25 Books about Christmas for children — 20% off

There are so many great books for adults to give as Christmas presents, I hope to highlight more soon. From Padraig O’Tuama’s remarkable Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World (thanks to all who pre-ordered it) to the deeply thoughtful, new theology volume by Miroslav Volf & Ryan McAnnally-Linz, The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything to the moving story of “One Woman’s Journey into Everyday Antiracism” called Doing Nothing Is No Longer An Option by Jenny Booth Potter (with a great forward by Austin Chaning Brown) to the new, quite handsome hardback by Richard Foster called Learning Humility: A Year of Searching for a Vanishing Virtue to important novels like Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver or The Passenger (and the brand new sequel, Stella Maris) by Cormac McCarthy, you can see we’ve got all sorts of good stuff for all kinds of readers.

As promised, though, here are a good handful of some great books to help mostly younger children enjoy the Christmas season. All are 20% off and we’re shipping them, or most of them, anyway, quite promptly — while supplies last.

Please be sure to scroll to the bottom — you don’t want to miss any of these nifty holiday titles. The easy order form link is at the bottom which takes you to the secure order page at the Hearts & Minds website right here at our shop in south central PA. We’re at your service.

Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver Ned Bustard (IVP Kids) $18.00               OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Not only is this our favorite book about Nicholas, it is so well designed with full color linocuts by the talented (and in demand) Ned Bustard.  The font is attractive, the size of the print is great, the stars are so cool.. This shows the truth behind the legends and how this gift-giver inspires us still today to give so many presents. Highly recommended, especially for families with preschool children or kids up to 7 or so…

Brown Baby Jesus Dorena Williamson, illustrated by Ronique Ellis (Waterbrook) $15.99                     OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

This is a great book on many levels, a creative walk through the Biblical history of redemption,  showing, but not really discussing, the dark skin of the chief characters. As it says on the back, Like Moses, brown baby Jesus would be a deliver. Like Rahab, brown baby Jesus would save and protect God’s people. Like David, brown baby Jesus would rule as a great King This is rich with Scripture and displays “a multicultural weaving of love.” Clear God includes many races and nations in the story that lets up to the Christmas we celebrate each year. This really gets it right. They say this is good for ages 3 to 8. For sure!

You may know the author from her lovely picture book called Crowned with Glory, that follows a young African American girl’s journey to “let go of comparison and find her true beautiful self,” as she rocks her beautiful black hair.

The Christmas Promise Alison Mitchell & Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $16.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

We love the remarkably fun and deeply Biblical “Tales That Tell the Truth” series from this gospel-centered, British publisher, and we happily stock them all. (There are about a dozen of them now, all just tremendous. The newest came out this summer, by Joni Eareckson-Tada, illustrated again with great whimsy and power by Catalina Echeverri, called The Awesome Super Fantastic Forever Party Storybook: A True Story about Heaven, Jesus, and the Best Invitation of All. ) The Christmas Promise has been a staple for us as it highlights the profound theological insight that the Incarnation and Christ’s birth is a part of a story of promise, and God is faithful to the plot of the redemptive story. It’s so good. Who would have thunk it, a baby King?

The Christmas Story: The Bible Version Carine MacKenzie (Christian Focus Publications) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

This is a splendid, clear, delightful, honest re-telling of the famous Christmas narrative — a great bargain in full-color hardcover. Allow me to say just one or two quick things: the cover of this strikes me as needlessly plain — unless these conservative Scots were trying to make a joke with the US movie set in the 1940s US. And the church on the cover is odd since this book is about first century Palestine. The chalk art is colorful and done by a remarkable artist, Natasha Ugliano — her name should be on the cover. So don’t be misled — this is a marvelous work, colorful, if muted, gospel-centered, Biblically faithful. It explains the straight, full story very well.

The Shepherd’s Story Jimmy Dunne, illustrated by Ivan Cravats (Loyola Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This is a fun book and the art, in so many shades of blue, is stunning. I love the dog that trots along beside the boy as he responds to the angel’s call to go find the baby. It is set to the cadence of “The Night Before Christmas” so is lots of fun and easy to read out loud. There’s corny, contemporary phrases (the kid is “psyched” as he goes to “B-town”) bit it mostly is pretty straightforward. I like how the lad sees the love in the family’s eyes, the glory of a real birth, the beauty in a newborn child. Not much about Jesus as Messiah or King or Savior, but it still works as a nice re-telling. The shepherd boy ponders, at the end, “As I walked back that night, I stared up at the stars, and thought about how truly blessed we all are.”

The Animals Speak: A Christmas Legend Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Brittany Baugus (Beaming Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Well, this is a creative and classic way into the Christmas narrative, about which children’s book specialist and author Kathi Appelt says, “In a perfect combination of lilting prose and radiant art, this age-old story feels brand new. Rejoice!”

The story is pared down, the lyrical text spare, retelling the old legend about the animals all speaking at the manger on Christmas Eve. It somehow evokes joy, then and maybe even now. Rejoice, indeed. I wish it had reveal who this Child was that causes such rejoicing. You can ask your child about that, okay?

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story regular edition Sally Lloyd-Jones, paintings by Alison Jay (Zondervan) $17.99                       OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39        Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story – Board Book Edition Sally Lloyd-Jones, paintings by Alison Jay (Zondervan)  $7.99                        OUR SALE PRICE = $6.39               Please be sure to tell us which one you prefer.

I have said often in recent years that this is one of my favorite books for little ones, artful, allusive, great prose with colorful paintings that evoke Americana folk art. The upshot is that all creation gets in on this big redemptive story and all the various animals and all of God’s good creatures join in the long-awaited song. It is a poem of sorts, simple yet profound. I cannot say enough about it — it has grown on me year after year. I sort of hate to say it, but the more expensive regular size hardback is much better, both the color and the striking impact of the images. The small, chunky board book works nicely, too, though. Enjoy and join in “the song of the stars.”  I’m sure you know the great Sally-Lloyd Jones from her many books, especially the best-selling Jesus Storybook Bible and its sequel, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.

Don’t miss the simple, charming, and important Song of the Stars, in the regular picture-book sized edition or the smaller, chunky board book version.

The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas (Voyager Books) $7.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $6.39

I am not alone in declaring this one of the most amazing children’s picture books of the Christmas story we know. First released in the mid-1980s, year after year, folks discover this and are amazed by the vividness, the humor, the humanity.  (And, like clockwork, some complain. Yes, there is a full spread picture of the new, naked, baby Jesus, penis and all. Take it up with God if you don’t like that, since, well, that’s how it is.)

There are other things that are jarring that folks either love or hate. Mary is very pregnant and over the years that has become less bothersome to those who found it a bit too sensual (thank goodness.) The angels have these huge freaking wings, like the dragons on the cover of some graphic fantasy novel or some old Yes album cover. That one of them, a spiky-haired Gabriel, is wearing army boots just seals the deal for those who know the Hebrew meaning of “Lord of Hosts” (which Eugene Peterson in The Message rendered “Lord of the Angel Armies.”) But these army-booted wild angels are wide-eyed and eager to help, even if a bit — as most everybody in the story is — a bit clueless. There is wonder, amazement, and awe among these humble peasants and assorted servants at play in the fields of the Lord.

Apropos of not much, there’s one scene when one of the peasant gang is scolding a sheep for following, shooing it the other way, and it puts its head down like a puppy. It makes me smile every time, realizing that somebody was trying to keep the new baby safe. And then there’s the scene — I missed it at first — of an angel riding a sheep. Ha! The people have a Middle Eastern or South American look, or somehow Semitic, so much so that the New York Times called it “A people’s nativity.”

A Very Noisy Christmas Tim Thornborough, illustrations by Jennifer Davison (The Good Book Company) $4.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $3.99

This is another inexpensive winner from The Good Book Company, a gospel-centered company that provides really attractive books that are clear about gospel truth. We stock all of their children’s books. This one is really inexpensive, has artwork that features non-European-looking characters, whimsical as they are. It is designed to be read out loud, it playfully instructs you (even by the size and shape of the particular font) to whisper some sentences and to really shout out other parts. Fun! Most parents and children will get a kick out of doing this together (probably over and over!) How loud can you shout? How quietly can you whisper? The first Christmas was both quiet and noisy, after all (and the birth of Jesus is worth shouting about!)

After the opening page of instructions on how to read this little book it says, “And if you’re lucky enough to have a grown-up read to you, make sure that they use their loudest, softest, and silliest voices!” Consider yourself warned.

At this price you can get several and pass ‘em out. And then shout about it.

The Christmas Surprise Steph Williams (The Good Book Company) $4.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $3.99

This is even smaller than the above Very Noisy Christmas but has the same fun, fun appeal. This one is even more rowdy as it basically walks through a bunch of scenarios where the skeptical onlookers holler “Whaaaat?” There is so much surprise anticipated that it almost defies belief. And yet, the Christmas promise  — a baby born to be King, born among the rough-shod poor? — is outrageously surprising. This is a really good little book, funny, full of skeptics who come to realize the surprising truth.

At our sale price, only $3.99. Whaaaat?

Sounding Joy Ellie Holcomb illustrated by Laura Ramos (B+H Kids) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

I hope you know Ellie Holcomb, artful Christian singer and very cool and quite popular kids author. (We really liked her previous two, Who Sang the First Song and Don’t Forget to Remember.) This is a rich oversized board book asking, in rhyme, “What does joy sound like? Does it sound like falling snow? Or a kiss on your cheek? There are fun wintertime scenes that warmly lead to the big answer: joy sounds like the song the angels sang “the night Hope was born.”

There is something nostalgic about the mood of the art which many will enjoy. There’s a line about heaven being our home at which anybody who has read NT Wright will cringe (but, hey, we can talk about the new creation explained in the Bible to our little ones, eh?) The big ending is to rejoice. Nice.

Jesus Was A Refugee Andrew McDonough (Sara Grace Publishing) $7.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $6.39

We only have a very few of these simple children’s books (that are imported from Australia.) With a blurb on the back by Max Lucado and Lucy Moore (of Messy Church), this colorful simple, cartoonish rendering invites readers into the sorrow of the Christmas story by exploring Mary, Jospeh and baby Jesus needing to flee to Egypt in order to escape Herod’s merciless attack. Bright colors, classic contemporary animation (not unlike the style of, say, The Beginner’s Bible) with some jarring (if cartoonish) bad guys. There is a small bit of helpful fine print by the author (who has worked with refugees) explaining a bit about this unusual book and the text of Matthew 2 in the CEV. Wow.

Santa’s Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First Christmas Hisako Aoki, illustrated by Ivan Gantschev (Simon & Schuster) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

Years ago we promoted this as a way to enjoy the Santa stuff without compromising the centrality of Christ in the Christmas story. Some families thanked us profusely. I don’t know if this tension continues among God-fearing folk these days but it should. And this is a delightful answer to the quandary.

The short version of the story is that Santa seems to be waylaid and the animals in the forest are beside themselves. What will happen if Santa doesn’t do his thing? Ha! Santa gathers all the creatures around and tells them with his own great jolly authority that Christmas is not, after all, about him. It is about Jesus — even Santa knows that — and he retells a short version of the Biblical narrative. (Of course, Santa does, after all, get to go out on his global gift-giving trip, the reindeer help, and they all retire the next day to the North Pole to remember the greatest gift of all and the true meaning of the holiday.) Hooray. The Bulgarian-German watercolor art is just a touch creative and artfully playful — it’s very well done. Don’t miss it if you have children or grandchildren.

All About… Christmas Alison Mitchell (The Good Book Company) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

We mentioned this in the list of books we sent out for Advent reading, not so much because this was uniquely Advent-oriented but because there is so much here that it can’t be read in a few days. Yes, the very first Christmas is one of the most famous stories in the world. It is, after all, a 2000 year old story and it is celebrated around the world.

This book firstly asks, “How do we know it is true?” And “What are the facts behind it?” In a sense, this is apologetics for kids, maybe a colorful kid’s nonfiction book like, maybe, Keller’s The Hidden Christmas.

Dig into the Christmas story from the Bible books of Matthew and Luke; investigate what life was like in that time and place; discover why we still celebrate this baby King every December.

One reviewer calls it “a wonderfully accessible, fascinatingly fun, all-ages adventure into the biblical experience of Christmas.”  Almost 50 large size, full color pages.

Seek and Find: The First Christmas Sarah Parker, illustrated by Andre Parker (The Good Book Company) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

With over 450 things to find and count, this is nearly an activity book. With a rich hardback cover and super whimsical drawings (yes, with a dark-skinned baby) this book is great fun. The pages are thick, like in a board book, but it is not baby-ish. Pete Nicholas, one of the senior pastor’s of Redeemer Presbyterian (in downtown New York City) says it “holds kids’ attention and teaches them the glorious gospel of that first Christmas.”

Abby Wedgeworth (who wrote the book Held) says,

In a hectic season, this book makes meaningful quality time between parent and child simple and easy. Our family is so grateful.

That Baby in the Manger Anne E. Neuberger, illustrated by Chloe E. Pitkoff (Paraclete Press) $15.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79

This was a good seller for us a couple of years ago so we wanted to name it again. It is a paperback with colorful, somewhat modern art, which makes it a beautiful sight to behold. It is just creative enough to provide allusive nuance to the portrayal but it isn’t odd or disorienting. That is, it is just a great visual treat. The story is more than a treat, it is nothing short of a profound blessing, nearly prophetic in its gentle but potent truth-telling.

Neuberger tells here a true story of a Catholic priest who is talking with the children of his parish — children of non-European descent. As they reflect on the creche scene, the children ask if Jesus really had blue eyes. Lurking just below the surface of The Baby in the Manger is this child-like question that has adult-world ramifications: can people of color relate to a white Jesus? Or, better, can Jesus relate to “all the children of the world” as the Sunday school song promises? This very clever priest, Father Prak, has this situation on his hands and invites the children to bring their own dolls to the nativity scene. Oh my, the glory of what happens and the great love this pen and watercolor artist put into her illustrating it is spectacular. It is fun and sobering, joyful and touching.

Let’s be clear: it gets at issues of racism and true inclusion but it does so with great care and gentle storytelling. Please, please, give this a try. Buy a few and spread the word. No matter what you or your friends look like, no matter who they are, the Christ child is born for them. Do you believe this? Can you proclaim such the wide, wide mercy of God without having this conversation? This book is a tool to help, as the best stories always are. Highly recommended.

Stations of the Nativity Lawrence Boadt, illustrated by Patrick Kelley (Paulist Press) $10.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $8.76

Many have heard of the classic Roman Catholic experience of the “Stations of the Cross” and in recent years many Protestants, too, have adapted it for their own deeply spiritual experiences. Not as many have attempted “Stations of the Nativity” — there are several books and lots of churches (Catholic and Protestant) do something like this. In this delightfully illustrated kids book beginning with the Annunciation, there are fourteen key moment from the Christmas story that are depicted in lush paintings and accompanied by Scripture and reflection. This is simple enough to be appreciated by most children, it is ideal for families who want a devotional pattern during the time of Christmas. There is a liturgical prayer and “lesson” for each art piece. The artist lives in Grand Rapids and has done lots of books for Paulist Press including a popular one on C.S. Lewis.

The Sister Seraphina Mysteries: The Curious Christmas Trail Haley Stewart with illustrations by Betsy Wallin (Pauline Kids) $24.95   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

This is a curious book, indeed; what fun! Thanks to a customer who alerted us to it. It’s a 65 page primary school mystery story, with delightful illustrations. The Catholic nuns and children in the story are dressed, of course, but are portrayed as mice. And the heart of the story is of a beloved Sister Dymphna, gone missing just before the rehearsal for the eagerly anticipated Christmas play.

And here is where it gets even more interesting — you see, it is Christmas Eve and under the floorboards of G. K. Chesterton’s home there are curious clues…

Yes, that G.K, Chesteron, of Father Brown fame, who, by all accounts, loved Christmastime.

There is a page offering directions for making home-made paper snowflakes, a script for a little Nativity play, and a page on “Who was the real G.K. Chesteron?” The author, by the way, has an great adult book called The Grace of Enough and a recent one on Jane Austen.

Tomie dePaola’s Book of Christmas Carols Tomie dePaola (Simon & Schuster) $19.99     OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

In our 40 years of bookselling there is hardly a children’s writer and certainly no illustrator who has left his mark like the great Roman Catholic artist and storyteller (and lover of children) the late, great, Tommy dePaola. We have loved his many books and we are glad that this collection of art inspired by carols, next to the music and lyrics of more than 30 classic carols. What good poetry, what good singing, what good theology — and what wonderful art to enjoy. Very nicely done.

Christina’s Carol: Featuring the Classic Christmas Carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti Tomie dePaola (Simon & Schuster) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Here is what I wrote last year about this, then brand new: It is hard not to get a bit choked up describing this; we have loved selling Tomie DePaola books over our nearly four decades, decades when his popularity was at its height. We have friends that met him, others who have been to retreat centers where he would sometime visit to pray. We have loved his folk tales, his funny ones, his Bible stories. His distinctive style has been much discussed in children’s literature circles and he is as esteemed as are only a handful of our finest writers and illustrators. He was awarded  both the coveted Newberry and Caldecott Awards medals (the Caldecott in 1976 for Strega Nona and the Newberry in 2000 for 26 Fairmount Street.) In 2011 he was given what was then called the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Award” bit which is now known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. We could say more.

This book was what seems to be his last, incorporating previously used pictures from some of his other seasonal books and drawn from some of his last known paintings. While they say this is good for ages 4 – 8 I would say older children might appreciate the interesting, colorful art and many adults, of course, truly love the moody, somber, wintry song with its declaration of love for Christ. The last picture of a heart just gets me.

Here is what Publisher’s Weekly wrote:

Based on the 1872 Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” by poet Rossetti, this illustrated edition combines previously published artwork and unseen art from the late dePaola’s personal collection. The artist’s trademark style brings charm to the classic poem, with photographed three-dimensional dioramas set alongside traditional illustrations rendered in vibrant washes of color. The book offers multiple depictions of characters and scenes; in one memorable spread, the Virgin Mary and Jesus are shown in four different styles surrounded by the text, “But only His mother/ In her maiden bliss// Worshipped the Beloved/ With a kiss.” DePaola fans will rejoice in having this lush, multilayered illustration of a classic hymn for their collection.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings Tomie dePaola (Simon & Schuster) $7.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $6.39

We should extend our children’s joy and our own being shaped by the joyous mysteries of this time by year by somehow celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. Epiphany, of course, is the day the traditional church has celebrated the coming of the wise guys from the East. This is my favorite book on this, what Horn Book called “gorgeous and sumptuous.” There is something deeply prophetic about these scholars (kings?)from distant lands coming to visit Christ and there is something that children truly appreciate in this. A lovely paperback for little ones.

Home by Another Way: A Christmas Story Barbara Brown Taylor, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (Flyaway Books) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

This is one of the great Episcopalian preacher’s famous sermons, telling the story of the flight away from the awful King Herod. The wise men went of course, “home by another way” and Ms Taylor tells the tale nicely. To be read after Christmas, naturally; ideal for Epiphany. The illustrations are realistic and gorgeously done.

God’s Holy Darkness Shared Green & Becky Selznick, illustrated by Nikki Faison (Beaming Books) $17.99    OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

We sold a number of these last month when we highlighted it as a book to ponder over Advent. Here is a re-run of what we said, then: This is one of the most amazing children’s books in many a year, powerful, aesthetically stunning, exceptionally well done. I highly recommend that you find a way to integrate this into your Advent reading with kids of various ages, even though it isn’t directly an obvious Advent book. There is one facing spread that does speak of Advent, so I guess it is an Advent book.

There are two important threads of import in this striking picture book. Firstly, it is (obviously) about darkness. That in itself resonates with themes of Advent, doesn’t it? We really appreciate how artfully it shows this and how vital and captivating this book is, inviting us to “celebrate the beauty of God’s holy darkness.” (Perhaps you recall the wonderfully written memoir exploring this by the exquisite Barbara Brown Taylor called Learning to Walk In the Dark: Because Sometimes God Shows Up at Night; this children’s book is a good companion for that.)

The second theme is wanting to — how do I say this? — redeem the notion of blackness. Too often we hear, or assume subconsciously, that black is bad, that dark times are irredeemably bad, that night and dark are scary and troubling. We needn’t overstate the case but some black friends have said this can be hurtful or confusing, so we need to think this through. God’s Holy Darkness is, in a sense, an anti-racism book.

As it says on the back cover of God’s Holy Darkness:

From the darkness at the beginning of creation to the blackness of the sky on the night when Christ’s birth was announced, this captivating picture book deconstructs anti-Blackness in Christian theology by exploring instances in the story of God’s people when darkness, blackness, and night are beautiful, good, and holy.

We often talk about how Christmas is best understood in the flow of the unfolding drama of the history of redemption. That is, we should frame the Christmas season by the whole story of God as portrayed in the big story of Scripture. (In the book by Daniel Spanjer that I highlighted in a previous BookNotes, Advent is the Story: Seeing the Nativity Throughout Scripture, it shows how to do this.) This exceptionally artful book does just that allusively, simply, walking us through the pages of Scripture. This is redemptive, nearly subversive, Biblical theology for children. What a book!

A Stubborn Sweetness and Other Stories for the Christmas Season Katherine Paterson (WJK) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

We have spoken before of our admiration for the great youth novelist Katherine Paterson — I hope you recall my long, rave review last summer of her memoir Stories of My Life which will surely be one of my favorite books of the year.

Over her illustrious career she has done two paperback collections of holiday-themed stories, and this draws from those two, and adds two new stories. (Those previous books, now out of print, were Angels and Other Strangers and A Midnight Clear, which I know many of our customers dearly loved.)

Here is some of what the publisher says about this anthology:

A Stubborn Sweetness and Other Stories for the Christmas Season is a collection of modern-day short stories by Katherine Paterson, award-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins both loved by children and adults for over twenty years. This compilation includes stories of real-life people such as a shopping mall’s night watchman, a lonely widower, a pregnant teenage runaway, a political prisoner in China, a grieving mother, and a privileged American, who have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas because of loss, pain, greed, or circumstances. Through unexpected and uplifting ways, each is reminded of the first Christmas story and the vision of hope and peace it offers the world. They realize that even in the darkness, the light and song of Christmas can be seen and heard.

This heart-warming gift book, filled with stories of realistic people finding hope, courage, and faith amidst life’s circumstances, radiates the spirit of the season and reminds each of us what Christmas truly means. Originally written to be read during her church’s Christmas Eve service, this collection of holiday stories is perfect for individuals, families, and churches to read and share during the season.

WHILE SUPPLIES LAST – 30% OFF                            IT’S NOT TOO LATE

The Birth of Jesus Advent Calendar: The Light Shines in the Darkness Agostino Traini (Beaming Books) $18.99  OUR EXTRA SALE PRICE = $13.29

We have bunches of different sorts of Advent Calendars, of course, classic one-page (9″ x 12″ or so) with old fashioned art and nifty little doors to open. Many are inexpensive and some are larger and some are small. They come and go each year depending on what we find that’s useful.

But this. This is a larger one with a more sturdy wooden design making it truly reusable, year after year. It is modern,  colorful and fascinating —  like a combo pop-up book and nativity scene, perfect for the whole family to use together. This is designed by the illustrious Italian paper artist, Agostino Traini, who has also done, for instance, the Birth of Jesus: A Christmas Pop-up Book and an array of other lavish, pop-up book creations for Beaming Books (such as an incredible one on the creation story, the Lord’s Prayer, an Easter one, and more.) The Birth of Jesus Advent Calendar is a unique item, though — instead of a “window” to open there is a cut-out figure to punch out of the page which becomes a developing, stand-up nativity scene.

If you order this we’ll send you a link to a free guide to download that has a brief bit of info about each of the 25 characters (including the three wise men that are used the day after Christmas.)

We only have a few of these left this year and we’re selling this at an extra discount. While supplies last.

TO PLACE AN ORDER 

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

It is very helpful if you 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 general guide:

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be slow. For one typical book, usually, it’s about $3.69; 2 lbs would be $4.36.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.50, now, if it fits in a flat rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.20. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well so let us know.

– DON’T FORGET TO LET US KNOW WHAT SHIPPING METHOD YOU PREFER –

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No, Covid is not fully over. Since nobody is reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. And it’s still bad. And with new stuff spreading, many hospitals are really overwhelmed. It’s important to be particularly aware of how risks we take might effect the public good. It is complicated for us, so we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, 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 so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk. Many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, congregants, and family members may need to be protected since more than half of Americans (it seems) have medical reasons to worry about longer hazards from even seemingly mild Covid infections.

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

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Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono – ON SALE NOW (and 21 other books to read about music.)

Don’t forget to scroll down to the very end. You can easily order any of these by using the link at the bottom that takes you to our secure order form page our the Hearts & Minds website. We are grateful for your business.

“Words can’t express,” says the wordy bookseller, who with his less talkative wife staked their livelihood on the power of written words. No, words can’t adequately express the gratitude we feel in reading the many words of encouragement folks shared on our Facebook accounts where we posted the link to the “Hearts & Minds 40th Anniversary” edition of BookNotes. Apparently people enjoyed reading about our 40 years as a bookstore. Lots ”liked” the column and many went to the effort of offering blessings. These days anyone who is a promoter of the printed page will be appreciated by book lovers, but this was really an extraordinary outpouring of support. We are profoundly grateful for each and every customer and friend.

That some said they’d renew their effort to get folks to send some business our way is a life-saver, too. As one person insisted years ago when we pondered closing up shop due to the financial stress, we are in this together. It sure felt that way this week. Thank you.

In that post there was a lot I didn’t say about our 40 years in the book biz and maybe throughout this year I might recall a few stories to give you a greater glimpse of the joys and sorrows these last decades as we tried to buck at least some of the trends in the industry. It has been interesting, trying to steward the insights and passions God has given us, curating a place that we thought would be helpful.

One thing I alluded to in that BookNotes piece was that we have sold a lot of different kinds of music here at the shop — records and cassettes, back in the day, and then CDs. I’m sad that the old sort of record store (like the one I worked in as a high-school kid, The Platter Palace in Hanover, PA, and then in their shop in downtown Gettysburg, PA) is even more rare than old-school bricks and mortar bookstores. Although quite specifically curated, mostly around our own interests and values, we had, without a doubt, the most diverse record department of any Christian bookstore in the country.  From black gospel to ska, Christian metal to neo-folk protesters like Ani DeFranco and Billy Bragg, to remarkably talented bluegrass bands as well as classical and jazz, we had a lot.

Entire books have been written about the best (and worst) of the usually wholesome (and often serious) CCM performers like Amy Grant and Phil Keaggy, Jars of Clay and Switchfoot, and, say, the very cool, edgy bands like the 77s, The Choir, Chagall Guevara, etc. etc. and what for a while what was called “alternative” rock. We met Mark Heard a time or two, shared a stage once with Rich Mullins, and not too long ago hosted the great Michael Card. We had fun selling Celtic stuff, and lots of instrumental recordings — we stocked every album Windham Hill released, for instance, and hated calling it “new age.” We usually followed the Grammy Awards and stocked whatever classical albums were considered the best and similarly with jazz. Remember that minute when Benedictine chant was at the top of the charts? And, after all, shouldn’t every Christian bookstore carry Arvo Part?

There were Christian singer-songwriters who were in the mainstream and we appreciated them the most. Friends like Pierce Pettis and Brooks Williams were in the regular rotation. Mark Heard, naturally. T-Bone Burnett. Over the Rhine. Alice Cooper. (Yes, you read that right.) Sufjan Stevens, Brandi Carlile. We tired of the question “Is Kansas a Christian band?” and ” Why do you carry Earth, Wind, and Fire?” even though Philip Bailey was well known as a follower of Christ. Aretha’s album of hymns? Obviously. Bruce Cockburn was the best example of an outspoken Christian in the serious rock world, as were the Indigo Girls and Johnny Cash, and, at least for a while, Van Morrison. And, of course, U2. Praise Yahweh.

Although I listened mostly to Jackson Browne and Bill Mallonee (first as Vigilantes of Love and then as a brilliant an exceedingly prolific solo artist) I must admit that as I read Bono’s new memoir — Surrender: Forty Songs, One Story — I not only was delightfully brought through these last decades with renewed memories of the soundtracks for our lives but I was reminded just how much music means to me. As a guy in his late 60s I now savor silence more than I used to, but I am still grateful to my earliest friends who helped me grow beyond my passion for Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan. I discovered James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Dan Fogelberg, early Elton John, John Prine and Neil Young and, well, I was off the deep end smitten. Unlike some legalistic evangelicals, I did not burn my albums and was glad, years later, when guys from Grand Funk Railroad or America (not to mention Dylan) got born again. Bono, it seems, is not that different, coming of age in an era of punk with a dad who loved opera, drawn early to charismatic faith and tons of rock and roll, Irish soul, blues. Maybe you, too, will relate to this disaffected kid with anger issues who found meaning in the music, even if you weren’t a fan of Joey Ramone and The Clash.

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story Bono (Knopf) $34.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story is one of the very best books I’ve read all year and it will certainly be in my personal favorites list coming up next month. In a way, it is a book of a lifetime for me. As a fan of U2, as a music-lover, as a uniquely Christian music-lover, this book resonated with me so very, very much. It brought stunning insight and joy; lots of joy. And, man, does Bono know his stuff. He knows so much stuff. Sure, he’s got the swagger, and he (as one reviewer noted, here “embraces his contradictions.”) But he really is smart. This book is an education in the popular culture of the last 40 years.

Let me just say four quick things about Surrender. I could, and surely should, wax more eloquent about it (it’s over 550 pages, after all) but I want to keep this succinct. I want you to know (if you don’t already) whether this book is for you.

(And then, I’ll list briefly 21 other fantastic books about music that we have sold over the years. The great books on this list, too, could be described in much greater detail, but I’ll be brief. Hopefully, just enough to entice you to order one or two, maybe as Christmas gifts. There are a lot of pop music fans out there, so check those out.)

Firstly, the book is not exactly linear and chronological (would you expect it to be?) but it mostly is. And there are song titles for chapter headings; naturally the first chapters are entitled from songs from their earliest recordings. (And the last few are, naturally, from their last albums; the important penultimate chapter is called “The Moment of Surrender” which you know from the No Line on the Horizon album.)

We learn from Mr. Paul Hewson in his own words a lot about his boyhood, the rough and rowdy ways of the religiously-conflicted Northern Ireland during the years of the troubles. With famous songs about “Sunday Bloody Sunday” outspoken pacifist tirades by the socially aware frontman of the social aware band, with nuanced lyrics recalling about how they cut down the few trees in their neighborhood and used them against their enemies (from “Peace on Earth” on All That You Can’t Leave Behind) I would have expected a bit more of the Troubles. Instead we hear about his love of bands, his school experiences, the impact of books he read, like Lord of the Flies, and — a theme throughout the whole book — the sudden death of his mother, Iris, when he was a young teen. So many of the lyrics of his long career, we come to find out, are veiled (or not so veiled) references to his mother and father. (As he sings in “Iris (Hold Me Close)” on Songs of Experience, “The ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am…”)

He’s a hurting punk and wanted to be a punk rocker, and man, I grew to love him more, learning a bit, in impressionistic style, about his youth and his longing for a more stable family.

He met his best friend, Ali, in his teen years in Dublin, Ali who became a girlfriend, who became his wife, early on. Again, this bit of his past is exceedingly important to him, enduring for him. My hunch is that many celebrities and certainly many rock stars are less connected to their youth, their past, their families. Or at least they think it isn’t cool to share that sort of sentimental family stuff. I loved that Bono has such affection for his dad (even if there was a lot of brokenness) and it was fun learning about Ali. It was fun learning about how he met the other three guys in the band and the importance of their friendships. His loyalty to these men is remarkable and in a way Surrender is a memoir of the trusting loyalty of these friendships.

I am a serious fan of the music, a real fan of Bono’s political action, and have admired his sly art as it transfigured and changed over the years. I really enjoy all of the albums and admire them all. (As we suspected, by the way, the changes were often very intentional; the Zoo-TV era antics of the Fly and the sensory overload of the shows were almost fully satire, some of it literally informed by C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, messing with the devil, their dangerously materialistic lifestyles mostly an embodied prophetic experiment.) So I know their work. But I have not read fan bios and knew very little about Bono’s family life. Maybe other fans knew about Ali and his children, but I think this is the most forthcoming he has been about them. There are beautiful pages, lovely episodes shared with many passages about the hard conflicts and honest struggles. Bono knows he has a very good woman by his side and he knows if he isn’t careful (as one of the most famous rock stars in the world) he could blow it. He almost did. But, man, his candor and poetic insight was some of the most romantic stuff I have read, ever. My hat is off and my heart is warmed.

Secondly, did I mention the music? I could quote pages and pages about this (and have sticky notes throughout the book in case I want to do a serious study.) He goes on tangents — not really tangents, just colorful side-journeys, into his friendships with other artists. From punk guys to Frank Sinatra, soul singers to new wave artists, from Prince to black gospel choirs, he tells endearing and sometimes heartbreaking tales of the many people he admires and loves. It is very obvious — he never speaks badly of anyone (except himself) and even when talking honestly about the horrors of drug or alcohol abuse (even Adam’s) he is not judgmental or mean-spirited. His generosity is lovely and his Irish storytelling — often of drinking late at night — is captivating. As a celebrity he knows he has been given quite remarkable opportunities, but he is also a gregarious bridge-builder and he knows more artists, working in different genres, than you could image.

He has encouraged many rising artists to apply their craft to anti-poverty and other justice measures; he tells of fashion designers, models, film-makers, poets, novelists, painters, dancers. Wow. Not bad from a kid from the Northside.

His story of how Pavarotti got him involved in relief work in Sarajevo is, by the way, hilarious. Annoying as it was, he applauded Pavarotti’s tenacity in pursuing him. “Miss Sarajevo” (from the pseudonymical “Passengers” album) remains one of Bono’s favorite pieces of his career. His moving reflections on Sinatra were powerful; his tribute to Michael Hutchence (of INXS) and his suicide was very tender.

Do you recall when a hard rock band was playing in Paris (in 2015) and a mass shooting killed dozens of audience members? U2 were doing a series of stadium shows also in Paris that week and their show was shut down — it wasn’t the only time Bono had experience a mass shooting, by the way. When they rescheduled the cancelled show they brought the smaller bar band — Eagles of Death Metal — onto their stage so they could finish their show that was so horrifically interrupted. These small stories of bands and stages and colleagues in the music biz were a blast to read and often inspiring.

And the recordings! I have read lots of books about rock music. Serious music lovers who read this sort of stuff may know know Greil Marcus’s magisterial work Mystery Train: Images of American in Rock ’n Roll Music or his book on Dylan and the Band’s “Basement Tapes” sessions (Old, Weird America.) And there are some really cool books on the details of certain recording sessions; I’ve read a few on the details of making of Abbey Road, for instance. Bono doesn’t give us that much of that sonic and technical detail, but there is plenty for even the most geeky fans of recording studios. Not to mention the small revelations of the band’s work with lighting artists and staging designers creating what have been some of the most outlandish, brilliant, and expensive stage shows in the rock touring world. This is all so interesting but it never turns self-indulgent, naming the obscure brands of tubes or speakers or the sorts of electronics in the amps. (Although it might be said that it is self-indulgent in a different way as he talks much about the personal stuff going on in the midst of these urgent sessions, squeezing in so much global activist between tours and recordings, struggles with his voice, and the constant guidance of producers like Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.)

I love hearing bits about so many songs — his reflections nearer the end about writing songs about friendship (“Bad” for instance) or linking the famous “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or how one song was co-written by Salman Rushdie. I was glad to hear about them holding their ground on changing the plans for a nice, spared-down, acoustic rendition of “Ordinary Love” (from the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Movie) for a live, Oscar show performance.

So there’s family stuff, friendships, relationships, old ones and new ones. There’s music, U2s and Bono’s numerous friendships with so many other rock artists. There’s great stuff on performing, on singing, or writing, or recording. If you like rock music (and especially if you like U2) this book is going to be a true joy.

Thirdly — and this is huge —there is a whole lot on politics. I found these portions hard to put down and as one who has engaged in a tiny, tiny bit of lobbying and protesting and building civic coalitions, I found this insider’s look to be a blast. Early on, Bono learned (from a story about Dr. King told to him by Harry Belefonte) to build bridges even with those one might not want to work with. There were times when Bono was deeply lobbying the Bush administration — with the Jubilee campaign to cancel the third world debt, with ONE and then with his DATA and (RED) to fund life-saving drugs against AIDS in Africa — and was becoming friends with those who others on his team (and in his band) found unsavory. Bush was bombing Iraq, of course, torturing Muslims in off-the-grid black sites, and cutting budgets for the poor in the US. Yet, as he endured, learning from all sides, he came to be convinced of some of the value of conservative economic theory and in his famous office visits to right-winger Jesse Helms even found a friendly prayer partner. I was on the edge of my seat as Bono had to make some decisions regarding the leader of the free world and consequential choices about aid and trade, war and peace. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, friends like the late Mike Gerson are named. What a thrill, knowing how it finally turned out.

From his meetings with Nelson Mandela (and other lesser known African leaders) to his off-the-record opening of his home to Mikhail Gorbachev (despite Ali’s outspoken work with anti-nuclear power activists resisting Russian malfeasance at Chernobyl) to his palling around with (and fallings asleep at) the Obama’s, it is very entertaining, although none of it feels like name-dropping. To listen in on one with such amazing global connections who was actually nervous about it all — imposter syndrome, don’t ya know — and his bits of candor about, say, fretting about what to wear when one is a rock star visiting the Oval Office, made for a great read. If you care at all about how the world works and how change happens, if you’ve donated money to ONE or (RED) or other similar anti-poverty groups, listening to Bono will be as inspiring as listening to the likes of Gary Haugen or Melinda Gates.  He knows a lot about the facts of economic development and global politics and he weaves it into magical stories, often with stories of his on-the-ground, real-life volunteerism in poor villages. You’ll learn a lot.

Fourthly. I sort of hate to mention this final element as a discreet point since it is interwoven so naturally throughout the book, but it should be noted that Bono’s Christian faith — unorthodox and uneasy as it may seem to some — is central to the whole story. It is not just cited a little, it is not just mentioned briefly. There are Bible allusions and explications, basic theology, Christian authors mentioned, and spiritual realities talked about in significant ways during every portion of his life, so throughout the 40 chapters. (And you know, of course, that one of their most famous songs (”40”) is a nearly verbatim rendition of Psalm 40. Fans used to leave the stadium singing over and over “How long…”)

There is even a moving telling of the family’s deeply affecting religious tour of the Holy Land, which, for a glitzy rock star seems such a conventional, churchy practice. This is from the guy who says he “has never left Jesus out of the most banal or profane actions of my life.”

