful scholarship with the practical, lived wisdom of Keith Wasserman and the community of Good Works, Inc. This book helps us all go deeper into Jesus’s call to hospitality and faithful discipleship and to be inspired to live more faithfully ourselves.  — L. Gregory Jones, President of Belmont University

Good Works offers a profound paradigm for ministry whereby work with those at the margins is only ‘good’ to the extent that our own character and relationships with God and others are good. Turning the usual metrics upside down with refreshing power, Good Works illuminates the profound difference between ministry and social service agency.  — Chris Rice, coauthor, with Emmanuel Katongole, of Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing

Regardless of one’s ministry context, this book about Good Works, Inc.–a ministry with people struggling against poverty and homelessness–will spiritually challenge yet profoundly reward anyone earnestly seeking to embody Christian hospitality. This account of Keith Wasserman’s forty years of leadership, articulated and arranged by Christine Pohl’s rich and warm theological mind, displays in the most concrete of terms what it takes to truly receive, and be received by, the other as a gift. Only a community rooted in worship and in constant pursuit of relational integrity guided by the Spirit can hope to become a community of friends, not only enduring but flourishing.                    — Michael Gulker, President of The Colossian Forum

Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age Rodney Clapp (Fortress) $24.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20  DUE DATE:  JULY 20, 2021

I cannot say much about this yet as I am just now in the middle of an advanced copy I received. It is due any day now and I can say three things for sure.

First, Rodney Clapp ought to be one of the those authors who you know and buy anything he writes. He was influenced by the late, great Robert Webber — not only in learning about how worship shapes us and the relationship between liturgy and life, but also in his wise and faithful “in the world but not of it” cultural engagement. Do you recall Webber’s lovely take on Niebuhr called The Secular Saint? Rodney has read deeply and lived well in light of a desire to see the worshipping community shape us into counter-cultural “resident aliens.” He has written balanced but provocative books that offer a critique of the secular left and the religious right. (Or, as his vastly under-appreciated Families at the Crossroad put it, “a path beyond traditional and modern options.”) He has written about the church (A Peculiar People), one about the spirituality of the ordinary (Tortured Wonders), a great study of Johnny Cash, and, recently, the fabulous New Creation: A Primer on Living Between the Times which gets us right into the “already but not yet.” Clapp is not only a Texas visionary and fruitful thinker, he is a good writer and has left a lasting mark in the publishing landscape having founded Brazos Press (named, I’m told, after a river in the Bluebonnet State that flows the wrong way) and, later, landed a job as editor at Wipf & Stock. So, firstly: read Rodney Clapp.

Secondly, I know enough at this point about Naming Neoliberalism to suggest that this may be one of the most important books of this sort to be published this year. It is wide-ranging and readable, prophetic and pastoral, if you will, serious but somewhat accesible. This is rare in a book of this sort, to be so expansive, so serious, and yet interesting. It’s extraordinary.

You may know that we are fond of big picture social analysis, cultural criticism, prophetic denunciation of the idols of the time. We do not need many more screeds of the left or right, complaining about Trump or CRT or whatever the bugaboo of the season happens to be from MSNBC or Fox News. We need deeper, radical (as in radix, which means “from the root”) and mature, spiritual insight. You may know I’m fond of the likes of Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture by Bob Goudzwaard & Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic; $35.00) or, more readable, In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World by Jake Meador (IVP; $23.00.) I even like fiesty authors with a broad-bush thesis like Iain McGilchrist and his The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press; $30.00) and the exceptional interesting and exceptionally relevant The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis by Alan Jacobs (Oxford University Press; $31.95.) I can’t tell you how often I recommend Brian Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger’s sprawling, epic, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Eerdmans; $31.50) which starts with the specificity of working with those on the urban streets of Toronto at a homeless shelter and moves out to a analysis of cultural mobility and disregard for place that is nothing short of brilliant. I splurge with this extravagance name-dropping to offer a frame of reference, tenuous as it may be — Rodney Clapp is as incisive a cultural critic and as bold as a prophet as any of these authors and important books. It’s that big and broad, that useful as social criticism.  

If you care about the nature and texture and the direction of our society, Naming… is a must-read. As the publisher plainly explains, “Neoliberalism, a panoply of cultural, political, and economic practices that set marketized competition at the center of social life, is rife in our age. Naming Neoliberalism lays out for pastors, thoughtful laypersons, and students, what neoliberalism is, where it has come from, and how it can be confronted through and in the church.” 

When Clapp says in the subtitle of Naming Neoliberalism, though, that it is “Exposing the Spirit of Our Age” he is on to something big. I suspect the marketers dissuaded him from putting on the cover what is in large print on the back: “Exposing the Principalities and Powers.”  I suppose I’d be exhibiting my tendency for reviewer’s flamboyance if I said this book may be considered an exorcism (calling David Dark!) But there it is.  As Sam Wells says on the back, “Jesus’s kingdom proclamation disarmed the powers and revealed a new, in-breaking reality. Rodney Clapp’s book follows in that exalted tradition.” That is, to be clear, the tradition of proclaiming the Kingdom and of “disarming the powers.”

Thirdly: this really is a guidebook for this perennial question (see Webber’s The Secular Saint, again) of how to be in but not of the world. How do we embody a transforming vision and what does it mean to know something is wrong with our culture but not merely adopt an over-correction of the pendulum swinging from left to right or from right to left? What does it mean to study the past, in light of Biblical and theological sensitive to idols, and offers us a fresh way out of of Babylonian captivity? How then shall we live?

If you sense that something seems wrong with current manifestations of US Christianity, with our economic inequality, and our culture warring, but naming it is not easy then this book is for you. Clapp’s Naming Neoliberalism is the best historical and theological analysis of where we are, how we got here, and what might be done about it, available to us. From a history of enclosures to an examination of slavery, a journey through the Thatcherite and Reagan complete capitulation to neoliberalism, followed by the Clinton willing acquiescence and much more, Clapp traces the history of neoliberalism judiciously, carefully, and with theological insight. This book is a must read.                   –D. Stephen Long, Professor of Ethics, Southern Methodist University

Rarely are critiques of neoliberalism followed by beautiful, constructive proposals for alternative ways to live. By giving us both, Clapp offers this book as a gift to the church. The converse is also true: it is important not only to identify the life-affirming work churches are called to do but also to help congregations name and understand the dominating power of our age. Only when we are clear about what the gospel frees us from and frees us for, Clapp well argues, may the church be a relevant witness against the power and principality of neoliberalism that opposes God’s reign.                           — Jennifer M. McBride, author Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel, Professor of theology and ethics, McCormick Theological Seminary

Let’s be honest. As pastor of a politically split church, I am not looking for ways to introduce more politics into congregational life. In an age of tweets and squawking, I thirst for the peace of Christ. But after reading Rodney Clapp’s Naming Neoliberalism, I also see how hungry and lonely I have been, while wandering in this desert of culture wars, for some weight and wisdom from a spiritual tradition that is older, larger and deeper than I am. Somehow, Clapp uses a hot button topic to model how to have a cool Christian conversation, across the aisles of politics or pews. I would gladly introduce this book to my church members, for its sense of perspective but most of all for its contagious hope for a church where God is still speaking louder and more lovingly than the pundits. –Lillian Daniel, senior pastor of First Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa and author of Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong to.

Tear Down These Walls: Following Jesus into Deeper Unity John H. Armstrong (Cascade) $23.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $18.40                                    DUE DATE: AUGUST 1, 2021

I have not done as good of a job as I wished I would have of promoting a previous book of my friend John Armstrong, but I will admit — pushing a book called Your Church Is Too Small was hard. Especially since it was decidedly not about church growth or dissing small congregations: it would have been more prosaic, but it should have been called “Your View of the Church Is Too Small: Why Being More Ecumenical and Inclusive is Biblically Faithful and a Vital Part of Your Christian Discipleship and Our Mission in the World.” Or something like that. 

I’ve told a bit of John’s story before, so you may recall that he was a pretty conservative, sectarianly Reformed revival preacher who cited great Puritans and fretted about the purity of the evangelical subculture. He was (and remains) a great communicator and fine preacher and he still longs to honor God by exalting Christ and his saving power. But yet, unlike most church leaders, he takes seriously the great prayer of Jesus Himself (John 17) about unity within the Body of Christ. Indeed, no lesser a Reformed, respected evangelical voice than J.I. Packer decisively set John on a path toward this calling (in the second half of his life) to be an agent of missional ecumenism. 

His book Costly Love: The Way to True Unity for All the Followers of Jesus came out in 2017 (intentionally published by a Roman Catholic publisher) and explored the sort of Bible-based, gospel-centered, Sprit-given love that is needed if we are going to manifest the sorts of trans-denominational, ecumenical vision that he insists God desires. It is a great book, a rare work on love. I wish it were better known among us and remains a thoughtful, even profound read.

This long awaiting new rumination on discipleship, mission, and Christ’s call to unity, Tear Down These Walls, is largely drawn from and inspired by the less than best-seller status of the very fine Your Church Is Too Small. That is, it is absolutely not a reprint of that earlier work, although some of the material in that book has found its way in fresh reformulation in this new title. If you were one of the few who purchased that earlier great book you will surely love this one that expands that one with lots of new content, lots of new stories, lots of new insight, lots of new passion; it is more than updated but a fully new treatment. If did not read Your Church Is Too Small then you simply must consider Tear Down These Walls. It is a book full of gospel urgency, Biblical wisdom, and visionary in a way that will be sure to bless you. It is something, as you know, that means a lot to us and we are glad for this “best in class” sort of study.

No matter if you are a conservative evangelical, progressive nondenominational, Black or Latine or Asian, mainline Protestant, Anabaptist or Anglican, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox (or even a Mercersberger!) John knows something about your tradition, your insights, your concerns, your foibles. And you need this book, not only to learn about the Biblical mandate to work for unity, but to understand your own place in God’s choir. Of course, he is not striving for some giant One Big Denomination — duh — but he does inspire us to know the other believers in our own towns, to read widely, to draw on the best insights and gifts of Jesus folk unlike our selves, to long for more coherent worship, shaped by a beautiful orthodoxy. Rev. Armstrong is pleasant and wonderfully curious about so much (I happen to know some of the books he reads and, well, talk about what they call a voracious reader!) Such wide reading makes for good writing, and he has a lot on his heart to share.

You will be, as I have been, immediately engaged by Armstrong’s vivid description of Ronald Reagan’s bold and now historic call to Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down these walls” in the early pages of the new book. As you can guess, it becomes a metaphor for the work we must do if Christ’s church is to illustrate some of the unity He calls us to. 

As my friend Alexei Laushkin, of Kingdom Mission Society, put it, 

 Reflecting on a lifetime call for Christian unity, Tear Down These Walls is a must-read for anyone who has a ministry call of healing wounds in the body of Christ. This work invites us into the life-giving relationships made possible by a Christ who calls every part of his church to follow him more closely, and in that process to love their fellow Christians more deeply.

Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him Jackie Hill Perry (B+H) $17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39   DUE DATE: AUGUST 1, 2021

We are happy to highlight this forthcoming book by the very popular, very thoughtful, black evangelical thinker and speaker and artful author. We have been with Jackie a time or two backstage at an event where she was speaking; I didn’t disturb her because I sensed she was intensely intent on communing with God as she prepared to go on stage. Funny, some big name speakers are all prayerful and quiet before going on but many are chatty and casual. Before my book announcements sometimes I can be both, but I notice when a person has some discernment about the necessary spiritual preparation before doing a major talk and I admire their appropriate devotion. Jackie Hill Perry seems to be one of these impressive, Godly women who takes her call to speak and write with utmost seriousness.

Her first book was a memoir of her life, published in 2018 by B+H, the Southern Baptist publisher, called Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been which obviously included the telling of her struggle with what she calls same-sex attraction (giving a clue that she is fully Side B in that conversation and is sure that her disposition is sinfully disordered.) Agree or not, it is one of those memoirs of a young person coming up with great complexities — not just sexual identity — and finding a sustaining power in the grace of the gospel. The subtitle is important, too — Ms Perry, even in that first memoir wants to talk about God’s power and grace more than her own struggles. Not all readers have found this to be as gracious and helpful as some do, but it is a story many conventional evangelicals find helpful.

This new one (which we will have shortly) is not about sexual identity, or at least not much. It is, as the title shows, about the nature of God. In this sense it picks up on themes that have been on her heart for a while — God’s magnificence, wonder, glory, moral perfection. I do not think she intends to put any political ideology around this; it is a vital aspect of God’s self revelation in Scripture and a standard topic within theology. To have a black woman poet writing about this hefty, heady topic is going to be good.

In fact, listen to urban pastor Dr. Eric Mason (of Epiphany Fellowship Church in Philadelphia) who writes about Jackie and her new book:

Art and theology have met. Many times reading theology can feel so impersonal that many people view it as irrelevant. However, when art and theology meet, we get the Psalms, Parables, Prophets, and more. I’m glad that this generational voice is a symphonic blend of the sorts. Holier Than Thou is a must read. Many in this generation and beyond may find this work as a gateway into theology and more importantly to understanding the holiness of God and their call to reflect it in and through Jesus Christ. —Eric Mason, author of Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel

And, of course, Jen Wilkin is a solid, conservative Bible teacher whose books we regularly promote. She says:

In a world consumed with self-discovery, self-absorption, and self-worship, the people of God need regular reminders to lift our eyes to a higher Object than this earthly plane can offer. Jackie brings to bear her prodigious gift with words on the Bible’s message of God’s transcendent holiness. She offers us not just a God worthy of our worship, but of our complete trust and obedience.  –Jen Wilkin, author of In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character and None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us 

First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament Terry M. Wildman, lead translator, Editor, project manager (IVP) hardback, $35.00 // paperback, $20.00,  OUR SALE PRICES = $28.00 (hardback)//$20.0 (paperback)                  DUE DATE: AUGUST 3, 2021

I have not seen this yet and know nothing except that it is going to be highly acclaimed, much-discussed, widely used and will (perhaps like the first time you read The Message) be a joyful, maybe even fun, reading experience. It is not a paraphrase like The Message, but is an actual translation project using the “dynamic equivalence” approach (that shapes most modern translations, actually.) Done by a team of Native North American Bible and linguistic scholars from over twenty-five tribes, the FNV is nothing short of groundbreaking. We should tout it as a publishing event!