Most know how Bono’s father was a not terribly active Catholic and his mother was a good Protestant and how three of the band members came to a lively faith in a charismatic, Jesus-movement sort of evangelical ministry in their young adult years.They remained in touch with some of that crowd even after their faith moved to more ecumenical and liberationist ways and Bono continues to be haunted by that robust sense of the Spirit and that strong teaching of Biblical truth. For many of us, his casual, humorous, but serious-minded love/hate relationship with the church, is an inspiration. His honest lament and plea, of the sort found in “Wake Up Dead Man”, (from 1997’s Pop) means more than any number of happy-clappy CCM ditties. Through his fame and tenacity and righteous commitments Bono has had contact with world-class Christian leaders, from Desmond Tutu to Eugene Peterson to a hilarious episode that he writes about with Pope John Paul II. When he is visiting dignitaries he mentions that he sometimes gives away books— often a volume of Yeats or other Irish poetry. But I happen to know he’s given away his share of The Message, too. I admit to getting teary-eyed when I read his brief acknowledgment of Eugene Peterson.

Relationships, music, politics, faith. Stories galore, goodness and failure, temptation and joy, meaning and vision, art and wealth, compromise, justice, romance, sex, life and death. There is so much in this marvelous, stimulating book.

One final word: Surrender is creatively and colorfully written. Bono can really write; it is whimsical, a bit stream-of-consciousness, and, man, can he turn a phrase. There are witty lines on every page, brilliant sentences, wondrous prose. His clever honesty has him say things like about his ego being “far taller than my self-esteem.” Ha.

As the flyleaf of this well designed volume puts it,

A remarkable book by a combative artist, who finds he’s at his best when he learns how to surrender.

Episodic and irreverent, introspective and illuminating, Surrender is Bono’s life story, organized — but not too tidily — around forty U2 songs.

Scroll to the end of BookNotes to get to the ORDER link.

 

21 OTHER BOOKS TO READ ABOUT MUSIC – ALL 20% OFF

It Was Good: Making Music To the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is one of my all time favorite books, a diverse and splendid collection of pieces or various aspects of understanding, making, enjoying, and promoting music. 30 chapters from folks as diverse as Nashville singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken and Grammy winning jazzman John Patitucci and hipster Vito Aiuto; from Shai Linne to Keith Getty to Ruth Naomi Floyd to William Edgar, this is a great book.

Visit our archived BookNotes from a decade ago to see my long review of this wonderful resource, HERE.

Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination Brian J. Walsh (Brazos Press) $22.00  OUR SALE PRICE – $17.60

I cannot say what an honor it is to have a blurb on the back of this serious Biblically-informed study of Cockburn’s lyrics and the social imagination it alludes to. A brilliant analysis, a book to savor and ponder. This is how to do uniquely Christian criticism for the common good. I hope you know Walsh’s many books (most recently, Romans Disarmed, co-written with his wife, Sylvia Keesmaat, an exceptionally poetic and respected Biblical scholar.) And, yes, this line is from the Cockburn song (“Lovers in a Dangerous Time”) that Bono himself wrote about discovering in his classic song on Rattle and Hum, “God Part II”. You know what, though? Even if you don’t care for U2 and don’t know much about Cockburn, this is a great study for Christians in the arts, for those wanting to learn how to do a close reading of contemporary lyrics, of one guys illuminating study of one artist’s creative formation of a social imagination. It’s a great, great book, despite the rare picture of Bruce with a rather rare haircut.

I did a two part BookNotes exploration of this book when it came out, so you can check that out if your interested. Start HERE.

Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year Steve Turner (Ecco) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I have written often about my friend Steve Turner (whose Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts is a must-read for anyone wanting a helpful Christian framework for thinking about the popular arts, and whose Pop Cultured: Thinking Christianly about Style, Media and Entertainment is absolutely essential for thinking about film, TV, fashion, comedy, video games, advertising, photography, celebrity, and such.)

This grand book is one of several on the Beatles written by this this esteemed rock critic (Turner really is one of the top five or six rock critics in the world, who has met and most likely interviewed almost every important rock star of the last 50 or more years.) Here he makes the case that 1966 was the crucial year, as Barry Miles, biographer of Paul McCartney, put it, “in the Beatles amazing journey from being the Fab Four to becoming the princes of psychedelia.” Who knew that so much happened in so short a time?  Turner is truly one of the most prominent music journalists and rock critics and he knows as much about the Beatle’s as anyone writing today. This is a great read, lots of fun about the entire British pop culture scene and about the lads from Liverpool.

Reading Beatles ’66, I’m right there — and where else would you want to be if you love music?”  Bono

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs Sarah Smarsh (Scribner) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

This was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and one of Time’s “must read books of 2020.” I agree, and raved about it in BookNotes back when it was still in hardcover. You may know Sarah Smarsh, a journalist who has reported from and about the hardships of rural life, mostly in the Midwest, and whose first book, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, was nothing short of brilliant. We of course still stock it.

She Come By It Natural started out as a four-part long-form essay in the Americana/roots journal No Depression and was expanded her into a book, “anointing Parton as a badly needed beacon: in a divided country, she remains that rare someone who everyone can love”  Yet, as a blue-collar, Midwest feminist, Smarsh shares much about gender, class, and culture through Dolly’s trailblazing life and songs.  You learn about Dolly, her hard-scrapple life in Appalachia, her music, and how Smarsh’s own people drew courage and joy from it all.  I loved this book.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock Gregory Alan Thornbury (Convergent) $26.00         OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

I could go one and on (and I did in a BookNotes review a few years ago when this book was brand new) just describing how many great writers, thinkers, artists, and theologians have raved about this book. Yes, from scholar Charles Marsh to activist David Dark to artist Dan Haseline (of Jars of Clay) who calls it “required reading” so many have shared their joy and appreciation. There are curious blurbs on the back from various sorts, including Black Francis (lead singer of The Pixies) and singer-songwriter Alison Moore, who affirms the book’s “delicious detail.”

Larry Norman was obviously very, very important as an artists of the Jesus Movement and influential and the way he did and did not reflect the ways of CCM. I believe it is vital to understand. It is the definitive book on Larry Norman and his era and we very highly recommend it. Kudos to Gregory Thornbury, a rebellious evangelical thinker and wild-child not unlike Larry himself. Kudos.

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

We have raved in these pages about many of the books by Dr. William Edgar, a professor of cultural apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. Many know that Bill —then a sharp, young Harvard kid — found evangelical faith while visiting Francis Schaeffer in the early 1970s. (His book on Schaeffer, Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality, tells some of that story and is excellent.)

In this recent work Edgar shares so much about the gospel roots of jazz, the Christian theological underpinnings of much black music, and the way in which jazz can express so much about life, even the uniquely Christian life. (He has written a magnum opus on culture-making, released a few years ago, Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture.) In this one, he really shines, sharing insights he has been developing for decades, even as he as performed live pieces on solo piano and with jazz bands for years. There are blurbs here by important, theological voices (like Charlie Peacock, Calvin Seerveld, and Jeremy Begbie) but the short foreword by Carl Ellis and Karen Ellis, thoughtful black leaders in the PCA church, is itself nearly worth the price of the book.

As Bill says, this book is a labor of love. We highly recommend it, especially if you want to know more about Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Jon Coltrane, Ellas Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. 

Citizen Cash: The Political Life and Times of Johnny Cash Michael Stewart Foley (Basic Books) $32.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60

Wow. For starters I might mention that in a chapter in Surrender, Bono says much about his affection for Johnny and June. (And says that Cash’s dinner grace was the most beautiful such prayer he’s ever heard.) If you are a U2 fan, you should care about Johnny Cash.

I suppose I should say that the authorized biography of Johnny Cash is by the aforementioned Steve Turner, The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend; if you know anyone who is a fan, it is a must; now in paperback.

But this new one by Michael Stewart Foley? Oh my —what a book! It is what documentary filmmaker Ken Burns calls “an important reassessment of one of American music’s greatest performers.” This remarkable book is about Johnny and his times; it is about his “deep reserves of empathy and insight” which made him an artist for his times. And ours, eh?

Beth Bailey says that “Foley beautifully combines historical biography with his knowledge of Cash’s music and its context. This is a masterful work.”

The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology Daniel White Hodge (IVP) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

There are several good books offering a distinctively Christian approach to hip hop and rap, and, for my money, this is the best. Prof. Daniel Hodge has written a lot (and edited The Journal of Hip Hop Studies.) We’ve got several of his (see his stunning Homeland Insecurity: A Hip Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context that I cautiously raved about here when it first came out) and by other authors, as well. The Soul of Hip Hop remains the very best starter book — a gem. And don’t miss the chapter on Tupac.

For what it is worth, if one wants to look at the much-discussed work of rapper Kendrick Lamar (who has won 13 Grammys) see the searing cultural biography, The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America by Marcus J. Moore (Atria Press; $17.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60.) Also, we have a fabulously cool and very creative coffee table book with art entitled Promise That You Will Sing About Me: The Power and Poetry of Kendrick Lamar by Miles Marshall Lewis (St. Martin’s Press; $29.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99.) Both are important, I’d say.

The Day Alternative Music Died: Dylan, Zeppelin, Punk, Glam, Alt, Majors, Indies, and the Struggle Between Art and Money for the Soul of Rock Adam Caress (New Troy Books) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

Oh my — this. This is a book I’ve adored, promoted, highlighted, and exclaimed about, not only because it is so enjoyable (for rock music fans) but because it is so important, a massive case study of a major question for anyone thinking well about the arts — namely, the interface of art and business, creativity and making a living. Or, as the author put it, “the blatant commercialization and homogenization of alternative music” in the 1990s. As Adam shows with such great and enjoyable detail, there has always been a ping-ponging across the abyss as “rock music’s pendulum has been swinging back and forth between artistic and commercial aspirations.” He starts the story with a fabulous bit of insight into the rise of critical rock journalism inspired, he claims, by the early work of Bob Dylan. He gets to Nirvana, of course, but has to draw some good background.

This is the complex story of those tensions “grafting the untold and vital story of the rise and fall of the alternative music scene of the 1980s and 90s into a larger rock music narrative that spans half a century, shedding light on a number of crucial developments in rock and popular music.”

Go to our website to find my 2015 review of this if you want more details. I discussed it with great passion and and detail.

Adam Caress has worked in the music industry as a performer, recording artist, even a booking agent. He has been employed at Montreat College, a Christian college in Montreat, NC and now teaches at Middle Tennessee State University. This is a great read, highly recommended.

Voices: How a Great Singer Can Change Your Life Nick Coleman (Counterpoint) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80

When Roddy Doyle (of The Commitments) says a book is “exciting” you know it must be. Whew.

Each chapter in this amazing work explores various singers that the author (himself a music critic) enjoys. That he is moved by and finds, even, transformational. Or what we used to call “mind-blowing.”

From the early rock and rollers like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Elvis, he moves to the girl groups (The Ronettes, The Marvelettes, and the Shangri-La’s.)  His chapter on vulnerable singers looks at Marvin Gaye and Roy Robinson. I adored his chapter (the first I read, actually) on Joni Mitchell called “An Urge for Going” (which also looked at Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Rickie Lee Jones, and Steely Dan.) You’ve got to read his “Class Acts” which, while looking at everybody from The Kinks and Bowie, mostly focus on Lennon and Jagger.

You get the picture — this good work is a study about “hearing voices.” What book has a great chapter on soul and then looks at crooners as diverse as Sinatra and Kate Bush and Luther Vandross (and Iggy Pop, believe it or not!)

The chapter “Psalms and Raptures’ explores Van Morrison, Burning Spear, and more (with a bit on Bob Dylan) and the “spectacle of anguish” looks at Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday, and Amy Winehouse and more. His groupings of singers is fascinating and I learned (and came to appreciate) a lot. You will, too.

Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music Mark Beuving (Zondervan) $16.99                                  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I was going to list this one first as it nicely sets the stage for so much of what seems behind all of these suggestions, at least for many BookNotes readers. That is, it’s no secret that some Christians (many of us, maybe) are somewhat ambivalent about so-called secular popular music. (Not to mention our concerns about music in the church.) This nice, Biblically-based book offers what is said to be a “wise and winsome approach.” Resonate invites us to recapture the wonder and value of this legitimate aspect of living in God’s good creation.

I might be a bit more illuminated by themes of “common grace” and want to affirm more about seemingly secular music, but this author isn’t bad on that. He is sure that pop music is often an “unappreciated gift” and here he gives a careful, Christian apologetic to rock on.  Nicely done.

Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music Jeremy S. Begbie (Baker Academic) $35.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00

This is major book in the esteemed “Culture Matters” series and is the creme de le creme when it comes to thoughtfully written, deeply foundational books on the meaning of music. Begbie, influenced as a young classical music conductor and composer by Calvin Seerveld, has gone on to become the premier theological writer about aesthetics and, more generally,  about Christian views of the arts. We have most of his weighty works (and know another one called Abundantly More: The Theological Promise of the Arts in a Reductionist World is coming in 2023.)

Resounding Truth, on music, is the best book of its kind. A must for music majors, classical music aficionados, and anyone wanting a deep rumination on the way music matters in God’s good world. I love the play on words, resounding Truth or Re-sounding truth.

We Get To Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2 Greg Garett (WJK) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00

There are several Christian reflections on the life and work and lyrics of U2 and this is doubtlessly one of the best. Garrett is an English prof at Baylor, a film critic and novelist. This book has been called “smart, sincere, and serious.”

The book is arranged in three major sections — Belief, Communion, and Justice. And there is a nifty conclusion, “Ten Spiritual Lessons from U2” followed by some good remarks on No Line on the Horizon. Very nicely done.  By the way, for an excellent early exploration see the lovely classic by Irishman Steve Stockman, Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2.

Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog edited by Raewynne Whiteley & Beth Maynard (Cowley) $14.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.96

I used to recommend this book often, reviewed it here years ago, and now realize it is so very, very good, I wanted to link it to the career-spanning memoir, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story. This is a great collection of sermons based on U2 texts. Two things had to be in place for these chapters to be considered: they really did have to be engaged with the lyrics of a specific U2 song and they had to have been really preached. It ends up being an international and intergenerational collection of gospel-centered preaching and U2 exploration. What a book.

I have to say that two of my favorite friends — Steve Garber and Brian Walsh — each have two excellently powerful chapters in here. They are, I might add, among the very best in the book. Yes!

Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs Greil Marcus (Yale University Press) $27.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.00

I have only started this so can’t speak in detail, but I’ll say this: Marcus loves the long, complex sentences. He is a scholar and a long-standing fan. This is not his first book on Dylan and he is notable, even in scholarly circles, as a “supreme artist-critic.”

As one reviewer put it, “Decade after decade, Greil Marcus has proven himself to be not only a brilliant cultural critic about music, lives, and stories that have helped shape contemporary American consciousness, he has also done much to articulate why our music has always stood at the axis of sound and politics.”  He writes with someone called “critical exuberance.”

His intro shares about how at first he didn’t like “Blowin’ in the Wind.” (He later wrote a lovely introduction to the power of the song for a kids book, believe it or not.) But then, well…

This may be unsurpassed; it is amazing about Dylan, but not really a biography; he opens with a brief bit about the difficulties of the very notion of biography. Of course he does.

Here is Greil Marcus at his most brilliantly insightful, eloquent, persuasive, brimming with information about Bob Dylan and his music, unique in his ability to combine the most candid sort of memoirist prose with truly inspired commentary. As Dylan ‘sees himself’ in his subjects, so Greil Marcus ‘sees himself’ in Dylan, the most original musical genius of our time, the perfect subject for the most original music critic of our time. –Joyce Carol Oates

Rumors of Glory: A Memoir Bruce Cockburn (HarperOne) $28.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

I have made it clear that I really appreciate — adore! — the many albums of Bruce Cockburn. I reviewed this long memoir in a BookNotes post when it first came out and I can’t say how much I still value this amazing story.

That Jackson Browne has a blurb on the back (calling it “the story of the development of one of the most astute and compelling songwriters in the English language”) is beyond cool. Lewis Hyde, the philosopher of the arts known for the generative book The Gift, which inspired a favorite song by Cockburn, says it is “a finely grained account of the ground from which he harvested one of the finest songs of his generation.”

Cockburn tells a good story about life and faith and beauty and justice. There are things in here that wonderfully struck me, some sad stuff, some insights about his writing and record, politics and advocacy. I’m grateful for such autobiographical accounts and this is one I’ve really enjoyed. How could I not?

The Art of Worship: A Musicians Guide to Leading Modern Worship Greg Scheer (Baker) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

I could listen 20 great books about worship and a lot about the role of music in worship — we have our favorites. I wanted to have a least one on this list be about church music and this one is a true gem. Whether your church tilts contemporary or traditional (or what some call blended), Scheer is going to be an ally and help. It is (in the words of John Witvliet from the Calvin Institute on Christian Worship) “a very practical nuts and bolts of contemporary worship music leadership that will challenge both new and veteran leaders to rethinking their approach to a host of practical challenges.” Greg is a fine composer and liturgist, rooted well in the solid theology of the broad, historic church, but has lead contemporary praise services as well. His reminder that the congregations voice is central is an important insight and he is adept at offering Biblical principles and action steps, theological soundings and good stories. Nicely done.

Ponder Anew: Conversations in 21st Century Church Music edited by Jessica Nelson (Church Publishing) $19.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96

I haven’t read this yet but this very new book from the Episcopal publishing house looks great — consider Ponder Anew. There’s some good folks included — choirmasters, liturgists, organists, a campus minister from Harvard, and several directors of music including one from a prominent church in White Marsh, outside of Philadelphia, where we have been.)  This looks like a fabulous collection.

 

The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty Martin Schleske, translated by Janet Gesme (Eerdmans) $25.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

I have raved about this at BookNotes before and can’t say enough about the mature eloquence and deep charm of this wonderful book by a German luthier. It is about wood and nature, about work and craft, about music and joy, about faith and beauty. Schleske’s thoughtful theology of creative beauty discerned through his own work making violins and cellos and guitars is translated beautifully by classical musician Janet Gesme — and celebrated with a robust forward by abstract painter and culture-care advocate Makoto Fujimura.

This heavy, well made book — with some artful black and white photos — was one of our very top books just a few years ago and I couldn’t let this list on pop music pass without reminding our friends of the exceptional quality of his remarkable work.

Reading these richly evocative reflections, I found myself again and again ‘surprised by joy.’ And gratitude. I was reminded that when people live into their callings deeply and faithfully, they become beacons: they remind us what happens when one says yes to the Spirit’s invitation daily and faithfully. Stories from Schleske’s work as a violinmaker, his knowledge of trees and music and even varnish, become heart-opening parables, not by preachment, but by the loving particularity with which he pays attention to the work he was given.  — Marilyn McEntyre, author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies and When Poets Pray

I have never seen someone so passionately and comprehensively express the relationship between calling and faith. Page by page, Schleske offers lessons along his violinmaking journey that are sure to inspire his readers. His book compels me to join him as a friend and fellow traveler, walking in the woods with him as he shares his beautiful insights. Schleske is the teacher. I am the student. And in the end, I find in the book a sense of hopefulness about the world in which we journey.  — Tony Payne, Wheaton College

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No, Covid is not fully over. Since nobody is reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. And it’s still bad. And with new stuff spreading, many hospitals are really overwhelmed. It’s important to be particularly aware of how risks we take might effect the public good. It is complicated for us, so we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, 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 so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk. Many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, congregants, and family members may need to be protected since more than half of Americans (it seems) have medical reasons to worry about longer hazards from even seemingly mild Covid infections.

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

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We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday, closed on Sunday.

A reflection on our 40 years of book-selling — thanks to all who have helped us sustain Hearts & Minds

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A little essay in which I ruminate on our forty years in the bookselling business. I name drop some authors and books, mostly so it gives you a picture of some of our influences and heros, contacts and favorite people. I hope you find it a little bit interesting as we invite you to celebrate God’s faithfulness to us these four long decades. And as a way of saying thanks to all who have sent us orders and kept us afloat. 

I suppose twenty years ago today I cited the famous Sergeant Pepper lyric about it being twenty years ago today. Maybe I even noted how that famous prelude segued into “With a Little Help From My Friends.” I suppose I’d say God Himself is our own Sergeant Pepper but we have truly gotten by these forty years in the volatile world of indie book retailing, with the help of our friends. Staff, sales reps, supportive authors, family members, friendly church leaders, and, of course, customers.

In the early years we coined a little slogan that we wanted folks to be “more than a customer.” Partners, allies, maybe something akin to what Wendell Berry calls a membership; friends. And so it has often been that in these forty years — we opened forty years ago today —  our customers have become friends. More than a few (you know who you are) are dear, dear ones. Some are local, some are from our era selling books at conferences and events where we’d unite for a few days each year, and others are from what we used to call our “mail order” business. Folks nowadays call that our online community; some of you we have met face to face, some we have not. Many of you reading this are very special to us. I suspect most of us feel a bit like a tribe together, with overlapping interests surrounding the reading of good books. We are, in some ways, a community of sorts, a fellowship of friends.

Maybe I’ll admit to thinking that the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” is more passionate and gritty than the iconic Beatles version. I will say that our tribe who has shopped here, sent orders here, worked with us in various ways (including churches, mission and ministry organizations, social change think-tanks, a few colleges, libraries, and, in the old days, our local hospital) have been an unwieldy bunch, a little wild like the infamous Cocker. What a motley crew most of us are. How eager we are to read widely, to learn, to celebrate the printed page, faithful but open-minded, fierce as some say these days. How can we ever say thank you?

A few have wondered about our bookstore life and times and some have even encouraged me to write a book about it. Although I’ve got lots of good stories of interesting customers, lots of rewarding scenarios, a few harrowing moments (like the threats from the KKK under our door when we had an MLK display in our window), funny episodes (like the time I hung up on the White House operator thinking the order from the President of the United States was a joke), and mostly happy friendships with fascinating authors we’ve met, I doubt that there’s enough for a book. But I can ramble a bit here for those who might find it interesting.

I needn’t belabor our origin story here; many have heard it (ad nauseam, perhaps.) The shortest version is that we learned to value the usefulness of thoughtful Christian literature when we worked for the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) out near Pittsburgh in the late 1970s. Helping to organize the Jubilee conference there which was designed to hold out the transforming vision of a radical Christian worldview that equipped students to think Christianly about life, culture, studies, vocation, and work was a motivating factor: when we left CCO and returned to central PA (half way between Beth’s parents and my parents, all who helped us immeasurably in the first decade of the store) we wanted to take what we called the Jubilee vision to ordinary folk.

Could books help south central Pennsylvania customers relate liturgy and labor, worship and work, prayer and politics? Could our books help them be, in the words of a book written decades later by N.T. Wright, “surprised by hope”? The gap between Sunday and Monday seemed indicative of a dualism between the so-called sacred and secular and we wanted to lay that dichotomy to rest. God cares about all areas of life and there is much to learn about; no topic is off limits for the curious Christian mind. We sold overtly Christian books and other stuff, too. And we arranged our shelves and stocked what few in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) carried — books about art and science, work and politics, technology and literature, education and nursing, law and psychology. In this sense we were very much like any other indie bookstores but it confused many of our earliest customers. “Where is the new Christian bookstore?” more than one person asked when they walked in the door and saw our environmental science section or books on pop culture and film studies. They couldn’t even imagine that these categories contained, mostly, overtly Christian theology and Biblically-informed perspectives on these topics. No Christian bookstore that we knew of had sections of books like any other real bookstore, architecture, gardening, sexuality, media studies. Many didn’t know what to make of us.

There were pivotal moments in the development of my own love for books which developed in my college years in the early to mid-1970s. I had read the once-banned, anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun (by Dalton Trumbo) at the end of high school and knew how powerful novels could be. My friend Randy from the Easter Seal Camp Harmony Hall (where Beth and I worked in the summers) gave me a poetic prayer book by activist Malcolm Boyd and the beautiful novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles that were influential. (I will not try to narrate Beth’s reading journey but as the daughter of a librarian and the sister of a reading specialist, she was ahead of me, talking about Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, say, before I had ever heard of it.)

I somehow got a copy of Os Guinness’s The Dust of Death which explored both the cultural left and right and offered a full-orbed vision of God’s Kingdom as a ‘third way’, a way of thinking that has never quite left me, even though the Christian right and the Christian left has tried to seduce me into their single-minded approaches. (It has been re-issued in IVP’s Signature Classic series and you should order it!) I was introduced to Reformed theology by the likes of R.C. Sproul but was drawn more to the Dutch reformational tradition in the line of Abraham Kuyper who affirmed common grace and invited us to think in distinctive manners about the Lordship of Christ in every area of life. (My favorite book on some of these themes, by the way, which has a few pages about our bookstore, is Richard Mouw’s splendid All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight which is a fabulously interesting book to be read alongside Mouw’s lovely introduction to Kuyper called Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction.) Soon enough, I came to appreciate the work of Francis Schaeffer.

(Years later when we were planning out our store and attending our very first large national Christian Bookstore Association professional gathering, a huge, glitzy event in Dallas that we were uneasy about, a kindly, older woman opened the door for us and offered to hold our crying baby, then maybe six months old. Beth and I instantly recognized Edith Schaeffer and we somehow felt like it was a sign of God’s favor on us, a small sign that it was going to be okay.)

In my CCO years I tried to help students become better readers, learning about big ideas and helping them realize faith was more than personal salvation or nominal church life. Concern about the broader world and how the Bible addresses things like justice and economics and poverty was a way into this. Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger remains one of the most formative books I’ve ever read and certainly one of the most important in our lifetime. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

I read a book in those years by Howard Snyder called Community of the King which I had reviewed in Sojourners magazine and to this day I often say it is one of the best books on the local church that one should read. Happily, it is still in print, and, I think, set the stage for the more recent emphasis on what is now called the missional church movement. I like that it relates the local church (as a community) to the broader context of the coming Kingdom of God, the renewal of all creation. That is certainly one of the burning questions, a high view of church that equips us, though, to find God and serve others in all areas of life, outside the conventional walls of the typical church. Snyder gets it right.

When we opened our store that Black Friday we gave away copies of the IVP book by John Stott called Your Mind Matters. It was a lovely little manifesto that we thought might help customers appreciate what we were hoping to do with our little shop on Main Street. We had a drawing for a slipcased autographed copy of a memoir by a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, former President Jimmy Carter. What fun!

As 1983 began we were a regular store with regular hours and for years we were considered the new bookstore in the area. (It was years before we hired staff and it goes without saying that we couldn’t have survived with a handful of great employees who often became like family.) There were more traditional CBA stores near us, a Catholic shop or two, a regional chain of general stores and, in Harrisburg, a Cokesbury chain store, that catered more to mainline denominational customers than did the more sectarian mom and pop religious bookstores. There were bookstores everywhere, including several in each mall (remember malls?) We entered the business at a good time. We just didn’t have much business experience and our inventory was unusual to say the least. It was complicated with our idealistic vision and not much surplus cash.

Forty years later, I muse that some things never change. Ha. But man, in those early days we had hours of good conversations with people. CCM music was a new thing and we carried tons of albums in that hip gospel genre (not to mention then little known band U2 and Bob Dylan and Van Morrison and Johnny Cash and of course Bruce Cockburn.) Kids would flock here as we put on hot chocolate after the Friday night high school football games. Pastors befriended me and I was honored to hear some of their deepest concerns.

Not long ago a fellow showed up at our door — he has become Orthodox, after a period nearly forty years ago revelling in contemporary evangelicalism. He said we sold him CCM music, including hard Christian metal, so many decades ago and it made a difference. He said I have him lots of encouragement and good advice. I don’t know about that, but it is fascinating how many folks have grown up coming into Hearts & Minds and then bought their children and grandchildren.

Interestingly, we didn’t even call ourselves a “Christian” bookstore (only Christians go in those shops, and, only certain kinds of Christians at that) and we were deeply ecumenical, wanting to serve all branches of church folk, and, frankly, while it energized a few who had the eyes to see, it confused many. For one dark season there was a boycott against us because we had a section of contemplative spirituality — Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, medieval Catholic mystics, and Richard Foster, for instance — and the rumor was that we were teaching transcendental meditation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but there were petitions and animosity. To this day I commend Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home as true classics of spirituality. More recently there are plenty of others and that section bulges, but on the top of the list are the many titles by Ruth Haley Barton. The early Foster work is seminal and blessed.

I often explain the difference between Eastern sorts of meditation where the primary goal is to empty one’s mind to nothingness with more faithful Christian approaches where the goal is to fill one’s interior self with Biblical, Christ-like thoughts, not to join the universal Oneness but to be conformed to the likeness and way of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, for a life embodied in the real world that God so loves.) The fear of what was then called the new age movement was throughout our community (perhaps like the MAGA-Stop the Steal nonsense is now, a loud and notable group) and I recall debating with customers why it was appropriate for us to sell bookmarkers with rainbows on them who insisted it was a sign of the encroaching One World Government. “It is a sign of God’s covenant with the Earth, given in Genesis,” I’d insist, and we were not getting rid of them.

We were sent a letter to cease and desist my negative reviews of a book (The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow) by a crack-pot conspiracy-teaching attorney whose book was condemning people like Ron Sider and Richard Foster who she insisted were pseudo-Christians plotting a demonic takeover, or something like that. I had it out with her at a trade show and rebuked the publisher who pushed such reprehensible nonsense. She said she was going to sue us but it all petered out.

Unrelatedly, I argued once with Jerry Falwell in those years about his daring to call people I respected “communists”, people like Alan Boesak in South Africa. He oddly chuckled about it, but we had a long conversation about Christians needing to disentangle themselves from ideologies of the far right (and the far left) and be more distinctive, Biblical, ethical, honest, at least. He was a mess, standing up for liar Ollie North who was killing children in El Salvador and Nicaragua (remember the Contras and the murder of Oscar Romero?) Jerry also was advocating greater support for the evil apartheid government in South Africa. What a scandal!

In those same years we were gaining some friends in local congregations and I preached or taught Sunday school in Lutheran and United Methodist and UCC congregations, not to mention a number of nondenominational churches in the area. We attended First Presbyterian of York and through pro-life work came to know some Roman Catholic friends as well. There was a Catholic school right across the street from us in those years and I’d sometimes speak there; my stint with the Thomas Merton Center back in Pittsburgh gave me some small ability to connect with folks who knew them. Interestingly, the first in-store event we ever did was with Jim Wallis of Sojourners; we had maybe 25 people in the small front room of the store (before we expanded and doubled our size) and as I recall it included mainline Protestant, Romans Catholic, evangelical, and non-churched folks. What a blast.

For a very nice story about us, see this older interview with me by the former book review editor at The Christian CenturyRichard Kauffman. It’s almost embarrassing to share such a terrific article, but figured we should share it.

We brought in some speakers in that first decade or so; Becky Pippert’s Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World remains a classic on evangelism (I hope you have read it) and she did a delightful handful of presentations here. Os Guinness generously came several times; he spoke on his book The American Hour at York College and the president of the college said it was the best lecture he had ever heard! At a conference we put together on various careers and callings, Os gave a message that ended up becoming a key chapter in The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life which remains one of my all time favorite books. Please consider ordering it as a 40th anniversary gift to us, okay? It will make my day.

We brought in Brian Walsh, Ron Sider, a few children’s authors, a poet, a novelist. In time my local pal Dick Cleary wrote a novel that was more or less designed to ask big questions as an apologetic type book would, and then a few years later, another, even better. We so enjoyed having a neighbor presenting on his fictional books with a message, In the Absence of God and Bridging the Abyss.

Over the years we’ve had many other speakers, from Lauren Winner to John Fea to Michael Ware to Karen Swallow Prior to Bobby Gross to Christopher Smith to Ruth Haley Barton to Jeremy Courtney to David Kinnamen. (And what a joy to have local churches partner with us to host some of these outstanding events. You know who you are and we are grateful.) I don’t recall every having an author in the store who we felt badly about afterwards. What a joy this has been and we thank our local folks for supporting those kinds of events.

Our largest event was when we first hosted Beverly Lewis, the delightfully impressive author of Amish fiction. (Her new one, by the way, The Orchard,  is the story of a romance involving an Amish guy who surprisingly joins the military.) Second in size and most discussed was our backyard event with N.T. Wright. You can still find on-line video of him playing a Dylan song behind our store. We will be forever grateful to Mike Gorman for helping us set that up.

Our daily work is often frustrating and the demands are much more intense than I’d ever imagined as we got into this so many decades ago. The stress has gotten worse. Don’t get me started about the confusions among publishers, shippers, damaged books, wrong bills, complacent customer service reps. Ugh.

But, yet, what a rare privilege to have hob-nobbed with, for instance, Brennan Manning (I’ve got a funny story, there, too) and to have been invited on stage with the late, great Rich Mullins to talk about our local Chinese refugee project. We’ve organized a couple of concerts, too. I’ve met Mark Heard, smuggled poetry volumes back stage to Bruce Cockburn, sold books to a personal hero, Bill Mallonee. We hosted for an in-store reading Emmy Lou Harris’s bandmate Phil Madeira (reading from his memoir God on the Rocks) and he brought along his guitar. What a joy to have Michael Card, singing, yes, but talking about his wonderful “Biblical Imagination” series of commentaries on the four gospels. He’s a very, very sharp guy.

Two plans for in-store events fell through due to illness and delays; what an honor it would have been to do the poetry reading we had hoped for with Eugene Peterson (while he was still at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland) and to have hosted Madeleine L’Engle, who was at a small Episcopal Church in New York where good friends knew her well. What an evening either of those events would have been, eh?

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I don’t exactly recall when it started — about a decade in, I guess — but two or three organizations asking us to come to their events catapulted us into more off-site events which, for nearly 30 years, was a major part of our work. The CCO invited me back to do some staff training, to write book reviews for the in-house staff newsletter, to bring resources to their every-other-monthly staff gatherings and eventually — when the previous bookseller and good friend wanted out — to start setting up books at the big, annual Jubilee conference. To this day the CCO is our largest client and as an associate staff with them, I get to hawk books to their staff and sometimes their students. With their “Jubilee vision” of inviting students into the all-of-life-redeemed story of God we get to sell books on law and medicine and technology and education and counseling and business in a way we don’t here in the shop.

We rarely sell books about work and marketplace ministry here in the store but college students, if mentored correctly, can develop an appetite for relating faith and life, Christian thinking and social action, Biblical worldview and transformational service in culture. Books like the edgy cool and very readable Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human by John Mark Comer and the more sophisticated but must-read Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch provide the essential foundation — and we sell them most places we go (if rarely here in Dallastown.) So we appreciate the heroic efforts of many CCO staff to invite young adults into what Steve Garber (who used to work for them) calls a seamless life.

I adore Garber’s small collection of pieces about this called A Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship and Work which in short eloquent essays explores the themes developed more substantively in Visions of Vocation: Common Grace of the Common Good. (And while I’m mentioning Garber, I was honored to be interviewed and my story told in a page or two in his first book, the late 1990s Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior) which explores how people find lasting meaning in a pluralistic, secularizing world. He remains one of our favorite authors and a regular encouragement to us. If you wonder what guided us these past 40 years you could do much worse than read through Garber’s three books.

Besides the CCO getting us slowly learning the art of setting up book displays off-site, we were invited by the Pennsylvania State Council of Churches to their then-huge events, meeting speakers as prestigious as Jurgen Moltmann and Walter Brueggemann. Our state-wide PC(USA) Synod had us doing week-long events called Synod School (where we first became friends with Leonard Sweet) and we were regulars for a number of years at the Black Presbyterian Caucus events — some years being the only white guy in the place. Beth and I sort of became honorary UCC folks with the Penn Southeast Conference and the Penn Central Conference having us speak and sell books at their clergy retreats. (We hung out with nationally-known speakers such as Barbara Brown Taylor, Joyce Rupp, Tom Sine, Len Sweet, Walt Brueggemann, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Jeremiah Wright, Marva Dawn, Molly Baskette, Anthony Robinson and more at their events.) At other similar retreats we met Nadia Bolz-Weber, Rachel Held Evans, Lisa Sharon Harper, Jamie Smith, and again, many others.

Our off-site business picked up as we served various denominations. From UCC annual conferences to Lutheran Synod events to Episcopalian clergy retreats to our beloved, regional APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators) events, we’ve had the delight of serving churches. We’ve worked with smaller gatherings, many speakers of note, and a few really famous ones such as Miroslav Volf and Fleming Rutledge. It’s been stressful (more than you can imagine, actually) and a true blessing.

During those years we’ve served Christian organizations. Some congregations and organizations send us mail orders, of course (thank you) but also as a part of our off site travels. We’ve done large and well-curated book displays in many states — Florida, Texas, New England, Illinois, Ohio, even California. We’ve often been to New York City with the Redeemer Center for Faith and Work (and a few one-off events with Redeemer Presbyterian like when they hosted Bryan Stevenson or N.T. Wright.) For years we’ve had the red carpet rolled out for us at CLS (the Christian Legal Society) one of the most exciting and rewarding things we’ve done each year. We have attended several IAM conferences (Mako Fujimura’s old International Arts Ministry organization.) Naturally, we’ve been to CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) events and one-off conferences on business, science, ecology, Christian education, peacemaking, prayer, world missions, youth ministry. We’ve done events on health care, on slavery and trafficking, on race and racism, on theology, on mental health and, for a while, a series of annual events inviting charismatic renewal and spiritual warfare. Oh yes.

Our passion for sharing thoughtful books largely in the evangelical tradition got us selling books in northern Virginia for the legendary C.S. Lewis Institute (where we served offering books by folks such as Alister McGrath and Lee Strobel and Os Guinness) and the Annapolis, MD, annual Jonathan Edwards Institute conference. That John Piper thought I might know where to find an obscure Edwards quote still makes me chuckle, but we did have the Complete Works there, and found the quote with Noel’s help, just before his address.

Speaking of Piper, I once was giving a book talk at a diverse gathering of campus ministry professionals down South where he was the keynote speaker, presenting at the banquet follow ing my book announcements. The power went out when I was doing the book plugs and since they didn’t want to have him start in the dark, they told me just to keep hawking books. I preached up a storm (in the dark) about the need for books to help collegiates take their faith into the classroom, about the vivid call of God to think critically about the culture and take up vocations which would become callings, in but not of the world. It was nearly pitch black, but he said he liked my off-the-cuff riffing. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d speak in a room that was dark from power outages. Or at candle-lit, late night, outdoor events at camps or festivals.

We’ve sold books with Tony Campolo (who once quipped that he should take me on the road with him since I knew his books better than he did) and a friend who was a bit of a mentor, Ron Sider. Through Bread for the World we came to meet a long-time hero, Art Simon, who still calls to order books from time to time.  And, of course, we’ve had book displays at events with John Perkins. (When I pulled together chapters for the book I edited, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life I knew I had to have John Perkins as a contributor and that worked out nicely.

That generation of Biblically-wise, gospel-centered and socially-engaged leaders generated some excellent, lasting books and it is among our greatest privilege to have met them and served their organizations. We even had a tiny hand in making available the surprise book to honor Ron that came out in 2013, Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider which we raved about here at BookNotes and took to a surprise banquet at Ron’s retirement a decade ago.

Time doesn’t allow me to highlight all of our on-the-road adventures but it generated, until recent years, more than a third of our income (and a third of our time) pretty much up until the Covid pandemic, which we still take very seriously. As events dried up, so did that income. We’ve never been particularly successful, financially speaking, hardly breaking even most years, and that hit to our bottom line has been nearly fatal. We will see how we move forward in this new season, wondering how sustainable this on-line approach will be.

It has been something though — from God guiding me quite literally on late night highways to meeting remarkable workers at hotels and conference centers, from rubbing shoulders with impressive speakers and, most importantly, the many customers we’ve developed from these off site pop-up Hearts & Minds book set-ups. What good conversations we’ve had at these gatherings and how beautiful to have folks trust us to recommend key titles for their needs. It has been a labor of love and we are grateful to all who have allowed us to carry on.

Sure, we’ve had some goofs at our events — wrong books taken, dumb stuff shown, mis-understanding the needs of the moment. Once a speaker at a major conference told us about a book he was going to highlight, even informing us of his plan to show it on a powerpoint screen. This is golden to the ears of booksellers ears so we took a large stack of this expensive text, displaying it prominently. Alas, the expert was showing it all right — to critique it and say why nearly everything about it was wrong. Yikes! So many people rushed back to our display tables to tell us that the speaker hated this book that we were featuring. We quickly hid them underneath the tables and took a bath sending them all back.

Which for some reason sort of reminds me of a time we were selling books with a gentleman running for President. The secret service guys had to search our empty boxes below our tables and the book signing thing was called off. Sigh.

Once we were doing at a big conference in DC. Because the event was in a federal building near the White House we had to first take the van to a special location to be swept, underneath and inside; standard post 9-11 security, I guess. Whew. Later, once we entered the beautiful space and the gathering started we kept losing our wireless signal to connect our credit card processor, creating a bit of a hassle for the very patient customers. Classy and important speakers were in the house and this was embarrassing. We later found out that every time White House vehicles drove by they used scrambler devices, momentarily knocking out radio reception, for their own security. No wonder our tech support team had no idea what was going on. Ha.

And once, selling books at an event with Tim Keller, in a fancy museum in a city that won’t be named, I was encouraged to load-out by a back door, long after everyone was gone. Even the security folks seemed absent so it was just me, my hand truck, and 25 foot tall dinosaurs in the glow of exit lights and the late night shadows. I’m telling you, it was spooky, to say the least.

We’ve laughted with folks we’ve met on the road, cried with some, pushed back feelings of resentment when we were given crummy display locations or when we were asked to remove certain unpalatable books from our display. After an all night set-up at Princeton once we were commanded to take everything down due to a misunderstanding of the contract; they were wrong, by the way, and the group we were to serve never went back there for their annual gathering. But we lost money sending back a whole lot of merchandise we never got a chance to sell. Wow — I forgot about that!

We’ve be sucked into arguments at some book displays and we’ve prayed with people we hardly knew. (Once, I crawled under a skirted table to escape the hubbub and noise in order to prayerfully lead a guy to Christ.) We’ve be bemused by ceiling tiles falling on us and water pipe leaks soaking our display (twice — once in Lancaster and once in Boston.) We’ve had stuff stolen and we’ve had stuff returned from previous years. We’ve strategized with planners and griped with hurting participants and celebrated happily most times.

We’ve had off-site book signings with everybody from Lisa Sharon Harper to N.T. Wright to Eugene Peterson to John Perkins and Chuck Colson and Donald Miller and Phil Yancey and Bob Goff and the late Michael Gerson; we often found ourselves in awe of how authors and readers connect as we’ve watched it all unfold. Our daily grind here in Dallastown has plenty of special moments and we love our ordinary, small town folks. (Who, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, are no ordinary mortals after all.)

But there has been something good for us, given our interests and inventory, to be out where groups are. We’ve learned to care about so many topics — from global missions to medical ethics, from Reformed theology to the interface of faith and the arts, from so much about the liturgical arts and worship to Christian creation care and climate change — and gearing up for off site events has made us better booksellers and more aware Christians. Thank you all, thank you.

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If our earliest years were most urgently focused on local activism and building our brand in our area, so to speak, while fighting off the big chains, our middle years were spent often on the road, meeting up with people who care about books, but fighting off the allure of Amazon. It still dismays me when big publishers like Zondervan and big name authors have exclusive Amazon links in their social media ads, insinuating that they are the best (only?) place to buy books. It’s like a disrespectful kick in the gut, a matter we take personally. Please read the marvelously rich Fulfillment: American in the Shadow of Amazon by Alec McGillis for a riveting, multi-faceted, social history of the impact Amazon has in so many places in our culture these days. For a more activist handbook, see the punchy, little How to Resist Amazon and Why: The Fight for Local Economics, Data Privacy, Fair Labor, Independent Bookstores, and a People-Powered Future by bookseller Danny Caine. In any case, given their reputation for selling pirated copies, their announced goal of killing of independent bookstores, their market-skewing habit of (sometimes) selling below cost (they don’t have to make money on books since they make their money on electronics and tires and porn, etc. etc.) They are tax-cheats, cut-throat, a union-busting force serving Mr. Bezos who, they say, profits $150,000 every single an hour.

Interested in reading a bit more about us and recent bookselling woes? I sort of hate to brag but it’s our 40th anniversary, to here ya go, a very nicely done piece in The Christian Century a few years ago. Kudos to Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans for putting this together.

As more and more bookstore chains closed, then, and faith-based stores were in decline, we found that religious publishing was nonetheless fresh and as interesting as ever. From all quarters — think Crossway and Broadleaf, think Presbyterian & Reformed and Herald Press, think IVP and Eerdmans, think New Growth Press and WJK, Convergent and Baker and Brazos, just to mention mostly Protestant houses — there are great writers doing often very creative thinking, offering faithful interpretation, writing fresh, helpful books. So much good work is being published. We can’t stop now, we often quip, because this book or that book is coming out next season. We sure don’t want to miss telling our customers about those!

Which, in a way, tells a story of our recent years. We have shifted increasingly away from the strenuous on-the-road events and with Covid, we’ve been closed for in-store browsing. Which is to say, except for some fun backyard customer service and curbside delivery, we are doing mostly mail order business. Our online reviews and orders are what is keeping us afloat at this point.

We are glad to be in correspondence with so many people asking such good questions. I enjoy making lists of the best books on this topic or that finest resources on that topic. I don’t always have ready answers but often we do. Especially when customers tell us a bit about themselves or who the reader will be, we can focus on finding just the right resources for any sort of person with nearly any sort of question or bookish need. It is time consuming and mentally demanding but there is little that brings me more joy than to have a customer say that they were pleased with the dozen books I recommended and they’d soon be ordering several. Hooray.

Yep, it was forty years ago today that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. And with God’s help, we are still learning.  It is an art and a science, it seems, to run a bookstore and we are humbled by the thought of being in this work. Perhaps you saw my CT piece reviewing the somewhat too highbrow but much discussed In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch. He’s an amazingly knowledge and passionate bookseller and it is really something to be found in the company of those who care about such places as Hearts & Minds.

We are glad to be able to serve folks from all over by sending out almost any book they may want.

(Except, sadly — an increasingly poignant problem — when an author chooses to self-publish a book that isn’t sold through ordinary stores. Many good folks choose to work with Amazon-owned self-publishing platforms and use that, then, as their primary if not exclusive sales strategy. It is an unjust and unwise business model, in my view, but I get it. In any case, we can get almost anything, unless it is a self-published book on an Amazon-owned vanity press platform that is not congenial to the book being sold in real bookstores.)

Send us an order, please. Get your church or organization to send us some orders. Tell your friends. Our finances are such that some have suggested we do a “go fund me” sort of thing, but we’re really not inclined to do that. We just want more folks to become more than a customer. As we get readers to join with us, we can spread the good word about good books. It can make a difference — that’s why we took up this work 40 years ago. Join us, again, won’t you?

THANKS FOR CARING.

CODA:  Here is a little part of our story that unfolded five years ago as we were quietly celebrating our 35th anniversary as a retailer on a busy 2017 Black Friday. In walks Ned and Leslie Bustard, Alan and Diana Di Pasquale Bauer, the principles of the lovely little publishing outfit Square Halo Books. Beth and I love these folks and really, really appreciate their excellently made books. Ned is a graphic designer by trade and his art often illustrates their books. You maybe noticed that in our last BookNotes last week the lead title I highlighted was 33: Reflections on the Gospel of Saint John a book of Biblically-inspired poetry by Andrew Roycroft (with a forward by Malcolm Guite and art by Ned Bustard.) Just naming it here to show that we do enjoy celebrating their new releases.

Anyway, the Square Halo crew brought us a box of upscale cupcakes, a fabulous treat and a fine celebration. But then they brought in a case of a new book. Without our awareness they had created a surprise book to honor us. It is called A Book for Hearts & Minds: What To Read and Why: A Festschrift in Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore. It lists for $18.99 and we still have it at the BookNotes 20% off, making it just $15.19. It is a collection of BookNotes-like columns with all sorts of experts (some of them friends of ours) weighing in on what books are most important in their given field. From Calvin Seerveld to N.T. Wright to David Gushee to Karen Swallow Prior to Matthew Dickerson there are bunches of chapters. There are wise entries on the best books on poetry and memoir, the arts, ecology, cooking (Andi Ashworth does a great job), urban planning (Tom Becker), sociology (Brad Frey), law (Mike Schutt) and there is a chapter of books about vocation by Steve Garber. And there is more.

Also, Ned transcribed an informal talk I gave a number of years back which he made into a foreword — it captures some of the energy of my passionate presentation about books and reading, maybe, although isn’t precise, I suppose. So there you have it, a tremendous book for those who love books. It strikes me that much of the book is valuable regardless of any Hearts & Minds tribute. The chapters are just solid, good, work.

(In this sense it reminds me of a new Square Halo Book, a tribute which surprised Tim Keller as he retired just earlier this summer. That book is fabulous and while it honors Keller, the chapters are solid in their own right. That one is called The City for God: Essays Honoring the Work of Timothy Keller. I’m a fan.)

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I blush a little — a lot, really — sharing this, but here’s a page from the Square Halo Books webpage, highlighting A Book for Hearts & Minds: What to Read and Why. I have never shared this and unless you bought the book, you’ve not seen it. Maybe that is fine, but here on our 40th, I figured we’d share this embarrassingly generous outpouring of friendship by a bunch of folks we deeply admire.  For what it’s worth…

A BOOK FOR HEARTS & MINDS

We first met Byron Borger when It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God was just coming out. He was immediately supportive of Square Halo Books, and ever since then has promoted our titles with gusto. We make it a practice to always release our books to his store first, and he always has our titles in stock. Around here we affectionately refer to Hearts & Minds as “The Official Bookstore of Square Halo.”

We were delighted to publish the book he edited called Serious Dreams, but for the last few years there has been a jovial argument between us about publishing a book collecting Byron’s BookNotes into one volume. Byron insisted no one would want such a thing. He is a bookseller and knows his business, so maybe he was right about that. But not to be discouraged from featuring Byron in a book, we changed our tack and secretly organized a festschrift in honor of the work that Byron and Beth do through Hearts & Minds. Now, festschrift is an unusual word, to be sure. It is defined as “a collection of writings published in honor of a scholar.” If you wonder whether or not a lowly bookseller is worthy of this sort of honor, read these commendations from these respected writers and scholars to learn why A Book for Hearts & Minds needed to be written:

Byron and Beth Borger have been a gift to both authors and readers. Unapologetic champions of the life of the mind, their work has been a ministry to generations of Christians who have discovered that God’s joy and delight is as wide as the world itself. Curators of the imagination, stewards of the tradition, priests of print, they have always done more than sold books: they have furnished faithful minds and hearts. This book is a lovely testimony to that good work.—James K.A. Smith, Calvin College, author of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

When I want to know how to think about the things that matter most, I trust Byron Borger to point me in the right direction—never telling me what to think, but ready with endless resources to help me discover how to think in the best ways. He and Beth have made me, on countless occasions, feel like the most treasured writer and person in the world, as I suspect they have done for many of the contributors to this volume. Their impact in hearts and minds is now multiplied, through these pages and in the lives of countless readers they’ve guided and nurtured through the years. May this smart personal volume make you curious enough to buy a book—this book!—for readers you love, at Hearts & Minds Bookstore.—Margot Starbuck, author of Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor

Byron Borger is a true believer. Like the lineup of insightful essayists who contributed to this book in his honor, Borger believes that reading the right book at the right time can supply just the kind of provocation, insight, or solace we need, when we need it. —Cameron J. Anderson, author of The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts

Byron Borger spent his life making us all richer by introducing us to authors and ideas that helped us flourish. Some of his suggested readings made us laugh, made us angry, made us wrestle—but each made us better people. We honor you and we are indebted to you. Thank you for discovering the good and true and beautiful and spending your life generously sharing it with us.—Margaret Feinberg, author of Flourish: Live Free, Live Loved

While living and teaching in New York City I had been hearing about the Hearts & Minds Bookstore for some time. And then one day I was lured to a speaking engagement for The Row House in Lancaster, PA with the promise of a visit to the bookstore. How could I say no? My expectations were high and, boy, were they met. I felt like a gambling addict stumbling into a casino. Suffice it to say that on my return trip to the city I traveled back home with far more baggage than I had left with. This book is a tantalizing taste of what it is like to visit that magical place. It makes me dream of returning there to restock! —Harry Bleattler, chair of the Media, Culture, and the Arts program at The King’s College, New York City

Byron and Beth Borger represent everything that is right with bookstores. He is a thoughtful and winsome curator of ideas and prose in moment when most booksellers are crass consumerists. Thank God for Byron, and thank God for Hearts & Minds! —Jonathan Merritt, contributing writer for The Atlantic and author of Learning to Speak God from Scratch

How fitting this splendid collection is as a tribute to Byron and Beth Borger, partners and booksellers extraordinaire whose life-long vision and ambitions exemplify the idea of Christian vocation and faithful living. Featuring an array of writers commenting on influential works in their fields, this volume represents the fruit of the Hearts & Minds enterprise and will no doubt encourage the same lively discourse we’ve come to associate with Bryon’s own booklists. —William D. Romanowski, Calvin College, author of Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies

I thank God for Byron and Beth Borger—they are such solid gold people, and friends as well. Without them, many a thoughtful Christian writer would be on the endangered species list in the face of the tsunami of Big Data recommended reading. While Hearts & Minds exists, serious Christian books can live too. —Os Guinness, author of Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization

TO PLACE AN ORDER

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

It is very helpful if you 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 general guide:

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

  • United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be slow. For one typical book, usually, it’s about $3.69; 2 lbs would be $4.36.
  • United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.50, now, if it fits in a flat rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.20. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
  • UPS Ground is reliable but varies by weight and distance and may take longer than USPS. We’re happy to figure out your options for you once we know what you want.

If you just want to say “cheapest” that is fine. If you are eager and don’t want the slowest method, do say so. It really helps us serve you well.

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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown  PA  17313
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No, Covid is not fully over. Since nobody is reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. And it’s still bad. And with new stuff spreading, many hospitals are really overwhelmed. It’s important to be particularly aware of how risks we take might effect the public good. It is complicated for us, so we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, 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 so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.

Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk. Many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, congregants, and family members may need to be protected since more than half of Americans (it seems) have medical reasons to worry about longer hazards from even seemingly mild Covid infections.

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

Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.

We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST /  Monday – Saturday, closed on Sunday.

20 Brand New Books You Should Consider — on sale from Hearts & Minds.

It’s been a busy time in the publishing world and even though sales are down across the country we are not giving up. We know that many of our BookNotes readers are eager to know what good books are out and what we recommend. Here, then, without ado, are a whole bunch of brand new ones.

Two quick asides:

YES. Yes, you can order these by scrolling to the very end of this long column and clicking on “order.” That takes you to our Hearts & Minds website’s secure order form page. Do it! And don’t forget to tell us if you have any shipping preferences or time-sensitive needs.

NO. No, these aren’t the only new books we’ve received in the last month. We are a full-service bookstore and even though we are closed for in-store browsing right now, we are happily showing all kinds of merchandise to all kinds of folks with our famous back-yard customer service. From local curbside to distant mail order, we are here to serve you. How can we help?

33: Reflections on the Gospel of Saint John Andrew Roycroft with artwork by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $21.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

Whenever the good folks at the rather indie-minded, boutique publisher in Lancaster, PA, Square Halo Books, releases a new title, it’s cause for much hoo-raying and hand-waving celebration. We were so excited that they put together the remarkable collection of essays about children’s literature (Wild Things and Castles in the Sky edited by Leslie Bustard and others) and, recently (as you saw in a recent BookNotes, Advent Is the Story by Daniel Spanjer.) Now, just in, a small sized collection of liturgical poetry on the gospel of John. Wow.

33: Reflections comes with an impressive foreword by the impressive Malcolm Guite and with each poem there is, on the facing pace a striking linocut by Ned Bustard, whose art you should know, graces both volumes of Every Moment Holy and Guite’s beautiful rendition of The Tales of Sir Galahad and is seen nicely in his own 2021 children’s book, Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver. Mr. Bustard’s art always seems to enhance good books, and his contributions to 33 is just very, very nice, white on black, black on white.

But the heart of 33 is, of course, the beating, jumping, caressing, whispering, sometimes shouting, lines that explicate passages from the Gospel of John. Roycroft is an Irish poet — a local Irish Presbyterian friend knows him well, actually — and we are delighted to commend him, somewhat in the very tradition of Mr. Guite. 

Here is what is wild, though: the poems are each 33 words. Is that an Irish thing? A wordy haiku? (Billy Collins’s brand new book is all very short poems, btw.) I have no idea where this idea comes from, but it’s very cool.

As Square Halo puts it, “Dwelling on the life and death of Jesus Christ is a key discipline for growth in Christian grace, enriching the mind and drawing out our affections after the Savior.” Here you are given the opportunity to slow down, reflect, even contemplate the key points of the whole gospel of John. In 33-word poems. (And, for what it is worth, there are some further study notes and reflective meditations in a quite thorough appendix.)

Perhaps you know the popular contemporary hymnist, Kristyn Getty, author of the lovely little book, Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. She commends Messrs. Roycroft & Bustard and their new little volume: 

You will find here beautiful words that let the light in, warming the heart with holiness and firing the imagination with life. Slow your step, come and linger with the poet on the best of thoughts… Christ.  — Kristyn Getty

 

Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious – Reframed and Expanded David Dark (Broadleaf Books) $18.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Oh my, if you know my affection for David, you know that I have to say a lot about this. Yet, I’m wanting to keep this listing relatively brief, so I’ll have to wait to speak about it in greater detail. We do have a stack of this new, expanded edition, with a stark black cover (the previous was bright red) and I’m eager to discern how it is “reframed” and what is different about this one. David suggests it is, in part, an act of repentance, and I take his words seriously. So we must study this new version, with care and an open heart.

Here is the short version: the first edition came out on IVP in 2016 and we reviewed it at BookNotes. I raved, and a line or two of my enthusiasms remain on the page of blurbs on the inside of this new version. I’m honored and glad. 

In that earlier BookNotes review of the first edition, I exclaimed:

David Dark is a national treasure, a witty and wise Christian voice — a humane human voice — and it’s good to know this brand new one has been so eagerly anticipated. As Jessica Hopper (of the very important indie music magazine Pitchfork and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic) says, “David Dark is one of our most astute and necessary cultural critics. His work gracefully opens new doors of understanding and breaks down barriers between secular and non-…”

This book is so rich and interesting and fun and important and wonderfully written — it’s been called a “bracing manifesto” and an “optimism-infused love song” and an “irresistible triumph” — that it deserves more of a serious review than I can render here, now. It’s been a hard month, a hard week, and I’m nearly flabbergasted (I’d say gobsmacked but I’m not sure what it means) by how great this book is and how it has brought joy to me these last few days. I’ve read paragraphs and whole pages out loud to Beth (and anybody else in earshot.) There are great lines, great stories, great revelations. Apocalypse now, indeed.

That “apocalypse” line was a segue towards mentioning his fabulous book on pop culture called Every Apocalypse, which notes, as you probably know, that the ancient scary word actually means “a revealing”  — an unveiling; a revelation. And that is what he does as a writer, conscientiously and with a lot of verve. He’s fun and deadly serious, generous and at times as keenly critical as a Hebrew prophet. For such a relentless advocate (have you followed him on twitter?) he can be remarkably tender. And kind.

It seems that the first version of Life’s Too Short to Pretend was sort of an open letter to a dear loved one who found herself in the tribe of those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” Or, maybe “none of the above” when asked about religious affiliation. David’s not having it — not because he’s a fundamentalist (although he was raised and continue to live in the Bible Belt) but because he truly understands that nobody is disinterested, no one is neutral in this life, everybody believes in something. We all live out of (and informed by) the story we find ourselves in. 

As Christina Edmondson, co-author of Truth’s Table puts it, David “grants the gift and burden to think deeply about the imagination, scaffolding, and consequences of our religiosity.”

It may be that this book is a love letter not just to his beloved sister-in-law, but to all of us, to those struggling with faith in a post-2020 season. He looks at Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, he weaves in current themes around the pandemic and vaccine responses, and, yes, tackles the nonsense being spoken about Critical Race Theory. In other words, he has significantly updated this.

The meaning of his “reframing”, though? What makes this classic text a repentance? What is unique about this fresh, reconsidered edition? Read it for yourself, naturally. I am sure there is much to learn, much to reckon with.  I hope to share more, soon. For now, please know how glad we are to see this book revised and reissued. It offers, as his friend Charles Marsh (of Evangelical Anxiety) puts it, “Luminous reckonings with the real.” Hooray for that. Order it today by using the order form at the end of this column. 20% off, too.

All Our Griefs to Bear: Responding with Resilience After Collective Trauma Joni S. Sancken (Herald Press) $18.99 

OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Perhaps you recall my commendation in the last BookNotes of Herald Press, a Mennonite publisher that does excellent work on various topics, releasing books that are really fresh and interesting these days, and how we stock most of what they do.(I gotta tell you, their brand new, lavish Comfort Baking by Stephanie Wise is amazing!) This brand new Sancken one is a good example: All Our Griefs to Bear is a book that brings some ancient wisdom into the very contemporary era of mass trauma and collective injustice. You know the litany these days — the coronavirus pandemic. Continued racial trauma. Economic uncertainty. As Rev. Sancken writes,

“The griefs of this time have revealed difficult truths about the wounds we carry, and the damage of the traumas has affected every part of our lives together.” 

Dr. Sancken is a professor of homiletics at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, a largely United Methodist institution, and she has written previous books on preaching. We’ve appreciated her Stumbling Over the Cross: Preaching the Cross and Resurrection Today, and, more recently, her Words That Heal: Preaching Hope to Wounded Souls which is really wise.

In the last few years she has come into our area working with her friends in the ELCA’s Susquehanna Synod. (Indeed, she thanks our neighbor Richard Jorgenson and our friend Marsha Roscoe and their Bishop James Dunlop for helping hammer out some of the very ideas in this stunning book.) “Trauma-informed” is a catchphrase these days and she uses it well: perhaps this could be called trauma-informed pastoral care.

But yet, this is not pastoral care in the sense of how ministers can meet with hurting parishioners in their offices for informal counseling and one-on-one Christian therapy. Actually, this is, as a United Methodist Bishop puts it, “A necessary summons to the church, often distracted by questions of relevance, to be the church for a world battered and bruised by trauma.”

The church for the world. That is the theme of this much-needed book, a book that Grace Ji-Sun Kim calls “a gift to churches wondering “What now?”” That Will Willimon wrote the forward makes sense with his old cry to let the church be the church — therein lies our deepest relevance and our transformational vision. In Joni’s book we are reminded of key practices of being church — it is organized around lament, storytelling, and blessing. It will offer profound insight and encouragement for nurturing resilience and deepening compassion.

Certainly pastors should read this but we gladly recommend it to church leaders of all sorts. It is extraordinary.

Unruly Saint: Dorothy Day’s Radical Vision and Its Challenge for Our Times D.L. Mayfield (Broadleaf Books) $26.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

A few of you have watched some of my online adult Sunday school class which, this season, has been doing quick and fun introductions to a handful of church leaders and important Christian figures with a bit of a view to how they engaged the Bible and how their own faith and theology were shaped by their reading of Scripture. A week or so ago I had the great privilege of doing a short bit on Dorothy Day, a woman about whom I could talk for hours. I did not meet her, but knew people who had, and I’ve read a lot of books about (and by) this unruly saint. I’m here to say that Unruly Saint is an excellent — indeed, one of the best — books about Dorothy I have ever read. 

One of the unique features of this compelling read is that there is a small bit of personal memoir here, as D.Ll Mayfield tells a bit about her own spiritual struggles, her drift from traditional evangelicalism, and her discovery of this feisty woman who served the poor even as she read Russian novels and enjoyed opera. What a complex and wonderful woman Dorothy was, an early 20th century communist (and lifelong anarchist) who found her way to Christ and converted into the Catholic Church. In a way, this great biography is, as it says on the back, a way to “uncover the wisdom activist Dorothy Day offers today’s justice seekers.” Indeed, it is that.

The blurbs on the back (from Lisa Sharon Harper and Randy Woodley, for instance) signal the author’s relationship with a progressive sort of evangelicalism; that is, she is not Roman Catholic herself. Like Mayfield, some of us in this similar sort of context are drawn deeply to Dorothy and are fascinated with her own loyalty to the formalities of the Roman Catholic Church. Even as she fought with Bishops (and fasted for peace in Rome during Vatican II proceedings) over and over. She was a one-woman party of loyal opposition.

I adored Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice for the American Century by John Loughery & Blythe Randolph (surely the definitive book and very impressive) as well as the poignant and well-written book by one of Dorothy’s granddaughters, Kate Hennessy, Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Save by Beauty. But there is something about Unruly Saints, it’s punchy style, it’s shorter reading time, it’s passion, it’s relevance. I loved it and very highly recommend it.

Naturally, if you are new to reading about Dorothy, it is fantastic, especially if you want to hear how this committed activist today was inspired by her. If you are a serious fan, then, of course, you’ll want this as it truly is one of the good ones. There are plenty more — write to us and we’ll give you a list — but, for now, we very highly recommend this tremendous new volume.

The forward, by the way, is really good, written nicely by Robert Ellsworth, who found himself living in the New York CW house for years in the late 60s and 70s. He’s an important figure among those who have first hand knowledge of their friendship with Dorothy and the Catholic Worker movement under her leadership. He raves about the book, too. Kudos. 

The Holy and the Hybrid: Navigating the Church’s Digital Reformation Ryan Panzer (Fortress) $21.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59 

There are short and upbeat little books about getting over the pandemic, about switching to a hybrid model of church or maybe letting go of the hybrid model practices developed during the pandemic. You can skip most of them. This is one of the few that realizes, rightly, that we really must reimagine what it means to be church in the digital age.

Panzer is a leadership development professional in the technology industry and he often writes about the interface of faith and technology. He is concise and clear and seriously informed. I like deeper theology and deeper cultural criticism (like, say, Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age by Felicia Wu Song) and thoughtfully eloquent writing (like one of my favorite books of this year, Andy Crouch’s The Life We’re Longing For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World) but for practical congregational development and stimulating stuff about church life these days, The Holy and the Hybrid is quite useful. In a way it follows up his 2020 Grace and Gigabytes: Being Church in a Tech Shaped Culture. 

In this recent one Panzer is helping congregational leaders to develop hybrid ministries through “aligning the shared mission of the church with the collective values of our tech-shaped culture.” The goal of this book, they tell us, is to “help build communities that serve as the hands and feet of Christ simultaneously online and offline.”

Listen to this quote by Jim Keat, the digital minister of Riverside Church:

The Holy and the Hybrid is a book every pastor and church leader needs to read. It invites us to reflect on the ways we were all thrown into the digital deep end during the pandemic, and most importantly, it offers a way forward for churches to develop sustainable hybrid ministries that will be essential for the future of the church.

Or consider this from a guy I trust a lot, David Daubert pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL, and lead consultant for Day 8 Strategies; he is the co-author (with our friend Richard Jorgensen) of Becoming a Hybrid Church which has been our “go to” book on the subject for the last two years. David says:

Part memoir, part manual, this readable book will help readers make sense of their own journeys into hybrid ministry — the places where the physical and the digital offer both old and new ways of doing ministry. Panzer is both committed to digital ministry and aware of its limits, which makes this book an honest and helpful guide for readers reflecting on how God is calling them to design the next chapter of ministry in their own settings. 

The Incarnation in the Gospels Daniel Doriani, Philip Ryken, and Richard Phillips (P&R) $14.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Recently I did a radio interview on WORD-FM in Pittsburgh about seasonal books for Advent and Christmas and I found myself telling them about the lasting significance of On the Incarnation by Athanasius (and C.S. Lewis’s mighty words about it.) Sure, it is a bit demanding, but it truly is a beautiful and lasting book, perfect for this time of year.

This brand new one, a collection of sermons, picks up on themes of incarnation in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and is a collection of Christmas sermons offered by these preachers in the conservative Reformed tradition. They are reliable in their analysis of the passages — doing solid exegesis, as the fancy folks say — and they are themselves interesting, even creative writers. So these sermons bring a fresh understanding of incarnation, straight and solid. As the back cover puts it, these sermons “draw on the complete arc of biblical teaching.”

As Scottish Presbyterian Sinclair Ferguson puts it, 

Here is exposition modeled by pastors with scholarly gifts and scholars with pastor’s hearts.

 

The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith Trevin Wax (IVP) $24.00

OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

This important, new hardback book deserves a much longer review but, for now, I just wanted to announce it, reminding you also of our sale price. I’m seriously hoping at least three kinds of readers will consider it.

Firstly, obviously, those with deep concerns about the drifts from orthodoxy theology in our churches and ministries these days will want to use it to clarify and bolster their concerns. It clarifies wisely why this sort of commitment to the best and wisest sort of faith perspectives is essential. These readers will be reminded of what they already know and yet will deepen and maybe broaden their approach. In many ways, it is for this community, helping them regain a  sense of wonder and awe at the great truths.

Secondly, I think this is really, really good for those who are less concerned about an erosion of orthodoxy. Call these readers progressives or liberals or those happy to be in a left-leaning mainline denomination (as I am, by the way), we still must be aware of what is at stake if we are eager to move on, re-imagine and re-define the core tenements of the Christian faith. Wax reminds us of the importance of good maps and invites us to be careful. He is right, mostly, and we simply must engage more in this vital conversation. I commend this book to our mainline folks, readers who might typically not care about historic theologians and their musty creeds.

Thirdly — and this is a huge group, so hear me out — I think The Thrill of Orthodoxy might be useful for those who either don’t follow or don’t care about this perennial debate between those who are deeply committed to traditionalist theological claims and those who are less loyal to older formulations. Whether you tilt happily evangelical or devoutly mainline, if you don’t care about this, then you really need to read this book. It is a lovely work — inviting us to the “thrill” of an “adventure.”  Don’t care about all that? Pick this up and give it a try. From the first paragraph of the forward, you will be, dare I say, thrilled, despite the real rarity of that these days. It is, as the well-read Carolyn Weber (who wrote Surprised by Oxford) describes it, “a masterpiece” that shows the “weary, world-worn, or simply disinterested pilgrim, how right belief has laid a path through the darkness into bright adventure ahead.”

“A masterpiece that shows the weary, world-worn, or simply disinterested pilgrim, how right belief has laid a path through the darkness into bright adventure ahead.”     — Carolyn Weber

 

The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times Michelle Obama (Crown) $32.50

OUR SALE PRICE = $26.00

Publishers were understandably tight-lipped about this massively important new book, a major release, and I had not seen any of it until we opened the box and posted that fun Facebook picture of Beth and me waving ‘em around. And then we watched Mrs. Obama on Colbert and just grinned and grinned.

Alas, this is not just a feel-good book by an exceptionally articulate former First Lady. She is honest about how hard life can be — especially as we struggled with isolation during the quarantining and grief during the pandemic and frustrations during the stupid Stop the Steal nonsense and the horror of January 6th.  We all know that these are uncertain times. She, too, has struggled and in The Light We Carry she will be vulnerable and talk about her own fears and foibles and her hopes and dreams about bringing our best selves to the process of overcoming. I gather she is speaking for a whole lot of us.

In a way, it seems that The Light We Carry is a bit of a sequel to her best-selling and very interesting memoir, Becoming. This is not just her story, though, but the stuff she’s learned, guidance offered on “overcoming.” 

As she puts it, “I’ve learned it’s okay to recognize that self-worth comes wrapped in vulnerability aka d that what we share as humans on this earth is the impulse to strive for better, always and no matter what.”

This, we find, allows her to work for common ground, highlighting our shared humanity, our fears and foibles, and, yes, the deep sense of knowing our own stories. This is, she says, the “bedrock of all things. One light feeds another. One strong family lends strength to more. One engaged community can ignite those around it”

We’re honored to carry this, glad to offer it at our BookNotes discount. Order it now — I’m sure it would make a lovely Christmas gift for somebody you know.

Becoming Human: The Holy Spirit and the Rhetoric of Race Luke A. Powery (WJK) $22.00

OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

I hope you know how important Dr. Luke Powery is (not to mention his brother, central Pennsylvania professor at Messiah University, whose books we also carry.) Luke Powery is the Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and a professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School. He has written much about preaching, especially black preaching, and has both an Advent and a Lenten devotional based on old spirituals. He is quite a thinker and quite a communicator.

Becoming Human may be his most important book yet. Besides his work as chaplain at the university and professor at the Divinity School, he also holds a faculty appointment in Duke’s legendary Department of African and African-American Studies. Here, he brings all three of his academic passions together writing a powerful book about rhetoric; the rhetoric of race. He is redefining, here, as Donyelle McCray (of Yale Divinity School) puts, “what it means to preach in the power of the Spirit.” Or, as Kenyatta Gilbert (another famous professor of homiletics, from Howard University School of Divinity) puts it “Pentecost is pedagogy for the human race.” “This is,” he says, “is the grounding thesis of Luke Powery’s revolutionary work.”

I love Amos Young — a learned professor of theology in mission at Fuller and an outspoken Pentecostal scholar — who says this:

Two thousand years ago there were Arab, Cretan, and Roman (among other) tongues spoken on the streets of Jerusalem. It took a physician known as Luke to record these voices declaring the wondrous and powerful works of God. In our fraught 2020s, we can thank another doctor (of divinity), Luke Powery, for translating the witness of (especially, but not only) Black communities to all of us (including especially but not only white readers) so that we can appreciate how these experience testify to and declare prophetic words of God for our time.

Do I hear an Amen?

Becoming Human: The Holy Spirit and the Rhetoric of Race has a brilliant forward by Willie James Jennings which, in itself, is well worth reading. Yes! This is one that should get a lot of attention.

The Wonders of Creation: Learning Stewardship from Narnia and Middle-Earth Kristen Page (IVP) $22.00

OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60

There is so much to commend this small book and we are very happy to celebrate it, invite you to not only consider it, but to spread the word. You know there are bunches of Narnia fans and Tolkien loyalists; sadly, Matthew Dickerson’s academic books on these topics may be too pricey and lesser known, even though they should be highly regarded among us.

(What books, you ask? That would be Narnia and the Fields of Arbor: The Environmental Vision of C. S. Lewis and Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien, both published by the University Press of Kentucky. We’ve got ‘em!

In any case, we should really get the word out about this new IVP one — it is a delight to read and carries a huge ethical plea. It is interesting, entertaining, and righteous.

The Wonders of Creation is not expensive and it is upbeat, fabulously well-informed, interesting, curious, and deeply inspiring.  Can the fictional landscapes of Narnia and Middle-Earth, in the world of eco-theologian Steven Bouma-Prediger, “help us learn to care for the damaged landscapes of our world today?” Indeed, yes, by all means, yes. I believe this and have stacked our professional career on this very truth. What we read, even (maybe especially) fiction, can change us.

Bill McKibben says of this wonderful read, 

For anyone who grew up mentally wandering the forests of Narnia or Middle-Earth, this book will be a joy and a revelation — you’ll be reminded just how deep those images went into your heart.

If you love literature or love ecological writing, if you care about Lewis and Tolkien or care about the world Clive and JRR loved, this book is for you. The three major chapters are “Stepping Out of the Wardrobe – Searching Fictional Landscapes to Guide Our View of the World” and, then, “A Lament for Creation: Responding to the Groaning of God’s World” followed, then, by “Ask the Animals to Teach You: How to Regain Wonder and Join the Chorus.”

Wonders… is offered with the cooperation of the exquisite Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton and is an expanded version of the beloved Hansen Lectureship Series. Dr. Page is a biology prof at Wheaton, by the way. Here she brings in contributions and responses from Christiana Bieber Lake, Noah Toley, and Emily Hunter McGowan. Hooray.

Everyday Activism: Following 7 Practices of Jesus in Creating a Just World J.W. Buck (Baker Books) $17.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I often say this, but this time, man, I really mean it: I wish this book was around when I was younger. Like in my college years or really my twenty-something years or even in my 30s.  I’m in my late 60s, and I rejoice that a book like this is now available, one of several that so naturally integrate the life of faith, spiritual practices, devout piety with powerful and experienced insight about the life of daily activism. I need such a book. Do you want to join God in the work of justice and restoration in what we sometimes call our ordinary lives? J.W. Buck and this book can help, I guarantee it. 

Buck is a church planter, filmmaker, teacher and faith-base entrepreneur. He’s got an undergrad degree in Biblical studies and ministry and his PhD is in intercultural studies (with a focus on the problem of racial violence.) He is a cofounder of a great ministry called Pax, an organization designed to inspire and equip the next generation (as they put it) “through slow, beautiful, Jesus-centered content created by people of color.”  He and his wife Sarswaite, live in Tucson, Arizona.

Blurbs on the back are from John Perkins (which speaks volumes, right?) and Osheta Moore, whose book Dear White Peacemakers is a must-read. They both affirm that this book shows us how to live like Jesus in ways that can lead to Christian social action, a lifestyle of spiritually honest activism.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Shane Claiborne wrote a very good forward — he talks about how beautiful the book is, how practical and how inspirational. Quite a combo, eh? Not unlike Dorothy Day (who believes, with her beloved Russian novelists, that “beauty will save the world.”) J.W. lives into a life of goodness, beauty, joy, seeking forgiveness and rest and mindful resistance. He shows how young (or not so young) activists can be inspire by seven different practices of Jesus, clearly based on the gospel accounts.