The publisher writes that The First Nations Version (FNV) recounts the Creator’s Story — the Christian Scriptures — following the tradition of Native storytellers’ oral cultures. While remaining faithful to the original language of the New Testament, the FNV is a dynamic equivalence translation that captures the simplicity, clarity, and beauty of Native storytellers in English.

I’m sure you know something about the complexities of Bible translations — sometimes the original ancient Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic words carry notions or ideas that cannot be simply put in the contemporary language into which it is being translated. Scholars all over the world argue about how best to translate this ancient word into Pashto or Swahili, Yupic or Mandarin, French Canadian or Arabic. The point being that it isn’t a simple word-for-word world we live in and worldviews and cultural assumptions and social customs shape the linguistic forms and languages of people groups. And even as those people adopt another language — most indigenous or First Nation Americans speak English, of course —their idioms and traditions of storytelling and motifs of communication remain.

As the FNV team put it, “Many first Nations tribes communicate with the cultural and linguistic through patterns found in their original tongues. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of First Nations people.

From the beginning, the story of Jesus has been a translated story. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote their Gospels in Greek. The story of Jesus is intended to be translated to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. That translation is intended, not just permitted, serves to show how we must resist any cultural domination of the gospel. Terry Wildman has done a masterful job of rendering the New Testament into the storytelling motif characteristic of Native Americans. It should tell us something important when we realize how beautifully the story of Jesus can be adapted to the style and vocabulary of indigenous people. I deeply appreciate Terry Wildman’s retelling of the story of Jesus for First Nations people. I believe the Great Spirit is pleased. –Brian Zahnd, pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, author of Beauty Will Save the World

Reading the First Nations Version of the New Testament is like listening to a wise elder pass down ancient teachings. Its oral cadences give the Scriptures new room to breathe. While contemporary translations focus on updating language in a modern mode, the FNV recaptures the sense of tradition that binds faithful readers to our past and to the story that tells us who we are. It is a good gift to everyone who walks the Jesus Way.  –L. Daniel Hawk, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Ashland Theological Seminary

On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity Daniel Bowman, Jr. (Brazos Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99                      DUE DATE: AUGUST 10, 2021

I was captivated by the first page, hooked on the entire, long prologue, and am now a huge fan of this amazing, splendid book. I enthusiastically recommend it for a number of important reasons. I wish I had more space to give it the thorough review it certainly deserves. I hope you order a few copies to share!

Daniel Bowman, you should know, is an English prof and poet, working at well-respected Christian college. (We have seen the beautiful literary journal he and his students created, Ruminate.) He’s a classy, thoughtful, widely-read literature scholar and, happily, also a very good writer himself. (His brief description of the main metaphor behind his poetry volume, A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country is itself remarkable and will be helpful for anyone who has felt different growing up.) Bowman’s voice is clear and solid, yet artful and lovely. He has a lot to say, a lot to help us see. There has been much pain and anguish in coming to terms with his diagnosis as an adult who is on the autism spectrum and this book feels like a gift, a life-saving gift.

Interestingly, Bowman tells much about how he didn’t know what was wrong with him in his younger life. Well loved and respected he still battled inner demons and his small compulsions, his routine experiences of being uncomfortable, the episodes of blatant oddness, the panic attacks and occasional harsh outbursts caused hurt to those around him. A story of his wife leaving him for a short while was anguishing and brave of him to share. That he experienced depression and suicidal ideation is heart-rending and, again, a gift of honesty that he does not hold from us. Professor Bowman’s reading, reading, reading about the autism spectrum and having the lights finally come on  why didn’t I see this before? — was stirring; painful, but stirring.The first twenty pages of this book are so good you will never forget them.

After this beautiful, clear telling of his experience and discoveries, he does, briefly, two very important things, gifting contributions to your awareness that are worth the price of the book. First, he clarifies the difference between a model of what we might call neurodiversity versus the model of pathology. Like others holding up the inherent dignity of those with specific disabilities, he does not appreciate the insinuation that this is a disease to be cured of — not that there is any such “cure.” (He explains that the ABC approach is not helpful and will soon  be discredited like the reparative therapy approach that made false and hurtful promises about altering the sexual attractions of gays and lesbians.) His brief debunking of myths about autism is urgent. As Katherine May (author of the beautifully rendered Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times) says,

On the Spectrum rings with poetry, compassion, and wisdom, and it reveals so much about autistic experience. I felt nourished by the truths that Bowman tells and relieved to see them shared. This book may surprise you, and it will certainly inform you.

The second thing Bowman does briefly early on in this book is explain that many books about autism are of two sorts: there are clinical kinds of books about helping and coping, mostly written by (neurotypical) medical or psychology experts and mostly aimed at parents. Or, there are memoirs, most of which are written, interestingly, by those who are not on the spectrum themselves. He preaches just a bit about how wrong this is — don’t write about us without us, as they say. Who knew that there were, actually, not that many memoirs by adults who are neurodiverse themselves? 

On the Spectrum has a small section on “how to read this book” in which he shows how some of the format and style and quirks in the writing and stylings are themselves illustrative of how a writer (at least this writer) with autism writes about things. It was a good heads up to alert neurotypical readers to put on their seat belts and reserve judgement. 

As it ends up, it seemed to me that this book is not that unusually quirky although it is artful and creative. He is a poet after all and has been an advocate for deepening the Christian conversation about faith and the arts. On the Spectrum includes essays and well written blog posts and creative report of his life and interests and passions. He calls it “a memoir in essays” pointing out that the original meaning of the word “essay” means to explore. Indeed. This is an invitation to explore and you should take him up on the offer, You won’t regret it, and the world will be a better place if more of us read this lovely, helpful book. Bowman himself holds out these hopes as he says he writes, in part, to help us all learn to love our neighbors better. Indeed.

“This is an illuminating, challenging, and deeply human book that we all need to read in order to truly embody solidarity. We need to read stories of neurodiversity from those who embody those stories best, and Bowman’s book is a great place to start the journey.”  — Kaitlin B. Curtice, author of Native

“I can only imagine how many people will read Bowman’s moving memoir and feel like someone finally sees them. But for neurotypical readers like me, Bowman invites us to see our neighbors afresh. This book itself is one of the gifts of neurodivergence, adding to this teeming, diverse creation in which God takes delight.”                                        — James K. A. Smith, professor, Calvin University; editor of Image Journal; author of On the Road with Saint Augustine

Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength Kat Armas (Brazos Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39  DUE DATE: AUGUST 10, 2021

We here at Hearts & Minds were honored to get an early galley of this and we are thrilled to say that it is a great, great read. There are a number of radical theological writers that bring their ethnic social location to the very task of doing their spiritual scholarship. There are Latinex Bible interpreters and Asian (and Asian-American) theologians and black thinkers of all sorts, from Esau McCaulley (and his excellent Reading While Black) and scholars as diverse as James Cone and Vonnie Bacham. There are womanist theologians like Delores Williams and the essential Katie Cannon. And, by Latina women, there’s mujerista theology.

I am always on the look-out, though, for academic scholars who are not writing primarily for the scholarly guild and who do not draw on heady philosophers (and critical race theory, say) in such detail that ordinary people are lost reading their stuff. We are always on the lookout for that sweet-spot of a narrative of how a person — in this case, a person of color — narrates her work and tells and shows just how it’s done with some (but not too much) academic cred. And at this, in Abuelita Faith, Kat Armas is my new hero.

She does what is exceedingly rare in this too often rarefied world of critical thinking about hermeneutics, social location, decolonization, ethnic and class and gender biases and such — she tells her story (and about learning proverbs, called “refrains”, from her abuelita) — and shows how as a second generation Cuban-American (displaced and exiled) she approaches her love of God, God’s Word, and the theological vision that emerges from that mezcal of Caribbean roots and women’s experience in hot, hot Miami. She notes that radical theologian and activist scholar Miguel De La Torre uses the term ajiaco, which is a Cuban stew, a spicy, indigenous and tasty metaphor. That works for Armas’s book, too.

Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins is mostly about women of the Bible but also about how those women can inspire us today. In this regard it is not unlike Hermanas: Deepening our Identity and Growing Our Influence by Natalia Rivera, Noemi Vega Quinones & Kristy Garza Robinson (IVP; $17.00), which, again, holds up marginalized women in the Bible as exemplars. However, as I’ve noted, it is also about the women in the life of Kat Armas, mothers and grandmothers aunties and sisters, all who conveyed wisdom and shaped her sense of identity and gave her courage growing up. These often uneducated women had a natural sense of how to subvert the colonial images and forces over their lives. And they stuck together, passing wisdom on in creative ways.

Those of us in mostly white, middle-class suburbia, I sometimes find, are not strongly rooted in a particular community, a thick network (let alone a heritage) of extended wise elders and supportive loved ones. (Indeed, this is one of the reasons for the popularity of Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind by Grace Olmstead (Sentinel; $27.00) which has been popular after our review a while back.) Ms. Armas and her story has much to commend to us as we have the privilege of watching over her shoulder as she teaches “wisdom, persistence, and strength” from the Bible characters she loves as taught to her, in many way, by her Latina community. 

The advanced buzz on this has been healthy and enthusiastic and we’re excited to get it in soon. She tells her story, knows her theological stuff (and draws on diverse and multi-ethnic resources, from Cesar Chavez (God bless her!) to Howard Thurman to Amy-Jill Levine. Check out these lovely endorsements:

“Armas reminds us that theology can be lived, not just theorized by those with the most social power, and that it’s happening precisely in the places where we have been told not to look.”   — Hillary L. McBride, psychologist, speaker, podcaster, author of the forthcoming The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied Living

“Armas demonstrates that powerful named and unnamed women, who through the quotidian have affected the outcome of history, fill not only the Bible but also our lives. Let us sit at Armas’s feet that we might gain the wisdom we so desperately need to embody abuelita faith ourselves. — Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself by Forgetting Yourself

“A tour de force. Armas immediately and boldly draws us into her abuela’s magnetic and wise Cuban embrace while opening up an intimate universe of courageous, faith-filled women inside the biblical narrative and beyond.”  — Mark Labberton, president, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Armas invites us to the space of the margins–a space full of struggle, failure, bodies, beauty, and the humanity we all desire to see and embrace. This journey will shake us, put us back together again, and make us free.” — Dante Stewart, writer and speaker, author of the forthcoming Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle 

The Nicene Option: An Incarnational Phenomenology James K. A. Smith (Baylor University Press) $39.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99             DUE DATE: AUGUST 15, 2021

This forthcoming text will be for many of our readers a no-brainer to order — it’s the new Jamie Smith, who is one of the most important writers today. You’ve read his early books on postmodernism, you’ve appreciated his thoughtful introduction to the dense work of Charles Taylor and the secular age, you’ve devoured his collection of short essays in volumes like Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture and 2009’s fine collection The Devil Reads Derrida and Other Essays on the University, the Church, Politics, and the Arts. You’ve hopefully enjoyed his marvelous, exceptionally wise “Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts” called On the Road with Saint Augustine. Maybe you’ve read his edited volumes on science or education. Maybe you even subscribe to the very classy arts journal he edits, Image. Most famously, you know his You Are What You Love and if you’re a real fan, or allowed us to harangue you into it, you’ve got the full trilogy (maybe even the nice boxed set) of Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom, and Awaiting the King. A new collection of philosophical essays about continental philosophy? Sure, you may not really know what that even is, but hey. You’re in.

Good for you! I myself am currently reading an advanced review version of this and even though it is above my pay grade, Smith is always a good, good teacher and this is, I believe, important stuff. If you care about his work and his overall projects (from You Are What You Love to the phenomenology of worship to his interest in the Radical Orthodoxy movement; from his several essays on Christian politics to his recent work in aesthetics as editor of Image Journal) you will want to learn what is behind it all.

And this; this is some of what it is behind it.

Smith has his PhD in philosophy, after all — he studied at the Institute for Christian Studies, the Dooyeweerdian-ish grad school in Toronto, filled with Christianly subversive neo-Calvinist intellectuals and then under deconstructionist John Caputo at the (Catholic) Villanova University. He has numerous academic tomes, monographs, expensive hardbacks from the scholarly presses (and we stock many of them, including the fabulous Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy which is wonderful and still in print from Eerdmans.) I sometimes say that the best Smith book to introduce people to his own philosophical work — a book whose themes show up in other recent work, including this new forthcoming one — is the exceptionally valuable The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic in its second edition from BakerAcademic. It’s a gem and I think is important to fully appreciate his any other books.

HEY: After writing the above paragraphs, I jumped over to the Baylor University Press webpage and found this promo bit about the book. See? I’m not making this stuff up — even they want to market this to thoughtful, general readers who want to know more of why Smith is up to the many interesting things he is:

Besides issuing a clarion call for the renaissance of continental philosophy of religion, The Nicene Option also offers a glimpse behind the scholarly curtain for a wider audience of readers familiar with Smith’s popular works such as Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, Desiring the Kingdom, Imagining the Kingdom, and You Are What You Love—all of which are tacitly informed by the phenomenological approach articulated in this book. As an extended footnote to those works—which for many readers have been gateways to philosophy— The Nicene Option presents an invitation to a new depth of reflection.