Want to see justice roll down? Want to “be the change” we want to see? This is a guide to meaningful sorts of approaches. Whether you are a newbie at protest and service or a seasoned politico, I think Everyday Activism will be a cherished companion helping you honor God and be shaped by Christ’s ways as you attempt to make a difference. Highly recommended.

Claiming Your Voice: Speaking Truth to Power Norvene Best (Liturgical Press) $24.95

OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

Well, speaking of searching out a uniquely Christian and deeply spiritual sort of lifestyle of activism, being an agent of change and “speaking truth to power” as the Bible calls us to, this, too, is a rare sort of resource that will invite you and equip you to more faithfully do this very sort of stuff.

If J.W. Buck offers a Jesus-centered, gospel-clear lifestyle for activism, Norvene Vest brings a lifetime of careful consideration of Scripture and spiritual direction to the task. Yes, you should know Vest (an Episcopalian laywoman who is a Benedictine oblate) as a respected guide to adult faith formation and spiritual direction. She knows much about the Benedictine contributions to common life, of course, and helped create the renaissance in writing about spiritual formation and direction in recent decades. Her Friend of the Soul offers a Benedictine spirituality of work and her mid-1990s Upper Room book Gathering in the Word is about praying the Scriptures in small groups. A book  she compiled by older spiritual directors is called Still Listening; nice, eh? Anyway, she is a mature and respected author in these deeper waters.

But here’s an interesting thing: before Dr. Vest entered her life of spiritual writing and directing, she was a public servant. She knows something about social justice and political advocacy. She carries questions about the nature of American polity in her bones.

Here in Claiming Your Voice she explores four deforming contemporary patterns: market culture, American empire, climate crisis, and racism. Here’s how the back cover describes the visions of this work of deeply contemplative public theology that so nicely melds the Hebrew prophets and the Benedictine wisdom tradition:

“In consideration of the Christian foundations in prophetic imagination and Benedictine spirituality, she illustrates that Americans are called to provide energy for hope, to cut through public numbness, and to penetrate the deceptions of imperial consciousness so that God and the sacred again become visible and empowering for all our people.”

Laughter and Lament: The Radical Freedom of Joy and Sorrow Steve Brown (New Growth Press) $16.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I so, so appreciate Steve Brown, a conservative theologian and gracious talk-show host who brings on and delightfully honors the likes of the edgy, progressive Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. It isn’t everybody who writes books like Three Free Sins which invites folks to, uh, lighten up about their fears of sinning all the time.

He’s not flippant, exactly, and certainly not un-serious. He just likes to laugh and invite people to the gospel. He’s a PCA pastor and a good writer.He loves that verse about being set free.

Therapist Dan Allender calls this a “stunning book” that — get this: “holds the heartache of the cross and hilarity of the resurrection as the doorway for the kind of healing that will touch not only the heart but relationships and even our polarized cultural travail.”

The heartache of the cross and the hilarity of the resurrection. Wow — that’s it!

Hear well the amazing Aimee Byrd:

Steve Brown shares something that matters to our humanity: the freedom in gritty lament, the laughter that rises from relinquishing our false notions of control, and the boldness to invite others into this love.

Dane Ortlund (author of the remarkably book on the heart of Jesus, Gently and Lowly) predicts that this new Brown book “will fend off cynicism and foster joy.” Call it Christian realism, perhaps, but healthy folks know well what this is about, the need for uproarious laughter and bristling anger. As Ortlund says, this “fortifies us to live life well.”

I am so eager to read this. I met Steve once and am in awe. This book is going to be great.

The Emotions of God: Making Sense of a God Who Hates, Weeps, and Loves David Lamb (IVP) $18.00

OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

Just earlier this week I was helping a customer find some book on the troubling question of violence in the Old Testament; I recommended some pretty academic and serious ones but started with the accessible, honest, fair-minded classic God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? His Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style is worth reading, too. He may be an Old Testament prof at a seminary and a dean of faculty (at Missio Seminary in Philadelphia) (and penned a major commentary in the splendid Story of God series (on I & II Kings, no less) but he’s a hoot — fun and funny, compelling and wise.

The brand new The Emotions of God is a book I’ve been waiting a long time for. I couldn’t believe we didn’t have anything quite like this (although I’ve suggested in these very pages the lovely, 100-plus year old The Emotional Life of Our Lord by Princeton B. B. Warfield.) Now gladly, we’ve got a solid, introductory level, deeply wise study of God’s emotional life. Yep.

Lamb looks at seven divine emotions — hate, anger, jealousy, sorrow, joy, compassion, and love — and argues “that it is not only good that God is emotional but also that we can express emotions in such a way that reflects God’s goodness in the world.” There are suggestions for application and great discussion questions making this a fabulous resource for adult ed classes, small groups or book clubs. 

This will help us know God as God really is and help us comport ourselves more appropriately, with deep wisdom. As Scot McKnight says, this is “a must-read.” Kudos to IVP and to Dr. David Lamb.

Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are Lysa Terkeurst (Thomas Nelson) $28.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19

There is no doubt that Lysa Terkeurst is on to something. She has gone from being a small-time author doing good stuff on a small-ish publishing house to a force to be reckoned with; we loved her clever Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl and its passion for application and transformation long before many knew who she was. She then went on to write about issues common to many, especially women, including eating disorders and fear and loneliness and forgiveness. It seems that this brand new one is, in some ways, a necessary follow up to her important Forgiving What You Can’t Forget: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again.

We are called by God to faithfulness but also so flourishing. Her work captures this blend of upbeat spirituality and being known by God and the helpful ways in which Kingdom grace can help us cope with life’s rough patches. This book starts off on the back cover noting that “relationships are wonderful… until they’re not.”

She is surely not alone in thinking I can’t keep doing this — something has to change. Right?

Terkeurst has struggled through these questions and more. She understands the “dance with dysfunction” on a deeply personal feel. She is that friend that comes alongside you with compassion and support insisting that it is not unloving to set boundaries. It isn’t un-Christian to say good-bye. She thinks this approach is actually God’s idea.

Find out why — and what to do about it —  in Good Boundaries and Goodbyes. There are, by the way, reflections questions and even a closing prayer at the end of each chapter.

Home Is the Road: Wandering the Land, Shaping the Spirit Diane Glancy (Broadleaf Books) $25.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79

We stock other important books of literary star Diane Glancy, a Christian woman of Cherokee heritage. She is the sort of writer that wins the Pablo Neruda Prize for her poetry and receives grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is professor emerita at Macalester College in St Paul, MN. We’ve long been impressed, to say the least.

Again, as with others on this list, I have not had time to explore the riches of Home is the Road but I am particularly interested in this. You may be, too. I’ll admit I’m a bit conflicted (although eager to learn.) You see, I’m drawn to work about staying put, about nurturing a sense of place, about loyalty to location. But this book does seem to be more than a spiritual travelogue or valorizing being nomadic, but is a better story about finding oneself while “traveling the land.”

I notice that Ms Glancy does not talk about travel as a consumerist tourist; she “travels the land” which sounds to my ears like she is informed by her indigenous sensibilities. Or maybe her Canterburyian medieval studies. I don’t think it working the bohemian / romantic “on the road” schtick a la Kerouac. It is about what she calls “journeying” which is something like being a pilgrim, perhaps. 

This is, as one indigenous elder put it, “a strikingly original work. Glancy takes us all on a spiritual road trip. She lets us see a fragmented landscape of both longing and belonging.”

This is, finally, a study, I think, of identity. 

I trust Daniel Taylor, a great thinker and a great writer.  He’s written a lot, including a wonderful one called Tell Me a Story. He says of Home is the Road:

Relax. Set aside your rationalistic insistence on linearity, plain meaning, and predictable connections. You are in the hands of Diane Glancy, writer of excellence in many genres, who will take you on a poetic journey across the landscapes of America — physical and spiritual — accompanied by the Spirit. Enjoy the drive.

 

The Philosophy of Modern Song Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster) $45.00

OUR SALE PRICE = $36.00

Holy Smokes. This is an amazing book, full color, lots of random and often vintage photographs, odd-ball illustrations, gonzo graphics. It’s not what I was expecting — I should have realized the “philosophy” in the title was a joke from the Jokerman — and it’s terrific. Here Mr. Zimmerman weighs in on dozens and dozens of songs — 66 in total, I think. There are a few pages per song (some essays longer and better than others) and while Dylan is known for being a bit opaque at times, he is creatively straight-forward here. Except in the other parts of the book, a free-association riff which the publisher lauds as “dreamlike riffs” which cumulatively amount to “an epic poem”, which “add to the work’s transcendence.” I don’t think that’s supposed to be part of the joke but it is, perhaps, a bit much. There is a lot that Bob knows and tells, what one reviews describes as of the “cracker barrel” variety. That seems about right and it’s not a bad thing.

He usually tells something about the song, riffs on this or that, imagines stuff about the production or the playing or the memory or the meaning. I’ve only dipped in and it is more glorious than I expected.

There’s some cryptic stuff here as you’d expect. We know Dylan knows his stuff, especially about early Americana, blues, soul, country. He chooses some pop classics, though, from “Volare” to “Ball of Confusion”, from Bobby Bare to Bobby Darin, from The Clash to Roy Orbison to Judy Garland (“Come Rain or Come Shine” from her Judy album released in 1956.  Sure his guys like Waylon and Johnny Cash are here, but so are older rockabilly stars and black singers, jazz, blues, and soul singers. It’s wild — he has a vivid piece on “War” by Edwin Starr (released in 1970 on the Gordy label) and “Take Me From This Garden of Evil” by a neighbor of the young Elvis in Tupelo, Jimmy Wages, recorded in 1956, released on Sun Records.

This is delightfully surprising at times (he looks at Jackson Browne’s classic “The Pretender” and, baffling,  perhaps, Cher’s “Gypies, Tramps and Thieves.”) and really informative, exploring important work by say, Nina Simon or Rosemary Clooney. Of Dean Martin’s “Blue Moon” (1964) he says “This is the Dino that Elvis imitated.” Dylan dissecting the Allman Brothers next to explicating Carl Perkins and doing Little Richard (Tutti Fruitti, of course), Billy Jo Shaver and Pete Seeger? What Elvis songs does he explain? Which Frank Sinatra tune? What song from 1924 does he call “a blast furnace of a song”? Why in the world did he include Witchy Woman by the Eagles? And who was Mack the Knife, anyway?

The Philosophy of Modern Song is a hoot, by a Nobel Laureate — brilliant and energetic, wonderfully designed. We’ve got it, of course, at 20% off.

My Theology: Batman Is Jesus Siku (Fortress Press) $16.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

We have gladly stocked a dozen or so of these “My Theology” books from Fortress, compact sized, smallish paperbacks where famous authors share their deepest convictions or their keenest insights. We are fond of the more evangelical ones — Scot McKnight on why he is a pacifist is just wonderful (The Audacity of Peace) and the testimony of Alister McGrath of his conversion from scientism and atheism (Return from a Distant County) is brilliant. I have often mentioned Malcolm Guite’s The Worlds within the Words. There are a number in this series and we have them all, from  Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s Spirit Life to Finding God in the Universe by Jesuit Guy Consolmagno, the director of the Vatican Observatory to Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Corner of Fourth and Nondual 

When Batman is Jesus came in, I was surprised that it wasn’t compact-sized and that it is full color on the inside. It’s stunning with cartoons, graphic illustration, edgy photography. Siku you see, is the creator of the Manga Bible and has worked for Marvel UK. And is a serious graphic artist.  If this “My Theology” series offers opportunities for Christian thinkers to express the principle tenets of their faith, artist-theologian Siku, here, tells us about Narrative Theology and the specific subset of Graphic Theology. Who knew?

Through the visual language of superhero archetypes, legend, and lore, Siku “demonstrates a contemporary method of engaging with the Bible that resonates with how the Hebrew sages and prophets of pre-antiquity read Scripture.” This is one vivid and delirious work. Short, serious, wow.

Meeting God in Matthew Elaine Storkey (SPCK) $13.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19

Those who follow the cycle of the lectionary know that soon we will be diving in to Matthew. Year A. Yes!! And this long-time friend of ours, a broadcaster and public theologian the UK is perfect to help you through it.

I do not know if this is why this renowned British publisher released this now, but surely for those who want a helpful overview of Matthew, Storkey is a very capable guide. She is known in the UK as a respected Bible teacher, a social activist and policy advocate, a missional public theologian and great communicator. She directed Stott’s London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and was the President of Tearfund for 17 years. She has books on a variety of topics (most recently the urgent, excellently done Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women and the excellent and useful Women in a Patriarchal World: Twenty-Five Empowering Stories from the Bible.

Dr. Storkey has a much needed disposition and ability — I’d call it a spiritual gift — to learn from very wide reading and experience and has a lovely blend of progressive and conventional evangelical vision. She knows the injustices of the world and longs for a full reformation of the very architecture of our good but fallen creation and yet she is equally clear that we are invited to a personally meaningful saving faith in Jesus the Lord. She helps us see the Bible and its grand redemptive story with fresh eyes. 

Each chapter in Meeting God in Matthew has questions for discussion and reflection, making the book ideal for small groups. Start now (or maybe consider it for a Lenten group.)  

Andrew Fellows, formerly of the UK L’Abri says, “I can’t think of a better book to read on this Gospel.”

Elaine Storkey leads us gently and winsomely through Matthew’s Gospel to meet with Jesus… This book is down-to-earth, accessible, illuminating. I loved it. — The Rt. Reverend Jill Duffy, Bishop of Lancaster 

 

The Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar: Retrospect and Prospect edited by Craig Bartholomew, David Beldman, Amber Bowen, and Will Olhausen  (Zondervan Academic) $34.99

OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99

It was nearly 25 years ago that the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar (SAHS) started producing a steady stream of big, fat volumes offering what they properly suggest were “influential, global, diverse, and ecumenical” world-class research and launching the careers of many important young theologians. These volumes grappled with important questions about the Older and Newer Testament, the redemptive story of God, the trajectory of the Biblical narrative and how to best understand God’s Word in light of contemporary issues and the vital teachings of the past. 

This middle part of this book is a greatest hits, so to speak, highlighting some of the key insights from the previous 8 volumes, but more than that; it is a celebration and summary, a distillation of the work of the Seminar and testimonial of its value by scholars and pastors and Bible teachers alike.

Here are vibrant scholarly pieces by the likes of the editors alongside Susan Bubbers, Murray Rae, Anthony Thiselton, Bo Lim, and more. These diverse voices offer a “unique perspective on the architecture of the biblical interpretation in the first quarter of the twenty-first century” and is presented “in hope of preparing fertile soil for the next generation of women and men to cultivate biblical interpretation for years to come.”

This one-volume compendium is a treasure-trove of fresh scholarship and encouraging case studies, complete with stories and anecdotes about the value of this unique project. It’s a group and a movement offering some good ideas that you should know about.

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Advent resources for families with children 2022 – some new, some older. ALL 20% OFF

Doing that previous BookNotes on new Advent resources last week was fun and it was good to skim back over previous BookNotes from earlier Advents naming books that seemed helpful years ago. Some still are among the very best, so don’t forget to click on those links we shared. Thanks for taking a look — you should don’t want to forget perennial gift items like Plough Publishing’s Watch for the Light or Paraclete’s God With Us, first published in partnership with Image Journal.  You know I’m a fan of Advent by Fleming Rutledge. What glorious books they are.

Here are some devotional and/or faith-building resources for family use this Advent. A few are brand new, a few are good re-runs, and there is something for nearly everyone. Send us an order soon (by useing the link at the very end of the column — scroll all the way down so you don’t miss anything.) We’ll send them out at our discounted prices as soon as we can (usually the same day.) These days we must warn that sometimes, on a few items, there could be a delay.

Just click on the order form link below that takes you to our secure order form page at the Hearts & Minds bookstore website. You can type in anything you want and we’ll take it from there. It is secure for credit card info, so have at it. Thanks.

The History of Christmas: 2000 Years of Faith, Fable and Festivity Heather Lefebvre (Christian Focus) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

What a lovely book this is, fun and fascinating, full of full color art and illustration. This publisher is a typically conservative Scottish one but here is pleasantly ecumenical, exploring the great variety of gospel insights from a whole lot of different places and cultures. There’s clever descriptions and upbeat ideas, guidance on opportunities like having a “medieval Christmas” or a Victorian holiday. Naturally there is a good section on the Reformers and Puritans.

In a colorful style and with fictionalized stories for family reading this really is a theological history, with helpful bits of cultural studies. It has recipes for ordinary first century “Shepherds meal” and Mince pies as ways to understanding faith across the years, from the early church to the middle ages to “Christmas commercialized.” It shows how Christmas was reinvented (the story for this is set in London 1850.)

There are drawings of Bonaventure, Henry the VIII, Santa Claus, and scenes that show the delightfully multi-ethic nature of the church these days. I love this fun, educational book.

The God of Amazing Gifts: Family Devotions for Advent Lizzie Laferton (The Good Book Company) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

We shared this one last week, but it really fits here, so we’ll tell you about it again:

In other years we have sold well the family and seasonal devotionals published by this gospel-centered, solid, evangelical publishing house. They do impressive books and we’re happy to announce this one, a wonderful and fresh devotional that, as one parent put it, “will keep on giving far beyond Christmas.”

The God of Amazing GIfts has 25 devotions that can be used during Advent or spread out before or after Christmas.

Helpfully it has different questions routes for different aged children from 7 – 14+, and a variety of suggestions for application. There are some extra ideas in the back, too, for further family activities and deeper conversations. It might be the thing to help your family dig just a bit deeper this season.

One reviewer says that it is “thought provoking, awe-inspiring, and Jesus-magnifying, a brilliant resource.”

God’s Holy Darkness Shared Green & Becky Selznick, illustrated by Nikki Faison (Beaming Books) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This is one of the most amazing children’s books in many a year, powerful, aesthetically stunning, exceptionally well done. I highly recommend that you find a way to integrate this into your Advent reading with kids of various ages, even though it isn’t directly an obvious Advent book. There is one facing spread that does speak of Advent, so I guess it is an Advent book.

There are two important threads of import in this striking picture book. Firstly, it is (obviously) about darkness. That in itself resonates with themes of Advent, doesn’t it? We really appreciate how artfully it shows this and how vital and captivating this book is, inviting us to “celebrate the beauty of God’s holy darkness.” (Perhaps you recall the wonderfully written memoir exploring this by the exquisite Barbara Brown Taylor called Learning to Walk In the Dark: Because Sometimes God Shows Up at Night; this children’s book is a good companion for that.)

The second theme is wanting to — how do I say this? — redeem the notion of blackness. Too often we hear, or assume subconsciously, that black is bad, that dark times are irredeemably bad, that night and dark are scary and troubling. We needn’t overstate the case but some black friends have said this can be hurtful or confusing, so we need to think this through. God’s Holy Darkness is, in a sense, an anti-racism book.

As it says on the back cover of God’s Holy Darkness:

From the darkness at the beginning of creation to the blackness of the sky on the night when Christ’s birth was announced, this captivating picture book deconstructs anti-Blackness in Christian theology by exploring instances in the story of God’s people when darkness, blackness, and night are beautiful, good, and holy.

We often talk about how Christmas is best understood in the flow of the unfolding drama of the history of redemption. That is, we should frame the Christmas season by the whole story of God as portrayed in the big story of Scripture. (In the book by Daniel Spanjer that I highlighted in the last BookNotes, Advent is the Story: Seeing the Nativity Throughout Scripture, it shows how to do this.) This exceptionally artful book does just that allusively, simply, walking us through the pages of Scripture. This is redemptive, nearly subversive, Biblical theology for children. What a book!

The Light Before Christmas: A Family Advent Devotional  Marty Machowski, illustrated by Sarah Bland-Halulko (New Growth Press) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59.

A handsome, slim hardback with a nice deep blue cover and some rich, colored pages and the occasional bright ink makes this four-week Advent family devotional a special treat to behold. Machowski is the Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA (where he has served on the pastoral staff for over thirty years and has made a name for himself as a leader in the new generation of up-beat, grace-based, gospel-centered, Christian curricula.) 

This new one combines devotions on the themes of light and darkness with the story, as they explain, of eleven year old Mia and her grandmother as they prepare for Christmas. “Grandmother loves to share her faith, especially at Christmas time, and although she is bind, she can see the light of Jesus shining bright and helps Mia — and children of all ages — to do the same.” 

Reset: Advent Devotions for the Whole Family J.D. Walt (Seedbed) $9.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.96

This is one of the lovely, compact sized “Seedbed Daily Text” volumes, designed to be read out loud in families, written by the editor (who they call “sower-in-chief”) at Seedbed, the Wesleyan renewal ministry out of Asbury Theological Seminary. Walk has four children and is a preacher, poet, and songwriter.

I like that they say that since Advent is the first month of the church calendar, “it’s like a giant reset button crying out to give us a fresh start again.” More than two thousand year ago, they say, “God reset the world.” Indeed.

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

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

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

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

With every Christmas becoming more commercialized, parents are earnestly seeking new ways to make the true story of Christmas much more clear to their children. One glance through this remarkable book tells me that A Jesus Christmas is just what mothers and fathers are looking for. What a great family project this is, providing guide points for discussion, age-appropriate activities, and homework for every child. I highly recommend this book as a practical and powerful way to keep Jesus Christ and his Word at the very center of your family’s Christmas.

A Better Than Anything Christmas: Explore How Jesus Makes Christmas Better Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

What a great resource, clear about the gospel and the centrality of Jesus in our lives. I love it that the very wise (and very smart) Joni Eareckson Tada says to “consider this unique book your Christmas toolbox. I give it my double thumbs-up!”

Maybe you know Barbara Reaoch’s previous book from 2018, A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas; this is arranged very similarly and is a great companion to it.

It is a family devotional, each day’s entry looking at a passage from the Gospel  There is a helpful question and even a space for journaling.

Here are what some stellar folks have said about it:

This is yet another outstanding family devotional book for the Christmas season by Barbara Reaoch. If you’ve been blessed by any of her previous books, you’ll enjoy this one as well. She has a knack for starting with something interesting to children and quickly turning it to Jesus and the Bible. This one will appeal both to younger and older children, and parts of each chapter are directed to both groups. The book is imaginatively interactive as well; not just something for kids to listen to. Best of all is how she conveys 25 core truths about Christ in a simple way to show the children how Jesus is Better Than Anything.  – Donald S. Whitney, Professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY and author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Praying the Bible, and Family Worship.

In a world where Christmas is more commercialized than ever before, it is all too easy for parents to drown in the noise of it all. Barbara Reaoch’s A Better Than Anything Christmas is a welcome and refreshing opportunity for parents to zero in on what is truly important: the gospel. The daily advent readings and questions make for excellent family discussions around who Jesus is and why He came. We loved Barbara’s A Jesus Christmas for how it offered our children an opportunity to grapple with big doctrinal ideas in a way that was easily digestible, even cross-culturally. I look forward to sharing A Better Than Anything Christmas with the family this Christmas, most especially for how it promotes theologically robust discussion and a deepening and enduring understanding of God’s Word. From toddlers to teens, this devotional offers far greater value than even the most beautifully wrapped packages beneath the tree.     – Taryn Hayes podcast host, The Gospel Coalition Australia’s The Lydia Project: Conversations with Christian Women

Families Celebrate 2022-2023 Advent and Christmas deck of cards (Augsburg Fortress) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

Give new meaning to the phrase “Christmas cards” by using these (small) cards to do family devotions. As they promise on the back, each card features a ritual, prayer, reflection, or activity. For families with kids ages 3 -13. Cards are dated for use each day from the first Sunday of Advent to the Day of Epiphany (January 6, 2023.) Of course, you could use or re-use them. These are really cute and feature full color art on 56 cards. While supplies last…

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

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

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

Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher Rodkey, with illustrations by Jesse & Natalie Turri (Christian Board of Publication/Chalice Press) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

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

Rev. Rodkey’s subsequent Coloring Lent and Coloring Women of the Bible are equally as fascinating and a lot of informative, clarifying fun. Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book was created here in Dallastown and we are glad to list it here. It isn’t designed for children, but, obviously, anybody can use it, even teens.

Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred Traci Smith (Chalice Press) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

This is a nice holiday companion to the popular Faithful Families: Creation Sacred Moments at Home. It offers 100 nifty ideas, some pretty ordinary that anybody would do, some a bit more extensive that are thoughtful and good, and a few that are a bit, uh, unique. Not everyone will “get” each one, granted. Even if you do a few of these or ponder a few others, this book is worth its inexpensive price. Give it a try.

In each of these simple, hands-on practices, Smith gives families the tools to slow down, wait, and focus on all that Jesus coming into the world means. — Karyn Rivadeneira, author, Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible 

Christmas is Coming! But Waiting is Hard! Family Activities and Devotions for Advent Karen Whiting (Abingdon Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This book is not new but we wanted to highlight it for you; some of our customers are looking for useful resources that have basic lessons and conversation-starters and little crafty type  activities for young ones. This author used to work for Focus on the Family and has developed curriculum for others who want to share basic Christian insight for children. (She was a producer and host of a puppet show on public TV in Miami — yay!)

Besides the reading, each day’s entry includes a prayer, discussion questions, explanation of a Christmas symbol, some reproducibles to help with the symbol activity, and suggested activities to put the Scriptures into action.

The 25 Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional to Help You Celebrate Jesus James Merritt, illustrated by Connie Gabbert (Harvest House) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

This was a big hit a couple of years ago not only for its solid, Biblical content but for the rich artwork, nice cloth hardback feel. It’s 9 x 12, so bigger than most (although not thick.)  It will be a keepsake edition. Merritt is a Southern Baptist pastor and co-host of a TV show. He’s written bunches of books.The 25 Days of Christmas has a story to read aloud each day and an activity — things to do, discover, apply.

The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas Dean Meador Lambert (Abingdon Press) $17.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

This is an old classic that originally came out in the mid-1980s. We used to sell it widely and encouraged folks to do this great project of creating ornaments that each are related to an Old Testament text that lead up to the Christmas story. What a great way to teach the history of redemption and the unfolding drama of salvation history. The writing here is a bit old-fashioned, the black and white illustrations even more-so; they were old-fashioned when they were in the first edition. Vintage, eh? Still, the idea is solid. We enjoy letting people know about this. These are devotions based on the Biblical texts and symbols but not a craft book to make the symbols for the Jesse Tree. (Let us know if we can help you with that; there are several.)

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is a contemporary classic, beloved and used by many. It is colorful and excellently made. It is playing on the old Jesse Tree custom. It has vivid, full-color illustrations, downloadable ornaments, and moving scenes from the Bible.  As the publisher says, “Person by person, story by story, retrace the lineage of Jesus. Fall in love with Him all over again as you experience God’s plan of salvation for us–from the Garden of Eden to the manger and beyond.” This is an oversized hardback, like a big coffee table book, a real keepsake.

The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent  Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $34.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99                                                               We’ve exclaimed about this before, a beautifully designed, big, lavish hardback with pop-up features and lots of extras that serves as a contemporary take on the old Jesse Tree tradition. There’s a little devotional by Voskamp for each of the ornaments — what a keepsake volume.

Here’s how they describe what is included:

  • 13-inch 3D pop-up tree
  • Devotional booklet with 25 family devotions written by Ann Voskamp
  • 24 Christmas tree ornaments with hangers
  • Star-shaped tree-topper

Based on her bestseller Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp expands her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree with this beautiful keepsake that can be handed down and enjoyed for generations.

Each December, families can celebrate the coming of Jesus by opening the book to see a stunning 13-inch, three-dimensional Jesse Tree pop up from the page. At its foot are 25 doors, one for each day of Advent, which hide meaningful, beautifully detailed ornaments–including the Christmas star–that are ready to be hung on the tree.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season inspired by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago, narrated by David Suchet (Zonderkidz) $24.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96

I hope you know this. Here is how we wrote about it before when it was brand new in 2020.

Oh my goodness, we’ve saved the best for last. We are so excited to tell you about this. This Sally Lloyd-Jones Christmas Collection, though, really is a great choice to use during Advent with little children so we wanted to announce it here, now. It is, of course, at our 20% off sale price.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season is one of those great books that is oversized and handsome and has a battery/computer gadget thingie that speaks or plays music when a child presses the button.  There is narration, and there are excerpts of four Christmas carols that fit well into the appropriate pages. Kids love these interactive books. That it spreads out widely in the lap is great, too. Kudos, Zonderkidz!

They say this is for ages 4 – 8 but I can imagine a slightly older kid reading it herself. And a slightly younger one could press the buttons and smile at the music, so I’m going to suggest this, being a bit optimistic, for ages 3 – 10.

There are key moments to “press the button” throughout and it will bring hours of pleasure and spiritual formation for children and families using this very cool new product. We’re excited. And the art is cool, whimsical without being silly or sentimental.

You should know that we adore the Jesus Storybook Bible and while there are other children’s story Bibles that we like a lot, we are especially fond of the creative art and excellent writing of this one. And the framework and theological perspective — “Every Story Whispers His Name” — shows the interconnectedness of the Bible stories that unfold and point to the promises fulfilled in Christ. It’s really good. And Advent is the perfect time to plumb those obvious interconnections.

This edition has content that is explicitly Advent themed.

All About… Christmas Alison Mitchell (The Good Book Company) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

I suppose this isn’t an Advent book as such (since it is about Christmas) and we’ll list it again when we do a list of children’s Christmas books in December. But this is so chock-full of information and content that kids are going to want to dig into the Christmas story from the Bible books (of Matthew and Luke) sooner rather than later. They will be able to investigate what life was like in that time and place and discover why we still celebrate this King every Christmas holiday.

All About… Christmas is accessible and fun but really a wonderful guide to so very much about the season. It is full color in the classic style of upbeat kid’s nonfiction books with a terrific blend of illustration and photographs. There are facts and figures, questions and answers, things to explore and things to consider.

We’re glad for this colorful hardback book of about 50 large sized pages (complete with a glossary, of course.)  I can’t say enough about this and if you don’t have children or grandchildren, nieces or nephew, by golly, buy one and give it away, of for each of your congregations Sunday school teachers. It’s that interesting.

One Great Love: An Advent and Christmas Treasury of Readings, Poems, and Prayers edited by Paraclete Press (Paraclete Press) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

We featured this in last week’s Advent newsletter but it dawns on me that some of these nicely presented pieces — not least the fiction excerpts from Louise May Alcott and Charles Dickens, and the holiday poems and prayers and promises — really can be used in a family setting, read out loud or passed around. The artwork is mostly classic, the print in a handsomely done, good sized font, the classy color making it a beloved holiday treasure for you and your children.

From the ancient words of Isaiah to the timeless writings of Henry van Dyke, O. Henry, and contemporary poets (Gayle Boss, Eugene Peterson, Nikki Grimes and more), One Great Love is a fine and lovely book with a real assortment of readings. Not too much, not too fussy or heavy, this is a “just right” volume to have on hand for your family gatherings.

The Birth of Jesus Advent Calendar: The Light Shines in the Darkness Agostino Traini (Beaming Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

We have bunches of different sorts of Advent Calendars, of course, classic one-page (9″ x 12″ or so) with old fashioned art and nifty little doors to open. Many are inexpensive and some are larger and some are small. They come and go each year depending on what we find that’s useful.

But this. This is a larger one with a more sturdy wooden design making it truly reusable, year after year. It is modern,  colorful and fascinating —  like a combo pop-up book and nativity scene, perfect for the whole family to use together. This is designed by the illustrious Italian paper artist, Agostino Traini, who has also done, for instance, the Birth of Jesus: A Christmas Pop-up Book and an array of other lavish, pop-up book creations for Beaming Books (such as an incredible one on the creation story, the Lord’s Prayer, an Easter one, and more.) The Birth of Jesus Advent Calendar is a unique item, though — instead of a “window” to open there is a cut-out figure to punch out of the page which becomes a developing, stand-up nativity scene.

If you order this we’ll send you a link to a free guide to download that has a brief bit of info about each of the 25 characters (including the three wise men that are used the day after Christmas.)

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ADVENT BOOKS 2022 – on sale 20% OFF

“And so, to understand the truly radical nature of Advent, it is necessary to get its relation to Christmas in perspective…”

 

“In a very real sense, the Christian community lives in Advent all the time. It can well be called the Time Between, because the people of God live in the time between the first coming of Christ, incognito in the stable in Bethlehem, and his second coming, in glory, to judge the living and the dead. In the Time Between “our lives are hidden with Christ in God, when Christ who is our life appears, then we also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3: 3-4). Advent contains within itself the crucial balanced of the now and the not-yet that our faith requires.”  — Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ

Welcome to the 2023 Hearts & Minds Advent Book List, a yearly extravaganza that I love sharing. There are some perennial classics that I would love to remind you of (so please check out HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE.) There are some recent ones that maybe came out in the last few years but that are not yet well known. Happily, there are plenty of brand new ones. There really is something for everyone. 

(I will do children’s Advent and Christmas books in another post, soon.)

I often say that while Lenten spiritual practices are somewhat more sober and intense and Easter is, obviously, the most important Christian high holy day there is, for many of us, Advent is our favorite time of the year. I think it is wise to not overemphasize the countdown to Christmas and recapture the older, truer meaning of this slow, longing, season of our liturgical calendar, but, let’s face it: there is a lot of joy — even as we struggle with very hard things — in focusing on the hope of Christ’s final victory, the return coming when all will be (as Brits like C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright put it) sorted out and put to rights. Whether you and your family or group is somewhat new to the liturgical practices of this waiting/hoping season or whether you are a seasoned soul, whether you are upbeat this time of year or somewhat dreading it, these books can help.

There are others we have in the store and there are hundreds of others that can be found. We’ve curated this list for you, selecting what we have found to be the most interesting or helpful for our discerning (and delightfully but really diverse) BookNotes readership. All are 20% off (with a few small exceptions, noted below.) Send us an order today, please.

WEEKLY STUDIES AND THOSE GOOD FOR GROUPS OR BOOK CLUBS

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

Buy this and you’ll hardly need to buy much more for years as it is a thick substantive collection of dozens of sermons. It is, I often say, one of my all time favorite collections and it is lasting years and years and I read and read essays and mostly sermons (many which she calls “pre-Advent) into Christ Our King Sunday and through the Advent season. Get some folks together and pick a few to study together, one or two a week. There is nothing programmatic or any discussion questions, just great chapters. You can do this. 

Invigorating — edgy, intelligent, unflinching, and joyful in all it reclaims. A timely, lively, prophetic word. — Marilyn McEnytyre, author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Fleming Rutledge’s Advent preaching bursts upon us with the same elemental force as the preaching of John the Baptist…Do not drive anesthetized through another season of Advent; read this book.  — Richard Hays, author of Reading with the Grain of Scripture

The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope Kelly Nikondeha (Broadleaf Books) $24.99    OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99

This is nothing short of stunning and we very highly recommend it this year. There are maybe 10 chapters so it might be harder to do in five weeks with a group, but maybe you could do two chapters each sessions. (They are fairly short, if eloquent and very thoughtful.) Wow.

Kelly has written a wonderful pair of Eerdmans books, one called Adoption about “the sacrament of belonging” (viewing adoption both theologically and rather practically as a white woman living in Africa in an adoptive, bi-racial and multinational family) that was beautifully provocative. Her second one is also not to be missed, an eloquent and passionate reflection called Defiant:What the Women of Exodus Teach Us About Freedom. What a writer she is and a bit of a hero of ours.

Although she lives in Burundi, in East Africa, Nikondeha has long been interested in the plight of Palestinians and has amplified voices there. With blurbs from the likes of Shadia Qubit and Naim Ateek and James Zogby, you will know that this author and her book are highly regarded and respected. I do not know anything quite like this, rooted so clearly in the Biblical narrative and yet with this very contemporary application. This really is an excellent authentically Christmasy advent book.

If you are wearied by or bored with the sentimentality and careless religious nostalgia of American Advent and Christmas, this is the book for you. Kelley Nikondeha takes a deep, alert dive into the natal poetry of the Gospels that has become for us too trite and jaded in its familiarity. She reads this poetry differently because she has, at the same time, made a deep investment in the contemporary life of real people in the actual circumstances of Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, people who happen to be Palestinians who continue to be outsiders to imperial power. The outcome of her bold reading is to see that these Gospel texts initiated a peace movement into the world that defies and subverts the phony peace of every imperialism. This rich, suggestive book permits us to reappropriate in knowing ways the good news of Advent-Christmas, news that destabilizes and emancipates. — Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, author of Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study

The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ Timothy Keller (Penguin) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

This is an excellent, intelligent, faithful survey of the reasons for Christmas, what has been called “a profoundly moving and intellectually provocative” examination of the nativity story.

There are hard edges to the Christmas story and this illuminating journey may be surprising to traditional Christians (or those who don’t see themselves as religious but can’t escape the season’s presence.) In other words, this is a great gift book for Christians wanting to dig a bit deeper and know why they believe (or even some of what they believe) and for seekers or or unchurched folks who wonder about this talk of the redeeming power of God in this curious question of incarnation. Perhaps yoiu know a skeptical (or religiously disinterested) college student. Give ’em this, please!

As a great Reformed pastor, Keller is known for a gospel-centered message; that is, we cannot rescue ourselves, we can not rustle up the magic or meaning to sustain a purposeful life. If we cannot generate within ourselves enough, then what do we do? Christmas, as Christians of all sorts confess, is very good news indeed, the answer to our human predicament, which he explores curiously and realistically. I love this book, thoughtful without being stuff, offering a winsome apologetic for anyone willing to think things through. 

There are eight interesting chapters, but none are too lengthy. Your group could do two chapters for four weeks, easily, or stretch it out a bit. Highly recommended.

Advent Is the Story: Seeing the Nativity throughout Scripture — A Journey of Reading Through the Advent Season Daniel Spanjer (Square Halo Books) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I waited for this book a long time — I know that Mr Spanjer is a highly respected public leader in Lancaster; he is a department chair and professor of history at Lancaster Bible College and is involved in Alcuin Society, a thoughtful evangelical ministry among college professors in higher education. His pastor at Wheatland Presbyterian was very encouraging of this project and it ended up to be a fabulous little book. I really want to recommend it to you and thank the good folks at Square Halo for offering such a Biblically-wise Advent title to their classy inventory.

It is compact in size and jam-packed with Bible study and thoughtful Scripture reflections, insisting that the coming of Jesus is the Bible’s story. It is arranged as a daily devotional but the entries are grouped in such as way that a small group could use it individually day by day and then come together weekly to discuss that week’s theme. 

The rich readings are grouped in six sections, each with a primary topical essay and then the daily reflections which follow. These topics include The Word, The Temple, The King, The Exodus, The Sacrifice, and The Now and the Not Yet (ending on December 31st.)

I love how Heidi Johnston (author of the UK release, Life in the Big Story: Your Place in God’s Unfolding Plan) puts it:

This is an Advent book that goes where many others do not… From Eden to Babel, from the promised land to the New Jerusalem, this book reminds us that all of history has been marked by the same drumbeat of hope, as God relentlessly pursues the people he loves, stopping at nothing to make his dwelling place among them. 

Prepare the Way for the Lord: Advent and the Message of John the Baptist Adam Hamilton (Abingdon Press) $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99

I am sure that if you are a person who follows religious publishing at all you have heard the name of Adam Hamilton. We respect him a lot and I think that as his popularity has grown he has matured and developed. He’s not too heavy, but is learned. He’s not too punchy but he has great concerns about peace, justice, and civic leadership. He’s not too preachy but has an evangelical heart. He’s a pastor of a huge United Methodist Church but seems really down to Earth. This one looks really, really good.

Philip Yancey has said that Hamilton has “proven to be a faithful guide to applying the Bible to modern life in a sane and balanced way.” Brian McLaren calls him “a national treasure” who “embodied the kind of generous orthodoxy so many of us have been dreaming of and praying for.” 

This book has four fairly short chapters and a nice fifth “afterword” piece. There is, as there usually are with many of his book, a DVD, a Leader’s Guide and even a youth edition. Check out his older ones, too, like Not A Silent Night or The Journey, which we also have. For now, though, we celebrate this 2023 release, Prepare the Way for the Lord: Advent and the Message of John the Baptist as a stand alone book, or to be used in a book study or the fabulous DVD study.

  • Book  $19.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
  • DVD  $39.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
  • Leader’s Guide $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

The Angels of Christmas: Hearing God’s Voice in Advent Susan Robb (Abingdon Press) $16.99       OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

This handsome four chapter book invites us to “experience the angelic visits surrounding the birth of Jesus.” I suspect this has been done before, somewhere, but I do not know of any four session study that offers this fascinating glimpse into the angelic visits in the seasonal narrative.

Susan Robb recently retired as the Senior Associate Minister at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas (where she served for more than 20 years.) Believable, thoughtful, a great preacher, Susan’s loves teaching the Bible and inviting folks into conversational Bible studies. There is no doubt that she is a gifted, practical scholar, a educator in and for the local church.

Naturally, a study like this is getting at not only the nature of these miraculous events, but, notably, GOd’s presence in our own daily lives. As one reviewer put it, she intersects the miraculous happenings of 2000 years ago with the experiences of people’s lives — their joys, sufferings, and hopes. What a beautiful way to hear and study the Nativity story.”

Our old friend who used to live in York, the Rev. Alyce McKenzie (professor of preaching and worship at Perkins School of Theology) says this has Robb’s “trademark clarity and eloquence” and is “ideal for personal growth or small group study.” She even recommends it for all-church studies tied to the sermons of Advent.

  • Book  $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
  • DVD  $39.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
  • Leader’s Guide $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study Walter Brueggemann (Westminster/John Knox) $15.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00

If you scroll back through the archived BookNotes from previous Advent lists you will see this little study listed a few times. This is how I described it a year or so ago: Names for the Message has the brilliant Biblical scholar Walt Brueggemann holding forth in rich essays about the four names of the son who has been given to us as described in Isaiah 9:6. There is in the back a four-week study guide and discussion questions for group conversation complete with a closing prayer.

This tackles some tough historical questions too — what would the Jews in exile have thought about this oracle from the prophet? Did Jesus fulfill this hope; naturally, Christians believe Jesus was the royal Messiah foretold in the Old Testament, and Brueggemann helps us tease out the implications.

Advent in Plain Sight: A Devotion Through Ten Objects Jill J. Duffield (Westminster/John Knox) $16.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80

I wrote about this when it came out two years ago. Here is what I said, then, gladly: we premiered last spring a similar one by this author, Lent in Plain Sight, and had so much good feedback on the Lenten one we were glad to see a new Advent one as well. It has great possibilities for a study group or book club or adult ed class.

What an interesting way into the story, focusing on eight objects (and a bonus ninth, the water of Jesus’s baptism) — gates, tears, belts, trees, cloth, light, hearts, gold, water. There are discussion questions and a prayer after each chapter. You could do two chapters each week for four weeks and there would be plenty to ponder. Short, interesting, fresh.

DAILY ADVENT DEVOTIONALS

The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany Jane Williams (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

The Art of Christmas: Meditations on the Birth of Jesus Jane Williams (IVP) $17.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60

We have touted and sold bunches of The Art of Advent in years past and it remains one of the best bargains you will find — excellent of often classic artwork explored and reflected upon by the great British art scholar (and wife of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.)

The new “Christmas” one that just came out this year is a bit shorter, but richly wonderful. The Art of Christmas is still 115 pages and excellently done.

Both are just thrilling to have, delightful in a profound way, a glory to know that people think up and make such fabulous books. Each are about 6 1/2 x 5 1/2, easy to mail, making great little gifts — not too weighty but impressive. Get a few of each, while supplies last.

Making Room in Advent: 25 Devotions for a Season of Wonder Bette Dickinson (IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40

With contemporary art on glossy paper, this is a very handsome little book, cool, a bit edgy, but very nice. I never like that formal font, and it doesn’t do the contemporary vision of the art much justice, in my view. But it does show that it has weight, gravitas, even if the point is pointing us towards joy. Bette Dickinson is described as a “prophetic artist” who has an artful ministry called “Awakening the Soul.”  This hardback book helps us make room. Make room for what, you ask? Each of 25 reflections and art pieces will answer that with 25 different answers. This really is a tremendous book, one of the best of this year. You will love pondering it, I’m sure.

Terry Wildman — an indigenous leader who was the lead translator of the First Nations Version of the New Testament — says that Making Room in Advent is “a welcome contemplative offering birthed from her own experiences… offering artistic depth combined with theological breadth and personal applications.”

Listen to what the very wise Curt Thompson (Soul of Shame and Soul of Desire) writes:

If spaciousness for God and the flourishing He promises is what you desire, I cannot think of a better place to start.

Expecting Emmanuel: Eight Women Who Prepared the Way Joanna Harader with Michelle Burkholder (Herald Press) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Once again, Herald Press hits it out of the park with this fabulous resource, a handsome, full sized book loaded with both Biblical insight and contemporary application. It obviously is an Advent journey, a devotional inviting us through Advent and into Christmas with the women of Jesus’s family line. What a great idea!

Herald Press, which is a Mennonite publishing house, is one of the most fresh and interesting publishers these days bringing lively and provocative, Biblically faithful, progressive voices into the religious conversation. Harader is the pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kansas, and is known for creating moving, faithful, worship liturgies. (She has written in Christian Century and the “Shine” Sunday school curriculum.)  

Michelle Burkholder is a pastor in Hyattsville, Maryland and offers illustrations and art design for this volume — something akin to linocuts, she does paper cuts which offer shapes and lines and abstract designs. It adds a very nice touch to the volume.

Besides the standard daily devotions, this book can be used as a guide to preaching and creating worship liturgies. They give readers a lot of tools to use this, from small groups and Sunday school to worship settings with sermon ideas and candle-lighting litanies. There is even a guide for an Advent retreat using this over the course of a few days. (I bet after individuals or small groups use it this year, there will be some who insist on pulling off an Advent retreat next year!)

Expecting Emmanuel is a treasure trove, solid, helpful, interesting. Highly recommended.

In prayers like poems and meditations that weave together the stories of women in the Bible with the lives of readers, Joanna Harader offers a gentle invitation: sit, wait, hold one, don’t give up.  — Melissa Florer-Bixler, author of How to Have an Enemy

Three Wise Women: 40 Devotions Celebrating Advent with Mary, Elizabeth and Anna Dandy Daley Mackall (Paraclete Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19

Paraclete Press is a premier publisher of ecumenical books with a liturgical and sacramental perspective; their Advent and Lenten books are not just staples for us, but true joys to promote. We stock almost everything they do and, in this case, we’re delighted for this lovely book by an author who is known for doing charming children’s books, YA stuff, and delightfully evangelical resources for Christian living. This may be her most sophisticated project yet and yet it carries her grace and insight. Writing from rural Ohio, she help us, as she says, “anticipate, celebrate, and marvel” at Jesus’s birth.

I suppose this is designed mostly for women readership, but you know us — we’d recommend it to anyone who needs this Biblical content, this encouragement, this bit of healthy calm, published in a handsome hardback. It has illustrations and even a ribbon marker, making it a very nice gift.

None other than New York Times bestselling novelist Bret Lot (who himself has guided many a writer with his Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, on Being a Christian) has a rave endorsement:

Dandi Mackall has done something important, and beautiful, and good, calling her readers to ponder anew this miraculous season when the gift of all gifts was bestowed upon us all, and to do so through the eyes of the blessed women involved. This is a wonderful book.

Brightest and Best: 31 Advent Devotions on Jesus Philippa Ruth Wilson (Christian Focus) $12.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39

Christian Focus is a conservative, often Reformed, evangelical publisher from Scotland and we appreciate their no-nonsense theology and their clarity about doctrine and salvation and holiness. Here, then, is a book like no other: it is about the comfort Advent could bring to those who are hurting. Philippa Ruth Wilson has written a lot about Jesus and depression at her blog “A Certain Brightness” (and has published a book of that name about her depression.) This rejects the “happiest time of the year” nonsense and yet communicates “joyful, uplifting, and glorious Christmas truths” to those who need encouragement.

As it says on the back cover, “in a world of poverty, prejudice, and sickness, it can be hard to sing tis the season to be jolly. Brightest and Best is a collection of advent devotions that point to the comfort God has promised in the coming of Jesus.”

Some readers may recall our fondness for the book by Amy Boucher Bye, a sharp thinker and deeply spiritual writer who not too long ago did 7 Ways to Pray: Time-Tested Practices for Encountering God. She has an endorsement here, saying:

Interweaving the wisdom and grace of her aptly termed Carolsville with the wonderous story of Jesus, Philippa Wilson in Brightest and Best sparks longing and love within us during the Advent and Christmas seasons. She welcomes us to share her deep love of the ‘little Lord Jesus’ – a mind-bending notion of the God who became Man. I commend it with joy.

By the way, if this is a topic dear to your heart, don’t miss others we’ve highlighted in past years such as the stellar 2022 WJK-published reflection, A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue by the excellent progressive activist and Denver pastor, Kathy Escobar, and the exquisite, art-filled, one-of-a-kind Wounded in Spirit by David Bannon (published by Paraclete.) Check those out, for sure.

Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Advent Devotional for the Whole Self Whitney Simpson (Upper Room Books) $17.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39

Okay, this really is a workbook sort of resource in a fine hardback with some contemporary full color art by artist Lauren Wright Pittman. Wow.

It is a four week devotional by an author who has written Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit which is informed by a contemplative perspective and vibrant yoga practice. (Some know her from her work at the Wild Goose Festival.) Simpson says that we literally sense Christ’s coming and she here invites us to embrace this, moving through a more intentionally embodied Advent. She works often in the spaces between inner peace and peacemaking, from breath prayer to justice activism, so she is very wholistic. I know this will appeal to some of our friends.

As they put it on the back cover, this is “an opportunity to prepare for God to come into our midst, to prepare for God to become human just like us.”

The chapters are entitled Slow Down and Hope, Simplify for Peace, Sit with Joy, and Savor God’s Love. The publisher explains, “Within each week are a rotation of daily practices including breath prayer, mindful movement, lectio divina, visio divina (which utilizes beautiful, colorful works of art each week), Christian meditation, creative contemplation, and practicing presence.” Theologian and mindfulness teacher Amy Oden calls it “a true Christmas gift.”

Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World Hannah Anderson with illustrations by Nathan Anderson (B+H) $22.99   OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39

Some of our faithful readers recall how we were taking pre-orders and sending out bunches of Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit, Hannah and Nathan’s splendid devotional guide to the outdoors, her gentle and creative writing of nature observations beside her designer husband’s lovely illustrations. Turning of Days was a good seller for us; we were proud to promote it and we talk about it, still. Hannah is a good writer and that was a particularly lovely book.

This new Advent one seems to carry the same care and tone, offering a nice rumination on the often overlooked things in the holiday weeks.

“What does it sound like when rocks, hills, floor, and plains echo his praise” they ask? And what would it mean for you to join the chorus? Isn’t that a million dollar question? If all creation sings, and we get to get in on it, what does that all mean?

She has a light touch and although informed by serious theology of the best sorts, this is a book designed to evoke joy and attention, wonder and awe, helping us see and hear.

It is a Scripturally-rooted book, a Biblical devotional, but it is the little things in the text that she notices (and in our own lives) that she captures as they point to the Babe in the straw. These 25 Advent readings look fabulous and I, for one, am going to savor them this season.  

Gifts of Grace: 25 Advent Devotions Jared C. Wilson (The Good Book Company) $16.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59

I’ve appreciated this author for his deep commitment to the first things of the gospel, seen clearly in titles like Gospel Wakefulness (what a title, eh?) and Gospel Deeps (which was on the “excellencies of Jesus.”) But I also like that he is sort of whimsical at times, and has a big-picture worldview. I love, even for teens, his fun book called The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit Into God’s Plan for the World. He’s fun, but doesn’t mess around — he wants to draw us to the gospel of God’s grace, help us rely on Him, and set us free to see our story in God’s redemptive story, that all-of-life-redeemed hope of a new creation.

This brand new title just came and I am sure it is packed with gospel truths. One can hardly get more clear than the title: these are gifts of grace. I like that a thoughtful social critic like Daniel Darling says that Jared’s words will “speak to your soul and stir your imagination.” Let’s admit it, many of us need to return to simple gospel truths to prevent us from inhabiting this season in a way that is less awestruck and more wearied and weighed down. Maybe this will help.

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

I like the look and feel of this trim-sized, smaller hardback with two color ink, lots of pull quotes or discussion questions of Bible texts (some on a single page) making this short and, while not “busy”, certainly with a lot going on, visually and otherwise. There’s a vivid forward by David Platt, author of the very Christ-centered, Radical that offer an evangelical vision of global mission as trumping the American dream.

There are twenty-five devotions that can be used by individuals or families, actually. He did a similar family devotional for Lent called The Risen One: Experiencing All of Jesus in Lent which many folks really liked. This one came out last year, but I think many missed it.

Be Ready: An Advent Devotional edited by Courtney Richards (Chalice Press) $3.99  NO SALE PRICE

This is a staple bound booklet, nicely done, by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) We enjoy stocking their annual Advent release each year as the writing is always upbeat and fresh, rooted in the ecumenical, mainline denomination vision. This year, this month long devotional (which can be used with Advent candles) helps fund their “Week of Compassion”, the relief and development mission fund of the Disciples. In keeping with their justice-seeking, compassionate work, many of the contributors work in multi-ethnic relief, refugee or housing ministries. Nice.

SPECIAL TREATS

One Great Love: An Advent and Christmas Treasury of Readings, Poems, and Prayers (Paraclete Press) $21.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59

With what almost feels like a lightly padded cover, this is a lush and handsome volume full of great readings, from ancient hymns to modern poems, from Presidential speeches to classic fiction. You will find credited literature from the Bible to Louisa May Alcott, from O. Henry to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Alongside old favorites like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen you will find moderns like Nikki Grimes and Luci Shaw. There is plenty here for almost anyone — classic theology and seasonal poetry and a bit of joyful whimsy. All garnished with lovely art work, lots of it.

The art in One Great Love is a delightful hodgepodge, from icons to Linotype, from nature scenes to renaissance painters. It strikes a gorgeous balance with holly and ivy and nativity paintings and glorious art from across time and across the world. There are nifty little illustrations, wreaths and candles but they do not distract from the more serious art pieces. It’s a very lovely collection, a beautiful gift and a fabulous book to own and keep. Wonderful.

All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings Deluxe Gift Edition Gayle Boss, illustrations by David G. Klein (Paraclete Press) $24.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20

I trust you have seen our reviews here before of this marvelous, evocative, wintertime book. (And the Lenten one, on endangered species and the groaning of creation called Wild Hope: Stories of Lent from the Vanquishing.) We have highly recommended this Advent one for the vivid writing, the profound Biblical and theological worldview that hovers over the work, and the fabulous black and white illustrations — skillfully prepared woodcuts, actually — of animals as they prepare for winter rest. Who would have thought that a book about hibernation would yield such profound insights about the world’s darkness and the December season of Advent?

This one with a bright red hardback cover is a new edition (the regular paperback is still nicely available for $18.99, but at our sale price just $15.19.) For those that wanted a nice gift edition, this deluxe new one is, well, a gift. The cover is different, there is a ribbon marker, the print size a bit bigger and there are classy endpapers, giving this favorite a new energy and making it a real keepsake. Kudos to Paraclete.

Sleepers Wake: Getting Serious About Climate Change Nicholas Holtam (SPCK) $14.99           OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

Not only is this as timely as ever (with the UN Climate conference going on this very week in Egypt) and urgently necessary, it is the Archbishop of York’s Advent Book of 2022. You didn’t know the Archbishop of York in the UK had an Advent Book of the Year, did you? Well, now you do. And it is an urgent one.

As the good Archbishop (Stephen Cottrell) himself puts it, this book is “shot through with hope.”

Further, it has some striking, classic artwork, full pages and in full color. It’s very cool, nicely done. My quick skim might suggest that it isn’t integrated deeply into the Advent theme and while it is arranged as a seasonal book for the time in the church calendar, it isn’t overtly such. So buy it now and you can even read it later. Nicely done.

The God of Amazing Gifts: Family Devotions for Advent Lizzie Laferton (The Good Book Company) $14.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99

In other years we have sold well the family and seasonal devotionals published by this gospel-centered, solid, evangelical publishing house. They do impressive books and we’re happy to announce this one, a “wonderful and fresh” devotional that, as one parent put it, “will keep on giving far beyond Christmas.”

It has 25 devotions that can be used during Advent or spread out before or after Christmas.

Helpfully it has different questions routes for different aged children from 7 – 14+, and a variety of suggestions for application. There are some extra ideas in the back, too, for further family activities and deeper conversations. It might be the thing to help your family dig just a bit deeper this season.

One reviewer says of it, “Thought provoking, awe-inspiring, and Jesus-magnifying, this is a brilliant resource.”

Emmanuel: An Invitation to Prepare Him Room at Christmas and Always Ruth Chou Simons (Harvest House) $29.99                      OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99  

Ruth Chou Simons has an amazing following these days and her watercolors and calligraphy has become her signature art, as in popular books like GraceLaced and Beholding and Becoming. She is sharp and deeply committed to the Word of God and its reforming influence on our lives. This new one, too, is fully illustrated, a lovely and striking hardback laden with soft colors and wondrous tones, floral prints, leaves, branches… on every page!

As they say on the back slip, “If there is one name for Jesus that captures the whole heart of God, it is Emmanuel — God with us. No other name similarly expresses the fullness of God’s eternal desire for His image-bearers. He’s always wanted us to be with Him.”

As Ms Simons notes, Christmas Day is not the end of our celebrations but the beginning! Emmanuel is an invitation to rejoice in “the everlasting fellowship and hope God extended to us on the day of His Son’s birth, guiding us to realize that having God with us all year long is Christmas’s most incredible gift.” 

Prophets & Promises: Devotions for Advent and Christmas 2022 – 2023 Richard Bruesehoff, Laura Hock, Lydia Posselt, Harvard Stephens and Troy Troftgruben (Augsburg Fortress) $3.00        SORRY, NO DISCOUNT ON THIS ITEM

This is a tiny book, full color with nice photographs for each day alongside the typical Bible verse, short reading and closing prayer. These authors include pastors and spiritual directors, evangelists and a musician and a New Testament prof at Wartburg Seminary (in Iowa.) I love the title, I love the look — the quotes that the authors occasionally use and the authors they draw from are indigenous, people of color, artsy (from Anne Lamott to Zora Neale Hurston.) There are liturgical theologians, sacramental thinkers and contemporary prophets like Braiding Sweetgrass’s Robin Wall Kimmerer. Short and sweet, we thought you might like it.

Leave it to the Lutherans to produce a beautifully attractive, upbeat-looking, full color pocket size devotional and is so inexpensive. While supplies last. 

Families Celebrate 2022-2023 Advent and Christmas deck of cards (Augsburg Fortress) $9.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99

Give new meaning to the phrase “Christmas cards” by using these (small) cards to do family devotions. As they promise on the back, each card features a ritual, prayer, reflection, or activity. For families with kids ages 3 -13. Cards are dated for use each day from the first Sunday of Advent to the Day of Epiphany (January 6, 2023.) Of course, you could use or re-use them. These are really cute and feature full color art on 56 cards. While supplies last…

 

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

We’ve featured this nearly every year since we discovered it several years back and we are glad for his rich and thoughtful poems. It’s fabulous, rich, and “helps us fathom the depths and inhabit the tensions of Advent’s many paradoxes.”  We stock almost all of Guite’s amazing volumes (including a lovely little book that explains how he relates faith and literature called The Word Within the Words (Fortress; $12.75.) Still, we are especially fond of his Advent/Christmas one. 

 

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

We raved about this last year and wanted to share it again. Drew is a black pastor in New York who created and refined these hip-hop infused poems during Covid, informed by the realities of being a person of color in recent years. They are similar — if not in style, in approach — to Guite and others who have done overtly Biblical poetry. Here he walks us through the book of Luke (the first poem is “Theophilus (Lover of God)” while the last is inspired by a healing miracle in Luke 8. So, yes, there is some Advent, Nativity, and other seasonal themes here, at least in the first batch. There are nearly 100 poems (and a great, great forward by Grammy-winner, Jon Batiste.)  Jackson carries on the project, by the way, in a book we’re taking pre-orders for which will be released early January 2023 called Touch the Earth: Poems on the Way. It, by the way, has a foreword by Padraig O Tuama. I’m telling you, Drew is one to watch.

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A Readers Guide to the Books of Eugene Peterson

In the last BookNotes I mentioned being at the Doxology conference sponsored by The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination (at Western Seminary in Holland MI.) It was thrilling, meeting people who in one way or another had a connection to or interest in the Center’s work, and who, naturally, found themselves somehow in the legacy of Pastor Pete, as Eugene was sometimes called in his early days of ministry. My own workshops on reading and how the printed page can be counted on to inspire our Kingdom imagination were well received and it was fun, then, to list for you at BookNotes some of the books I highlighted, cited, or waved around from up front. Do go back and read that post if you missed it.

Peterson, famously, read novels and wrote poetry and while he was also known as a Bible guy and being a no-nonsense, spiritually-minded pastor, he thought that he did his work —living out his vocation — with more Biblically-faithful verve if he was paying attention to the world in all its splendor and trouble. Which is what fiction and memoir and good journalism can do. It is not surprising that in his annotated listing of recommended books, Take and Read, he has pages of fiction and memoir and history.

The other day I did an intro to Eugene Peterson in an adult ed class (the link is to facebook) at my church, playfully called “Bible Verses that Rocked the World” which explores famous Christians and how they were shaped by the Scriptures. From Luther and Calvin to the Wesleys to contemporaries like Alan Boesak, Desmond Tutu, and Mother Teresa, we’ve highlighted important figures and a bit about their love for the Word of God.

Perhaps because I knew Eugene a bit or perhaps because it was almost exactly four years since his death last weekend, I found myself sad by this recent reminder of Eugene and the stories I’ve so often told about his love of novels and his love of the Bible. I re-read much of Winn Collier’s tremendously-written, beautiful biography, A Burning in My Bones, which, frankly, doesn’t explain Peterson’s The Message project that much. Love it or not — I’ll admit my feelings are mixed — The Message is more than a clever paraphrase, but a deeply considered, seriously rendered, dynamic equivalence of the Holy Scriptures.

I happen to know some of the heady books he was reading (about Hebrew poetry, Biblical archeology, translation philosophy and such) as he waded through every line, every phrase, in the Hebrew. (I was proud that I was the first to introduce him to Calvin Seerveld’s colorful, occasional translations, too.) The Message became a cultural phenomenon as he paraphrased the ancient Scriptures into the cultural vocabulary of late 20th American, the New Testament appearing in 1993 and the full Bible coming out in 2022. I’m still surprised when I learn of folks who don’t know about it. Doing that little class was a delight, but made me even more melancholy.

And then the new Bono book came out this week; Surrendered: 40 Songs and 40 Stories and he very earnestly mentions Peterson in the acknowledgments, as I expected. Reading that simple line, I broke down in tears.

Here is a beautiful video of Eugene and Jan that is gloriously done, a lovely glimpse of their Montana home and a bit about his convictions and dreams. 

Here is the popular 22-minute video produced so wonderfully by David Taylor at Fuller Theological Seminary of Bono and Eugene (and Jan) talking about the Psalms in their Montana home. 

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In early 1982, before we opened our bookstore here, we were still in Pittsburgh and I was learning a bit about the book trade at the Family Bookstore in the Monroeville Mall. I hate to sound gossipy but the store really didn’t have that many books that interested me; it was an average pop Christian bookstore in the hey-day of evangelical goofiness. A new title came in from somebody named Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, and the allusive title itself captured me. I soon learned it was a line from Nietzsche, and I was hooked. Who was this guy, a Presbyterian from northern Maryland, not far from York, were we were soon moving? He wrote almost like the poet/activist Dan Berrigan, whose work I was immersed in, and he had a great awareness of so very much about the Bible — in the case of Long Obedience, the Psalms of Ascent. By 1982 we had opened our store and IVP released Travelling Light, Eugene’s study of Galatians which was quickly followed by Run with the Horses, on Jeremiah. He always loved the prophet with a burning in his bones, but you can read in Collier’s Burning… what inspired Peterson to write that one and why it is dedicated to “the son of a priest.” These books were lively but astute, culturally aware without being primarily about social issues. He was gritty but not heavy handed and held the laity of his church in high esteem, knowing that the gospel must be lived out in ordinary, daily sorts of circumstances and context. Who has this guy, indeed?

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Here is a guide to most of Peterson’s many books. This list is a bit idiosyncratic, with my own quick annotations, not in chronological order. I hope it is a useful “reader’s guide” helping you work through his many pages, even though I’ll skip some of the devotionals and compilations and a few that are out of print. He is, doubtlessly, one of my all time favorite authors. 

POPULAR LEVEL BOOKS

The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible (NavPress) $12.99  This is a small one that I adore, compact sized, paperback. They took the vivid and very insightful introductions to each book of the Bible that appear in many editions of The Message and put them together as a Bible handbook or interesting introduction. It captures Peterson’s take on things very well and is a real keeper for fans and an easy-to-read starter for nearly anyone. It’s a good introduction to Peterson’s writing and to his solid understanding of the unfolding drama of the history of the Scriptures. One of my favorite small overview’s of the Bible, a great gift for young or old.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society  (IVP)  $18.00   I don’t know sales histories or that sort of official stuff, but I suspect this is by far Peterson’s best seller and certainly the volume that is most beloved. It is not a commentary, as such, but reflections on the Psalms sung on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, inviting us to this “long obedience.” You see his critique of society (and its easy-answers, self-help truisms, and technical fixes) and of cheap faith. Wow. I’m glad IVP entered this into their ”Signature Classics” collection.

This recent edition has the moving eulogy written by son Leif, delivered at Eugene’s funeral. Obviously, you should own this.

There is a good study guide that can be purchased as well ($12.00) that is good for individual use and certainly for any group using this in a Bible study or book club.

Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life At Its Best (IVP) $18.00  I’ve long been drawn to “the weeping prophet” and this study of Jeremiah was very important for me, learning to engage the Biblical text and apply it with insight to today’s milieu. I’ve never loved the subtitle, but the book is profound, radical, and very well written. Like Long Obedience, it isn’t a full-on commentary, but offers thoughtful reflections on key passages. This edition includes a second preface that was in the anniversary edition and the commemorative sermon his son Eric preached at his funeral. The books is dedicated to Eric, “also the son of a priest.”  Very highly recommended.

 

Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon You From Self to Community (Eerdmans) $19.99 This was first published by IVP as Earth and Altar which was a line from a poem by Chesterton. It is a great companion, I’d say, to Long Obedience, offering extraordinary insights into the more public psalms. His phraseology of “the un-selfing of America” was timely and prescient, even if a tad clunky. He was convinced that reading and praying these Psalms would have an effect on us, un-self us, undoing our rugged individualism. I think this is his most under-appreciated book, a true must-read. I’m glad Eerdmans picked it up and re-issued it with the second title.

In any case, it is an excellent book, very highly recommended, espeically if you liked his Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

Traveling Light: Modern Meditations on St. Paul’s Letter of Freedom (Helmers & Howard) $17.95  I am not sure why this study of Galatians didn’t sell so well at first — I think it may have been the cover sporting a colorful hot air ballon. After IVP let it go out of print in the late 80s, it got a new cover— a Marc Chagall painting that I’ve never cared for much — but does give it more gravitas. An old college thought it was nothing short of brilliant and was the most transformative book he ever read. I think some of this may date back to that Bible study group from which Peterson first started The Message, doing what he could to help his Bel Air congregants get excited about this revolutionary stuff. It’s a very strong book, about true freedom.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God (Waterbrook) $16.99  This is the only collection of old sermons that Eugene himself helped edit before he died. He also wrote an extraordinary introduction to this big collection, which itself is wise and makes for great reading. I’ve read just that part more than once and you will do, I’m sure.

Old messages culled and published before his death, As Kingfishers Catch Fire shows a remarkable consistency and common-place brilliance as he preached, year in and year out, at the PC(USA) church in Bel Air, MD. Very nice to work through or dip into from time to time. 400 pages.

Subversive Spirituality (Eerdmans) $27.50 This ought not be so pricey but it is nonetheless worth every dollar — it is a gathering of talks, studies, interviews, essays, poems — a real miscellany anthology. There are some legendary pieces in here, excellent stuff you shouldn’t miss. These diverse pieces were mostly published in journals (some academic, like Theology Today or The Princeton Journal or several on homiletics, for instance) and magazines (from Eternity, Leadership, Crux, and Christianity Today.) Taken together they are a goldmine of good stuff.

There are several pieces on literature and writing that will thrill most BookNotes fans. I often cite his “Novelists, Pastors and Poets” and “Pastors and Novels” which are worth the price of the book and make a great case on why reading widely matters for the Christian life, especially for pastors, preachers, and leaders.  

Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life (NavPress) $9.99 This may be Peterson’s shortest book and it is a gem. I once created a four week after-Easter Sunday school class from it.

The newer, paperback edition has a great forward by his Presbyterian pastor son, Eric, written after Eugene’s death. The three chapters about the post-resurrection accounts in the gospels are called “Resurrection Wonder”, “Resurrection Meals”, and “Resurrection Friends.”

Small, but so good and easy to read. Don’t miss it.

The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends (Zondervan) $10.99 Again, this is very short and maybe overlooked. It was part of a fabulous set of “Growing Deeper” books by other like-minded writer friends — Walter Wangerin, Luci Shaw, Philip Yancey, Calvin Miller — and this one was a creative experiment, written as a set of letters.

Peterson says his conversation partner, one Gunnar Thorkildsson of Moorhead, MN, is made up but, yet, he also says it is all true. Apparently, this includes verbatim letters he has sent offering spiritual friendship to others over the years. Just about 100 pages, this is one to savor.

Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians (HarperOne) $15.99 In the late 1990s, while at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Peterson did a number of books that, while technically not commentaries, were, perhaps, a bit deeper than his classics like Long Obedience and Run with the Horses. This one is on the life of David, working on texts from Samuel. It is truly a stand-out volume, capturing his quintessential “earthy spirituality.” Leap… is among the very best books on David I’ve read, and his talking about growing up in his father’s butcher shop is precious and revelatory. It was reviewed in the Washington Post and called an “epic everyman analysis.”

Answering God: The Psalms As Tools for Prayer (HarperOne) $16.99  Also published by Harper during his Regent College years, this is one of the great resources we have for understanding the Psalms as a book of prayer. We see his a great confluence of his interest in the Bible, in ancient liturgy, and in prayerful sorts of spiritual formation. It’s not too difficult, but one to read carefully. I think it may be especially helpful for those whose prayer life is unconvincing and unsatisfying. He certainly addresses the causes of dissatisfaction, for some, at least, and offers the Psalms as a way into a more faithful sort of prayer experience.

 

Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination (HarperOne) $16.99  I have read somewhere that this was, in his estimation, the book he worked hardest on; the laborious research and writing taking a toll. He suggests that John was a poet and he cites his fair share of literary figures to open us to the mystical truths here. He loved the Apocalypse of St. John (and after his death, Waterbrook published an old set of sermons from Bel Air on Revelation, a stunning project, called This Hallelujah Banquet: How the End of What We Were Reveals Who We Can Be, showing that Reversed Thunder had been peculating a very long time.)

This Hallelujah Banquet (Waterbrook; $18.00) being a set of sermons, is an easier read, of course, and perhaps more inspiring, but Reversed Thunder, remains an allusive, if important, resource for anyone reading and praying this mysterious last book of the Bible.

On Living Well: Brief Reflections on Wisdom for Walking in the Way of Jesus (Waterbrook) $20.00  I am sure I am not alone in worrying if Eugene would have wanted his older work to be released by publishers these days, maybe giving the impression they are capitalizing on his fame.

I trust his family, his sons and daughter, who I am sure have the right cares and commitments in thinking about all this. I am confident they approved of this posthumous project and those involved are sure this is all good. And, ya know what? They are right — this is really good, honoring him and showing the world what the dear folks at Christ Our King in Bel Air read back in the early days.

This is a collection of shorter pieces drawn from his sometimes witty, sometimes clever, church newsletter back at Christ our King Presbyterian. Many pastors have a column or regular piece in a church newsletter but not all are worthy of publishing as this surely is. I’m glad for On Living Well, dated as it may be. Here’s what a few good folks say about it:

Eugene insisted that the crux of Christian spirituality was to get all these God-truths lived, to get them moving into the street. God’s wisdom, Eugene knew, is always relational, always drawing us into the questions, complications, dangers, and joys of genuine life pursued before God and alongside one another. This is why the context of much that we read here — pastoral words written to Eugene’s small congregation — matters so much. These pages are not pious abstractions but personal words to friends, inviting all of us to embrace God’s enchanting invitation to truly live.                — Winn Collier, Director of the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination and author of  A Burning in My Bones and Love Big, Be Well.

Among the many gifts of human language, the greatest is the use of words for the worship of God, who is the Word. On these pages, over and over, Peterson’s words raise our sense of God’s sheer worthiness out of the clutter of confusion and complication… On Living Well should be greatly treasured. These words are pure acts of worship that will bring the reader into beautiful worship of the source of all beauty. — Karen Swallow Prior, research professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of On Reading Well

We don’t hear the word sage much anymore because there are so few sages these days. But Eugene Peterson was one of deep wisdom. In an age awash in banal how-to books, On Living Well is something else entirely — something we need. On Living Well is a series of meditations on what constitutes the good life, written by a man who indeed knew how to live well. This book brims with the wisdom our day needs.          — Brian Zahnd, pastor of Word of Life Church and author of When Everything’s on Fire

Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up with Your Teenager (Eerdmans) $16.99  Initially released as his first book in 1976 and entitled Growing Up in Christ: A Guide for Families with Adolescents (John Knox Press) this was then re-issued by Revell and called Growing Up in Christ: A Guide for Families with Adolescents. I think it is fair to say it was “critical acclaimed” but not popular and was finally reissued with this more allusive, Biblical title by Eerdmans in the mid-90s once he had become better known. This is not the most well-known book of Peterson’s but while may be a bit dated, it brings a certain sort of vision and insight and tone to the sacred task of parenting. Nothing quite like it in his oeuvre and nothing quite like it on the market. I’m glad it’s still in print, so many years later. 

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LITERARY WORKS

The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne) $17.99  Eugene didn’t want to write this, at first, but was sort of talked into it, and he came to enjoy the writing and was glad to tell the story. From his “sacred” mountain home of Montana, and rough-cut upbringing there to his introduction to the broader world of ecumenical scholarship and his eventual call to ministry, this shares it all with eloquence and without didactic sermonizing. He makes much of the phrase “every step an arrival” as he, looking over his shoulder, sees God’s hand guiding the unfolding of his unpretentious life.

Some think it is a must-read, moving and eloquent. I have to admit I liked Collier’s authorized biography, A Burning in My Bones better, but, still, this is from the pastor himself. It’s quite a story, well told!

Holy Luck (Eerdmans) $15.50 Peterson wrote poetry often, and read it widely. He was delighted when we asked him — standing in the parking lot of a Presbytery meeting at First Presbyterian in York, actually — to do a poetry reading at our store. It never happened, so we were especially glad when a bunch of his work got published in a trim sized, handsome paperback. Very nice.

The publisher shares this helpful overview:

Holy Luck presents, in one luminous volume, seventy poems by Peterson, most of them not previously published. Speaking to various aspects of “Kingdom of God” living, these poems are arranged in three sets:

Holy Luck — poems arising out of the Beatitudes
The Rustling Grass — poems opening up invisible Kingdom realities through particular created things
Smooth Stones — occasional poems about discovering significance in every detail encountered while following Jesus

Take and Read: Spiritual Reading, An Annotated List (Eerdmans) $16.50  I wasn’t sure where to list this but for many, it is a cherished volume that has led them wisely into the depths of great Christian literature. It is a whole college class in one inexpensive volume!

I found some small parts of it a bit off-putting, but that’s me, more inclined to easier-to-read modern writers than, say, Alexander Whyte or P. T. Forsyth, who he loves. For anyone that wants a mature guide to the deepest, best books — from ancient mystics Gregory of Nyssa to Theresa of Avila, from fiction by Walker Percy to the grand three-volume novel Kristen Lavransdatter or Buechner’s Godric, memoirs from Dakota to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, theology from von Balthasar to von Rad, this is remarkable stuff and his annotations are exceptionally informative and really interesting. Read the actual books or not, reading his appreciation for them is priceless. I think this is a book that will be very valuable for discerning readers.

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SPIRITUAL THEOLOGY

This five-fold set which is considered to be his magnum opus, can be read in any order although there is a bit of a flow to them, so it makes sense to read them in order, although one surely doesn’t have to. This is his most mature and serious work but designed for thoughtful readers of all sorts, not only those with a bent towards theology and the like. Mature and rich as it is, it actually isn’t technical or academic. Take your time — this is a life-time of good reading.