I know that this book is a bit salty with its university press price tag (although Baylor does manufacture very well crafted books) and I know some of the chapters about European philosophers are going to be slow-going, but his introduction is nothing short of brilliant in a clear-headed, teacherly way.

Although most of these chapters were previously published in academic journals or as chapters in random books here and there, the long introduction is up to date and new, framing Smith’s life’s work on these themes with a fabulous, fresh overview. It is really very interesting.

Smith cleverly (and helpfully) calls it “God on the Left Bank?” and asks about the prospects for a Continental (which, mostly means, in short-hand, postmodern) philosophy in the field of the philosophy of religion. You see, up until a few decades ago this field was dominated by the exceedingly secularizing, “reductionistic” lights of modern/Enlightenment rationalists. An odd shift in US philosophy happened in the later part of the 20th century when extraordinary, respected, world-class Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff took up major positions in the journals and conferences and associations of American philosophers, arguing for a “warranted” Christian belief and “reason without the bounds of religion.” But, still, the US was largely analytic, even (without irony) in the study of religion.

Study in Europe (“the Continental” approach) was mostly phenomenological. That is, I might say, post-Kantian, for those keeping a big picture chart. He explains it very well although in my simple lingo I suggest such philosophy is akin to existentialism. (You remember Camus and Sartre from college, or Francis Schaeffer, at least, right?) Smith mentions what some call the “German turn” which was when French thinkers took up Heidegger and we ended up with Derrida and Baudrillard but also with Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Luc Marion and Levinas. Gadamer is important here, too, although he grew up in Poland. Marion, especially, is a thinker Smith finds generative and he interacts with his work significantly.

If you have followed Smith in You Are What You Love and the multitude of footnotes in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom you’ll be interested to see how he here exposes secular liturgies in the field of the study of religion. (In fact, he observes, liturgy and worship and Christian practices are not studied at all in the philosophy or religion; they seem interested in “belief but not believers”, as if religion can merely be reduced to its most abstract ideas, disembodied. To remedy this he calls for a messy/embodied “post-secular study of religion” and it is beautiful to see a thoughtful philosopher making this reforming move to contribute to his particular field.

(As I sometimes say about great books in specific disciplines, it is just a joy and wonder and privilege, and somehow instructional and thereby inspirational, to watch a good Christian thinker integrating faith into his or her field, to talk well about their craft or their uniquely Christian practices that shape their own work, whatever it is. This is how I feel about Smith — what a witness it is to see somebody who has studied his field so well and has something insightful and wise, perhaps controversial and maybe even deeply and faithfully Christian to say and says it in a way that others in the field can easily acknowledge it as plausible and good and beautiful, even. By the way, Jamie does this, too, in a plainspoken set of “prescriptions for a healthy sub discipline” in which he makes some proposals for how this field ought to engage in dialogue within its journals and conferences. Fascinating.)

It is fair to say that you may not want to read all of these serious chapters, in order, chapter by chapter. I am skipping around in the second half although the first four after the great introduction kept me busy as I worked on every page and every footnote straight through. Smith, you might know, is fabulous as a footnoter with great little asides and comments. He’ll say stuff like, “which so and so covered supremely in such a such a book” or “as you can see in her sixth chapter of her second book which is the best thing on the subject” etc. etc. So good!

Some of the second half gets really thick although, again, some are drawn from other books or previous journals — he even notes at some point as an aside how said he feels re-working this stuff as Derrida, say, was alive when he had written the chapter about him.  It’s a different time, now.  Still, even with chapters on “Re-Kanting Postmoderns?” and “Determined Violence” in Derrida and “Beyond Epistemology: Derrida and the Limits of the Limits of Knowledge” there is enough even for non-philosophers to appreciate. I loved a chapter called “Determined Hope: A Phenomenology of Christian Expectation”although I’m going to use my “call a friend” option to appreciate “the principle of incarnation in Derrida’s, uh, a big German word I can’t pronounce. Equally dense, but rewarding for some of us, are chapters on “Deconstruction–an Augustinian Science?” (You know the answer!) And the deep but moving “Picturing Revelation: Idolatry and the Aesthetic in Marion and Rosenzweig” which I loved and found oddly stirring, even though I had no idea who the Jewish scholar Rosenzweig was.

The last chapter I had read before in another wonderful volume edited by Smith called The Hermeneutics of Charity — “The Call as Gift: The Subject’s Donation in Marion and Levinas.”  It, too, is an example of Smith’s long-standing reformational vision, taking up an “incarnational phenomenology.” As one of the chapters that is drawn from a book about him, there is, a “Logic of Incarnation.”  Indeed, this is why he calls it “The Nicene Option.” And as Peter Ochs of University of Virginia notes, “Only James K. A. Smith could do it.” 

Please read this accolade about the book and about the gift Smith illustrates in this studious sort of work:

The intellectual labor of translating big ideas–and thereby being accountable to them–involves a special form of rigor and originality. James K. A. Smith is in the middle of a career showing how beautiful, and beautifully impactful, such work can be. This book serves at once as field-notes to that translational work and as another brilliant contribution to it. The conceptual payoff comes in how the book’s own big idea about embodiment demonstrates why good translation matters.  –Jonathan Tran, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Baylor University

A quick final comment: The Nicene Option is dedicated to a delightfully Christian philosophy, Merold Westphal, who has long been an encouragement to Jamie in his work as a Christian scholar and professor. Westphal is largely known as a (Mennonite) Kierkegaard scholar. The tribute is well deserved and quite lovely. 

Reformed Public Theology: A Global Vision for Life in the World Matthew Kaemingk (Baker Academic) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99    DUE DATE: AUGUST 17, 2021

This is, again, one of those books that I wish I could describe in a full-on major review. One gets one’s money’s worth on this as there is so much in this collection and I wish I could describe each of the many chapters. Yes, I’ve already read almost all of them (including, or, at least, the footnotes) because, well, that’s how I roll with this neo-Calvinism of contemporary Kuyperians. I’ve been waiting for decades for a fresh and serious collection like this which knowingly applies the Kuyperian model of the Lordship of Christ over “every square inch” of a good creation gone bad (but which is being transformed and redeemed and restored by the Risen One and His missional people.) A book that shows the breadth and scope of Christ’s redeeming work and our multi-dimensional call to think well about all spheres of life with a vision that isn’t trying to “take over” or win the culture wars but that is pluralistic and cares deeply about justice for the common good.  Yep, all that is shorthand that I often use to allude to the Kuyper tradition of (“in the line of” as the Dutch say) Holland’s early 19th century prime mover who became Prime Minister and is exactly what Kaemingk (himself one of the young rising stars of this movement) has naturally baked into the scholarship of this remarkable collection. There hasn’t been a great big book like this within the reformational tradition for a very long while.

And, happily, it does update the Neo-Calvinistic lingo a bit — not just offering citations from arcane Dutch philosophers (like Dooyeweerd, say) and older Dutch theologians (like Bavinck, say)  — by using the current language of “public” theology. This is really helpful, and there is a good bit in the opening about what is meant by (and, of course, the history of) the phrase “public theology” itself.

Actually, though, Dooyeweerd’s and maybe Kuyper’s strictest followers would cry foul —  conscientious Reformed scholars writing about the aesthetics of fashion (as Robert Covolo does) or work (as Katherine Leary Alsdorf does) or about political activism (as Stephanie Summers does) or how to think about what poetry is and does (as James K.A. Smith does) are not, in fact, theologians or, technically, doing theology, as such. But yet, these scholars are informed by great theology and (my hunch is that they most likely know more bone fide theology than your typical church pastor.) These extraordinary global scholars apply theological ideas and insights to their given field, be it the study of “modern political ideologies” (by Bruce Riley Ashford & Dennis Green channeling David Koyzis) or critical race theory (which Jeff Liou handles adroitly) or the great chapter by Presbyterian Eric O. Jacobsen, “Streets of Shalom: Reformed Reflections on Urban Design.”

Yes, this is theological, but it is “public theology” and in most cases, very public in scope as the chapters examine (and offer Christian insights about) workers rights in China (Agnes Chin) and Japanese aesthetics (Makoto Fujimura) or questions about navigating political pluralism (by way of a great case study in Indonesia by N. Gray Sutanto) and a great piece about engaging pluralism on modern (postmodern?) college campuses by Veritas Forum spokeswoman, the fabulous Bethany Jenkins.

From the study of populism to the ethics of euthanasia to a chapter about the sorts of prayerful piety needed for those in public life (a truly fantastic piece by Jessica Joustra) this work in Reformed Public Theology is vivid, if scholarly, and very much about the issues of the day, concerns and topics about which we should know a bit, at least.

Naturally, there is also rigorous wisdom about the church itself. Editor Matt Kaemingk, you know, did that stunning book called Work and Worship so he is deeply interested in how the local church can shape and motivate congregants for taking up this project of shaping  and living out a coherent, healthy public theology. There are chapters such as a great one by Kyle Bennett on  confession as a practice for civil public discourse; there is a must-read chapter called “A Migrant at the Lord’s Table: A Reformed Theology of Home” by Alberto La Rosa Rojas; the great John Witvliet (of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship) has a much-needed piece called “Public Trauma and Public Prayer: Reformed Reflections on Intercession.” Nico Koopman has one that is equally vital called “Sexism, Racism, and the Practice of Baptism in South Africa: A Reformed and Transformative Perspective.”

If you are like those who buy most religious books — popular devotional literature and even theological work — who may ask, as they did of the famous Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who are those guys?  Indeed, where does this rich legacy of scholarly work with practical application come from?

The answer is, as we have said, for this particular volume, the tradition of Dutch Calvinism that draws on Abraham Kuyper and his founding of the Vrije (Free) University of Amsterdam that, in its heyday, was tasked with “thinking Christian” about all the arts and sciences in order to do Christian scholarship to the glory of God but also for the common good. Kuyper wrote much about a theology of culture and offered many theologically potent themes to help us navigate the currents of modern culture. This is the sort of Reformed tradition in its broad scope and public witness that this book stands within.

But more immediately, the book comes from the work of Richard Mouw, former President of Fuller Theological Seminary. Mouw, as I hope you know, is beautifully shaped by this particular strain of evangelical thought (and he even cites us and describes our bookstore about this very thing in his latest paperback, All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight which I think is swell.)

After Mouw’s retirement from Fuller he undertook a rigorous program of mentoring PhD candidates who wanted to integrate this worldviewish, gracious, public theology and their particular field of interest. Many of these chapters (although not all — Nicholas Wolterstorff was not a student of Mouw’s, just for instance) are delightful adaptations of PhD thesis’s done under Mouw’s supervision. Yes, this book is what they call a festschrift, a collection of essays to honor a mentor or scholarly colleague as he or she retires. I have rarely seen a festschrift so well done, so exciting, so applicable. And, like Mouw and his global interests, many of these contributors are themselves writing about their application of this vision of public theology to their own context in Africa or Asia or South America or Europe. Whether you know Mouw or not (whether you are even Presbyterian or Reformed or not) Reformed Public Theology is a fabulous (multi-ethnic and global) anthology of some of the very best intentional Christian thinking about specific topics within several various spheres of life that has been published in years.

As Mr. Kaemingk says in the excellent foreword, there are many parts of the world that are under-represented here and there are many topics that are not covered. Admittedly. So, all I can say is that we hope many people buy this one showing the editor and publisher that there is a demand for this rigorous public theology and that — please! — there could soon be a part two. For now, though, relish the joy of learning and buy yourself a copy of Reformed Public Theology : A Global Vision for Life in the World. We thank you for caring.

Following the Call: Living the Sermon on the Mount Together edited by Charles E. Moore (Plough Publishing) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40  DUE DATE: SEPTEMBER 7, 2021

Although our Neo-Calvinistic tradition, represented by the above-mentioned book edited by Matthew Kaemingk (Reforming Public Theology, done in honor of Richard Mouw) is global and covers much territory, it is, knowingly, within a certain, specific, theological tributary of the Reformation. Most of the authors of that collection are themselves fairly ecumenical, but this book — another that we are simply overjoyed to tell you about — is the most delightfully curated, fully inter-denominational book we’ve seen in a long time.

Plough, the publisher, is rooted in the radical Anabaptist tradition of the Bruderhof communities (somewhat akin to the Hutterites, who are somewhat 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 Plough is known for.

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. 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. 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, this collection surely wins an award for the broadest wingspan of Christian books 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 and.  

You get the picture. Following the Call includes 52 readings (but well over 100 contributors, often very well paired — Dallas Willard with Jacque Ellul) and includes a great discussion or reflection guide in the back. We hope to host a Facebook live event with the good folks at Plough and do an interview with Charles Moore about this very book. 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. Stay tuned. But in the meantime, order this handsomely made, very sturdy paperback. Maybe get one for a friend, too. It’s a keeper.


Wholehearted Faith Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu (HarperOne) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59    DUE DATE: NOVEMBER 2, 2021

This book is releasing so far into the late fall that we have not had any opportunity to learn anything about it. The title and cover were just announced this week and we had to share it.

It is bittersweet to get to sell it; we know some have shed fresh tears upon learning of this final work of Held Evans. Beth and I had met Rachel a time or two and her tragic, sudden illness and death continues to make us sad. She was an important voice, naming the discontent many feel with overly strict evangelicalism and yet she remained a vibrant and even fierce supporter of creative Bible study, spiritual formation, public theology and reasonable, just, contemporary witness.

This forthcoming book is apparently formed around the manuscript she was working on at the time of her death, finished up and brought to fruition by her (and her husband’s) trusted friend, the good writer and journalist Jeff Chu. I’ve been re-reading his very important and deeply moving Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America in which he travels around the country talking to gay Christians, (mostly evangelical), former evangelicals, former  Christians, those confused by the topic, and even outright haters (like Westboro Baptist.) What a road trip! He’s brave and honest and funny and a good writer; he had joined with Held Evans (and their partner in crime, Sarah Bessey) to create the Evolving Faith conferences and podcast and continues that work even as he was drafted to help finish up Rachel’s last book. (Check that out here if you aren’t aware of their overall project and vision.)

Wholehearted Faith, by the way, is, at its core, the work-in-progress that Rachel had been writing at the time of her passing. There are other previously unpublished pieces, too, and Jeff has woven those together into this collection of essays as well. As the publisher promises:

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.

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us Cole Arthur Riley (Convergent) $26.00                      OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80                DUE DATE FEBRUARY 22, 2022


Oh my, my friends. Oh my. We don’t usually announce books this early — This Here Flesh debuts next winter (2-22-22) — but this is very, very special. I won’t say much about it here, now, as I want to do a more focused discussion of its substance and significance later as the date draws nearer (and once we see the real thing.) But since Random House, the big New York publishing house that owns Convergent has now released the cover and assigned it a bone fide place in their forthcoming 2022 catalogues, we just had to chime in and offer this opportunity for you to be among the first to know about what is going to be a very special book. And to get yourself on the growing waiting list. I wouldn’t wait to pre-order it from us if I were you, as this is going to be huge. Send us your order today!

Please allow us to just say a few quick things with more coming later.

Firstly, Cole Arthur Riley is a young black woman who has worked in various capacities in para-church campus ministry (currently at the very impressive Chesterton House at Cornell University.) We have known her for several years and have long admired her literary zeal (gotta love those lit and writing majors) and her sincere and deep evangelical faith. She is a solid and energetic thinker, an honest young follower of Jesus, and, yes, a woman increasingly finding her way as a black woman of faith in a largely white religious subculture. A black woman who knows that we all need help in finding ways to name who we are, whose we are, and what it means to live with integrity and care in these trying days. She knows something about, as the subtitle of her book puts it, “the stories that shape us.”

As the publisher puts it:

In her stunning debut, the creator of Black Liturgies braids stories from three generations of her family alongside contemplative reflections to discover the necessary rituals that connect us with our belonging, dignity, and liberation.

As Ms Riley herself puts it:

From the womb, we must repeat with regularity that to love ourselves is to survive. I believe that is what my father wanted for me and knew I would so desperately need: a tool for survival, the truth of my dignity named like a mercy new each morning.

Her black family in Pittsburgh taught her well, but so did those in her college circles who read stuff like Reformed Public Theology (see above) that resists dualisms of the so-called secular vs the sacred; that is, she lives an embodied faith, a spirituality of the flesh, faith and life expressed in the not just in the abstract “real world” but in her own body, strong or frail as it may be. In what might be somewhat of a “coming of age” memoir, we will find a tender and forthright friend, a good, good writer who will help us all in our journey, trying to actually live as breathing, feeling, working, loving, human beings.

Again, quoting from the publishers PR —which is quite good! — we realize that this book will boldly explore, “some of the most urgent questions of life and faith: How can spirituality not silence the body, but instead allow it to come alive? How do we honor, lament, and heal from the stories we inherit?”

I have had good conversations with Cole, even about some of this very stuff, and listened to her teach and speak, and have been close with her husband as well. Beth and I admire them both as much as nearly any young adults we know. Gratefully, Cole started doing some creative writing, started up a well crafted and artful Instagram hashtag called “Black Liturgies.” Perhaps influenced by the very notion of the power of litanies and liturgies, healing and transformative rituals (she has read Jamie Smith, after all) her poetic pieces were designed to name her experiences and to call forth new hope. To offer encouragement and candor and blessing. Her Black Liturgies seem to be not quit devotionals, not exactly “to the barricades” calls to protest, not precisely poetry, and much more than inspirational social media memes (although some of the visually striking, reflective lines have been shared widely.)

They have been described as something within that social media space, just enough to be substantive, just allusive enough to cause you to ponder, just blunt enough to make some folks (well, some white folks, anyway) just a little uncomfortable, almost like hip hop prayers. Black Liturgies are unique and important and — yes! — they are increasingly known and shared by thousands of followers. We needn’t spill the beans but let’s just say even some fairly important public figures whose names you might know may be fans. Thanks be to God, Cole is a writer to watch.

Which, naturally, means the very best publishers are eager (as well they should be.) Hallelujah! Our young friend created (she would say with God’s guiding help) a huge Insta platform and has leveraged that into a contract for a major book by a major publisher. Who knows what can come of this?

Convergent/Random House is known in progressive and racial-justice seeking circles and is the publishing outfit who nicely got the excellent I’m Still Here by Austin Channing onto the national best sellers lists (with a nice assist from Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club.) It is the publishing house that did two of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s vivid books (I do hope you’ve read Accidental Saints) and the latest prayer book of Sarah Bessey and Richard Rohr’s last few. Here in the shop we just got in from Convergent The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos, the major new (and quite hefty) volume by conservative Catholic apologist, Sohrab Ahmari. What a blast it is to think a friend and customer of ours is being published on this notable publishing house that has done Henri Nouwen and Madeline L’Engle and Jon Meacham and even an edited collection of Flannery O’Connor’s work! Holy smokes, Cole! 

Just to further illustrate how important it is that This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us is coming out on Convergent, just realize that they are doing this fall the very long-awaited autobiography of Philip Yancey, the new memoir about illness by Ross Douthart and a forthcoming book next year by Kate Bowler. My, my, they’ve even got coming the great Truth’s Table: The Book by the brilliant podcasters Christina Edmondson, Michelle Higgins, and Ekemini Uwan (coming next March), so Ms. Riley is in very, very fine company. Her “indelible work of contemplative storytelling” will join that impressive roster of important writers and invite us to “ponder the site of soul” by examining our capacity to rest, wonder, joy, rage, and repair — to be human, renewed in Christ.

Like the other forthcoming books we are announcing here, you can pre-order Cole Arthur Riley’s at any time and we’ll get you on the list. We are offering This Here Flesh (and everything else mentioned) at our 20% off discounted price but we won’t charge your credit card until we send the books out.  It know it seems a long way off, but we want to let the publisher know that this #blackliturgies book by a fine, young, black writer is in real demand. Send us your order today. It’s going to be fantastic and you will want to own it, for sure. Next year you can say, oh yeah, we learned about her through BookNotes, back in the summer of 2021.


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A NEW DEVOTIONAL by FLEMING RUTLEDGE and other thoughtful new books of Biblical studies – ALL ON SALE 20% OFF

Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

I don’t think I am exaggerating to say that this is surely one of the most anticipated and eagerly awaiting releases of the year. It seems that the broader theologically book buying world is catching up to our steadfast promotion of her work — her first collection of sermons was called The Bible and the New York Times and released in the summer of 1999 and thanks to our faithful sales rep at Eerdmans in that century (Bruce Robinson) we were alerted and duly impressed. We’ve been lugging her books to events ever since and it is delightful to see how particularly those in the evangelical world have taken to her relevant, gospel preaching. As a faithful Episcopalian preacher she has cited Scripture, Barth, her old friend Will Campbell, and all sorts of contemporary books and films as she has brought God’s Word to her urbane New York City parish and to conferences, gatherings and readers all over the world. She is one of the important religious voices of our time. 

Rutledge’s great collections of sermons have long inspired many but her break-out book, as they say, seems oddly to have been her most dense (and thick at almost 700 pages!) and very important, The Cruxificition put her on the religious best sellers list. I’ve raved about her singular Advent sermon collections and she has more than one book of Lenten and Good Friday sermons. I have read countless times many of the many sermons in The Undoing of Death and I even highlighted her Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ at Jubilee last year, knowing it may have been a stretch for young evangelical college students. It is fabulous that a year or two ago Eerdmans reissued her Help Thou My Unbelief sermon collection in a handsome hardback edition.  Fleming told Beth and me once that her favorite book to do, though, was her 2004 release The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in “The Lord of the Rings.”

In any case, she is a thoughtful, eloquent author, elegant in a way that might bring to mind Barbara Brown Taylor (another legendary Episcopalian preacher.) Pastor Rutledge is remarkably generative and thoughtful and creative (and blunt) yet remained bounded and stimulated by a historic, beautiful orthodoxy in a way Dr. Taylor perhaps has not.  It makes sense that many of Fleming Rutledge’s most admiring fans are thoughtful evangelicals.  

As Richard Mouw has written of her book The Crucifixion,

Though I have been thinking much about the cross of Christ for a half-century now, Fleming Rutledge has taught me many new things in this wonderful book. And where she addresses matters that I have long cherished, she has inspired me anew. This book is a gift to all of us who pray for a genuine revival of cruci-centric preaching and cruciform discipleship!

Of the many, many rave endorsements of her tome, I like this from Marilyn McCord Adams, now at Rutgers:

To those who think they want a maximally mellow God who overlooks our faults and accepts us just as we are, Rutledge’s challenge is to ‘get real.’ Twentieth-century atrocities bear witness: there is something drastically wrong with the human condition, which only God can fix. Setting things right calls for crucifixion, not only Christ’s but also ours. Rutledge has given us a very Pauline book, full of information and observations to provoke clergy to preach the cross to their congregations.

And so, we are very happy and even proud to announce that we have a bit early the brand new devotional gleaned from several of her great sermon collections. The title Means of Grace, Rutledge says in a great, new forward, is about the only new thing she contributed. The wonderful Eerdmans employee — in marketing, actually — Laura Bardolph Hubers did the editing, culling and trimming sermons from Eerdmans hefty backlist of Rutledge sermons. And Fleming is very happy with the result of her hard work.

There are a few more than 52 sermons here, the idea that you might read one a week. There are a few extra for Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, etc. They have been trimmed and edited in a way to make them about the same length so they really are ideal for your personal spiritual reading. Importantly, they are arranged in light of the liturgical calendar so is a subtle but helpful introduction to the church year. Kudos!

Ms Hubers lovely introduction about her affection for this material and the author is so nice that I read it all out loud to Beth. We both, then, read Fleming’s fabulously reassuring and grateful testimony that she trusts Eerdmans and Ms Hubers with this demanding project. These two introductory pieces are themselves just fabulous. We do not know — Fleming herself says she does not know — if there will be any more new books from Fleming Rutledge. But for true fans (and for newbies, too) Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions is a perfect volume. We are happy to announce it, as we have all her others, with a warm and hearty endorsement. It is well made and feels just right in the hand — not too big, but solid. We really encourage you to consider getting a few of these — they would make great gifts for friends or pastors or graduates. are not alone in being thrilled to announce this gem of a resource for those wanting serious and Bible-based devotional reading.

Just for fun, enjoy these fabulous endorsements from the back cover:

“Brilliant. . . . Rutledge is not only a gifted theologian and homilist, but a profoundly gifted wordsmith as well, and her luminous prose gives insight on each page. I will be using this book for my own devotions, and I commend Rutledge’s wisdom to the whole church.”  Tish Harrison Warren author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

“Fleming Rutledge is one of the best preachers of our time because of her relentless focus on the boundless grace made available to us in Jesus Christ. With a preacher’s heart, an incisive mind, and a lively theological imagination, she opens that Gospel to us week by week. What a gift.” Alan Jacobs, author of Breaking Bread with the Dead

“I cannot think of a more reliable guide to escort us through the church calendar with weekly devotions than Fleming Rutledge. Her love of holy Scripture and the sacred calendar combined with her half century of preaching expertise make Means of Grace a precious gift.” Brian Zahn, author of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

Means of Grace is exquisite. Fleming Rutledge’s offerings here, curated and edited by Laura Bardolph Hubers, plumb the depth of human experience and eye trifle the Christian imagination. They re-enchant us, turn our gaze toward God, and anchor us in the good, the true, and the beautiful.”  Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up is Down

Fleming Rutledge picks you up, dusts you down, gives you a good talking to — but in a way that leaves you more alive, more excited to be a Christian, more thrilled with God. Her fearless writing communicates to the reader that if you leave the kid gloves aside, you’ll meet the real God — not the one lazy or complacent sermons have shown you before.”   Sam Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross: 20th Anniversary Edition Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00

I want to celebrate this very new release of an expanded anniversary edition of my friend Michael Gorman’s important book. The cover is boring (so let that go) but the book is surely not. One informed reader recently listed about five or six great recent books that have been directly influenced by Mike and his several books on the cruciformity of Pauline theology. I might suggest that no lesser lights than Fleming Rutledge and N.T. Wright are in that number. (In fact, we once got to sell books at an impressive gathering where Gorman responded critically but graciously to the then brand new Cruxificition and Fleming replied, all hosted by the wonderful folks at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore MD.) We are thrilled to see this new edition that includes a notable new foreword by Nijay K, Gupta and a new afterword (27 footnoted pages!) by Dr Gorman himself. 

Rumor has it that Mike is working on a serious pastoral commentary on Romans that will be released in 2022.  I would suggest that as you await that one, you should read or re-read this contemporary classic. 