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Eerdmans) $18.99  Published in 2005 this is the first in the series which is his magnum opus, his magisterial, extraordinary, beautifully written and highly regarded set of what they called “spiritual theology.” I’m not sure he liked the phrase but this is the first and complex of this series. I think it may be the most significant book he has done. It is also his biggest at 380 pages.

The title comes from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem and the book is arranged in three major units, “Christ Plays in Creation” and “Christ Plays in History” and “Christ Plays in Community.” In each section there is a bit of a template of four things he does to show how God shows up in these four arenas. The orderly flow and rhythm makes it helpful and how he does what he does is half the fun. Highly recommended. 

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Eerdmans) $18.99  This, the second in the series that has been called “monumental” is the shortest and (among those we know, at least) the most popular. It is on the role of the Bible, even a bit about translation and hermeneutics, and then offers great guidance on lectio divina and how to read deeply. Eat This Book — a phrase uttered by two prophets in the Bible, by the way — is one of the best books on this topic, lovely, thoughtful, interesting and helpful. A fabulous little ending appendix has his annotated description of other authors on this topic. He loved the Word and it is beneficial to keep company with a thoughtful pastor guiding us in this elemental Christian practice. Do it!

The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way (Eerdmans) $18.99  Here is how the publisher describes what Peterson is up to in this marvelous book on discipleship, exploring what it means to follow Jesus, doing His work in His way. They say: 

Arguing that the way Jesus leads and the way we follow are symbiotic, Peterson begins with a study of how the ways of those who came before Christ revealed and prepared the way of the Lord that became complete in Jesus. He then challenges the ways of the contemporary American church, showing in stark relief how what we have chosen to focus on — consumerism, celebrity, charisma, and so forth —obliterates what is unique in the Jesus way.

Wow. This is hard-hitting. And pretty obviously just what we need, now more than ever. In a way, this is the most revealing book about Peterson’s approach to a non-sensational, no-glitz, down-to-Earth faith that does the right stuff in the right way. Whew.

Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (Eerdmans) $18.99  Don’t you love the often-cited line from the Emily Dickinson poem (that ends with the truth dazzling us gradually)? This Peterson work is so good, a natural follow-up from The Jesus Way. If we are to be shaped in the ways and way of Jesus, then, naturally, we must immerse ourselves in His teachings. Much of his teaching was told “slant” — in parables, stories, and, naturally, his routines of prayer. 

Tell It Slant is a good overview of the parables and a good glimpse into the style of teaching Jesus used. More foundationally, it is about how Jesus used language, how “slant” language is indirect and oblique, “requiring a participatory imagination.” It points readers “to Jesus’ engaging, relational way of speaking as a model for us today.” 

One appreciative Gospel Coalition reviewer of Peterson’s memoir (The Pastor) liked the book but worried that he didn’t explain his doctrine, that there wasn’t enough dogma, that he shared his life story without didactic theology. Maybe this book explains why that is. Peterson reads theology and is immersed in the Scriptures and it has shaped his worldview, his imagination, but he, like his Master, often told it slant. He lived his life naturally, without cant. I think understanding that about him is important and this book helps us appreciate his use of language.

Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Eerdmans) $18.99  This is the fifth volume in this groundbreaking set of “spiritual conversations” around foundational, lived, relational theology, looking at growth, maturity, wisdom — as the subtitle puts it, “growing up in Christ.” Attentive readers will guess that some of it is drawn from the book of Ephesians and it invites us to that wondrous phrase, practicing resurrection. What a wonderful, meaty, thoughtful, and captivating vision, what has been called a tour de force and a beautiful, culmination to this magnificent series. 

I’ll let his friend Marva Dawn explain its importance:

This is the perfect culmination to Eugene Peterson’s fivefold Conversations in Spiritual Theology. How much the church would be transfigured if we could all more fully live as one with Christ in His Resurrection! You will delight in the way Peterson takes portions of Ephesians and displays the results of ‘rocket’ verbs and other word choices, of disciplines toward maturity, and of movements ‘upward, inward, Godward.’ This is a life-transforming book for us all!”  Marva Dawn, author of A Royal Waste of Time and Truly the Community

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VOCATIONAL HOLINESS FOR PASTORS

I started off this part of the list with the lovely set of letters between Eric and Eugene since they are about pastoring. And, at the end, I listed an all-time fav, a book he co-authored with his pal and our former customer, Marva Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor. It isn’t snobby or off putting, and I often wondered if it would have sold better with a different title. In any case, it’s wonderful, vivid, and shows his good collaboration with Marva and deserves to be in this section of our guide to Peterson’s work.

The middle four have uniform covers and comprise a quartet. I am no pastor and you may not be either, but I’m telling you, this is rich, wonderful, stuff, good for anyone. Read them all — you won’t regret it. And them give them to your pastor. Whether she is old or young, new at the job or a seasoned saint, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran or non-denominational, these are perfect pastoral gifts.

Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son with Eric E. Peterson (NavPress) $19.99  This is a short and lively set of real letters Eugene and his son, Eric, then a new Presbyterian pastor, exchanged. Tender, wise, interesting. Just published in 2020, this is a lovely book, part Eugene, part Eric; he mentions some fatherly stuff, books he’s reading and lectures he’s preparing, so there is a small bit of autobiography that you’ll enjoy. But it is mostly about pastoring, replying to Eric’s very real questions.  Don’t miss the companion volume, Letters to a Young Congregation by Eric, himself, by the way. Or, for that matter, Eric’s excellent study Wade in the Water: Following the Sacred Stream of Baptism.) Letters to a Young Pastor is a very, very nice book and it is great to see Peterson in conversation with this colleague in ministry, his son.

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Eerdmans) $20.99  This is a seminal book, providing a sea-change for many (maybe for Peterson himself) as he describes his early efforts and process of teaching parishioners how to pray and read the Bible. His descriptions of the pastoral task, of the “angles” to work, are priceless. I could say more, but you should read it yourself. Very nicely done, a bit intense and often tender, it is highly recommended. I think it is the one in this series to start with.

 

 

 

Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans) $20.99  I know there are some who have said this is Rev. Peterson’s most important book, a deep and profound study of the calling of a pastor and his coining of that phrase “vocational holiness.” The image he plays with — the “unpredictable plant” — is from the end of Jonah. Ha!

He say that book is “a parable with a prayer at its center” and yields some nearly subversive views for pastoring well. Yes, in his hands it does. Wow.

 

 

The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Eerdmans) $19.99  This is a very good read, good for anyone, and certainly vital for pastors these days. Curiously (and not often recalled) this was first out in the series of white hardbacks done by Leadership Journal. It wasn’t so much about leadership skills and didn’t fit their style or expectation and went out of print. Happily it was given a new cover and entered into what then became a trilogy of three great titles by Eerdmans in Grand Rapids. Nice.

 

 

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Eerdmans) $21.99  Ahh, this was one of Peterson’s early books, first published by John Knox, a Presbyterian publishing house, in the late 1970s, I think. After it went out of print in the 1980s it eventually was repackaged and released as the first in the pastoral set of “vocational holiness” books. It fits and, as the publisher insists, sets the stage for the others in the series.

Written at the height of pastoral care movements that drew on psychology and social science, this returns to the Old Testament and the Jewish roots of faith to determine what pastoral work is about. This may be his most demanding book, a very creatively written, playfully allusive but intense study of various Biblical books and their contributions to forming the character and faith of a serious pastor. I love this book, truly, but some find it a bit complex.  From five Old Testament books he draws these tasks of the called pastor:  prayer-directing, story-making, pain-sharing, nay-saying and community-building. 

The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call co-authored with Marva J. Dawn (Eerdmans) $27.00  As I noted above, this is a fabulous read, and a great study of the church — the people and the leadership and the pastoring that goes on as we gather as God’s people. Designed for pastors, I guess, I’d highly recommend it to one and all. It’s a real delight seeing Marva and Eugene in collaboration, in all their counter-cultural, even radical, glory. Marva looks to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for instruction for churches seeking to live faithfully in today’s world. In turn, Eugene explores Romans, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, drawing from them a gospel-informed view of pastoral identity.  Rediscovering the call, indeed. 266 pages.

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BIBLICAL STUDIES

Westminster Bible Companion: First and Second Samuel (WJK) $33.00  Not too many people know that Peterson did a major commentary on his beloved history books of 1 & 2 Samuel. It’s in the WBC series and is readable accessible, with good opening up of the narrative flow and stories of these core portions of the Old Testament drama. Nicely done.

I like this description:

The power of story as God’s word to the community of faith is never more clear than in the books of Samuel. Emotion, drama, complexity of character, and mystery fill the pages of these two biblical books. Eugene Peterson’s commentary emphasizes the resonance and interplay between these stories of kings and prophets and the social and cultural issues that concern us today.

The NRSV Life With God Bible (HarperBibles) $49.99 (burgundy leather) // with Deuterocanonical books  $44.99 (deep (brown leather)

I want to give a loud shout out to this smaller-sized, beautifully made NRSV study bible. It was dreamed up by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster with the Biblical oversight offered by Peterson and Walter Brueggemann. This doesn’t have as complex a study apparatus as most major study Bibles do, and it only comes in a compact size. But it is wonderful, having garnered praises from folks as diverse as Max Lucado and Tony Campolo, calling it thrilling and impactful and outstanding. Besides spiritually attuned study notes, 16 good maps, profiles of Biblical characters, topic indexes and such, there are challenging spiritual exercises and a developing set of fifteen essays on living the “with-God life.”  You can see Peterson’s hand in this, for sure.

The Message Devotional Bible (NavPress) $29.99 (hardcover); $39.99 (brown leather-like); $39.99 (large print hardcover)

There are just bunches and bunches of editions The Message and we carry most of them. (Take a look at the NavPress website to see the beautiful designs and various sizes and shapes and prices and send us an order or just give us a ring, please.) This one is special because it has interspersed devotional and reflective notes and study aids from Peterson. As you’d expect there is a Bible reading plan and helpful index and a topical guide (and those great introductions to each book of the Bible.) There are insights galore, meditative reflections and a “neighboring” set of comments about incarnating the gospel in our places. These notes are drawn from previously published books, but many are for previously unpublished sermons and writings. I like the balance and guidance this useful edition offers. I happen to use the large print hardback which is a bit heftier, but still quite handsome.

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Pastoral Work: Engagements with the Vision of Eugene Peterson edited by Jason Byassee and L. Roger Owens (Cascade) $24.00  How can I not mention this, a collection volume of serious engagement with Peterson’s unique style of vocational holiness and Biblical orientation. This isn’t a glowing tribute, really, although all of the many authors are true fans; most were friends. They do tell some stories, naturally, but each offers an important exploration of as aspect of Peterson’s vision and practices. I love this book and highly recommend it to one and all, even though it is designed, I suppose, mostly for church leaders.

I suppose there hasn’t been much critical engagement with Peterson’s body of work because he hasn’t mostly served in the typical academy. Pastoral Work brings together some of the finest scholar-pastors working today to describe the way “Peterson has inspired and infuriated them” on the way to (hopefully) more faithful pastorates.

Most of these authors are mainstream ecumenical names, from Stephanie Paulsell to Anthony Robbins to Will Willimon to Marty Copenhagen to Carol Howard Merritt.Most have certain leanings of a deeply Biblical sort. The chapter by Trygve David Johnson (chaplain at Hope College) is tremendous. I admire Kristen Deede Johnson — co-author of The Justice Calling — very much and her chapter is tremendous comparing and contrasting Peterson and James Davison Hunter on institutions. Don’t miss Tim Condor’s somewhat edgy piece “Twenty-five years of Working the Angles.” I really enjoyed the vibrant Lilian Daniel’s chapter, “Eugene Peterson Saved My Ministry, and Ten Ways He Can Save Yours Too, with Jesus’s Help (Not).” Prince Raney Rivers brings a black megachurch pastor’s voice into the mix showing just how wide Peterson’s influence was. What a book.

A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson Winn Collier (Waterbrook) $20.00 (paperback) $28.00 (hardback, while supplies last.) OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE =  $16.00 (paperback) and 22.40 (hardback, while supplies last.)

I’ve said it before and I need to say it again — this is one of the great books of our time, a lovely, gorgeously- written, insightful, entertaining and officially authorized biography. Winn — who understands Peterson deeply and is a sympathetic writer — is honest, too, not offering cheap applause let alone hagiography (which Peterson wouldn’t have wanted.) He had the complete blessing of the Peterson family, had access to the crawl space below the Flathead Lake house where bunches of boxes of bunches of papers were kept — diaries, copies of letters, even records of conversations with his Dallastown bookseller. Nobody could have picked a better writer for this major project and it was a huge labor of love. We have a few hardbacks left and plenty of the paperbacks. Get some as Christmas gifts, why don’t you. It’s a super book, highly recommend by both Beth and me. And lots of more famous folks, too. You can’t go wrong.

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The Doxology Conference, Books about books, the forthcoming Wendell Berry short story collection, Pádraig Ó Tuama, “A Century of Poetry: 100 Poems for Searching the Heart” by Rowan Williams and much more. 20% OFF

It was the first time I was at a bone fide big event in almost three years. (About 100 participants still seems like a “big” gig for me.) Before Covid, setting up book displays at conferences and gatherings was nearly a third of our business, and we have been immeasurably blessed by friendships solidified at these annual events. From UCC clergy retreats to Lutheran and Episcopalian Bishop’s convocations, from Christian Legal Society conferences to the Redeemer Center for Faith & Work events to the Wee Kirk (Scottish for “small church”) retreats, some of our best customers and favorite friends developed from our travelling roadshow. Shifting away from that these past years was painful — financially and relationally. And we remain wary, sad that it seems few care to wear masks indoors these days, all over.

So it was with a lot of hesitation that I got on a plane at BWI and headed to Western Michigan, to the lovely town of Holland, to take part in the inaugural Doxology gathering sponsored by our friends at The Eugene Peterson Center for the Christian Imagination. Inspired by Peterson’s gritty spirituality, Biblical theology, pastoral care, and appreciation for the arts, music, novels, and poetry, the Peterson Center is a haven and a blessedly fitting tribute to his gentle ongoing legacy.

Eugene was a loyal customer at Hearts & Minds and we had numerous conversations over the years, firstly in our  First Presbyterian Church of York parking lot (and later via fax or phone, and at locations as diverse as St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute at the famous Baltimore seminary and at Wee Kirk at the Western Pennsylvania Laurelville Mennonite Retreat Center. He and Jan were always gracious when I popped in to their Pittsburgh Theological Seminary apartment to hand deliver an order and even in their fruitful retirement years in Montana as we sent them books and greetings from back East.

There was no hagiography at the Doxology event — they knew Peterson’s aversion to such hoopla and were intentional about not invoking his name too often. (He didn’t even like conferences, we were told, so, well, there was that. Ha.)

I had the immense pleasure of meeting and hanging out a bit with one of Eugene and Jan’s grown children, Eric Peterson, who I had spoken with on the phone but never encountered face to face. I really appreciate him a lot, for a bunch of reasons. You may recall that I reviewed two books he released just a few years ago — Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son (which was the publication of a set of letters between Eric and his dad) and Letters to a Young Congregation: Nurturing the Growth of a Faithful Church (remarkably wise Peterson-esque wisdom for any sort of congregation.) He’sa PC(USA) pastor, a very good writer and powerful storyteller. You can see my reviews of those two here. Both sell for $19.99 each and are still at our BookNotes 20% off, making either one $15.99.

One of the leaders of this Peterson Center is Winn Collier, a dear friend and fine customer of ours. I really hope you know his marvelous biography of Eugene, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (Waterbrook). We may be one of the only places that still have a few of the spanking new hardbacks in stock ($28.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40) as well as the recent paperbacks ($20.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00.) Beth and I both found it tender and bold, funny and inspiring, a page-turned we didn’t want to end. It’s a great story of a very good church leader, a colorful character in his own right, and in the telling of the life, we learn a whole lot about a whole lot of vital, human stuff. We highly recommend it.

Enjoy these two great endorsements, richly written as they would need to be to blurb this masterpiece:

How do you reduce into words the vital reality of this man, scholar, searcher, teacher, and faithful friend? Eugene was a man who brought Scripture to fresh life for me and millions of others–who else would invite the phrase Holy Luck into a retelling of the Beatitudes? Winn Collier’s skilled storytelling weaves the threads of Eugene’s life into something fitting, like the prayer shawl he wore in his study every day. — Luci Shaw, Regent College writer-in-residence and author of The Generosity poems

I knew Eugene Peterson for thirty years, or at least I thought I did. He didn’t talk much, especially about himself. I knew nothing about his mouse tattoo, his Pentecostal mother’s radio program, the abysmal failure of his first church plant attempt, his friendship with a young Pat Robertson, or his square dancing prowess. Somehow Winn Collier ferreted out the little known facts about Eugene that, taken together, complete the picture of a humble, gentle giant who brought the Bible to new life for millions and became an inspirational model for beleaguered pastors everywhere. — Philip Yancey, author of Where the Light Fell

I hope you also know Winn for his tremendous novel (in fictional letters) called Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church (Eerdmans; $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39.) This small story has garnered amazing raves from the likes of Robert Benson, Corban Addison, Mandy Smith, Karen Wright Marsh.

A.J Swoboda said of Love Big Be Well,

Shatters all of our idolatrous addictions to big and growing and oversized franchised Christianities. Faithfulness absolutely must become the church’s new big. What Collier pens here is nothing short of miraculous. These letters demand to be read.

Pastor Peterson himself said about this story of the fictional pastor Jonas McAnn and his little church:

This book is a tour de force — an angle on understanding the life of both congregation and pastor that exceeds anything I have ever read. No directions, no programs, just an immersion into what really takes place in the life of a congregation and a pastor. Winn Collier’s writing is alive.

Under the guidance of Winn and his colleague Sam Gutierrez, the Doxology conference was a time for laughter and praise, song and poetry, anguished storytelling and quiet hope. I was honored to meet Samuel Wells (rector of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields in London and author of over 40 books!) and the young, black, New York poet/pastor Drew Jackson, author of God Speaks Through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming and the January 2023 release Touch the Earth: Poems on the Way. 

I was really moved by the major presentations offered by Sam Wells. What a good guy. I admit to searching out his Hauerwasian influences, having just read most of In Conversation: Samuel Wells and Stanley Hauerwas (Church Publishing; $17.95 – OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36.) I am going to have another go of the second edition of Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Baker Academic; $27.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60.)

I think if I were to recommend one recent Wells’ book it would be one that I tried to promote when it came out earlier this year, Humbler Faith, Bigger God: Finding a Story to Live By (Eerdmans; $22.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39.) It is a good read, serious but clear, and in many ways offers a re-working and compilation of much of his major writing. It serves as an excellent introduction to his body of work and a great summary of some of his greatest ideas and inspiring directives. I highly recommended it last Spring but now that I’ve met him and heard him (and pummeled him with questions during a ride back to the airport) I’m an even bigger fan.

We stock a good many of his titles, so give us a ring if you want us to find anything, even some published in the UK.

I also really, really liked meeting Drew Jackson. It is hard to describe his fabulous poems, drawing their inspiration from the gospel stories in Luke, and his contemporary blending of good words at the “intersection of justice, peace, and contemplation, with a passion to contribute toward a more just and whole world.” From hip hop stylings to quieter lines, his words dance off the page with allusive and aesthetically-pleasing energy and insight.

Drew Jackson’s first book was raved about by all sorts of folks from Richard Rohr to Jon Batiste to Nikole Lim   and is entitled God Speaks through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming. It offers poems (written during the pandemic in lower Manhattan) based on the first eight chapters of Luke. (IVP; $16.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80) and it was very popular last year.

The forthcoming one (officially releasing in early January 2023) has an introduction by Pádraig Ó Tuama! It similarly draws on Luke and will be called Touch the Earth: Poems on the Way (IVP; $18.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40. DUE January 10, 2022.) Described as part protest poetry and part Bible commentary, it is striking, inspiring stuff, some even better than the first great volume.

As stimulating as it is (and it is!) Drew is also a pastor and preacher, so he knows something about caring for his people, connecting, serving. I liked him a lot and appreciated the poems he performed from this forthcoming work. You should pre-order it now. It come outs January 10th but we will no doubt have it early. Yay.

I’m so glad to see our friend Cole Arthur Riley chiming in with this great endorsement:

This collection is a companion for mystics and storytellers alike. Poem after poem, Drew Jackson approaches questions of community and trust and meets them not with the bore of certainty but a reverence for the unspoken, for mystery and suspense. Jackson’s words will leave you waiting in the silence . . . but never alone.                     — Cole Arthur Riley, creator of Black Liturgies and author of This Here Flesh

Consider this insightful explanation from the great Barbara Holmes, author of Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church:

In Touch the Earth, Drew Jackson’s poetry offers a word-weary world a new language of engagement, disruption, and insight. As with all great poetry, the words are spare, but the literary images loom large, creating indelible impressions on the reader. Like echoes that reverberate long after the first sound, the poems stay with you, they dance with your spirit. After reading the poem ‘Shake the Dust,’ I am still considering a much broader definition of power, one no longer confined to the monarchs, governments, and oppressors but with a conscience as sticky as cling wrap that refuses to allow its memories to be shaken loose. This collection is a meditative treasure.

Another lovely poet shared some of her work at Doxology and I was delighted to have met Amy Nemecek (a true bookstore lover, having worked in a very good one for years.) You should consider supporting her first release, The Language of the Birds and other Poems just out from Paraclete Press in their “Iron Pen” imprint. ($20.00OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00.) Poet Luci Shaw calls it “brilliant” and novelist Sharon Garlough Brown says reading her work was an “opportunity for worship.” Dwight Baker (CEO of Baker Publishing Group) refers to her “poetic grace.” It’s really good.

Amy’s poem’s shepherd by soul into a wondrous journey. I was inspired, transported, and seen. I highly recommend these poems for you. Enjoy how they will expand your own heart. — Gem Fadling, author of Hold That Thought: Sorting Through the Voices in Our Heads

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I did a workshop a couple of times at Doxology, doing my thing about why the reading life matters, how engaging the printed page works, sharing stories of those who have found solace and insight in books. I really appreciated the chance to do this and thank those who were so complimentary and encouraging. Believe me, it was refreshing and real blessing for me.

I might try to do some of that stuff at some online thing sometime, but for now, you might want to know a few of the books I cited and quoted from. A few were real favorites.

(There are just so many artful titles to cite — my, my, I quickly quoted Anne Lamott and C. S. Lewis and Wendell Berry and Karen Swallow Prior and missed so many who were in my mind, from In the Shelter by poet/activist Padraig O Trauma to Catching the Light – Why I Write by Muscogee poet Joy Harjo to The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty by German luthier Martin Schleske to The Soul of Wine and The Spirituality of Wine by theologian and winemaker and vineyardist Gisela Kreglinger (with a Peterson forward) to Steeped in Stories by Matali Perkins to the brand new Let There Be Art by Rachel Marie Kang and the recent The Beauty Chasers by Timothy Willard to the many volumes of Mako Fujimura or Calvin Seerveld who I’m sure I name-dropped.)

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS, READING ABOUT READING

(Order any of these bulleted listings and get a free book sent along with your order. We’ll send Reading for the Common Good out at no cost as our gift to you, while supplies last.)

This list of titles of books about books (mostly) that I actually used in my presentation at Doxology evolves and changes whenever I’m called upon to share this kind of reminder to read widely, but this time, I read moving excerpts from (or at least held up and celebrated) the following:

  • Subversive Spirituality Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $27.50
  • Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists. Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans) $14.99
  • The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry Austin Carty (Eerdmans) $19.99
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson (Grove Press) $16.00
  • The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99
  • Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons Frederick Buechner (HarperOne) $16.99
  • Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99
  • When Poets Pray Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $20.99
  • The Preaching Life Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley) $17.95
  • Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy Mary McCampbell (Fortress Press) $28.00
  • The Word: Black Writers Talk about the Transformative Power of Reading and Writing Marita Golden (Crown Publishing) $14.99
  • Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just Claude Atcho (Brazos Press) $19.99
  • The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Other’s Eyes C.S. Lewis (HarperOne) $19.99
  • My Theology: The Word within the Words Malcolm Guite (Fortress Press) $12.75
  • Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind Alan Jacobs (Penguin) $16.00
  • Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity Stephen Roach (Square Halo Books) $11.99
  • Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $16.00

FREE BOOK OFFER:

Okay, so I didn’t get to them all, but, each is a treasure to behold.  I’ll tell you what.  Order any from that list from the bullet points and we’ll send you a free copy (while supplies last) of Chris Smith’s essential little book, Reading for the Common Good.

BRAND NEW AND/OR  FORTHCOMING

It is often said that poetry slows us down, not unlike the best spiritual practices, helping us to pay attention, maybe even cultivating a sense of awe and wonder. Here are three very important new books, two about poetry, one by a poet, that are out now, or soon.

A Century of Poetry: 100 Poems for Searching the Heart Rowan Williams (SPCK) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

We ordered this as an import from England because we realized just how important it could be. What a thrill that it just arrived! A beautiful, hefty hardback (with a helpful type font that isn’t too tiny) is extraordinary on several levels.

The compilation itself is unique and a great survey of a century’s worth of poems that would fit well on anyone’s shelf. Known as an astute reader (and a published poet himself) Williams picked from a massive array, narrowing it down to a few well known ones (W. H. Auden, T. S. Elliot, Denise Levertov, Thomas Merton, Dylan Thomas, Christian Wiman) and many that most will not know. Good for him that he picked some global entries, from the Jewish scholar Yehuda Amichai to authors with names like Tadeusz Rozewicz and Vikram Seth and Avrom Sutzkever. For thoughtful reasons that he explains in the introduction, the poets are arranged alphabetically. 

This book, however, is not just a collection of artfully reflective pieces, but each entry is followed by the great Archbishop’s Christian reflections on the searching nature of these poets and their work. I am sure I am going to love these ruminations and I am sure they will help those of us who are not all that fond of poetry (who sometimes don’t “get it”) and who need some guidance to see what is there to be seen. This is going to make a great gift this holiday season, too. Hooray!

Each poem in this collection is a door ajar, which Rowan Williams nudges open, inviting us in, where he carefully shows us around. He leaves us in a room of many windows, the light streaming in, our souls enriched, this book in our hand. — Frances Ward, poetry editor, Theology

This is a compendium of poems you could spend a lifetime absorbing. Rowan Williams has gathered a diverse array of poets that grapple with mystery, ultimacy, and the terrifying beauty of being human. These are deep wells,, and Williams is a gentle guide into the depths of riches. — James K.A. Smith editor-in-chief, Image, recent author of How to Embody Time

Inciting Joy: Essays Ross Gay (Algonquin Books) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60

Perhaps you know poet Ross Gay’s 2019 collection of essays, The Book of Delights that became a much-appreciated work during the time of quarantine. (It is now out in paperback for $17.99.) We are glad for his brand new second collection of nearly genre-defying lyrical essays, again about (as was said of Book of Delights), “the small joys we overlook in our busy lives.” True to its title, it is sure to inspire and delight —subversively working its magic in these often dreary days, guilty of inciting joy. Here is how the publisher describes it: 

Inciting Joy: Essays is a collection of long-form essays on joy, in which the author turns his curious and poetic mind to everything from skateboarding and cover songs, basketball and race, dancing and academia, death and laughter, and, always, the garden and the natural world”

Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World Pádraig Ó Tuama (W. W. Norton & Company) $27.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.36  DUE DECEMBER 6, 2022

I wrote about this in the last BookNotes but it is going to be so widely discussed, I wanted to announce it again. Here is some of what I wrote:

We hope you know the world-famous Irish poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama. His extraordinary, lovely book published by Broadleaf takes the name of his website, In the Shelter. He is interested there in questions of violence and exclusion, hospitality and home, shelter and redemption. In recent years he has become known for more than his peacemaking work in Northern Ireland (see his Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community or the moving Between the Bells: Stories of Reconciliation from Corrymeela) and is increasingly recognized as a poet of considerable skill and wide appeal. You may have heard him on NPR as he hosted the On Being poetry podcast called “Poetry Unbound.” It is from that project that he gets the title of this eagerly anticipated new volume.

This forthcoming book is a collection of fifty poems (mostly by contemporary poets, such as, say, Ada Lemon or Ilya Kaminsky or Margaret Atwood) and he then offers pages and pages of wonderfully touching and observant reflection. He is not only a splendid curator of poems, he is a teacher, a guide, and a spiritual director. It is extraordinary.

Poetry Unbound is fifty poems and 300 pages of commentary revealing and confessing why a line of verse might make you weep. But more than that, it is a collection of moments and meditations and a turning toward the ways that some memories, of sorrow and joy, might make us hold on a little while longer, long enough in fact.             – Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Felon

Mesmerizing, magical, deeply moving… If you are looking for a read that will warm your heart, inspire your creative mind, and renew your faith in the resilience of the human race, look no further. — Elif Shafak, author of The Island of Missing Trees

How It Went: Thirteen More Stories of the Port William Membership Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $26.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80  DUE NOVEMBER 8, 2022

In a BookNotes post about Eugene Peterson and the Christian imagination it is perfect timing to tell you about a soon to be released collection of previously unpublished short stories by the master of the craft, Wendell Berry. Peterson really appreciated Berry’s fiction — he famously loved Jayber Crow as well as the Kentucky farmer’s serious nonfiction. I honestly don’t know if they ever met; I never heard, actually. Peterson also appreciated Wallace Stegner under whom Mr. Berry studied early on. I know Eugene appreciated Berry’s book about writing called Standing By Words and his marvelous study of the localized poetry of Juan Carlos Williams (“of Rutherford New Jersey”, as Berry always described him in the book The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford.) He loved his sabbath poems…

And so, we have here a forthcoming volume of thirteen new stories. This is huge — almost as eager awaited (and in some circles, more so) of his major new nonfiction release this fall called The Need to Be Whole, which very deeply explores patriotism and race. I do not know of anyone who has seen How It Went, yet, but the publisher has said this much:

For those readers of his poetry and inspired by his increasingly vital work as advocate for rational land use and the right-size life, these stories of Wendell Berry’s offer entry into the fictional place of value and beauty that is Port William, Kentucky. Berry has said it’s taken a lifetime for him to learn to write like an old man, and that’s what we have here, stories told with grace and ease and majesty. Wendell Berry is one of our greatest living American authors, writing with the wisdom of maturity and the incandescence that comes of love.

These thirteen new works explore the memory and imagination of Andy Catlett, one of the well-loved central characters of the Port William saga. From 1932 to 2021, these stories span the length of Andy’s life, from before the outbreak of the Second World War to the threatened end of rural life in America.

Pre-order this now and we’ll send it as soon as it arrives, hopefully by November 8th 2022.

Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99  DUE MARCH 28, 2023

I have not yet seen an advanced reader copy of this but I am positive it will be great. I know it is a long way out, yet — it is due out in March of 2020, but you can pre-order it now, of course. I wanted to mention it as it could be one of the very best books in this whole genre of reading well, reading widely, and doing so as a spiritual discipline. I know she will have a chapter on Augustine, one called “reading like Julian of Norwich” and another on “reading like Dorothy Sayers.” It will examine the multi-dimensional sensation of reading and ask, “what kind of a reader are you?” I really eager!

In a way, this is a follow-up to the one we have raved about (and listed above), this year’s The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints.

The forthcoming masterpiece is already getting some early buzz. Listen to this:

In her deft and beautiful way, Jessica Hooten Wilson crafts a theology of reading for Christians who have forgotten why it matters. She challenges us to take up and read –not only because it teaches about the faith of our past but because it makes our faith stronger for the present too. Get this book to learn, to grow, and to be inspired. — Beth Allison Barr Professor of History, Baylor University; The Making of Biblical Womanhood

In Reading for the Love of God, Jessica Hooten Wilson makes the case for reading as a means of transformation into Christlikeness. Her own meditations on the theology, spirituality, and ethics of reading are punctuated with studies of great Christian readers, male and female, down through the ages, which adds a rich layer of historical insight to her own brilliant reflections. We live in an age of shallowness, and reading is perhaps its greatest casualty. But Hooten Wilson issues a clarion call to rediscover depth. This book is profound and practical at once. As St. Augustine would say, tolle lege (take and read)! —Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest;  Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night

To read Jessica Hooten Wilson’s Reading for the Love of God is to enter into a sacred apprenticeship with the faithful believers and minds of the church that have gone before us, learning at their feet with Hooten Wilson as our wise and faithful guide. To read this book is to truly learn how to read spiritually — and readers who approach this book humbly will not walk away unchanged. Reading for the Love of God is a tremendous gift, one that will shape, reform, and revitalize the way the church reads. By helping us read for the love of God, Hooten Wilson helps us live for the love of God. I’ll be recommending this book widely in my parish and beyond for years to come. —Claude Atcho, pastor of Church of the Resurrection, Charlottesville, Virginia; Reading Black Books

Again, please note that this releases in March 2023. Those who pre-order it will be our our solid waiting list but we won’t run your credit card info until we send it. Easy.

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No, Covid is not over — it is now spreading again. Since nobody is reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the water tables. And it’s bad. The virus is out there, seriously. It is complicated for us, so we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, staff, and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the newest variant is now spreading again; rates are rising. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise.

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26 brand new or forthcoming titles to order or PRE-ORDER now — on sale at 20% off

Thanks to those who sent encouraging notes about our last BookNotes newsletter. It is intense stuff reading about the bizarre accusations of a stolen election and it is tragic to learn of the former President’s affiliation with such gonzo bad guys as Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and the Oath Keepers rebels. We understand that good people and faithful Christians can disagree about policy considerations and since the Bible itself has a fairly complex social ethic, it isn’t always simple to deduce what policies are best for the common good. But the ludicrous “stop the steal” stuff has to be resisted with all our might and good Americans should refuse to support those who are complicit in any of that Trumpian illogic. I trust that those books helped make a case about the systemic nature of the January 6th “unthinkable” that many Republicans are still saluting. Anyway, although we didn’t sell many of those books, we’re glad you read my thoughts about them.

We still have those five that I reviewed at a 20% off, so let us know if we can ship any to you or yours.

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New books continue to come out and we are more than excited to share the news about some forthcoming gems, treasures of various sorts for all kinds of readers.

Here is a good list of forthcoming titles you can pre-order from us now. (Of course, as we often say, you can always pre-order anything, anytime.)

IF YOU ARE PRE-ORDERING MORE THAN ONE PLEASE TELL US IF YOU’D LIKE US TO SHIP THEM AS THEY ARRIVE OR HOLD TOGETHER TO CONSOLIDATE, SHIPPING TOGETHER WHEN THE LATER ONES ARRIVE. WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU WELL SO LET US KNOW AS MANY OF YOUR EXPECTATIONS AS YOU CAN.

Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions Temple Grandin (Riverhead) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40 AVAILABLE NOW

This thoughtful hardback just arrived and I’ve not had time to peruse it, but, you know, she is just amazing, a remarkable person, leader, thinker, and educator. She has a knack for demystifying complex social and psychological science. This introduces us to a certain sort of person and their perceptions, based on her own vivid experiences, I’m sure, and the latest research. 

 

Dinosaurs: A Novel Lydia Millett (W. W. Norton) $26.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.56  AVAILABLE NOW

Do you know the award winning novel A Children’s Bible from a year or two ago? Wow. This is Millet’s stunning new novel, named as one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2022 by the Boston Globe, Literary Hub and The Millions. It is the story of a man named Gil who walks from New York to Arizona “to recover from failed love.” You can expect that his life will be entangled with his new neighbors. One reviewer said the novel asks, “in the shadow of existential threat, where does hope live?” 

 

Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead Adam McHugh (IVP) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00  AVAILABLE NOW

You may know McHugh’s previous books such as his award-winning Introverts in the Church and the excellent, nearly contemplative paperback, The Listening Life. This brand new one, however, is about grief and loss and transition — helped along by the good gifts of God’s creation. Can this beleaguered, hurting author find healing through wine, friends, and the beauty of the French wine country or the glories of California’s central coast? Is there something to indeed savor, here?

With the first line being “This is the story of how wine brought be back from the dead” you know this is going to be interesting. As McHugh tells of his new take on an old story, he observes, “Most stories about religion and drink are stories of recovery. I’m not sure if mine isn’t a story of recovery too.”

McHugh is a sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine who lives in Santa Ynez Valley, CA. And a very fine writer.

Adam McHugh’s stunning memoir, Blood from a Stone, brings a sideways beatitude: Blessed are the lonely, the detached, the fired, the tired, and the spiritually hungry. They will see God if they’re paying attention and willing to be surprised. Read, savor, and listen for the low hum of deep faith in this personal story of a man who writes with a keen awareness of grief and a self-deprecating honesty. You’ll leave with a renewed longing for food and meaning, cheese and history, and wine you can’t pronounce  — Emily P. Freeman, author of The Next Right Thing

Demon Copperhead: A Novel Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) $32.50  OUR SALE PRICE = $26.00  DUE OCTOBER 18, 2022

It has been several years since Kingsolver’s spectacular and very interesting Unsheltered. I have since re-read both of her collections of essays High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonders, both which I love. In this much anticipated story she puts a new twist on the Dickens classic David Copperfield, apparently, it is stunning. It has been called a tour de force and a virtuoso work. The short summary from the publisher summarizes the plot in a pedestrian way: “The teenage son of an Appalachian single mother who dies when he is eleven uses his good looks, wit, and instincts to survive foster care, child labor, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses.” But, with Kingsolver there is always more going on, much more. I’m sure this is going to be much talked about these next months. 

Here are what some impressed advanced readers have said:

Demon is a voice for the ages — akin to Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield — only even more resilient. I’m crazy about this book, which parses the epidemic in a beautiful and intimate new way. I think it’s her best. — Beth Macy, author of Dopesick

Readers see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath Demon’s self-protective exterior…. Emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored. — Kirkus Review

A deeply evocative story…Kingsolver’s account of the opioid epidemic and its impact on the social fabric of Appalachia is drawn to heartbreaking effect. This is a powerful story, both brilliant in its many social messages regarding foster care, child hunger, and rural struggles, and breathless in its delivery. — Publishers Weekly

Liberation Day: Stories George Saunders (Random House) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40  AVAILABLE OCTOBER 18, 2022

Those who follow the art of the short story know that Saunders is considered one of the true masters of the form. (His only real novel, I think, was the highly regarded Lincoln in the Bardo.) These new stories, we are told, explore “ideas of power, ethics, and justice, and cuts to the very heart of what it means to live in community with fellow humans.” Well, that’s not too bad, is it? The Oprah Daily called it “pitch perfect” and “an exquisite work from a writer whose reach is galactic.” Allrightee, then.