Michael Gorman is that rare scholar who can write for both the academy and the church. Cruciformity is a gift to both. Gorman offers in readable form a thorough study of how the crucifixion of Jesus remakes Paul’s understanding of God and undergirds his views of what it means to be in Christ. In its exploration of how the apostle experienced God’s love and grace through ‘the strange story of Christ crucified,’ Cruciformity charts a path for how that story might continue to shape daily lives today, in cruciform faith, hope, love, and power.”— Rebekah Eklund author The Beatitudes through the Ages

“Thanks to Michael J. Gorman, ‘cruciform’ has come to describe the architecture of Christian community even more than the architecture of Christian buildings, with the term becoming an essential lens through which we view the apostle Paul’s pastoral theology. Cruciformity is an indispensable resource because Gorman’s careful scholarship and pastoral concern mirror the apostle Paul’s own efforts to illuminate the implications of Jesus’s ignominious public lynching. Bible teachers and students should keep Cruciformity nearby as a handy reference whenever studying Paul’s writings.” — Dennis R. Edwards author Might from the Margins

Commentaries for Christian Formation: Galatians N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99

 I can be brief since I am sure that most of our readers know of the importance of the estimable, delightful, important N.T Wright. We have sold books with and for Tom on several occasions and he was generous enough to come to speak at our backyard a few years back as he preached from his fabulous How God Became King which remains one of my favorite books.

This hefty new hardback is one of the first major commentaries Tom has done. (He wrote the useful Tyndale Commentary on Colossians and has written extensively about Galatians in his must-read The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology which was published by Fortress in the early 1990s! And he did the wonderfully brief overview of each New Testament book in his For Everyone paperback commentary series.  He has written very much on Paul and justification and the Kingdom and so forth; in fact, we have mentioned at BookNotes his significant hardback collection of academic articles called Interpreting Paul: Essays on the Apostle and His Letters. But this — this is a new level of focus with a major volume designed to bring scholarly commentary to the church for the sake of faith formation. (The series is being edited by Stephen Fowl, Jennie Grillo and Robert Wall and there will be more by other authors.) 

Just about any new commentary on Galatians by N.T. Wright would be a near publishing event. That this one is written as it is, with a view to help nurture all of God’s people (not just preachers and Bible scholars) makes it a marvelous important and joyful release. We highly recommend it.

As Wright notes,

A biblical commentary is first and foremost a work of history. But history is a matter of learning not only the tune but also the rhythm and the harmonies. As in all historical work, the sympathetic imagination required for the historian to enter into the mind-set of the original author and hearers is in constant dialogue with the sympathetic imagination required to think into one’s own contemporary situation. The Christian formation that may result from such labor is a matter of God’s Spirit going to work in the minds, hearts, teaching, and learning of the whole people of God.

Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry Timothy G. Gombis (Eerdmans) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

I have noted earlier that Mike Gorman has influenced many young Biblical scholars, pastors and Christian activists. Gombis is apparently one of those and what a fine young scholar he is! We are thrilled to know that he is at Grand Rapid Theological Seminary (where he teaches New Testament.( His previous books have included a commentary on Mark in the “Story of God Commentary” series (Zondervan Academic), one on Ephesians (IVP Academic), and Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark.) To suggest he is an important a rising scholar is an understatement.

This small paperback is very, very important and breaks very significant ground around issues of Paul’s “cruciformity” and his proclamation of the cross. In other words, Paul rejected worldly power-mongering and offers a vision of pastoral work that is about servanthood, vulnerability, weakness, even, “as the key to flourishing community that is able to experience God’s transformation, restoration, and healing.”  This book is pointing us to what his might mean for pastors and churches today.

As Kristen Deede Johnson (of Western Theological Seminary and co-author of The Justice Calling) puts it:

Drawing on years as a scholar of Paul, in this book Tim Gombis translates and applies his scholarship to contemporary pastoral realities, shaped by his own decades of ministry involvement. The result is a goldmine of biblical and practical wisdom. In an age filled with pressures towards image cultivation, platform building, and power hoarding, Gombis offers a powerful biblical corrective: the call to lead is actually a call to cruciform ministry. This is Pauline wisdom the church today urgently needs to hear. I hope this book shapes the pastoral imagination of every current pastor and seminary student.  — Kristen Deede Johnson coauthor of The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance

Or, listen to this great observation by Nijay Gupta:

Most of the books I have read on pastoral leadership suffer from a fatal flaw. They try to ‘use’ Scripture to help pastors ‘succeed.’ But success is often connected to church size, money, power, and popularity. These kinds of books are misguided because they try to squeeze biblical material to fit into a worldly mold. Gombis subverts that approach by demonstrating the cruciform spirit of Paul’s ministry. Power in Weakness blends biblical insight with numerous case studies in real-life ministry today. This is not only one of the best ministry books I have read but an incisive study of Paul’s theology as well.  — Nijay K. Gupta author of Paul and the Language of Faith

The 30-Minute Bible: God’s Story for Everyone Craig Bartholomew & Paige P. Vanoksy (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

I do not have to say much about this, either — it should be commonplace that our understanding of any part of the Bible (see the above scholars and teachers) is informed by the context within the broader unfolding story and plot line of the whole Bible. Catholics may call it “salvation history” and some Reformed folks talk about “the history of redemption” but everyone knows (or should) that the Bible does have a coherent story line and is like a play with several acts. We can’t just dip in any old place and understand it well. We’ve got to know the big picture.

Craig Bartholomew himself has become somewhat famous for helping us see this very thing. For instance, see his splendid, rich overview of the Bible [co-written with Michael Goheen] called The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (published by Baker Academic) and the abridged and simplified version of that called The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama now released in an updated edition by Brazos Press.) These two are among the very best Bible overviews we know, and, believe me, we have a lot of them. But these are the best.

This very new one maintains that covenantal emphasis of the coherent plot line of the big story of Scripture as it unfolds in redemptive history. But it is really brief, even if thoughtfully explained. There is a short chapter on every book of the Bible and the explanations are outstanding. Bartholomew’s co-author, Paige Vanosky, was a driving force behind this. She is a lively woman, known for her passion for this big-picture Bible teaching. The two of them are perfect co-authors and The 30-Minutes Bible is fabulous for it. Also, each chapter is nicely enhanced with a very attractive liturgical-looking black and white woodcuts which illustrates a particular theme or point in that particular book of the Bible done by the very talented artist Brother Martin Erspamer (a Benedictine monk at St. Meinrad Abby in Indiana.)

I have seen a lot of introductions to the Bible and a lot of handbooks that basically explain the point of every book of the Bible. This is the best, hands down. It is brief (although I’d call it the 30-day Bible, not the 30-minute one; it only means to suggest that every introductory lesson is about 30 minutes.) It is interesting, substantive, theologically informed and pleasantly encouraging, helping us take up a Biblically-shaped worldview and social imagination as we live out of this big, redemptive story. Highly recommended! 

Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew About the Bible Michael F. Bird (Zondervan) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Michael F. Bird is a splendid, rising star of reliable, centrist sorts of Biblical teaching. He’s the Academic Dean in theology at Ridley College in Melbourne and has written widely, including lay-oriented stuff and very technical academic work. He co-edited the brand new The Cambridge Companion to the Apostolic Father, for crying out loud!  Maybe one of his most appreciate big volumes is the massive tome (and delightful DVD curriculum) he did with N.T. Wright called The New Testament and Its World. Oh yeah, he’s that guy.

And, so, to have a heavy-duty world class scholar offer his own quick take on key things we should know about the Bible, in an inexpensive, fairly brief paperback, is a great gift and we should listen. Getting this stuff down is so important and while it pokes a bit against both the liberals and the literalists, and has a better vision than either, it really is pretty standard-fare, thoughtful, solid stuff.

Here are his chapter titles, just so you know. This stuff will preach. And if it won’t in your circles, maybe you really need to buy a few of these and pass ’em out.

1.  The Bible Didn’t Fall Out of the Sky

2.  The Bible Is Divinely Given and Humanly Composed

3.  Scripture Is Normative, Not Negotiable

4.  The Bible Is for Our Time, but Not about Our Time

5.  We Should Take the Bible Seriously, but Not Always Literally

6.  The Purpose of Scripture Is Knowledge, Faith, Love, and Hope

7.  Christ Is the Centre of the Christian Bible

A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture in the Emmaus Way Bradley Jersak (Whittaker House) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

Oh my, this is both fascinating, not that complicated (in my humble view) and yet a major release that is going to be debated, I’m sure. I hope you know this important writer. Allow me to try to place him just a bit if you are not aware of his passionate books and his call to recover a more ancient way of understanding God, our faith, and the Bible.

I suppose it would be helpful (although not essential) to know that, strongly driven by Jersak’s commitment to a high Christology and Christ-centeredness, this new book is the third in a series starting with A More Christlike God which was followed by A More Christlike Way; the first was about how best to understand God — if we want to know about God, we must see God the way God really is: namely, in the Person of Jesus Christ who perfectly reveals the Father. The second book in this series was similar: if we want to know what it means to be a Christian, we need a more beautiful way of living that is truly Christ-like. And so, naturally, this new third one follows this same schema: to understand the Bible we must understand it in light of Jesus. In all three cases, this is nothing but good Christian sense and classic, old-school theology. And, yet, as Jersak shows, in all three cases, it is an insight that is nearly revolutionary these days and not at all the way ordinary religious people usually approach these things. To see God as Christ-like, not wrathful; to see our discipleship as a Way and not a mere intellectual assertion of doctrinal claims; to see the Bible as a pointer to Jesus and His redemptive story — all are deeply right truths and (yet oddly) ripe for controversy. 

As you may surmise, Jersak has affinity with a Mennonite or Brethren (often called Anabaptist) view of the loving goodness of God and the obvious nonviolence of Jesus. Naturally, those who follow Christ as Lord, Anabaptists say, will not be conscripted into the world’s wars and power plays but will, overflowing with His love, turn the other cheek and do good to those who are our enemies; the Master said blessed are the peacemakers so they take that call seriously. Similarly, Jersak doesn’t see human violence and arrogance as at all Christlike but, more, he doesn’t just see humble nonviolence as “just” an ethical command, that we are to do (which is true enough) but, more deeply, as an essential theological truth rooted in the very character of God and the redemptive work of the cross. It was Ron Sider in his little 1970s book Christ and Violence who first helped me move from merely an ethic of nonviolence and peacemaking to a deeper spiritual and theological position that asserts our commitment to nonviolence as it is grounded in and reflects the very heart of God and the gospel itself. While we were yet His enemies, Romans says, Jesus died for us. It’s how God is and how the upside-down Kingdom works! Extravagantly offering unmerited grace and healing, redemptive love for enemies is at the very heart of the gospel, at the heart of God, at the heart of the work of the Holy Spirit, at the heart of the Christian faith. 

Jersak, it seems to me, makes this turn, seeing the nonviolent love and mercy of God as a central, core, theological reality about the nature of God and not a simple command to us. Sure, if Jesus commands us to love enemies, we must; it is our duty to our King. But, again, the approach offered here seems more fundamental, essential: our peaceful way in the world is not just a command for those who are fastidious about their ethics, it reveals the core Divine reality, the grace of a merciful God who in the incarnation brings gospel goodness to the world He so loves.

I may be describing here more about my own formulations than describing Jersak’s own writings. And he does write a lot. He has a number of good titles, from a new novel called The Pastor: A Crisis to a very nice kid’s book called Jesus Showed Us, to an academic work called Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem (with a forward by ICS prof Nik Ansell) to an older one on caring for the poor called Kissing Lepers. He co-edited a major academic work on the atonement with central Pennsylvania scholar/teacher Michael Hardin called Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ. That big volume includes pieces by internationally known authors from N.T. Wright to Sharon Baker, from James Alison to Richard Rohr. 

I trust this shows you something of the calibre of this scholar’s thinking and his healthy, even pastoral, ecumenical orientation. He’s curious and interesting and a wide-ranging thinker.  And yet, A More Christlike God: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way isn’t a heady argument but a sweet invitation to a richer, more transformative encounter with the printed page of the Bible and the living Christ who, through His Spirit, draws us into His presence through the various genres of this sacred book.(The “Emmaus” allusion is not incidental but key.) It is a book that is situated somewhere between Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by Tom Wright, Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination and The Bible Tells Me So and How the Bible Actually Works by Pete Enns (who has an instructive introduction offering his five points for Biblical interpretation.) Jersak is working out of that mere Christian vision that C.S. Lewis articulated when he talked about the gospel being a “true myth” and he draws on a lot of reputable sources to do just that. He even has a lovely and intriguing afterward listing books that offered “a spring to my step on the Emmaus way.” Don’t you just love that?

For those who care about these things, he has a few good case studies where he’ll show, for instance, how the KJV and the NIV translate a given text (oh, say, Isaiah 53:10) and how the Septuagint does not have God being pleased by bruising  or crushing His suffering servant. The Greek word the early interpreters of the Hebrew use is katharisai “which the New Testament uses many times for Jesus’s ministry of healing connotations, as when Jesus cleansed the leper in Matthew 8:3.) Jersak makes us aware (and whether you finally agree with his conclusions or not, this is valuable) that even the translations are biased by certain theological assumptions — like that God is violent. This book will rock your world and yet it is wise and always invites us to hear Jesus, the living Word. 

Well. This is an energetic and funny and at times shocking book. We are happy to recommend it. His endorsements are wide-ranging, from Fr. John Behr (who is Orthodox) to Fr. Kenneth Tanner (who is Anglican) to Calvin scholar and author Julie Canlis. Philosopher Baxter Kruger says it is “an extraordinarily fresh yet remarkably ancient” and Canadian singer-songwriter Steve Bell says it “mercifully wrestles the scriptures from the gray, gripping fingers of modernity’s literalists and placed them back in the supple hands of Jesus.” Jersak’s pal Brian Zahnd says of the many recent books on biblical interpretation, A More Christlike Word is “the most thorough and comprehensive. It is a gift!” 