Saunders makes you feel as though you are reading fiction for the first time. — Khaled Hosseini

The Old Testament and God – Old Testament Origins and the Question of God  Craig G. Bartholomew (Baker Academic) $54.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $43.99  DUE OCTOBER 18, 2022

Speaking of a our de force… It is a bit tricky to explain this briefly, but we can say two quick things. Firstly, Dr. Bartholomew is one of the best Biblical scholars around, weaving together his deep understanding of the best way to read and keen insight about how to inhabit the unfolding drama of the Biblical story. The world “worldview” may seem a bit dated in these postmodern times but he is what I sometimes call a worldviewish thinker and writer. He studied with Cal Seerveld at Toronto’s ICS, after all, and now directs the Kirby Laing Centre for Public Theology in Cambridge, England. Secondly, this book, to put it boldly, is going to do in world of the Old Testament studies what N.T. Wright’s magisterial multi-volume set did for the New Testament. You will note the hat tip in Bartholomew’s subtitle to Wright’s “Christian Origins and the Question of God” series.

The Old Testament and God, the first in a four-volume series, examines what we should do with the Old Testament, argues for a “critical realist” approach, situates the Old Testament against the worldviews of the ancient Near East, and explores the character of Yahweh as he comes to us in the Old Testament.

Rave reviews come from the likes of Richard Bauckham, Tremper Longman, Matthew Levering, and Christopher J. H. Wright. Serious Biblical scholars should certainly consider this.

And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle Jon Meacham (Random House) $40.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00  AVAILABLE OCTOBER 18, 2022

Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and historian. He has not done a new book of historical biography in a while and this is the one we’ve been waiting for. The endorsements have been predictably fabulous, insisting this is excellent history and a fine example of what I might call the relevance of good historical story-telling. Relevant, indeed. Listen to this:

In his captivating new book, Jon Meacham has given us the Lincoln for our time. And There Was Light brilliantly interweaves the best of gripping narrative history with a deeper search for the complex interplay among morality, politics, and power in a life, in a democracy, and in an America ripped apart over slavery. Here Meacham takes us to the heart of the president who shaped events at ‘the existential hour.’ In doing so, he fortifies us to meet our own. — Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Biography at its best, the great historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, paints an intimate portrait of an individual which simultaneously provides a sweeping view of history. With this deep, compelling work, Jon Meacham has achieved this gold standard. Written with wisdom and grace, his story of Lincoln’s complex moral journey to Emancipation mirrors America’s long quest to live up to its founding ideals. — Doris Kearns Goodwin

If Dr. Henry “Skip” Gates says it is a biography “for our time” and if Doris Kearns Goodwin says it achieves the “gold standard” for such books, you know it is one you should consider. I know most of us only buy a few books about history any given year and most of us only buy a few on Lincoln. This should be on everyone’s list, I’d think…

Beyond Welcome: Centering Immigrants in Our Christian Response to Immigration  Karen Gonzalez (Brazos Press) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  DUE OCTOBER 18, 2022

We have met Karen and think the world of her. Her previous book on immigration issues was a lovely read, passionate and solid. Kudus to Herald Press for that. Here, in her brand new one, she goes deeper, with even more zeal and understandable passion for making the story of immigrants — stories like her own — more central not only in the telling of the story of American immigration but in our speculation and theologizing about it all. The voices of the immigrant and refugee, the too often marginalized, ought to be more central in our attention and in our imagination and in our hearts.

Naturally, she tells a bunch of stories and she offers what can only be called a fresh Biblical hermeneutic to see how the Biblical stories interlock with those of her community. It’s a lively read, interesting, compelling, important. We just got them in and I’ve already skimmed it, realizing it is so very interesting. What a gem!

I like what it on the back cover:

Many of us have good intentions, working hard to welcome immigrants with hospitality and solidarity. But how can we do that in a way that empowers our immigrant neighbors rather than pushing them to the fringes of white-dominant culture?

Karen González draws from the Bible and her own experiences to examine why the traditional approach to immigration ministries and activism is at best incomplete and at worst harmful. She advocates putting immigrants in the center of the conversation and helps us recognize ourselves in our immigrant neighbors.

Here is the voice of her colleague at World Relief, Matthew Soerens:

Whether you agree with González’s conclusions or not —I  usually did, occasionally did not, and in a few cases am still wrestling with what I think, long after reading this poignant book — you will find Beyond Welcome to be challenging, constructive, and helpful.  — Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization and advocacy, World Relief; coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger

Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw (Zondervan) $24.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99  DUE OCTOBER 21, 2022

One of the grand features of this radically Biblical volume (first published maybe a decade ago) is its extraordinary, full color imagery and hip graphic appeal. Edgy and cool, busy and splashy in a subversive sort of way, this illustrated book calls us to the Biblical images of exile and the words of the prophets, picking up the sort of stuff later spelled out in scholarly detail by the likes of Walsh and Keesmaat (in Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice, which Shane endorsed.) Of course, Jesus isn’t exactly running for office these days so we now need to figure what to do; we must improvise our way towards faithful socio-political views and public actions. This book will help and we are glad that the publisher is seeing fit to bring it out anew.

There is nothing like it. Hooray.

Things That Matter Most: Essays on Home, Friendship, and Love  Christopher de Vinck (Paraclete Press) $22.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39  DUE OCTOBER 25, 2022 (expected sooner)

Oh my, what a lovely, easy to read, and poignant little book. Some of our readers will love this and will love giving it as an encouraging gift for someone who needs a little “pick me up” with tender substance.

We’ve been fans of Chris de Vinck for years (probably since his stunning book The Power of the Powerless, which was a story about his own handicapped brother) released in the late 1980s. We have collected and read (and tried to sell) his essays and stories. He was, as you may know, a good friend and kindred spirit with the late Henri Nouwen and a very dear pal with Mister Fred Rogers. His most recent previous books included Ashes, a gripping World War II novel based on the experiences of his own relatives with the Nazi concentration camps and the life-long friendships that emerged and an sentimental holiday novel, Mr. Nicholas: A Magical Christmas Tale (with a forward by Joanne Rogers, Fred’s wife.) 

This new one has a grand introduction by one of our favorite people in the book industry, Jeff Crosby (formerly a bookstore worker, then a publisher at IVP, and now of the ECPA, and author of his own forthcoming book of reflections, The Language of the Soul: Meeting God in the Longings of Our Hearts. That isn’t due until next May but, yes, you can pre-order it now and we will be put on the waiting list.)

Jeff has long been a fan of de Vinck and has become a friend. His forward to Things That Matter Most: Essays on Home, Friendship, and Love is lovely, to say the least. He notes that it “helps us see with our hearts” which sounds more pious than it is, I think. With essays on fireflies and board games (and more on bugs) and much on the poignancy of human connection and empathy, and a section of pieces on humility, this is just really nice writing about things that matter, even if at first you haven’t pondered them. Like all good art, it nicely illuminates. 

I like collections of essays but this is designed with some larger fonts, pull quotes in sidebar boxes, and a touch of whimsy. It isn’t overly demanding or dense. I recommend it highly.

The Passenger: A Novel Cormac McCarthy (Knopf Publishing) $30.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00  DUE OCTOBER 25, 2022

How do we begin to say the importance for serious booksellers of having a new McCarthy novel to sell? He is considered among the very best and it has been — not surprisingly — sixteen years since his last work. The Passenger is the first of a two volume series (the second, Stella Marris, comes in early December which you can also pre-order. There will even, then, be a boxed set of the two.) This novel is, on the surface, about a New Orleans salvage diver who is “haunted by loss, afraid of the watery deep, pursed for a conspiracy beyond his understanding, and longing for a death she cannot reconcile with God.”

McCarthy reigns as a titan of American lit — an undisputed heir to Melville and Faulkner, the subject of infinite grad-school theses, and a hard-nosed dispenser of what Saul Bellow called ‘life-giving and death-dealing’ sentences… It’s the humid, fevered, magniloquent, Bible-cadenced, comma-starved, word-drunk prose of what some fans consider his masterwork, Suttree. There’s a lot here. It might make your head spin… What it all adds up to — perhaps surprisingly — is a doomed and unsettling love story, a Platonic tragedy…. Electric and thunderous… An astonishing pair of novels. Taken together, The Passenger and Stella Maris are an intellectually breathtaking achievement. —Jonathan Miles, Garden & Gun

After sixteen years of characteristic seclusion, McCarthy returns with a one-two punch… The Passenger is an elegiac meditation on guilt, grief, and spirituality. Packed with textbook McCarthy hallmarks, like transgressive behaviors and cascades of ecstatic language, it’s a welcome return from a legend who’s been gone too long.        — Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

Chilling and masterly…. His prose frequently approaches the Shakespearean, ranging from droll humor to the rapid-fire spouting of quotable fecundity. Dialogues click into place like a finely tuned engine. McCarthy has somehow added a new register to his inimitable voice. Long ensconced in the literary firmament, McCarthy further bolsters his claim for the Mount Rushmore of the literary arts. — Booklist

Heart Speak: A Visual Interpretation of Let Your Life Speak Sherrill Knezel in collaboration with Parker Palmer (formatio/IVP) $18.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40  DUE OCTOBER 25, 2022

I can’t wait to see this and I cannot say much about it other than tell you, simply, what it is. It is a colorful and creatively done visual adaptation of the classic book on vocation by Quaker writer Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak. If that book itself was gentle and generous, inviting us to take up a life that matters, listening well to our own hearts, this guides those who need a different approach to this material. There are infographics and calligraphied quotes and colorful hearts, a design style some call “sketch noting.”  I’m sure it is going to be very well done, not at all goofy, but not too psychedelic either.

The author, by the way, is a life-long doodler and “sketch noter” and she did a bit of research on the scribbling thing, taking in the brain science and data which she put into an excellent TED talk, telling her stories of the power of all of this, inspired somewhat by the author Mike Rohde. It’s amazing and you can watch it, here. (And you really should. But be sure to come back, since there’s more books to tell you about. Maybe it will remind you of a book I did a long forward to years ago by my friend Lisa Nichols Hickman, Writing in the Margins: Connecting with God on the Pages of Your Bible.)

Here’s what singer-songwriter, activist, and author Carrie Newcomber says about this soon to be released book inspired by Parker Palmer, Heart Speak:

I am charmed, delighted, and deeply touched by Sherrill Knezel’s Heart Speak. The illustrations offer a new and creative dimension to quotes I’ve treasured for many years. Sherrill’s commentary and reflective questions are wonderfully human, tender, thought provoking, and wise. I recommend this book to those who love the work of Parker J. Palmer, but also to anyone who is on the important and curious journey of becoming more fully themself. — Carrie Newcomer, songwriter and author of The Beautiful Not Yet

The White Mosque: A Memoir Sofia Samatar (Catapult) $27.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60  DUE OCTOBER 25, 2022

Every now and then we hear of a book through industry journals or pre-pub newsletters and we are immediately struck by how very interesting a title or author may seem. This is exactly one of these — I’ve not previously heard of this writer, a highly regarded indie author, apparently, (known for fantasy novels) but here she is retracing some of the steps of her own people — Mennonites in the heart of Central Asia. 

One article about her started like this: “Sofia Samatar has a way with a sentence.” It goes on to mention her Nebula-and Hugo-nominated stories or novels and says, “her work has a way of pairing the mundane and the sublime with causal aplomb.” So there’s that that catches the eye.

But The White Mosque captured my attention further because the author once boarded at the well-known Mennonite high school near us in Lancaster, PA. Wow. Later, she fell into a rabbit hole, it seems, as she was trying to reshape some of her awareness of a group of German-speaking Mennonites who went to what is now Uzbekistan on a quest that “promised no less than the second coming of Christ.” Huh? Try as she might, she realized this was no novel, and her own journey to the site — lead by what one might call sort of a cult-leader — propelled her to weave together her own memoir into this odd, cross-cultural and inter-religious journey.  Ms Samatar is this child of a Black Somali Muslim and a white Mennonite and she became “obsessed with the story.”

As she grew into this life of two cultures she realized that what appeared to be, at first glance, “polar opposites” actually had considerable overlaps, confluences that helped shape how she now sees the world. Born and raised in Goshen, Indiana, she was, as they say, “a third culture kid” but she followed her parents around the globe. (Her father, Said Sheikh Samatar, was a professor of African history in Tanzania, London, Kentucky and Rutgers, NJ.  Her scholarly father wanted her, after her high schools years in Lancaster, to apply to Harvard or Yale but, against his wishes, she followed some friends to the quintessentially radical Mennonite college in Goshen, Indiana.)

I am not sure if this memoir covers her formative years, her reading habits (starting with Narnia, I’ve heard) or her marriage to another Mennonite writer, Keith Miller. The two of them did mission work, teaching high school in South Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War. With the country under curfew, both of them wrote and wrote — longhand.

This is a nonfiction story but, as she reports in a great article in Publisher’s Weekly, it’s “a nonfiction world that can still feel like a novel.” Writing it was surely transformative and we believe it’s a sleeper of a title that many of our customers will enjoy. I can’t wait. Pre-order it today!

The Inconvenient Gospel: A Southern Prophet Tackles War, Wealth, Race, and Religion  Clarence Jordan edited by Frederick Downing (Plough Publishing) $12.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $9.60   DUE OCTOBER 25, 2022 

I wonder if you know this terrific series of inexpensive, compact readers of significant Christian voices handsomely published by Plough Publishing? They have made very important contributions to Christian publishing by compiling these remarkable, compact, volumes. There is Love in the Void by Simone Weil, The Scandal of Redemption by Oscar Romero, The Reckless Way of Love by Dorothy Day, That Way and No Other by Amy Carmichael, and, recently, the fabulous Thunder and Soul by Abraham Joshua Heschel. The brand new one, The Inconvenient Gospel compiles the words and sermons and writings of Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia, as a “demonstration plot” of what the Kingdom of God might look like.

Beth visited there in the mid-70s and it was very influential, as you might guess. Years earlier they had been machine-gunned for being racially integrated and more than once their crops were burned. (To this day they have a fabulous mail order business of locally grown nuts; they shifted to out-of-state mail order since the locals boycotted them.) There are many stories about Koinonia Farms — Jordan was the preacher who told Millard Fuller to give away his wealth and come back to follow Jesus, which he did, starting up, eventually, a ministry called Habitat for Humanity. Jordan was a great Baptist who paraphrased the New Testament into what he called “The Cotton Patch” version, using colloquial Southern sharecropper lingo (Jesus is put in a peach crate, not a manger, and his best buddy was Rock.) He was known for being as blunt, and as kind, as Jesus.

These messages by Clarence Jordan (like the others in the series) are enduring but of all of them, this is the author whose writings may be the most likely to languish into obscurity. Big kudos to our Bruderhof friends for once again doing an excellent thing in adding the work of this rural Baptist preacher to this very distinguished series. Thoughtful ecological theologian Norman Wirzba calls The Inconvenient Gospel “an essential book.” Order one today.

(Watch this fabulous little documentary video where you can hear is voice and learn about his prophetic Kingdom work in Jim Crow Georgia.)

Care: How People of Faith Can Respond to Our Broken Health System  Scott Morris (Eerdmans) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  DUE OCTOBER 27, 2022

Scott Morris is not as known as he should be, a real hero for those who know his good work in starting Church Health, a faith-based health care center in Memphis which serves the underserved with Christianly offering medical care. He’s been a strong voice for thinking faithfully about medicine and the spirituality of health and he has especially spoken for — and enacted — the need to include the poor and the vulnerable. The small but potent book Dust and Breath: Faith, Health, and Why the Church Should Care about Both by Kendra Hotz & Matthew Mathews tells of his work among the marginalized in Memphis as a case study of what churches can do to serve the health care needs of the poor. 

This new book, Care, is just what we need now, and Dr. Morris is a near-perfect author for the job. It is, as the subtitle suggests, less a call to start up Christian health care clinics, but how to push for, as citizens, a more comprehensive health care proposal for our broken health care system, which certainly will include private/public cooperation. I really do not know of any book quite like it.

As it says on the back, Morris draws on his experience as a medical doctor, pastor, and founder and CEO of the nation’s largest charitably funded faith-based health care center. As a United Methodist in the tradition of John Wesley, Morris knows a bit about the wholistic nature of the gospel — as his friend Jim Wallis writes in the moving preface, Wesley’s was a model for that kind of care for body and soul and he believed that special care must be given to the sick. Wesley was an advocate for and practitioner of the healing ministry of the church and that includes advocacy for good health care policy. 

There’s lots of stories here, both from the gospels and from contemporary America.  With endorsements from the likes of quality writers like Philip Yancey, this book is a winner. I hope health care workers, at least, join together to read it, as good, good things can come from small groups of folks reading dynamite books like this. 

Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60  DUE NOVEMBER 1, 2022

Keller is a great communicator who is known for being quite fluent in the culture’s best thinkers and attuned to the conversations going on. He lives in Manhattan and has reached thousands with a wholistic, thoughtful, gracious Reformed worldview. I have a bone to pick with him from time to time but he nonetheless is a hero and model. He’s on that short list of authors who I think I’d read almost anything they wrote. He’s smart and yet not overly academic; he’s Biblically based and gospel-centered but not stuffy. We’ve got some connections with old mutual friends and influences and it has been an honor to sell books on occasion at his church — including one grand night with N.T. Wright, another with Bryan Stevenson, another with John Inazu as he presented (and then talked with Tim) about his then-new book on pluralism. I even got to speak about the vocation of bookselling once at one of his legendary faith and work conferences.

But here, this: along with a recent handful (on suffering, on prayer, particularly) he brings it down home and real personal. I’ve got an advanced copy of this one and I am so struck by how this brilliant theological mind with a disposition to talk about big cultural matters and equip Christians to be salt and light in their respective worlds, is also, truly, a pastor, and can guide ordinary folks into the hard stuff of Christian virtue. Like forgiveness. Wow.

Publisher’s Weekly tried to explain why it would be useful for bookstores to carry by saying it delivers a “thorough and eloquent apologetic for forgiveness” and another review assured us that it “presents a solid defense of Christian forgiveness theology within a modern, relevant context, quoting sources as varied as Augustine, Adele, Kafka, and Clint Eastwood…. Refreshing, accessible work on the basics of forgiveness from a Christian perspective.”

The subtitle tells much: it is both the “why” and the “how.” There are some exceptionally thoughtful but practical checklists and guidelines in several appendices, including on one forgiveness practices and another on achieving reconciliation. 250 good pages.

Liturgies for Hope: Sixty Prayers for the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between Audrey Allege & Elizabeth Moore (Waterbrook Press) $20.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00  DUE NOVEMBER 1, 2002

Oh my, there are a lot of books like this coming out these days. Perhaps this wave of great new prayer books is inspired by the two exquisite, leather-bound volumes of Every Moment Holy or the online “Black Liturgies” created by Cole Arthur Riley (author of the stunning memoir This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us) or perhaps going back to the 2010 release of the groundbreaking Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals compiled by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enoma Okra. In any event, we’ve got recent, cool books like Prayers for the People: Things We Didn’t KNow We Could Say to God by Terry Stokes (Convergent Books) and Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life by Meta Herrick Carlson (Fortress Press) and her Broadleaf one called Ordinary Blessings for Parents: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Family Life. Maybe you’ll even recall our BookNotes rave about Cornelius Plantinga’s compact Eerdmans hardback, Morning and Evening Prayers.

Which brings us to Liturgies for Hope which releases in a few weeks. It is extraordinary, thoughtful, theologically substantive, raw; the prayers are long and often heartbreakingly honest and sometimes funny. I’m not sure about the language of “liturgies” these days since these are singular voice prayers, but they are solid and moving. The foreword is by Jon Tyson, pastor of Church of the City in New York, a guy I respect quite a bit. One of the authors works with the church and has received the Academy of American Poets Prize, among other awards. The other works in the publishing industry and serves the church on their creative team. 

There are amazing prayers here — good words for those complete in injustice, prayers for creativity, laments about public health, cries for those who are anguished by simply being alone, or by being too busy.  There are prayers of mystery, prayers of wonder, prayers of confession, prayers of joy, prayers of hope. And more. As good readers (and writers) Rich Villodas and Christie Purifoy say, below, this is a truly valuable resource. You should pre-order it today.

As someone who has spent many hours praying, here’s what I’ve come to realize: it’s still very hard to do. One of the best gifts that has helped me develop my life with God is the prayers and liturgies of others. I often need the words of others to help me form my own words. This is what Audrey Elledge and Elizabeth Moore do for us in this needed book. They offer beautiful words to help us access the longings of our souls and bring them to God. If you’re looking for a jumpstart to your spiritual life, start here. — Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship and author of Good and Beautiful and Kind

This is a marvelous book. I am not surprised it emerged from one of the urban epicenters of our global pandemic — of course this fierce hope would grow in such a place and such a season. Audrey Elledge and Elizabeth Moore weave rich Scriptural imagery into powerful, prayerful poetry covering topics that are at once universal but also timely in their particularity. The liturgical pronouns shift between we, you, and I in a way that is spacious and welcoming. Best of all, this book compelled even this solitary reader to reach out to her friends; these are liturgies that simply must be prayed in the company of others.  — Christie Purifoy, author of Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story Bono (Knopf Publishing) $34.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20  DUE NOVEMBER 1, 2022

I hardly have to say who Bono is (do I?) or even explain how much the powerful, often groundbreaking, music of U2 has meant to us over the years. From their earliest records (which we stocked before most knew who they were) to their most recent work, and all the colorful zeal of their fearless leader, we have been very big fans. Knowing how his faith continued to seep out, sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes between the lines, but, often, directly, up front, out loud, Bono remains one of the most interesting followers of Jesus of our era.

I hope in this forthcoming memoir he describes his friendship with Eugene Peterson (who didn’t even take his call the first time Bono called him, since Peterson had no idea who he was!) and the beautiful video he and Peterson made, visiting together in Montana about the Psalms. 

Whether that small episode in Bono’s influential life appears or not, this is a book I know many of our customers will want to read. Others, I am sure, will want to give it as a Christmas gift. It’s on my list! 

Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture Christopher Watkin (Zondervan Academic) $39.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99    DUE NOVEMBER 1, 2022

This is another that I am awaiting my own advanced copy, which may not come, so I’m just guessing here. But I’m excited and think this may be one of the great tools for thinking about God’s story and how it engages the human story of cultures unfolding and our role in it all. Watkin is a sharp guy — there is no doubt about that — and he is trying to center the Biblical vision of Christ’s Kingdom allowing us all to be “in but not of” the world in which we find ourselves. I think this is going to be great. In fact, Dan Strange (Plugged In and Making Faith Magnetic) calls it “absolutely essential reading” and Natasha Moore of the Centre for Public Christianity calls it “urgent and a tremendously exciting read.” 

For what it is worth, Watkin has published conservative critiques of Foucault and of Derrida. He wrote a very stimulating and under-appreciated volume on how Genesis 1 and 2 are, for lack of a better phrase, “tools of cultural critique.” He argues that we need not get consumed by debates about Darwin and dinosaurs and the length of days or the Earth, but, rather, should pick up from our primal origin story, classic doctrines of the Trinity and the substantive importance of creation itself. As was said about that book, Thinking Through Creation,

These foundational, biblical truths of the Trinity and creation are among the richest sources of insights and tools for robust and sensitive engagement with contemporary culture. With diagrams and clear explanations both of the Bible and our contemporary world, Christopher Watkin reclaims the Trinity and creation from their cultural despisers and shows how these foundational doctrines speak into, question, and reorient some of the most important debates in today’s society.

And so, we now have this major volume coming out and we are excited to alert you to it. Here is how the publisher describes it:

In Biblical Critical Theory, Christopher Watkin draws a winsome vision for biblical cultural engagement in which faithfulness to Scripture and sensitivity to culture walk hand in hand. If Christians want to speak with a fresh, engaging and constructive voice within our culture, we need to press deeper into the core truths of the Bible.

Listen to this:

A book that I have been eagerly anticipating for years. … My prayers are that this book will bear much intellectual and spiritual fruit in many lives over the decades ahead.      — Timothy Keller, founding pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian, New York 

An important update of Augustine’s City of God, a proposal for making biblical sense of what is happening in contemporary culture. — Kevin Vanhoozer, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision

Christopher Watkin’s expert, timely compendium of Christian Scripture’s subversive engagement of dominating themes of our modern age brings welcome healing to our world. — Esther Lightcap Meek, author of Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People

Unruly Saint: Dorothy Day’s Radical Vision and Its Challenge for Our Times  D. L. Mayfield (Broadleaf) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59  DUE NOVEMBER 8, 2022

This sits even now on my bedside and my frustratingly hectic pace of life these past few weeks (and a stack of other important volumes) has kept me from diving in as a wanted to. But any day now this will become one of my favorite books of the year, I am sure.

Those who know much about Dorothy and those who do not, I think, will be excellently served by this one-of-a-kind book. Mayfield is an edgy sort of post evangelical, I gather, and this puts her among the very best fans of The Catholic Worker,  the newspaper and movement. Jim Wallis, Lisa Sharon Harper, David Dark, Shane Claiborne and any number of non-Roman Catholic activists have drawn inspiration from Day’s radical lifestyle, her service of the poor no matter what, and her faithfulness to the church, despite all. My own journey has been crisscrossed by a number of CW folk and I must say that the extraordinary biography Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century by John Loughery and Randolph Blythe remains one of my all time favorite books. As I heard that DL was doing this one, I prayed that she knew Loughery and Blythe’s work and indeed she does. The footnotes are just fascinating and excellent. This author of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith has now given us a perfect follow up to that fabulous memoir.

Unruly Saint is written by a very good writer and a good thinker, a woman who, like Dorothy, it seems, is seeking some new way to be faithful to God, to inhabit the Christian tradition well, to serve and love others. In this sense the book is almost a memoir, a story of Mayfield’s own encounter with Day. Although she seems very knowledgeable she says it is not, technically, a biography. It is Dorothy’s challenge to us, illustrated keenly as DL herself grappled with the woman and her books and her legacy.

One of Dorothy’s friends was Robert Ellsberg, now editor at Orbis Books. He has a forward in Unruly (quite an honor) and he says that Dorothy would have liked DL and would have liked the book. He quotes, as I had hoped, that great line at the end of The Long Loneliness, “It happened as we sat there talking and it is still going on.” He continues, “In her encounter with Dorothy, D.L. Mayfield has caught that spark. And in this book she passes it on.”

There are bunches of great endorsements of this, but that one is all we need. If Ellsworth says it is one to read, then trust that. Pre-order it today and we’ll send it out a bit early. 

The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Treasury of Classic Devotionals on the Christian Life Leland Ryken (Crossway) $34.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99  DUE NOVEMBER 8, 2022

I have not laid eyes on this at all but the name alone — esteemed literary professor, Leland Ryken — gives you a hint that this will be a rich, classic, warm (if heady) collection, nicely made by Crossway (even with a ribbon marker.) It’s going to make a fabulous gift for those who don’t mind the older cadences and rhetoric of classic devotional literature.

Since I cannot say much, here are those who can, and do:

Having already opened the eyes of the body of Christ to its treasury of devotional poetry in The Soul in Paraphrase, Leland Ryken now widens our vision to take in the depth and breadth of two millennia of devotional prose. Running the gamut from the giants of the genre (Augustine, John Donne, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, Brother Lawrence, Blaise Pascal, Julian of Norwich, Bernard of Clairvaux) to writers we do not usually identify with devotional writing (Florence Nightingale, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George MacDonald, Jane Austen, George Washington Carver), The Heart in Pilgrimage conducts its readers on a spiritual journey that is well worth taking. — Louis Markos, Professor in English, Houston Baptist University; author The Myth Made Fact: Reading Greek and Roman Mythology through Christian Eyes

Whenever I am asked to recommend a volume that combines literary study with sound Christian teaching, I recommend Leland Ryken. His new collection of rich devotional literature will move to the top of my list of recommended works. The Heart in Pilgrimage is a treasury of wisdom and beauty to which readers will return again and again.” — Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

Like cool water to a parched throat, Leland Ryken has produced a soul-quenching gift with this collection of devotionals. Filled with beautiful writing devoted to an even more beautiful subject, The Heart in Pilgrimage delivers the truths of the Christian faith through masterful expression, promising to awaken fresh affections for the Lord among believers of every stripe. — Collin Huber, Senior Editor, Fathom Magazine

Christianity and Critical Race Theory: A Faithful and Constructive Conversation Robert Chao Romero & Jeff Liou (Baker Academic) $23.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $19.19  DELAYED – NOW DUE APRIL 2023

We have been waiting for a solid book like this with sympathies for racial justice activism and a knowing awareness that the Bible is clear about being, in a righteous way, woke. We must wake up to social injustices and imagine the new thing God is doing, calling out systemic injustices and helping us all grapple with where we are in this moment of history.

Naturally, some who have posited theories about the nature of the real world as we know it — as in the hard sciences, say — are atheistic, and of those, some are nonetheless congenial to Christian values and some are hostile. Some who are mostly right carry some odd baggage. It is, as they say, a mixed bag.

And so, in our efforts to be faithful Christian thinkers about the ideas that are in the air around us, we must “take every thought captive” and grapple wisely with the claims and the critique of every school of thought and every lively ideology. Things such as CRT.

Sadly, this particular school of thought has been bandied about with whole books against it, ill-informed preachers and writers throwing the baby out with the bath water, and, worse, getting on right-wing radio shows and firing up the crowds to get them to despise this “CRT” even as they hardly know what it is. Some pseudo-scholars have weighed in louder than they should have and even good friends have broken fellowship over their opinions of these second and third level authors. This forthcoming one is going to be wise and solid, I’m sure.

This book, I believe, will go to the primary sources, suss out what shapes them and how they have been influential. It will not suffer fools but it will not be partisan or ideological, either. As the publisher calmly puts it, “Their aim is to offer analysis and critique that go beyond the debates about social identity and the culture wars and aid those who are engaging the issues in Christian life and ministry. Reflection/discussion questions, exercises, a glossary of key CRT terms, and suggested readings make the book helpful for students or small groups.”

Here is the fascinating arrangement of the book. Notice this:

  • 1. Creation: Community Cultural Wealth and the Glory and Honor of the Nations
  • 2. Fall: Sin and Racism–the Ordinary Businesses of Society
  • 3. Redemption: CRT in Institutions
  • 4. Consummation: The Beloved Community

I cannot wait to get my hands on this. You, too? Pre-order it now and we will send it the moment it comes in — a bit early, we suspect.

Tolkien Dogmatics: Theology Through Mythology with the Maker of Middle-Earth Austin Freeman (Lexham) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59  DUE NOVEMBER 16, 2022

We’re very excited about this, seeing how a Protestant (with a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and now teaching at Houston Baptist, no less) creates what some will no doubt consider to be the standard text on the theology of JRR Tolkien. Allow me to just crib from the publishers info — it so fascinating us and want to highlight it here:

J. R. R. Tolkien was many things: English Catholic, father and husband, survivor of two world wars, Oxford professor, and author. But he was also a theologian. Tolkien’s writings exhibit a coherent theology of God and his works, but Tolkien did not present his views with systematic arguments. Rather, he expressed theology through story.

In Tolkien Dogmatics, Austin M. Freeman inspects Tolkien’s entire corpus — The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and beyond — as a window into his theology. In his stories, lectures, and letters, Tolkien creatively and carefully engaged with his Christian faith. Tolkien Dogmatics is a comprehensive manual of Tolkien’s theological thought arranged in traditional systematic theology categories, with sections on God, revelation, creation, evil, Christ and salvation, the church, and last things. Through Tolkien’s imagination, we reencounter our faith.

By the way, did you know that although there are maybe a zillion or so books about Tolkien’s pal C.S. Lewis, I only know one book that literally explores and systematizes Lewis’s theological ideas? That is the brilliant little volume called Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C.S. Lewis by the lively Donald T. Williams, published by Square Halo Books. And, by the way, you should know their two exceptionally interesting books, C.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands and J.R.R. Tolkien and the Arts: A Theology of Subcreation. So much goodness!

Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World Pádraig Ó Tuama (W. W. Norton & Company) $27.95  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.36  DUE DECEMBER 6, 2022

I hope you know the world-famous Irish poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama. His extraordinary, lovely book published by Broadleaf takes the name of his website, In the Shelter. He is interested there in questions of violence and exclusion, hospitality and home, shelter and redemption. In recent years he has become known for more than his peacemaking work in Northern Ireland (see his Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community or the moving Between the Bells: Stories of Reconciliation from Corrymeela) and is increasingly recognized as a poet of considerable skill and wide appeal. You may have heard him on NPR as he hosted the On Being poetry podcast called “Poetry Unbound.” It is from that project that he gets the title of this brand new volume.

This book is a collection of fifty poems (mostly by contemporary poets, such as, say, Ada Lemon or Ilya Kaminsky or Margaret Atwood) and he then offers pages and pages of wonderfully touching and observant reflection. He is not only a splendid curator of poems, he is a teacher, a guide, and a spiritual director. It is extraordinary.

Poetry Unbound is fifty poems and 300 pages of commentary revealing and confessing why a line of verse might make you weep. But more than that, it is a collection of moments and meditations and a turning toward the ways that some memories, of sorrow and joy, might make us hold on a little while longer, long enough in fact.– Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Felon

Mesmerizing, magical, deeply moving…. If you are looking for a read that will warm your heart, inspire your creative mind, and renew your faith in the resilience of the human race, look no further. — Elif Shafak, author of The Island of Missing Trees

Learning Humility: A Year of Searching for a Vanishing Virtue Richard J. Foster (IVP) $25.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00  DUE DECEMBER 6, 2022 (expected sooner.)

I have not seen this yet but it is nearly a publishing event when the great Richard Foster releases a new book. His Celebration of Discipline continues to sell decades since its release date and this joyous, exceptionally well-read, and helpful Quaker — who knows the Catholic monastic tradition better than most Catholics — has given us many rich and lasting books. This one is culturally urgent and is curious — it is arranged by the sessions of the Lakota seasons.

These two quotes by two respected companions and friends explain the book wonderfully. Please read: 

Humility is an essential and highly nuanced topic for us Christians; there are such fine lines to be found–between humility and humiliation, self-regard and self-promotion, healthy self-esteem and the sin of pride. Foster finds the line and walks it beautifully. The idea that we do not try to attain humility directly but we ‘come at the matter indirectly. We simply take up those things that, in God’s time and in God’s way, will lead us into the virtue of humility’ is tremendously hopeful. It is worth the price of the book. — Ruth Haley Barton, founder of the Transforming Center and author of Sacred Rhythms

Destined to be another classic from Richard J. Foster, Learning Humility is a gift from a gifted writer. In this book we get to walk with Richard not only on the trails of Colorado but also on the terrain of the soul. Richard is a true scribe of the kingdom who brings forth treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52). The breadth and depth of the wisdom bearers he quotes is immense, from Peter and Paul, to Evagrius and Julian, to Chief Joseph and Underhill, to Kelly and Law, and to Murray and contemporary writers. Framed by the thirteen months and moons of the Lakota and filled with liturgies and litanies, this book ignited in me a hunger for humility in my own life. This is one of Richard’s signature gifts: he makes us long for difficult things by helping us see that virtues, like humility, are the pearl of great price, worth giving all we have to obtain it. This book is an engaging and insightful gem, and I am the better for having read it.   –James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful God

This is a major volume on a simple subject. Oh my. Order it now.

Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious: Reframed and Expanded David Dark (Broadleaf Books) $18.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19  DUE DECEMBER 13, 2022

Coming a few weeks before Christmas, this newly imagined, significantly edited, “reframed and expanded” edition of a great contemporary classic is sure to be a great read for many (and a great gift as well.) I did a pretty lengthy review of the first edition back five or six years ago. What a joy to see it is being reissued, soon.

Here’s the gist: David is convinced, rightly so, that everyone is religious. No one is, as they say, neutral. Or to shift the image a bit, everyone lives within a story. Everyone is coming from somewhere. Helping people realize the urgency of this human task of being honest about what drives or inspires us is a great gift and with Dark’s characteristic fluency in the popular arts and Americana literature and great religious thinkers, he can appeal to a very wide swath of good folk. His imagined reader — at least for the first edition — was perhaps the somewhat culturally hip and socially aware “spiritual but not religious” or maybe the proverbial “none.” As in “none of the above.” But, of course, life is too short for any of that. “Come on, I’m talking to you” as the Tears for Fears song went. Come on!

David is fiesty and gentle, kind and blunt. He loves the poetic nay-saying of Daniel Berrigan and the bold prophetic clarity of Southern Baptists like Will Campbell and Clarence Jordan. He loves The Simpsons and early on wrote about Radiohead and U2. These days he’s a bit of a twitter sensation, a righteous gadfly and minor pain in the backside to those who do not love their neighbors well, especially if they are celebrities who might do otherwise. He’s a lovely man, a strong thinker, and a vivid communicator. This book is all that.

Here is what the publisher suggests is in store in this updated edition:

“With the same keen powers of cultural observation, candor, and wit his readers have come to know and love, Dark weaves in current themes around the pandemic and vaccine responses, Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, Critical Race Theory, and more. By looking intentionally at our weird religious background (we all have one), he helps us acknowledge the content of our everyday existence–the good, the bad, and the glaringly inconsistent. When we make peace with the idea of being religious, we can more practically envision an undivided life.”

For those of us who claim to be religious and those of us who religiously deny such labels, Dark grants us the gift and burden to think deeply about the imagination, scaffolding, and consequences of our religiosity. In reading his journey and cautions, my sense of personal accountability and religious identity were expanded. Such is a book that reads the reader and if we stick with it we gain insight into self and neighbor. — Christina Edmondson, scholar activist and host of Truth’s Table podcast, author of Faithful Antiracism.

David Dark is one of our most astute and necessary cultural critics. His work gracefully opens new doors of understanding and breaks down barriers between secular and non-, and it puts a lot of old mythology out to pasture with a daring affirmation at the heart of his radical critique. Life’s Too Short refreshingly ropes everyone in, insisting that we’re all in it together. We forget that. — Jessica Hopper, author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic

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Five stunning books about former President Trump, the claim that the elections were “stolen” and the January 6th riots ON SALE NOW

Over the last few weeks I have had one of the most electrifying and harrowing reading experiences of my life. I have read a handful of books back to back and I want very much to tell you about them. No, I am not oddly obsessed (well, okay, maybe a little) but I feel strongly that I am trying to live into one of my life verses, 1 Chronicles 12:23, that the Lord gave to me in 1978. You’ve heard of it, I’m sure; it’s the one that mentions the “sons of Issachar” who “understood the times and knew what God’s people should do.” Our bookstore was designed and we continue to curate it, we sometimes say, to help cultivate wise sons and daughters of Issachar.

And so, I invite you to read my reflections on five books about the former President Trump’s campaign to stop the counting of proper votes in that dramatic 2020 election and his intention to overturn the certification of them in that fateful electoral college procedure on January 6th, 2021.

(As always, you can order them at our discounted prices by clicking on the link at the very end of this long BookNotes column.)