Delivered Out of Empire: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Exodus (Part One) Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

We have been delighted to see so much stuff coming out from Walt in these recent years. Many of the books, though have been topical (a recent small introduction to the prophets, the popular one on Sabbath, one on speaking out, the one about materiality, the ones on Advent and Lent and, of course, the stunning little Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty.) Or they have been collections of previously published pieces, such as an anthology I love, the huge Truth and Hope: Essays for a Perilous Age.) He hasn’t done a full commentary in a while and while this new one isn’t a detailed commentary as such, it does walk us through the key moments of the Book of Exodus. Indeed, that is its structure — each chapter highlights a key text where the action pivots, specific verses and incidents we might miss but when we see what’s happening, it opens up the plot. Delivered… is succinct, readable, inexpensive, and in a way indispensable for those studying this remarkable book of the Older Testament. If you’ve heard Walt, ever, you know these are themes that are close to his heart and that he knows the texts verbatim. He is a master of the material and yet a poet, rigorous about the literary nature of the story and also the theology implicit (or explicit, as the case may be.) He’s a close reader and a wild preacher. He’s got a writing style that is idiosyncratic and unmatched.

Delivered Out of Empire offers ten chapters on ten key moments in the story from Exodus 1 to 15.  (Part Two will be called Delivered Into Covenant: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Exodus  will come out in November 2021 and will pick up the story once Israel passes through the Red Sea.)  Drawing out “pivotal moments” in the text helps us, as the publishers put it, “untangle” the story and, of course, with Brueggemann’s bold voice, shows us how we make sense of what the Exodus might have to say about our own “systems of domination and economic excess.” There are a couple of well articulated (even if not simplistic) questions to ponder and discuss after each chapter. What a book.

By the way, this volume is the first in a series called “Pivotal Moments in the Old Testament” edited by Brueggemann’s old friend Dr. Brent Strawn. As the publishers explain, this series is intended to “help readers see Scripture with new eyes, highlighting short, key texts -“pivotal moments” — that shift our expectations and invite us to turn toward another reality transformed by God’s purposes and action.”

The Ninefold Path of Jesus: Hidden Wisdom of the Beatitudes Mark Scandrette (VP) $16.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

I love the energetic, missional, edgy sort of writing that Scandrette brings. I honest wish we sold more of his books and I am delighted to remind you of him now. This new compact paperback is about “charting a path back to reality.” Yes! 

In a way, this practical (if visionary) call to ponder the actual way of life that is shaped by this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is nothing new for Mark as he as long invited us into a distinctive practice, a Christian way, a faithful presence in the community that is shaped by the triune God and the teachings of Christ. I loved his excellent Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love and his very important book Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most. He and his wife wrote one of the best contemporary missional books on family life from a Kingdom perspective (Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture.) His books have all been honest, refusing, and creative. Creative? Yep! He now is the director of ReImagine: A Center for Integral Christian Practice (which is a little less flamboyant than his previous work in the ”Jesus Dojo.”) As Shane Claiborne puts it, he is an “instigator of holy mischief.” He lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Doctoral program at Fuller.

The Ninefold Path of Jesus just released and we are pleased to recommend Scandrette’s reflection on Jesus’s nine sayings “that move us beyond our first instinct and instead embrace the deeper reality of the Kingdom of God.” Let’s face it — this is radical and important stuff for any of us who may be tempted by “the illusions and false beliefs that keep us chained and imprisoned.”  And this book is going to offer solid Bible study and reflections but push towards application and transformation. You are going to want to process this, believe me!

I want to say two important things about this little book. Firstly, Scandrette tells us that it came out of conversations with two friends in the UK. They were together there after a recent bombing in Europe and one of the friends they noted how many young people are being recruited to terrorist organizations; young post-Christian kids were being “radicalized” to this awful movement.  Danielle noted how the church seems to be failing in offering young idealists much of a vision or compelling story — church participating continues to plummet. Mark replied to her that in the US church folks were mostly cool (if even) about the vivid way BLM activities were drawing people into the struggle for justice after the murder of George Floyd. What can we do to reach disaffected folks and invite them to a better story, a better way? Out of these intense questions they started an audio arts project called the Nine Beats Collective.These postures in the book came out of that very conversation and projects so it is sort of a tract for our times, an invitation to the way of Jesus most designed for seekers or anyone who struggles with faith (or the questions of the way the church supports the status quo.) There is a great video and other good stuff at the Ninefold Path webpages.

Secondly, there are hip drawings inside show the postures “from” and the postures to which Scriptures (in the Beatitudes, at least) call us. That is, there is a pen and ink cartoonish illustration of a person moving from one posture to another. This is very moving, oddly so. Kudos to Leah Sands for that. It makes it a powerful little book and certainly not just a dry exegesis of Biblical text.  I think the academics (above) would approve.

Here is the table of contents:

Introduction: Nine Postures for Life

1. The Way of Trust: Own Your Poverty, Live with Open Hands

2. The Way of Lament: FaceYour Pain, Wait for Comfort

3. The Way of Humility: See Your True Self, Bow to the Dignity of All

4. The Way of Justice: Ache for Change, Step into Action

5. The Way of Compassion: Stop Judging, Look with Love

6. The Way of the Right Motive: Choose Goodness, Show the Real You

7. The Way of Peacemaking: Make Peace, Reach Past Differences

8. The Way of Surrender: Embrace Suffering, Keep Doing Good

9. The Way of Radical Love: Have Hope, Live Fearlessly 

Conclusion: Living the Ninefold Path

Appendix 1: Ninefold Path Prayer and Examen Questions

Appendix 2: Summary of the Ninefold Path

Appendix 3: The Beatitudes and Personality

From Daughters to Disciples: Woman’s Stories from the New Testament Lynn Japinga (WJK) $18.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

From Widows to Warriors: Women’s Stories from the Old Testament Lynn Japinga (WJK) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

There is nearly a cottage industry of books about women in the Bible. For good reason — many are remarkable stories, some inspiring, some gut-wrenchingly awful. What the heck is going on with some of those? Of course, most churches tend not to dwell much on such things. Some churches seem to promote the subjection of women, as if that is what the stories and women of the Bible teach us.  (And so, when some evangelically minded women show otherwise, as in the four books I reviewed at BookNotes a few weeks ago HERE the push back is firm and sometimes ugly.)  In this context books come out that look at women of the Bible and some are pretty sweet — okay, but a bit too inspirational. Some are ideological, driven by an agenda to side with the oppressed, perhaps stridently so. Some are sentimental and sugary, others are academic and dense. We are always on the lookout for books that are fresh and interesting, honest before the Scriptures, and pushing readers to see God’s liberating power in and for women.

Some stories in the Older and Newer Testaments are familiar but some are not. The most useful books, I think, cover some of the old chestnuts, standard stories, and perhaps invite us to notice and pay attention to (perhaps for the first time) lesser known episodes. Mabe the women are not even named. There is much work to be done, but it has to be done well.

I think Lynn Japinga, a preacher ordained in the Reformed Church of America (RCA) and professor at Hope College (in Holland, Michigan), gets all this very right. She has thought hard about all this, having written a book called Preaching the Women of the Old Testament: Who They Were and Why They Matter. Although written for pastors about how to incorporate these female characters into their sermons, there is much for any of us in that major work. She also is a contributor to the useful worship planning resource that follows the Revised Common Lectionary called Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship (also published by WJK.)

Out of that work and care for congregational life, it seems, two other books came. These are designed for ordinary readers and are ideal for adult Sunday school classes, Bible studies, book clubs, or small groups. From Daughters to Disciples: Woman’s Stories from the New Testament is new but in 2020 we saw the release by Japinga of From Widows to Warriors: Women’s Stories from the Old Testament. Both volumes include stories known and beloved and some harder texts to ponder. (The Old Testament one is, understandably, a bit longer, btw.) They both allow us to (as Beth Tanner of New Brunswick Theological Seminary put it) “feel a connection with our ancient sisters; their acts of bravery and dedication remind us that our Christian call is to do the same.” 

I love that the new NT book reminds us that there are faithful forerunners of the gospel story like Anna and Elizabeth and there are female disciples of Jesus (like Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene) and there are first-generation followers in the early church like Lydia and Dorcas. As the publisher puts it “readers will encounter a wealth of fore-mothers in all their messy, yet redeemable, humanity.” And, as Rev. Japinga says, these stories as the Word of the Lord are not moral lessons about good or bad behavior, to be emulated or avoided. They are about God’s work in the redemption story; they are revelatory of good news, even within horrific situations, if we have the eyes to see. She is an experienced preacher and teacher so has a great capacity to help us see.

Two quick comments — a local women’s group from a fairly ordinary country church (of a mainline denominational sort, but culturally fairly conservative) have bought both of these from us and they loved them. The discussion questions that included after each study are good and the actual session guides in the back (which includes some brief opening and closing litanies and prayers.) Both From Widows to Warriors and From Daughters to Disciples have worked well, thoughtful inviting members into a deeper conversation around these texts. We would love to hear if your small group or Bible class finds them useful.

A second small observation. I’m not sure why the designers of the book used the contemporary art pieces they did for the covers. My hunch is that many will really love them (we do) and we know others do not. They are a bit abstract and edgy and sophisticated, like ‘em or not. I can’t say for sure, but it strikes me that maybe they wanted to show that this is not a typically upbeat evangelical Bible study like one might find at LifeWay or some lovely women’s ministry retreat for the ladies. These are gritty and tough (and tender and sensuous) like the real women and their stories studied in the real Bible. I am not saying the are necessarily obscure or intentionally hard-hitting, but that these may be a bit demanding for some who are not familiar with this sort of honest, Biblical, feminist scholarship. The art pieces are, by the way, “Zoe de la Mer” by Marie Hugo and “Black Madonna” by Laura James. 

God Saw That It Was Good: A Safari Through Salvation History Brant Law (Paraclete Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Okay, I have to smile a bit by including this nice little book here with heavyweights like Rutledge, Gorman, Wright and Brueggemann and the others. Brant Law is a high school math teacher and serious animal lover. I suspect he does some Scripture teaching in his Catholic parish (he lives in Alma, Arkansas, with his wife and cats Ana, Bella, and Pom Pom.) He comes across in the very first pages as a heckuva guy, funny in an awe-shucks sort of way, down to Earth and earnest as all get out.

But get this: he not only loves animals, He loves God’s Word and he shows how animals show up all over the Biblical story.  In God Saw That It Was Good Law offers stories and theology, Biblical exploration and spiritual truths. And, to be honest, there is a lot about the legends of saints, many who have pretty remarkable animal stories. (Move over, St. Francis, you aren’t the only one who seems to have been a spiritual Dr. Doolittle.)

 One vet (that is, a veterinarian) says that this fun book offers “biblical and practical wisdom reflecting on animals both symbolically and literally.” That is true. Fr. Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, the author of a book on deeper, contemplative prayer (Amid Passing Things) says that this is “a book about the mystery and wonder of God. It will open the eyes of the readers to God’s presence in new and exciting ways.”

I don’t know if it is new to realize God works in the Bible through animals, but it is stimulating to see chapters on donkeys and snakes and cows and horses and a serious one on the goat.  Some of this is directly Biblical and others are anecdotes or stories from the saints. He looks at pigs and lambs and has a chapter called “Birds of Pray” and another called “The Fish Fries of Men”, not to mention one called “A Sordid Hisstory.” You’ll have to read it for yourself to see what “My Best Friend” is about.  The last chapter is called “Bugging Out.” I bet there is somebody out there who has waited for years for a chapter on bugs in the Bible. Am I right?

Here is how the other nicely puts it:

I hope this book brings you a glimpse of God on the backs, whiskers, scales, and wings of our furry and sometimes not so furry friends. This collection of stories about animals in the Bible, the lives of the saints, and from my own life, is presented no only so that you might learn about these amazing animals, but to appreciate how God uses creation to draw us closer to him and guide us to the life he wants us to live. 



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“Unfettered” by Mandy Smith, “From Burned Out to Beloved” by Bethany Dearborn Hise, “The Voices We Carry” by J.S. Park – ON SALE 20% OFF

Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith Beyond the Baggage of Western Culture. Mandy Smith (Brazos Press) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Unfettered. I keep handling the word, twirling it around and around, wondering what to glean from its meaning. And, as you can see, it’s the title of a very good new book and I am pondering the usage of it by Mandy Smith, an honest, thoughtful, writer.

It seems to me that the word can be describing a one-time thing: one is decisively set free. The chains fall off, a debt forgiven, and joyously, off we go, no longer bound by old bondages, old weights. It is, in that sense, perhaps like salvation and it is no accident that the Apostle Paul uses freedom language in describing the essential truth of the gift God gives in Christ. Freedom.

Of course, it doesn’t take us forty years of hearing the eloquent and powerful writings of Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann – who wrote a very enthusiastic introduction to Unfettered – to know that in the great Biblical narrative those set free, God’s chosen people under the boot heel of the brick-making quotas of Pharaoh, soon enough grumble and want to go back to Egypt. Perhaps you learned that from Brueggemann in books and sermons galore or maybe you learned it from Keith Green’s late ’70s album “So You Want to Go Back to Egypt” but most of us know the story. God even commanded that we keep Sabbath, at least in one of the tellings (Deuteronomy 5:15), so that weekly we recall the ubiquitous immanence of fetters and say no to the seductive, if stupid, siren call to go back to being fettered. Apparently being free isn’t as lovely as it sounds, or as easy.