That Mr. Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign started even before he was elected in 2016 when he warned, wrongly, that American elections are fraudulent, is well known. The spectacular hold the vast pattern of often egregious lies, QAnon nonsense, and conspiracy theories that went from wacky to weird to truly absurd, has had on his MAGA followers has been truly something to ponder. That some otherwise smart people have gotten caught up in this cult-like devotion (despite no evidence proving any of his election allegations) is both heartbreaking and mind-numbingly maddening. That otherwise fine Christian folks would fall for the exceptionally strange ideas proposed by outrageous oddballs like Sidney Powell and Mike Flynn and evil-doers like Roger Stone and Alex Jones is absolutely beyond me. How can Christian people live with themselves aligning themselves with such stuff?

That it all gave rise to bloody and murderous hand-to-hand combat — outnumbered police were stabbed with flags used as spears; one poor cop had his gas masked ripped off of him while held down and was sprayed mercilessly with bear spray — as a traitorous Republican mob stormed their way into the Capitol, some intending to prevent the peaceful transfer of power (and others, it seems, intending to kill Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi) is a stain on the Trump movement that we must never forget. 

These five books are reputable and moving. I found them difficult to put down; if it wasn’t so very recent and true and consequential I’d say they were entertaining in a spy and mystery-thriller kind of way. They are excellently documented and offer horrific detail and new insights into what went on leading up to the uprising, perhaps the most momentous civic event of our lifetime.

That the Republic Party has increasingly been taken captive by a new generation of extremist Trumpians is certainly one of the most significant developments in our contemporary political landscape. How Mr. Trump’s flamboyant dishonesty about “the steal” captured the imaginations of so many remains inexplicable. These books do not answer this question although they are stand-outs among a cascade of new titles (with more to come) trying to figure out what the heck has happened to us as a nation, and, at least, what we should do about the riotous mob who attacked the Capitol to do political damage if not to stage an actual coup.

Behind much of it looms the question of what we should make of the fact that many of our fellow citizens either deny or minimize the violent realities of the January 6th take-over of the Capitol and who continue to believe, against all evidence, that the vote counting of the 2020 election was dishonest.

(That some who are most vocal about the outlandish and unproven allegation of a “Steal” are running for office — like in our own state with the religiously unusual candidate Mastriano [don’t get me started about his refusal to disavow the Rod of Iron cult] and how he targets fellow citizens for future injustice — should alarm any normal citizen, and certainly Biblically-informed Christians who should surely know better. But he praises the Lord and plays Steven Curtis Chapman songs at his rallies. Heaven help us.)

This is serious stuff, my friends, and we at Hearts & Minds take seriously our Issacharian role to alert you to these sorts of books. As always here at BookNotes, they are 20% off. Order some today by clicking on the link at the very end.

TWO MORE QUICK INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS: Because this terrible assault on truth and facts and law and order and the duly elected winner of the 2020 election has been conducted by those on the far-right side of the political spectrum and given how the mainstream GOP was largely complicit and implicated in this, these books will seem quite partisan. I am sorry. One does not need to be a loyalist to the Democratic Party or its policies (I am not) to believe that the Republicans have lost their moral center by refusing to distance themselves from the racist alt-right and failing to extricate themselves from the dishonesty of the Trumpian MAGA movement.

I often call for followers of Christ to be less politically partisan and to stand with the poor and oppressed and for righteous ways regardless of party affiliation. “Principles, not parties” is how one good Christian civic organization puts it. We must critique the philosophical ideologies of both major parties and I often cite the heavy but important book by David Koyzis, Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (IVP; $35.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00.) My dear and late friend Ron Sider was impeccable in this as can be seen in his manifesto about how to “think Christianly” about political policy, seen most thoroughly in his Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement (Brazos Press; $24.00 – OUR SALE PRICE = $19.20.) There are plenty of other great books on nurturing a truly Christian sense of citizenship and political life but I mention these to remind us that we are not trying to be partisan. That isn’t the point.

In any case, of these five riveting reads, two were written by Republicans, one by a Democratic Congressman, and two by reporters whose affiliations I do not know. All are fair about the seriously unethical ways Mr. Trump comported himself and the incredibly odd situation with so many insisting, without any evidence, that the election was stolen. Each remind us that all of this is worse than most of us realize and that it is a cultural matter that we must more deeply understand.

Which leads me to a final point in my preamble. How in the world did so many people fall for the Big Lie and how does propaganda and disinformation make its way into the common citizenry? I have previously recommended Bonnie Kristian’s excellent new book Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community (Brazos Press; $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99.) It is a wonderful read, eloquent and moderate in tone. (Given how wildly dangerous the QAnon and Stop the Steal stuff has been, I’d have wished for a bit more zealous outcry from here but she is exceedingly calm and exceptionally balanced.) Her study of mass media and groupthink and the ethics of news consumption and what to do about what we know and what we don’t know, is a must-read these days. As Jeffrey Bilbro (the gentle Wendell Berry scholar who wrote the beautiful Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry Into the News) said of it, Untrustworthy “is never condescending and always sympathetic; it is never partisan and always incisive.” Kristian offers specific ways to take action to combat “the truth crisis” in our lives, families, and church communities, even offering a wonderfully clear proposal for “a practical epistemology.”  Thank God.

Okay. Put on your seatbelts, friends. This is going to get bumpy. I hope you order several of these from us asap.

 Here are the books I will be describing.

  • Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show Jonathan Karl (Dutton) $28.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40
  • The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It Mark Bowden & Matthew Teague (Atlantic Monthly Press) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40
  • The Breach: The Untold Story of the Investigation Into January 6th Denver Riggleman with Walker Hunter (Henry Holt & Company) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99
  • Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell Tim Miller (Harper) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
  • Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy Jamie Raskin (Harper) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show Jonathan Karl (Dutton) $28.00   OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

Jonathan Karl is the Chief Washington correspondent for ABC News and the author of a previous work on the incessantly peculiar and often despicable behaviors of our 45th President, Front Row at the Trump Show. His crisp, informative reporting and essential fairness has been affirmed by many principled conservatives who endorsed his first book —Peggy Noonan (in the Wall Street Journal), the biographer of Ronald Reagan, Lou Cannon, the nearly impeccable George F. Will.

One significant critic said “we’ve read every book about the Trump presidency. This is the best.” 

This new one picks up where the previous left off, but it is travelling very certain ground—“the explosive account of the downfall of the Tump president and the betrayal of American democracy.” Karl has known Donald Trump longer than any other White House correspondent (and had remarkable access to him, including after Biden’s inauguration; there is a spectacular chapter at the end of Karl being hosted by Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

This is a vivid account of the last months of the Trump campaign by a highly qualified journalist. I have postie-notes and book-markers throughout this book highlighting hundreds of the jaw-dropping episodes that Karl tell. Some are utterly bizarre, others politically unorthodox, many just rude (such as how the Trump family broke the age old tradition of inviting the next President and his wife to visit in the White House before the inauguration; even though Trump had spent endless time trying to prove that Obama wasn’t even a real American, then President Obama and his wife entertained the Trump’s twice prior to their own move in day.) More egregious dangerous things unfold, as we know, and Mr. Karl gives us a front row seat.

It starts with the little known episode of how Mr. Trump’s royal “body guy” (a security guard who had previously been fired) was given an unprecedented position of power whereby he could fire almost anyone in the White House; the chapter called “The Purge” tells of the work of no-nothing Johnny Mentee. I could hardly believe my eyes learning about that. Karl moves to stories of Covid (and how the President knowingly risked spreading it to others, including the famous episode when Chris Christie got it) and the strange press conference where the President rambled on about possibly injecting cleaners. Poor Dr. Birx, who was sitting right there with the under secretary of Homeland Security who was equally aghast. It goes from bizarre to despicable when, in the next chapter, there is a moment by moment exploration of the famous church photo-op. You know — the one with the unjust, violent removal of protesters and the take-over of a local church while holding a Bible in a rather awkward manner. Whew.

Betrayal brings us into the frantic days of the election and the effort to overturn election results. On and on it goes for 350 pages and I wanted more when it was over.  There is so much included, and nicely written. Some have said it is the definitive account of the final months and no one reading it would deny that what happened at the end of 2020 was riveting to read about and enough to send shivers up the spine of most serious patriots. 

Betrayal convincingly makes the case that the period between Election Day and Inauguration Day was even more precarious than we knew at the time. Karl isn’t a progressive pundit or a hyperbolic columnist. He is one of the most-respected correspondents in DC He and so many others are saying: America was on the precipice of a constitutional crisis. And we could wind up back there again soon.          — Brian Stelter, CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter

The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It Mark Bowden & Matthew Teague (Atlantic Monthly Press) $28.00  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40

This is one of the most detailed studies of the Trump Big Lie that I have read and should sure convince anyone anywhere that his conspiratorial accusations are nonsensical, incoherent, and often laughably ridiculous. You have to read the accounts of this dramatic story yourself to learn it all, but the short version is that it tells in narrative fashion — written with such verve that you almost think your reading a Grisham novel or spy drama — of the accusations of election fraud and what did or didn’t happen in each account. It would take pages to even summarize the many points and counterpoints but Bowden & Teague deserve an award for investigative reporting for this patriotic truth-telling. This is very, very informative and offers crucial information. One reviewer called it “a marvel of reporting.” Indeed.

Some of the accusations Trump’s people make (and continue to make) are just nutty and can be dismissed easily. There was a picture of somebody moving boxes and it was tweeted out with a caption insisting it showed shenanigans. On investigation it became obvious that the poll workers (under the constant gaze of bipartisan poll watchers) did this throughout their process, moving boxes from this location to that, counted and double-counted, moved from this space to that. There was absolutely nothing nefarious about the picture whatsoever.

In many of the cases — including some that the Trump team insisted was proof of fraud — Trump’s election count was actually in the lead. The claims of fake stuff happening was ludicrous, for starters, unkind to our many dedicated counters and poll workers who were doing their best and, frankly, foolish for Trump since he was winning in those very places he insisted stuff was fishy. How dumb.

The book goes into dramatic detail as it races across the country, follows the accusations and demands for recounts, the lawsuits (those thrown out and those that went to court where Trump’s team repeatedly lost. Lost, lost, lost. They had their day in court — sometimes tried by Trump-appointed judges! — and they lost. There is just no there, there. This book explains it all in dramatic storytelling, loaded with facts. 

The Steal is powerful on several levels and is a must-read for anyone curious about the legitimacy of the claims of fraud, the steal, the accusations of corruption. It takes these claims seriously at times and goes to great lengths to study the back story, the politics, the facts on the ground about how votes are counted and recounted, and how it all ends up. There is nothing like it in print and deserves to be widely known as we will continue to have to clarify the true truth to people who — for reasons that are beyond me — continue to believe against the evidence that the election was stolen.

Some of the claims that come into play are technical in nature (that is, claiming that Dominion computers could be hacked.) Upon closer look the allegations were just weird — claims about Venezuelan Hugo Chavez (who is dead) having intercepted computers that count votes (a literal impossibility, by the way, since the voting isn’t “on line.”) Claims that somebody in Germany was playing footloose with the votes. (Again, this is simply impossible. High school computer science geeks could explain this.) Sidney Powell and Rudy Giulianii continued to make outrageous claims of this impossible sort and continued to make them even after they were proven to be false. They were often chastised by judges during their proverbial day in court (get that: they evidence was so non-existence, that even Trump appointed judges mocked them and threw out the claims, almost always.) Still, they continued to spread falsehoods about the so-called stolen election, flagrantly repeating episodes that had been shown to be false. It took way, way too long for President Trump to finally cut loose the delusional Powell, but she did her damage.

The Steal explores the drama of these characters and their wacky schemes, going into great detail about the allegations made by the disgraced Attorney Powell and the scary Michael Flynn, of the Pillow Guy Mike Lindell and Jenna Ellis and the religiously heterodox Pennsylvania Gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. If this were a suspense thriller, a spy novel, we would say these characters are simply too outlandish to be true. But yet, here we are.

The book tells of the true believers — there is the confused Gary Phelman who demanded access to where other poll watchers already were because he has an unofficial “certificate” making him (as he put it, “the ears and eyes of the President of the United States” who was apparently sending out these unauthorized certificates) and the pushy Greg Stenstrom in Chester County who demanded to be allowed to go behind the scenes at a ballot counting spot (The Wharf, in Delco, PA) because he had an authorization to be a poll watcher in another part of the county. That was where that footage came from that went viral of a Republican poll watcher being excluded — there already were proper Republican poll watchers in place and Stenstrom simply wasn’t authorized to be in that location, so of course they didn’t admit him. But it sure looked bad on film and not only did it fire up the skeptical base about Democrat shenanigans, it so fired up Stenstrom that he brow beat a local judge to pass a ruling allowing him to delay the count and get himself in. (Where, importantly, there was no foul play.) Then there were the unscrupulous folks behind Project Veritas — and the over-reaction story about one poor postal worker in Erie, PA. You’ve got to read about him. Story after story, The Steal will keep you up at night, exploring fairly each allegation, state by state, to determine what really happened.

Over and over the stakes are high and these accusations were gaining momentum, passed around the internets among those expecting a steal — Mr Trump had said it would happen — reading trouble into all sorts of pretty normal stuff. The self fulfilling prophesies won the day, despite the facts of minimal election errors. Granted, the Covid pandemic and the necessary rules about social distancing didn’t help any; that differing states having different rules about mail-in ballots is discussed which gave rise to some understandable frustrations which were properly adjudicated in the courts. (Our own situation in Pennsylvania being one of the more sticky ones, actually.)

The final clause in the subtitle of The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It is important as the book looks at who the real heroes of our election were. It is, in the final analysis, a tribute to those who said “no” to the trouble-makers, who played by the rules and insisted others do, too. Some — like Brad Raffensperger, the Trump-supporting election guy (technically called the Secretary of State) in Georgia — famously stood their ground even when their preferred candidate lost the election. For bravely abiding by proper law and order with impeccable scruples they got death threats and vile phone messages, rape threats and hate mail and worse. Why the Trump-driven GOP didn’t “call out” those who are so vulgar and so unhinged is beyond me but I applaud this book for exposing the ugliness of some and the quiet heroism of others.

From Arizona to Michigan to Pennsylvania to George the threat of violence against those following the rules was sickening. Your heart will go out to those (often Republican) local leaders who didn’t fall for the groupthink of Trump’s pressure campaign and simply followed the evidence and stuck to the facts. And paid a price to do so. This book needs to be read.

There is a lot of content in this page-turner of a book, lots of drama; it is almost mind-numbing to what lengths the Trump MAGA team would go to try to save the election from being stolen, even as it became evident that the votes were legit and even after lawsuit after lawsuit found nothing. is a book that you will never forget about a movement that, sadly, we may not be able to forget. This stuff is not going away. The Steal is a book that is must to have on your shelf for future reference.

There are, by the way, three appendices included. There is a list of House of Representatives members who objected to certifying the electoral college results. There is a list of Senators who refused to certify the electoral college results. And there is a listing and guide to the lawsuits filed to challenge the 2020 election results. This, truly, will bring you up to speed.

The Breach: The Untold Story of the Investigation Into January 6th Denver Riggleman with Walker Hunter (Henry Holt & Company) $29.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99

Okay, if Bowden and Teague are investigate reporters trying to fairly tell about the effort to undo the elections and the arguments about what was fudged, what was sound, what the complaints were and why those accusations all fall flat — all by immersing us in the stories of those who resisted these fly-by-night accusers (those they call “the true patriots”) then this book is an insiders look on just what happened and how it all went south, especially with the uprising on January 6th. This is one insider’s view and, man, is it spicy. And informative. And real.  Wow.

Denver Riggleman is quite a character. He served as a one-term GOP Representative in DC and because of his former career in the Air Force intelligence and experience with the NSA and expertise in the field of technical aspects of intelligence (tracking phone calls, just for instance) he served for a bit on The US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. (It was not a Commission, a la the popular 9/11 Commission, by the way, as that was voted down, after seemingly being agreed upon by the House Republicans.) We learn a bit about Riggleman’s story and how he came to serve the Committee as a technical advisor and investigator. It is colorful, a bit raw — he is not a polished writer but a straight shooting military guy who is concerned about all the partisan nonsense.

This is the first book by a member of the House Select Committee to Investigate — my hunch is not all on the Committee are glad Riggleman has published his own telling of his work so soon; he does seem to be a bit of a fast-moving, get her done kind of guy, so it makes sense. I have to tell you a bit about who Riggleman is and what qualified him to serve the Commission and why it is, I’ve come to believe, exceedingly valuable to have his side of things in print. His personal story interspersed with the drama of his technical investigations sure makes for one heckuva read. Wow — what a glimpse into the real world of intelligence gathering.

Three things about Riggleman. He was raised Mormon but left that world with some degree of appreciation — he’s a good guy at heart, I’m sure — but with a lot of red flags about cults, groupthink, superstition, conspiracy theories, and the like. He sees that stuff a mile away and he does not suffer fools gladly, as they say. He doesn’t cross over any lines — it could have been studied more — but his wondering why so many people fall for what he calls the “bullshit” (that’s about the least colorful thing he calls it) of the Trump MAGA accusations about a stolen election is tremendously interesting. His background in cults makes it even more so. He has seen radicalization in Afghanistan and the Middle East and cut his military teeth in the awful horror of the Serbian/Croatian wars so he has some experience in sizing up how people become “true believers” in a cause that is not rooted in reality or truth or goodness. Anyway, his growing up rough, the conversion of his family to a religious faith and his determination that it was somewhat cult-like is helpful.

Secondly, as I’ve said, he’s a military guy with tons of experience in cracking codes, tracking down hidden information, doing bigger things than finding missing phone numbers. But that’s where his expertise came in handy as he set up what he had hoped would be a several million dollar research center to trace the network of call contacts in the phone given to the Committee by Mark Meadows, President Trump’s Chief of Staff. The thousands of texts, images, calls, and connections are at first not useful information — they’ve got millions of lines of numbers, but at first no names attached — but he created a huge graph connecting who called who. He hired some geeks in Greensburg PA with various interfacing software programs to get on all this, trying to find out which unsavory characters — The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, etc. — were most in touch with White House personnel leading up to the legal and bloody attack on the Capitol on January 6th. What he discovers will blow your mind.

As I have said before — and as I trust you surely know — everybody knew they were coming. The White House had contact with some who planned the insurrection, and it was well known that some who were coming were spreading the word to bring weapons. Anybody paying attention to Facebook and the web that week knew it was happening; those tuned to the deep web and the dark web (as Riggleman explains) would have known much more. The question is how connected the White House was, and did the White House’s connection with creeps like Roger Stone (and Bannon and the rest of the cast of violent and unsavory characters) indicate that they had hoped for a violent attack on the Capitol police and the congresspeople in the building?  In any case, Riggleman has contacts in the spy biz  and he routinely consults with police investigations and he tells some pretty cool stories about the gear and the people — he knows a guy, as they say — they recruited on a shoestring budget to suss out who was involved in this illegal uprising to storm the Capitol and attempt to murder elected officials like Mike Pence. At certain points I had to pinch myself to remember this wasn’t a fictional spy novel but something that actually happened in our own capitol just a year or so ago.

Thirdly, Riggleman has been a life-long redneck conservative. He is proud that he lived in Appalachia for a while and he’s got this blue collar demeanor and perspective. He is outspoken and blunt, daring and right wing. At least he was. Like many people I know he overlooks the flaws of the likes of Ronald Reagan and George Bush and sees them and their time as an honorable era of positive, even Godly, Republicanism. He knows his Constitution and he loved his GOP. But with the Trump stuff, he grew sour and when he ran for office and ran afoul the party line — standing against racism, for instance — he grew bitter about much of the far right ideology and its tribe. His time in the Freedom Caucus (with central Pennsylvania’s own far right ideologue Congressman Scott Perry) has given him keen insight into human behavior, party loyalty, the idols of ideology, and why the “stolen election” nonsense has taken hold.

Riggleman is the guy for this book, exposing the stupidity of much of the Big Lie and yet showing compassion for the people — like his own mother! — who believe it. His blow by blow description of how they piece by piece figured out who was talking to who leading up to the riots makes the book move along with page-turning speed and gripping, no-nonsense prose. And there is the big question looming: who used that phone in the White House early afternoon June 6th to call somebody inside the Capitol, someone rioting that very moment? That seems to be Riggleman’s “white whale” and he is passionate about following the evidence, looking at the facts and seeing where that leads. He is less concerned about partisan points and more about the answers to his tech kinds of questions, especially questions about what he called “the Rosetta Stone for the January 6th investigation” — Meadow’s phone texts which, he says, provided “a staggering amount of information.” 

I suppose you know that (as he puts it) “The White House is technically required to keep track of the commander in chief’s calls, thanks to the Presidential Records Acts, which was enacted in the wake of Watergate.” He notes that this sometimes leaves room for negligence, carelessness, and, sometimes deliberate misconduct.

And I suppose you also know that on January 6th the White House went dark for seven hours and thirty-seven minutes.

He writes,

I didn’t know why the White House went dark and I didn’t really care. As an intelligence officer, you learn not to make assumptions. It might have been an innocent mistake; it could have been a cover-up. What mattered to me — as the senior technical advisor to the Committee and as an American — was why they stopped tracking the calls, and what happened next.

As the answers unfold and we learn the details (or at least those he in good conscience could share; he sometimes says he can’t say more) we also learn more about who is involved in this big network of neo-Nazi groups and Oath Keepers and right wing religionists and ordinary Republicans who believed Trump and his MAGA team. More interestingly, he wonders why people fall for this stuff.

Which leads him to QAnon. He is adept at cracking into the dark web and he knows some stuff — he can’t even say what all, I gather — about the espionage needed if we are going to figure out who is inspiring folks to do violence and things like the plan to prevent the election to go through. That there are these way-underground dark web groups with chat boards and such, shaping the fevered fears of many that then are picked up in more mainstream ways, is an immense problem. That huge networks like Fox picks up and repeat truly outlandish stuff from the dark webs is jaw-droppingly dangerous for our society and, frankly, our safety. 

Denver Riggleman tells of some sick, nutty conspiracies that someone who is at least seemingly respectable reports in some relatively mainstream way. The fake stories (about election fraud, or worse) get on some far right network — Trump’s own alternative to twitter, say, or OAN network. Next it is picked up by the more popular Fox and soon the sketchy story has been seen by millions. And they almost all believe it is gospel. How does this happen? What are we to do? 

Just when I thought The Breach had sort of peaked and had reached its dramatic climax, the next chapter (“The Traitor”) blew me away. Holy smokes — people actually believe that what was once a Benghazi conspiracy fringy story could morph into an accusation that Obama’s SEAL Team Six didn’t really kill Bin Laden (there was a body double) and Obama had one of the SEALs murdered. This harebrained QAnon stuff was retweeted by then President Trump!

Riggleman and his co-writer Walker Hunger tell of a press conference where Trump was directly asked about QAnon and he obviously lied about not knowing about who they are. The reporter played along, graciously explaining its theory about the Satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals that the Democrats were supporting. The NBC White House correspondent Shannon Pettypiece said to the President, “Does that sound like something you are behind?”  The Breach tells what happened next and reflects on the story:

There it was. Trump was standing behind the White House podium. He hd the prefect opportunity to use the full force of his presidential platform to denounce the most unhinged and angry aspects of Canon. The chance to have a positive impact on the segment of his base that was going off the rails was all teed up for him. Trump didn’t take it. Nope. Rather than doing what any remotely decent person would have done, he actually doubled down and almost endorsed QAnon’s dark, apocalyptic vision of world affairs.

After quoting verbatim what the President said about QAnon, he observes,

The end-times death cult conspiracies were now coming from behind the White House podium.

This is not a curious digression but is deeply connected to the “Stop the Steal” marches, the wild stuff Ginny Thomas has said (about Democrats being captured and put on barges headed to GITMO) and more. How have things gotten this unhinged?

Riddleman — again, think of his background as a former Mormon which he now views as somewhat cult-like and his expertise on the psychology of radicalization from his work in counterterrorism doing Air Force intelligence in hot war zones overseas — is very, very concerned about the influence of conspiracy theories. In fact, before losing his last election, one of his heroic bipartisan efforts was to pass an anti-QAnon Resolution in the House.

This has led him also to take on the notorious election denier and Trump friend Alex Jones. If the Proud Boys engage in (among other awful stuff) holocaust denial, Alex Jones claimed that the Sandy Hook murders of children was a hoax. And these are the guys the beloved President befriended. Every time I see a Trump sign or yard side I think of this, wondering if my neighbors approve of such evil ideas? We simply must say it: Alex Jones is a dangerous and wicked man.  Riddleman is a brave Republican, willing to speak out about this sickness in the party.

And then, in Chapter 10 — “The Byrne Identity” — the book reports even yet weirder stuff. Riddleman expose the war documents Trump’s people had and, indeed, the next chapter is called “Executive Disorder” which shows how many MAGA hard-liners wanted Trump to use EO 13848, stretching it’s meaning, enabling him to declare an emergency and send out the National Guard and take over voting machines. This stuff tending towards a coup (and more from the likes of madman Patrick Byrne spelled out in his unbelievable Deep Capture website) was in the air. Trump’s advisers were increasingly bizarre and unprofessional — from Powell to Giuliani to Jenna Ellis. As a military man and hyper patriot, Riddleman has no time for the scoundrels. Of former and onetime national security adviser and dangerously odd General Michael Flynn and his coup-plotting (on, for instance, a Newsman interview on December 17th 2020), Riddleman cannot restrain his disdain:

I think Flynn is a shameful and spineless disgrace. I also recognize him as a clear and present danger.

I could say more but you get the drift. This is a deep dive into the far fringe elements of Trumpworld. Oddly, these conspiracy-filed voices seem to be his most loyal fans and certainly were influential in the days leading up to the big plan to take over the Capitol if Mike Pence didn’t come through to overturn the election. Surely not everyone knows that so much of this is so far out or otherwise good citizens would be running for the hills (or sending Tump-mania packing.) This kind of stuff needs to be read, discussed, and we need to put books like this into the hands of those who favor election-denying candidates. This book has some colorful language. It’s quite a read. You should know it.

Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell Tim Miller (Harper) $26.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59

I was not sure I wanted to review this book, as its subtitle is overly provocative and the writing laced with casual profanity. The young-ish, hip author has been the consummate Republican operative and is very well known within the higher-ups of the Grand Old Party. He did communication work for candidates, admittedly for short term gain (often doing negative ads.) He was not happy with himself. I am not alert enough to national politics to have know his name but those in the know in the Republican movement know him well. Since he early on realized Mr. Trump was not good for the country or the party Tim Miller has become anathema among his former friends and colleagues. He a self-confident worker and independent thinker so I have a hunch he doesn’t really care what they think of him. Except, well, he sort of undid a lifetime of professional friendships and, uh, his whole career. So there’s that.

I’ve got several good friends who are fond of the old political theory adage about how one may not want to see “how the sausage is made.” Well, this mea culpa gives us a very rare view into the back room deals and fund-raising plans and media appearances and campaign strategy meetings and red-eye private jet flights and all sorts of other gigs that make up typical big time American political efforts. Mr. Miller had never wanted to be an elected official so most don’t know his name. But he is known by those behind the scenes — and those who report on that stuff, such as pundit James Carville, who says, “Everyone should read this book, especially fellow Democrats who want to better understand our political foes.”

Here’s the short version of Miller’s fast-paced, snarky memoir: he rose to fame and influence in the RNC as one of the architects of its widely reported “autopsy” after the 2012 landslide for Obama. As a keen-eyed and principled strategist, he worked with other top-level leaders to forge a winning plan that would help Republicans appeal to more folks (women in the blue suburbs, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ persons) and help them stay true to conservative values in a changing postmodern culture. Quite a feat, but this guy knew his stuff and worked hard with all sorts of important (and in some cases famous) politicos. 

Miller was the communication director for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign and before that the chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential Campaign. He worked with McCain, even in Iowa. To say he’s been around is an understatement. (And, whew, the amount of late night drinking these guys do is truly remarkable.) There is candor and revelation (and, one has to wonder, maybe a hint of spiritual longing, with prayer even mentioned once or twice.) He did lots of interviews with old friends and co-workers asking how they (perhaps like himself) justified their work with candidates who they personally disapproved of. Naturally, many had jobs they needed and careers they wanted and, well, they were motivated often by just trying to stay afloat.

He actually has sort of a taxonomy of different ways different people could live with themselves working for stuff that was frankly wrong. These handful of chapters is very interesting and I think pretty insightful.

Interestingly he tells a lot of stories — once he was editing a fund raising newsletter that was targeting Republican senior citizens. It was laden with race-baiting and all sorts of alarmist scary stuff. He “red-lined” some of it but his bosses (and the candidate in question) told him that unless the press would write about this negative sort of fear-mongering stuff, he shouldn’t edit it. In retrospect he realized this was just wrong and he didn’t speak up.

Maybe you recall an old Sidney Lumet film called Power (with Richard Gere, Gene Hackman, Julie Christie, Denzel Washington) about the campaign consultants behind the scenes as they shape a candidate for public consumption and their own compromises with their own sense of ethics — it’s their job, after all. It’s a great movie about personal integrity and I kept thinking of it as I read this page-turning expose of how and why so many relatively normal, respectable, decent Republican players turned a blind eye to Trump’s corruption, narcissism, bad temper, crass materialism, no-nothing anti-intellectualism, routine dishonesty, and confusion about American politics and Republican principles. Why?

Why, indeed? We have heard that many Republicans privately despised the President (and many feared him as well, for understandable reasons.) Yet the question remains “How did this happen?”

Miller is angry and he is angry at himself. Yet he is not a jerk and this isn’t merely a hard critique, although it is that. He is understandably understanding. The jacket flap copy says he “cuts into all the hubris, ambition, idiocy, desperation, and self-deception for everyone to see” and he does. He names names, often, and describes long, heart-to-heart debates with key GOP operatives, pushing them to be honest with themselves, to speak out, to right the ship. It is bracingly honest, but while it promises to expose “the contortions of his former peers in the conservative establishment” he is not mean-spirited or ugly about it all. He is mostly heart-broken and alarmed. As he puts it, he “draws a straight line between the actions of the 2000s GOP and the Trumpian takeover of the Republican political class, including the horrors of January 6, 2021.”

That he tells of his coming out as a gay man (and the “mental gymnastics that enable him to justify becoming a hit man for homophobes”) reveals a lot. It is a gripping book, at times quite tender, and interesting in all sorts of ways. Beyond the political details, it is a profound study of what it means to be true to one’s values, to be authentic and honest, to have integrity. Wild as it is and as much cool, hipster lingo as there is, it is really worth reading. The author is earnest and it is to the point and is trying to cultivate a sense of honesty and integrity.

Consider this hefty endorsement:

When the history of this era is written, the dominant question will likely be, How did this happen? Tim Miller’s Why We Did It offers a crucial insider’s answer to that question. It’s a must-read report from the belly of the beast detailing how the unimaginable becomes inevitable. Looking back at a career in politics and being horrified at what you were part of is not the most fun exercise in life. Tim examines his role with clear honesty, sadness, and an amusing sense of the absurd. This is a big, important book. Read it. — Stuart Stevens, political consultant and co-founder of Strategic Partners & Media.

Or this, which captures much about Why We Did It:

Tim is a supremely gifted storyteller who writes with brutal honesty and stylish gallows humor about the GOP’s toxic mix of opportunists, joy riders, and grifters who enabled Donald Trump’s rise and guaranteed his enduring grip on the Republican Party. Tim takes a scalpel to the malignant tumor smothering American democracy by dissecting his own friends and onetime colleagues. The most valuable contribution of Tim’s book may be the anthropological examination of just how little separates a ‘normal’ Republican from an activist working to overthrow a free and fair presidential election. — Nicolle Wallace, Deadline: White House

Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy Jamie Raskin (Harper) $27.99  OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39

This is the book I wanted to introduce first, but felt like maybe the others fit better early on the list. They are clear-headed and honest and robust in their investigations of the often utterly bizarre accusations of the Big Lie that so many have fallen for. I listed those first, but this one — oh my. It blew me away and is one of the most moving and compelling and tender books I have read in years. I said to Beth the other day it may have to be added on to my ever-changing list of Best Books I’ve Ever Read. I think it is almost that good and surely is unforgettable.

As you may know, Congressman Jamie Raskin is a Democratic leader from Maryland who helped with the first impeachment hearings against Donald Trump (that was the whole Russian election scam.) Before his time running (with his kids helping with the campaign) for a seat in Annapolis in the State House he was a good natured law professor. (He is a Harvard Law grad and a constitutional law guy, actually.) That is he pretty far left — sort of a fun and smiling Bernie, maybe — makes him super interesting as well.

We learn a bit about his famous dad (who had worked in the Kennedy administration for a which) who was arrested for anti-draft protest in 1968 with Dr. Spock and Rev. William Sloan Coffin (for those old enough to remember that) and how his father helped start the Institute for Policy Studies with Richard Barnet. He learned his justice-seeking, civil rights values in this remarkable setting in a famously loving family; the civic pride he and his family takes in him being an elected official and public servant is palpable. He has good chums all over the country and is pals with folks from various poltical persuasions. His voice was immediately friendly and inspiring. 

Perhaps you may also know that his beloved young adult son and best friend, Tommy, took his own life on December 31st 2019. The book opens with that unspeakable tragedy and while I have read other narratives of families bereaved by suicide, I have never read anything so heart-breaking and gripping. I knew this was part of the backstory of Jamie Raskin as he took up Nancy Pelosi’s call to become the lead manager of the second impeachment trail against Donald Trump for his dangerous role in inspiring and possibly planning the January 6th insurrection.

This personal loss faced so bravely is part of what is so unthinkable, the double entrance of the title almost too painful to admit. This book is the first time the famous House leader discusses the “unimaginable convergence of personal and public trauma.” What a story. What a book. I am deeply grateful to the Congressman for doing the hard work of facing all this and telling us about it in this stunning book.

Although he is candid about the pain of losing his son (and how his wife and two daughters processed that as well and how so many good people rallied around them) the main story is about going back to work— the first time since the death of his son a week previous — on January 6th. His grown daughter and a son-in-law went along (to watch after him, actually, they admitted, in case he couldn’t emotionally sustain himself) and then the attack began. This insider’s account of the fear of an active shooter coming after them, the bloody combat, the stabbings and neo-Nazi stuff (you can imagine how Jewish people felt) and the toxic bear spray — the Trumpian MAGA team had come armed to the teeth. It is the most riveting account of the attack I have read and it is gruesome.

One story: some of the Democratic congressional leaders, flat on their bellies, crawled to the other side of the room to lie in place with Republicans thinking that if the mob broke through and started shooting, they would surely pick off the Democrats first. Can you imagine!

Another story: Jamie was honorably concerned about his friends and colleagues in the great hall at the time, but he was firstly alarmed for his daughter and his son-in-law who had been escorted out and were hiding under a Congress person’s desk. Cell phone was spotty as the surreal attack continued, hour after hour. He was understandably panicked as he had just lost one child and sure didn’t want to lose another — even as he blamed himself for allowing her to come along. What a nightmare.

On it went. He saw a police officer stabbed with a flagpole being used as a spear — this is no time for snarky comments about how unpatriotic that is. These rioters were inspired by a well-dressed US President but they were there in gear, prepared for battle; for many nothing was sacred.

Unthinkable is about trauma, not only his own private hell but the trauma elected officials felt that day (even though some, who were crying in fear and screaming in outrage soon minimized the damage in egregious turnabouts for obvious partisan optics.) And yes, the book moves not only through the horror of that day from an insider’s view but to the process of recovery from trauma that all good citizens had to begin. Somewhat like the attack on Pearl Harbor or the forever infamous 9-11 attacks, this murderous uprising must live in infamy. The casualties were obviously less (but more severe than most realize or dare to recall) but the fact that it came from our own — fellow citizens, driven on with complicity from the White House, later with elected officials implicated — it is a tragedy that simply must be faced. And this book helps us do that better than any I’ve read.

The vivid telling of the uprising to try to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after an obviously legitimate election — with chants of being willing to capture and perhaps even execute Mike Pence if necessary — is the first part of the book. If it were only that part it would be well worth reading (especially, again, as there are portions — not digressions! — writing seamlessly about his family, his son, how Covid prevented healthy and life-giving interaction for so many.) But the rest of the book picks up with Raskin’s courageous leadership in the second impeachment trail. How that developed, the round-the-clock research his team had to endure, the professionalism and patriotism of the crew, it is all very impressive.

I keep wondering, dear Hearts & Minds friends, how BookNotes readers who favored the Republican candidate will respond to my telling of how much I appreciated this important book. I know Raskin is not without faults. Still, I hope you are willing to engage, as they say, and take an open-minded look at the arguments for the second impeachment and the magnitude of the sheer dedication and tenacity that drove those committed to finding and exposing the truth of the President’s involvement in the traitorous uprising. Agree fully or not with all that Mr. Raskin believes (I surely do not) he is a  good and caring public servant and I feel he has his shared some of his soul in this vulnerable, honest book. He gives me hope that some Congressional officials can embody a deep and caring sort of integrity, combing the personal and the poltical it ways that strike me as good.   

Raskin is a moving writer. For instance:

This is not a book about Donald Trump. Quite the opposite. It is about the people whose dreams and actions have allowed us to survive Donald Trump…

Tyrants tell stories only about themselves because history for them begins and ends with their own insatiable appetites. But my own story of despair and survival depends entirely on other people, above all the good and compassionate people, the ones like my son, Tommy, the non-narcissists, the feisty, life-size human beings who hate bullying and fascism naturally — people just the right size for a democracy in which each person has one vote and one voice, where we are all ‘created equal’ and thus given an equal chance to lead a life of decency and integrity.

I have learned that trauma can steal everything from you that is most precious and rip joy right out of your life. But, paradoxically, it can also make your stronger and wiser and connect you more deeply to other people than you ever imagined by enabling you to touch their misfortunes and integrate their loses and pain with your own.

Yes, you will learn much of what you need to know about the nefarious alt-right groups that were inspired by the President and the vile uprising that tried to prevent the proper passing of the electoral college votes. Yes, you’ll learn about the President’s unseemly pressure upon (and then grotesque abandonment of) his Vice President. Yes, you will see how a few brave Republicans spoke out against the MAGA madness that had come to this. This is an excellent and informative book about all of that.

But, it is more. As David Remnick of The New Yorker has written about it,

Unthinkable is not a work of emotional austerity; rather, it is an unburdening, a howl, a devotional. The grief is nightmarish, but the love that suffuses the text is even more powerful—the love for family and a lost child, as well as a love for a fragile democracy. It takes its greatest inspiration from the idealism of Raskin’s son.

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