Which is where this fabulously interesting, incredibly honest, joyously invitational book gets really interesting. From my little paragraph above I might imply that being free is costly and hard. We have to work hard to keep Sabbath, to say no to consumerism and brick quotas, that our freedom is difficult to maintain. I might even imply we have to learn about it and not just receive the gift but somehow maintain it. This is serious work. It’s mature Christian discipleship, a gospel-centered life. It’s adultish.

But, as Mandy explains in prose that is sometimes poetic, sometime exceedingly vulnerable as she shares her soul’s journey, and sometimes dense with theological and philosophical meat, it is, in fact, the work of the child.

Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith Beyond the Baggage of Western Culture is not silly sweet inspirational bromides about how lovely and unjaded children are; not even an study of the serious (and wrongheaded) worldview of the Romantics who think children are the innocent “pipers at the gates of dawn.” And it is not the faddish “inner child” stuff of the recovery movement from a generation ago. No; here Smith is offering a deeply considered, painfully acquired, hard-won and Biblically rooted understanding of child-like ways of being and seeing and knowing that will yield spiritual gifts of freedom. This is a guide to living unfettered, showing that child-like wonder and joy and curiosity and grace can be a way of life. I put the book down at one point – loving it, appreciating her story, savoring her well-chosen footnotes, nodding about her call to childlikeness – and wondered if I was too old for this stuff.

Mandy, though, is not. She is learning. And (forgive me, but I’ve been waiting decades to use this line properly in a book review) I’d say she can sing with the ever-allusive Bob Dylan, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” And she is inviting us into the story of how that happened.

You may know Mandy Smith’s pervious book, which I raved about here at BookNotes years ago, The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Enhance Empower Our Ministry (IVP; $20.00.) I know it wasn’t easy to write but she leaned in to that, as they say nowadays, and wrote about being honest about one’s limitations and constraints, fears and foibles. It’s really, really good, and one both pastors and congregants should read as we think about what we want our pastors to be and do. This brand new one, Unfettered, seems in a way a much deeper look at vulnerability as a virtue. And to do that, a big ask in itself, we have to disentangle the idols and pressures that keep us fearful and unable to do that. We need to grapple with cultural assumptions and values and expectation and pressures in order to be set free from the bad habits of the age. We must, as she puts it, “detox our faith the from habits and mindsets of Western culture.”

In Brueggemann’s nice foreword he notes that much of the book is arranged around the process Pastor Mandy discovered, a cycle of resting, receiving and responding. That she came to some of these ideas while on sabbatical makes sense but she is too earnest a writer to not tell the whole truth. She was on the edge of burn-out, seriously hurting, and longing to go back to her homeland down under. (Yes, she’s Australian, but has worked in parish ministry in a thriving church in Cincinnati. In a sense she writes as an exile and refugee, loving her new home and church and calling in Ohio but increasingly wanting to be with her extended family.) It seemed that her own anguish mirrored the tailspin of Western culture. She suggests that many of us are so steeped in the ways of the culture that when it falters, we do too.

One of the things that is so helpful about Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith… is how Smith walks us into each section with her own stories and offers some gentle guidance for her readers. This is her detoxing recovery journey and it is her gift to us all.

Since some of this is upbeat and charming, even, we could say she takes us by the hand to not just walk us, but to dance us into that particular “R” section, although some of us might not have our dancing shoes on, or we’re dragging our feet. This is part of her story and I was choked up reading the description about her surprising, uninhibited dance — yes, a literal free-form dance — once when she was alone, praying for the sick and broken.

But what is also very good, and will be helpful for many of us who like or need this sort of thing, after each one of these three chapters (resting, receiving, and responding), Ms. Smith adds a diagnostic chapter pointing out the obstacles along the way, things hindering our dance steps.

So, after the chapter called “Rest” there is the chapter “What Gets in the Way of Rest?” Then, after the chapter “Receive,” she offers an insightful chapter called “What Doesn’t Get in the Way of Receiving?” (A bit of a tweak in the flow, there, you’ll notice.) And then, after the chapter “Respond” there is chapter six called “What Keeps us From Responding.”

It is my sense that this is deeper and more profound than other good books that pull us somewhat in the same direction. Part of it is her poetry, her tender stories, her honesty in naming what worked and what didn’t in her way to freedom. Some of it is her cultural critique and the wise discernment about the need to let some typical ways of doing things, often uniquely Western ways, about mastery and rationalism and self confidence and reading the Bible in a certain way (laden with individualism and rationalism, again.) Not so many books on our interior lives talk about the body, about our senses, about being fully human (although some do, and more are realizing the dangerous of an overly spiritualized interior faith that devalues creation, our passions, our humanness.)

One quick example of influences upon Mandy as she tells her story of embracing this liberating sort of faith life. One is that she met, and tells just a bit about, our friend the philosophy prof, Dr. Esther Lightcap Meek. Dr. Meek is recently retired from Geneva College in Western Pennsylvania and is a Fujimura Institute Fellow Scholar, working with artist Makoto Fujimura . She has developed courses and programs, written books and she gives talks around what we might call a truly Biblical epistemology. That is, Meek looks at Biblical notions of the head and the heart, of covenant and wisdom, and asks how we really know something. (And, like the philosopher of science Michael Polanyi or any number of characters who populate the fiction of Wendell Berry, we realize that we can’t really “know” in the abstract; it is always real, embodied, and implicates us in being responsible with the facts at hand. Think of the notion of riding a bike – we don’t learn it by reading a book or studying a video. We have to experience in in our body. There are some very heavy and important implications of this that vex philosophers (and one of her books, Loving to Know: Covenantal Epistemology weighs in at about 550 pages!) but to get her best insights in a simple way, we love her first one, Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People and the one Mandy describes, A Little Manuel for Knowing. As Mandy tells it too briefly, meeting Esther freed her from the constraints of a Western sort of rationalism and opened her to, and reaffirmed theologically her instinct about, a full-bodied, real-world sort of knowing. If this sounds a bit like James K.A. Smith’s Augustinian You Are What You Love you would be right. Jamie and Esther have much in common as philosophers writing out of a Reformed vision of the good and wise life in the secular age and Mandy’s drawing on them on her freedom way is wonderful to see.

To keep any of this from being too abstract, Smith’s book has these sidebars every few pages which she calls a “Field Guide.” These are often pointed questions to consider, good stuff to journal about or discuss together with a trusted friend. This is a real asset making the book even more valuable. (And, believe me, this is a book you very well may want to ponder and process and not merely skim.)

Other scholars have influenced Mandy and she takes seriously – although playfully, since, well, that’s part of the child-likeness she is learning about—the good stuff of Curt Thompson, Wendell Berry, N. T Wright, Simone Weil, C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, and Marva Dawn, among others. Unfettered includes much of the authors personal journey and it helps us with our own faith and formation, even in our interior lives. But Smith doesn’t let it veer off into navel-gazing; she is wonderfully missional (in fact some parts of some chapters were early articles published by the good folks at Missio Alliance.) Like most of the best books, some of it developed in community at her church and in her work within broader missional networks of friends and co-conspirators, seeking a better way.

As Smith explores this way of knowing the world in a manner that she thinks of as child-like-ness, and wants to respond in a way that is attractive to the increasingly secularized and power-mad world, she draws on Keller’s famous article “How to Reach the West Again.” Many of us will appreciate her concern about ecology, justice, race relations, and other important aspects of our hurting society. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Brueggemann she names as “Empire” the worldly configurations of power and might that are nearly “principalities and powers,” to use New Testament language. As Brueggemann puts it in the forward she “names and effectively resists ‘empire,’ a stand-in for the seductions of modernity that view for control, certitude, and predictability.” And then he adds, “It is clear that this mode of life cannot deliver on our hopes for humanness.

The last two chapters were my favorites and I will let you discover their depth and joy yourself. Just know they approach the question of childlikeness more thoroughly. In a way, the whole book was leading up to this. She is bravely honest about what approached serious depression, about an “aching void” and her own feelings of failure. She writes about shame, about trauma, about what spiritual director Janet Hagberg in The Critical Journey calls hitting a wall. Being feed from this to live unfettered in a way that is honest and faithful is the goal, and honoring our own “incompleteness” is part of the process.

Again, here is how Brueggemann succinctly puts it in the foreword:

Smith has seen that in her own life, her previous practice of faith seduced her into certitude and control that denied her the freedom, joy, and grace to which such “imperial” faith often attested. She found that her imagination has been occupied by and limited to the rigidities of orthodoxy that had become the very enemy of that which it advocated.

Ms. Mandy Smith reminds us – at times gently and at times firmly, but never scolding – that our very way of doing the Christian life and our practices (including how we read the Bible, how we pray, the ways in which we formulate theology, the way we tend to share the gospel) need to be shaped themselves by a Kingdom vision. We follow the Way of Jesus in the way of Jesus. That is, just going to church or reading the Bible is no guarantee we are doing those things well or wisely or faithfully. (She thinks this is particularly urgent as we read and interpret the Bible and she gives some examples of more generative, fruitful, coherent, wise, Bible readings.) She mentions this throughout the book, but this line is from near the end and says it well: “It is so tempting to do Kingdom (of God) things in empire way so that even our approach to understanding and explaining the Kingdom has been touched by this inclination. It leaves the good news,” she says, “drained of goodness.”

I hope you consider ordering this new paperback from us because there’s much to like about this book – her child-like faith, adopted haltingly as she learned to shed some of the Western “empire” assumptions about power and might, her memoirish candor, her poems and journal entries that she candidly reveals. For those of us that want redemptive, whole-bodied fresh theology, she brings it. In another way, perhaps, than typical theology tomes but she does bring some serious content.

There are moments in Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith when she sounds like an Orthodox monk, other times like a charismatic anointed with the favor of the Spirit, sometimes like a really fresh, creative Bible teacher. Mostly she sounds like a very honest woman just wanting her faith and her leadership to be honoring to God and authentic, truly Christ-like and full of wonder and gratitude. Like those wild geese she writes about who fly free in concert relying on others and trusting the flow of the wind, Mandy Smith shares the Wind’s lift and the unfettered life of trusting it well.

From Burned Out to Beloved: Soul Care for Wounded Healers Bethany Dearborn Hiser (IVP) $18.00. OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

This is a stunning book in many ways, and I know more than one person who said it was the most important book they’ve read all year. It is fairly new and I’ve been wanting to describe it, knowing it will be a God-send to many. The title is a great indication of what it is about (and the phrase popularized by Henri Nouwen, “wounded healers” is spot on. She is working in that interplay of social work, ministry, burn out, self-care and soul care informed by the deeper contemplative tradition. It isn’t every book that draws on social justice activism and great titles like The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk and Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton.

I know that many of our readers are eager to return to some sort of normalcy after the Covid vaccination rates improve. Some of us are worried that although our rates of those getting the virus are still high and people are still dying, many in our society are celebrating. As we’ve gone through nearly a year and a half of hardship and grief, our work and family stresses have been amplified and our natural capacities of staying emotionally and spiritually healthy have themselves been compromised. Things are hard in this fallen world and it’s been a very, very hard year. Add to this pandemic and quarantining difficulties and stresses, the political and cultural landscape has been (what’s the word?) Awful? Wearying? For some of us, traumatizing? It isn’t just social workers or activists who need this book, it is many of us.

And so, From Burnout to Beloved is an excellently written book, ideal for our times. Whether you are coping with burn out from caring for others or advocating for justice or working hard to keep your church, ministry, organization or workplace flourishing against all odds in these challenging times, you may need this book. Who doesn’t need to be reminded of our belovedness by God in a world that is broken?

I will describe four quick things about this book and why I recommend it so enthusiastically.

First, Bethany Dearborn Hiser is quite a writer. And she’s got a story to tell. Her own work was heroic, and as an intentionally Christian social worker serving marginalized and at-risk folks, it is natural that she would feel the hurt, experience loss and pain, even what some call second hand trauma. She worked with folks stuck in poverty, immigrants, the imprisoned, and others; she saw people chewed up by the layers of social service bureaucracy and the damage done by drug abuse and sexual violence to public policies of incarceration and disregard for the families of immigrants. She has seen up close stuff some of us have only read about on seen on TV shows.

Among other places, she worked with the amazing and deeply spiritual Tierra Nueva, a wholistic Christian community caring for and working with many wounded and oppressed people. They are a supportive and wise community and Spirit-led in beautiful ways, but even there, the work-load was intense and Bethany was – for understandable reasons! – unable to establish for herself the sorts of boundaries and sensible practices of self-care that would allow her work to be sustainable.

There is a chapter called “Co-dependency in the Workplace” which is really insightful. Her own journey of self-discovery about her workaholism and false beliefs about her duties and capacities are remarkable. (I wish she had mentioned Tyler Wiggs-Stevenson’s wise volume The World Is Not Yours to Save which would offer additional help coping with this sort of co-dependency.)

Most of us in high stress positions – medical care givers, pastors, entrepreneurs, social workers, teachers, leaders of all sorts, and those in so many other demanding vocations – know in our heads that we’ve got to take care. Alas, most of us do not or cannot. When Bethany Dearborn Hiser confesses in the first page to being a “social justice workaholic” I knew this was a book for me and for many I know. Merton wrote about it in the 60s, Nouwen did later, and numerous wise guides have warned us – especially those with a caring heart towards the burdens of this world – to not fall into this workaholic space of frenzied crusading for a better world. Many of us need help with this. Bethany was sucked in to this lifestyle of overwork and it almost destroyed her. We’re grateful for her compelling story and her big heart and the lessons learned.

Secondly, besides this author’s wisdom learned the hard way and her vulnerability in sharing her complicated story is how she is so very practical about guiding us toward the plan for recovery. The book includes some soul-work that grapples with questions of our being truly beloved, that we do not have to earn or deserve God’s love and that in Christ we are truly forgiven, restored, made new. She has this theological stuff in her evangelical heart, of course, but needed a deeper journey with spiritual directors and contemplative guides to help learn that more profound understanding in her bones of who she was in Christ and how spiritual practices can help re-shaped our deformed ways.

She has a chapter or two on false beliefs (and shares well-chosen Bible passages that are helpful along the way.) This is good stuff, moving from “shame to self- empathy” and how to explore “trauma-informed soul care.”

I am not always a big fan of the self-helpy interface of psychology and spirituality; I’m occasionally skeptical of what seems, in some books and speakers, to be talk about deeply centered prayer and union with God in Christ through the power of the Spirit (that is, the triune God who is there) but it ends up mostly about being in touch with one’s self. While there is nothing wrong with self-awareness about our interior lives, our fears and foibles, our traumas and shame, (indeed, as this book shows, it is vital) I worry that sometimes this passes for the sort of transformative spirituality that the monks and mystics have commended over their deep experiences of the gospel and the soul’s connection to God. Being aware of our false selves (and our enneagram type) is not necessarily the same as being transformed into Christlikeness with the virtues of sanctification. However, gladly, From Burned Out to Beloved really does invite us to serious interior work that might be called psychological in nature and seamlessly combines that with spiritual practices and the journey into the lived relationship with God. That is, it seems to me that Hiser gets it right, offering Biblically-informed, deeply integrated and solid, helpful, teaching about the crisis of burnout and the hope of the gospel experienced through (among other things) contemplative practices.

Thirdly, Hiser is deeply aware not just of the generic stresses that cause compassion-fatigue and burn-out, she is aware of how this affects those who are working for if advocating for justice, including racial justice. She draws wisely on the important book Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience by Sheila Wise Rowe (that I have commended here at BookNotes when it came out a year or so ago) and is informed by the important psychological scholarship on trauma by Judith Herman and the theological work on the subject by the likes of Serene Jones. There is much being written about trauma these days and her exploration of “secondary trauma” is really, really useful.

A fourth thing I’ll say about this book that Father Greg Boyle calls “an essential roadmap for those who want to be of service” is that it is very practical with sidebars, lists of practices, suggested activities, and helpful bibliographies. She knows the research from academic journals (many from those writing about sustaining healthy careers in the social work field) and she gives us lots of ideas and help along the way. There are self-assessment tools, prayer guides, recommended spiritual practices and prayers, and a number of resources to help you process this heavy material. Even as much of it reads as a memoir, her telling her own story, Hiser has given us a great volume to equip you to (as it says nicely on the back cover) “confess your limitations, embrace your identity as a beloved child of God, and flourish in your call to serve.” Kudos the Ms Hiser and IVP for making this powerful book that much more useful with the extra experiences and resources.

Here is another quick point: the author warns that the hard work of healing and on-going soul care (which is the very thing needed for those struggling with burnout and weariness and overwork) is often dismissed by those who need it most. Ms. Hiser herself thought she was invincible. As one reviewer put it, From Burned Out to Beloved “literally woos us as leaders to slow down, to breath deeply the knowledge that we are the Trinity’s beloved child, and to be transformed.” Indeed, it woos us, invites us, and, at times, cajoles us. And we need it. Some of us are so busy and overworked we think we don’t have time for this stuff. Some, like Hiser, may think it is superficial, a “first world problem” as some of us say. Perhaps you need this book more than you may want to admit.  Please order it from us soon.

Listen to Mark Labberton:

“What Bethany Dearborn Hiser offers here is essential for every pastor, social worker, caregiver, or friend: a gaze into the groaning beauty of being human. Her vision of this mystery is candid, sustained, tender, and hopeful. Holistic life and ministry have seldom been portrayed as more inspiring, or as more daunting. Hiser gives those of us in ministry a clear reminder that human beings reflect the exquisite glory of God’s design as well as our human proclivity to be victims and perpetrators of our own worst instincts. Therein lies the glory and agony of the human journey that every teenager, young adult, client, older parishioner, family, or small group must face. Our individual and collective need for credible hope turns first on God’s gift in Jesus Christ and also on our readiness to live nothing more, but nothing less, than a truly human life–for our sake and our neighbor’s. This is the mission of God’s grace in every ministry setting. I’m grateful that Hiser helps us see why we need this ourselves and how to live it in freedom and joy, more than in exhaustion.”

The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise J. S. Park (Northfield/Moody Press) $14.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

We are on a roll here with this theme of attending to our inner lives and fears and hurts as we bravely walk that “rocky road to Kingdom come.” Alongside fresh – dare I call it somewhat postmodern? – theology about childlike freedom in the great Unfettered book by pastor and writer Mandy Smith and the raw and exceptionally valuable guide From Burned-Out to Beloved by activist Bethany Dearborn Hiser, I want to add for your consideration this recent book by J.S. Park about breaking free to find your own true voice.

Each of these books, and certainly J.S. Park’s, are rooted in the author’s own often painful stories. These are not literary memoirs or tell-all exposes and the authors are certainly not whiners. But they have learned to be honest (against all odds and their own dispositions) in teaching us what they learned the hard way. (Or as in the cool collection of essays by one of my favorite writers, David Giffels from rustbelt Akron, Ohio, maybe “the hard way on purpose.”) Some folks (most of us no doubt, maybe even in Giffels town) may be wired with certain inclinations or cultural habits to not be honest about pain, to not ask for help, to not embarrass oneself or one’s family by admitting limits, anxieties, struggles, or failures. We avoid the painful stuff. It is hard to overcome this impulse to cover up our junk and one has to be willing to do it, on purpose.

Park captures the heavy but somewhat energizing adventure that doing this work can be in the first chapter called “I Didn’t Know How Much I Didn’t Know.” So right!

The Voices We Carry is simply a fantastic read, honest and raw and real and very encouraging to help us cope with various manifestations of the scripts and stories we’ve been given and with good tools for coping with dysfunctions and disorders from pride to self-doubt to co-dependency to control.  Even those of us who may seem to have it somewhat together in public may have internal “issues” and all of us have been given less than helpful scripts. We hear a lot of voices.

J.S. Park has quite a story. He starts the book explaining that he is a hospital chaplain and will be sharing small bits of hard conversations he often has with patients. Facing critical lifestyle changes or even death, they pour out what they think and believe, often about themselves, often regurgitating stories hammered into their hurting hearts, perhaps from their youth. And within pages, I was hooked. (Okay, he had me at the wonderful Frederick Buechner epigram that starts the chapter.)

Joon, as Mr. Park sometimes goes by, learned to listen well, sometimes between the lines as a good therapist might, and realizes that many, many, folks have a jumble of narratives about the meaning of their lives that are often harmful. Some are harrowing and he retells the stories in vivid prose. Not everyone has received the full “blessing” of their parents; most of us carry voices telling us we are not good enough, our fears and expectations haunt us, (etcetera, etcetera.) As many have written in recent years, we are now facing an epidemic of loneliness and of nearly ubiquitous shame (and not some small bit of narcissism, too.) Eventually, Park realizes that he, too, has been shaped by a whole world of voices; he has been forged by what he calls “noise” or the “steady stream of internal and external messages that we gather over time” As he explains, “Some of these deafening voices arise from the events and traumas we experience, the things people tell us, and the things we tell ourselves. The noise of these voices affects our choices, relationships, and estimation of our own worth.”

The stories that patients confide to Chaplain Park – some call him, “chap” for short – are sometimes confessions, sometimes urgent last words. Although he hears some truly memorable (jarring, poignant, wise, and awful) things in these settings, he has experienced this myriad of voices himself; he admits to his own damaging self-talk, to living out of the story others have given him. In The Voices We Carry Park invites us to listen in on his own journey, hearing about his own painful past and his discernment about how to wrestle with and even befriend the voices we carry.

The book is very well written and Park, like most of the authors I appreciate the most, draws on great and sometimes surprising sources. It is always curious to me (and I think a part of the evaluation of the reliability and calibre of a nonfiction work) who an author quotes, who they like to cite, who they have been influenced by.  As with the other two authors in this edition of BookNotes, Park reads widely. In his book you find some professional psychology journal citations next to fascinating Scripture quotes; references to early church fathers and insights from family systems experts Karen Horney and Murray Bowen; you’ll hear notes from Abolition of Man and Simone Weil and Brene Brown and Buber’s I and Thou. There are popular culture references (including Star Trek and the comedian Mitch Hedberg) and, wow, how the man loves novels! From J.D. Salinger to Raymond Chandler to Steinbeck and Donna Tartt (the fabulous novel The Goldfinch) to a hip quote from the short stories of Haruki Murakami, it enlivens the prose. I supposed you may guess that the very title of his book is an homage to the well-known Viet Nam war-era novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Part of Park’s resume includes “teaching pastor” — what a blessing his congregants have in somebody so very fluent in so much good writing.

Park grew up as a second-generation immigrant kid in an impoverished family, told, eventually, that he was conceived in an unwanted “accident” and was nearly aborted. As he puts it in his early teen years, “I walked around like some kind of superimposed hologram, a ghost in debt. I apologized a lot, bowing my head in short little bobs, always sorry about everything.” Middle school and high school years were not easy.  It’s hard navigating life, especially in those difficult years of transitioning towards young adulthood when one thinks most deeply that one is “an interruption in the order of things.”

Another voice emerged due to his severe allergies. Those who have suffered chronic illness or childhood disease or handicapping conditions knows how it can shape, sometimes painfully so, one’s self image and very identity. Joon’s voices include the constant refrain “You are sick and there is something wrong with you.”

And another voice: although his father was a war hero in Viet Nam war (a POW who escaped by killing his captors) as an Asian American in Florida, he and his family were harassed, his dojo desecrated with spray painted swastikas by local skinhead racists. His father reacted calmly to these assaults – 10-minute diatribes on the phone answering machine mocking his Korean accent – but young J.S. took the script to heart: “You are not welcome.” In school he heard and internalized other voices such as “You are not one us.”

And, of course, he is not the only young adult who was told by his father “You must not lose” and from other formative experiences, “You do not have what it takes.”

In The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise Dr. Park helps us understand and evaluate the influence of these sorts of stories and voices and attitudes and perceptions we’ve absorbed. He describes his model and plan in the four sections of the book as exploring “four internal voices” which he names “valuations” and four external voices” which he names as “precipitations.”

Although Park guides us through this with lots of his own story and some upbeat humor and fun writing, it is heavy stuff (although presented with impeccable clarity.) He warns – I think I see a clever smile as he writes – that:

Exploring some of these voices might be an ugly street fight. Some of this will challenging. At some point you might get tempted to think, Oh, I know a guy who does that. I wish that guy could hear this. And I bet this book would be good for that guy. But really, I’m talking to you. I promise I’m also talking to me and that other guy, too. Mainly, though, it’s for you. I’m pulling up a chair, eye-to-eye, face-to-face, and with all the grace and hope and love and anticipation in my being. Together we’ll find a way through these voices to wholeness.

It is rare to find a book so well written, so simple and clear, that is both challenging and yet charming, raw (to invite maybe melancholy self-reflection) and inviting creativity and goodness and freedom. The lovely introduction by visual artist Red Hon Yi says it so well.  Hon Yi tells of meeting Park after a period of personal email correspondence and finds that he is earnest in inviting frank conversations about our inner fears and depression and such, and yet is warm and compassionate and encouraging.

I like very much how the book ends, with three ways these recovered voices can be used for good.

All of the dozen or so chapters are colorful and clear, each with clever, descriptive titles. Here are the last three:

  • Hearing Voices: Unscrambling the Noise Wading Through a Sea of Everyone Else’s Ideas
  • Owning Your Voice(s): What You’re Really About Finding a Voice to Call Your Own
  • Giving a Voice: I Got a Story to Tell Empathy, Compassion, and Presence

A quick little note about the Northfield publishing imprint who released The Voices We Carry. It was wisely started years ago by the conservative, evangelical publisher Moody Press to distinguish books that perhaps have a wider audience than their typical “Christian bookstore” market. Many Northfield books are self-help resources (about attachment disorder in adoption, say, or a new one called The Value of Wrinkles, about why younger generations should value the old.) I think this is a great notion, sharing books that may be explicitly Christian but not all pushy or those that are deeply embedded in the gospel story but not overtly religious-sounding. This book, written by a pastor and chaplain, is overtly Christian and deeply spiritual but, really, non-religious readers shouldn’t be put off by it at all. That Moody Press put it in their Northfield line indicates their hopes that it receives a wider (ecumenical or even secular) readership. The books fluency in the scholarly literature and its savvy about contemporary writers and contemporary issues of cross-cultural hurts and hopes, makes it ideal for these days.

And, yet, also, J. S. Park, with his own painful voices, his listening skills honed in years of empathetic grief counseling, with his work as an interfaith hospital chaplain, with his community care work at Metropolitan Ministries (one of the largest nonprofit charities on the east coast) and with his M. Div from Southeastern Baptist Seminary, well, you know this guy wants to let his light shine. Through the clamor of voices that we all hear, and the ones we must attend to, many readers will be glad that Park eventually says what his model has certainly presumed — that we also get to hear God’s voice. The last several pages are nearly a fresh reminder of the gospel itself; sort of like being unfettered and beloved.  After describing singing in a very small church in the Philippines, and recalling the value of love in the Bible, that he vividly experienced it in that church of joyful if marginalized people, Chaplain Park ends with this:

I hope you know you are seen and heard and loved by that same Spirit.

I hope you choose to be carried by that divine voice, the one who sings over you.

I hope you know that you’re brave enough to join the song.

You are. You really are.


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